Nice Opera presents a double bill of two 20th century masterpieces

Poster courtesy Nice Opera

Nice Opera continues its current season with a double bill of Stravinsky’s mythical tale Le Rossignol and Poulenc’s somewhat off-beat Les Mamelles de Tirésias. A co-production with Champs-Elysées Theatre and Oper Köln, this dual staging is led by conductor Lucie Leguay, with direction by Olivier Py.  

Igor Stravinsky began work on his opera Le Rossignol in 1908. With a libretto by the composer and Stefan Mitoussov, it was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Nightingale and the Emperor of China. When Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, asked Stravinsky to provide the score for his ballet The Firebird – followed by Petrushka and the phenomenonal Rite of Spring – Stravinsky put aside Le Rossignol to concentrate on Diaghilev’s ballets. By the time that he turned his attention back to Le Rossignol in 1914, much had changed in the composer’s life. The two remaining acts featured much more modernistic trends than the lustrous influence of Stravinsky’s teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, on the first act.

Le Rossignol tells how a fisherman is fascinated by the beauty of the song of a nightingale. Courtiers of the Emperor persuade the bird to go with them to the court of the Emperor, who is equally charmed by it. The Emperor however is subsequently seduced by the singing of a mechanical bird brought to him by emissaries from Japan. The angry nightingale flies away from the court, but does not forget the disloyal Emperor, who falls ill and longs to hear the real nightingale again. The bird arrives and strikes a deal with Death in that he will spare the Emperor if the nightingale sings one more song. This the nightingale does, dawn comes and the emperor recovers. The bird promises to return again each night.

The work was premiered by the Paris Opera at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra on 26th May, 1914 – the eve of the First World War – in a performance conducted by Pierre Monteux. In 1920 the opera was adapted into a ballet, Le Chant de Rossignol, by Diagheliv’s Ballets Russes.

Francis Poulenc is regarded as having made an important contribution to French music in the decades after World War I, and whose songs are considered among the best composed during the 20th century. Like Stravinsky, he also contributed to the repertoire of Diaghilev with his score for the ballet Les Biches, and is well known in the opera repertoire for his work Les dialogues de Carmélites.

 Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a two-act opera bouffe with a prologue, the mocking music of which is humorously appropriate to the text by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, upon which it is based. The term “surrealist” was used by Apollinaire to describe his play – considered scandalous in its time. The opera has a frivolous, jazzy score, inspired by the sound of the Twenties, and is probably best summed up by Glyndebourne Opera: “Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a giddy romp of an opera that throws questions of politics, gender and society up into the air and watches them shatter into hundreds of glittering pieces”. It was written in 1945 and premièred at the Opéra-Comique on 3rd June, 1947.

Following the Prologue – in which the Theatre Manager announces that the moral of the drama is that everyone must make more babies – the opera tells of Thérèse, a young married woman, who is fed up with the life of an obedient housewife. She is a feminist, and full of ambitions. She unbuttons her blouse, and her breasts detach themselves and fly away like balloons. Thérèse then updates her husband on this new situation: she will no longer be his wife, and henceforth will be known not as Thérèse but as Tirésias, and determined to campaign against the slavery of childbirth. Her husband – who has temporarily transitioned to a woman – decides that if the women will no longer have babies, then he will undertake the task himself.

In Act II the curtain rises on a stage full of cradles. The lesson, he says, is simple: the more children you have, the richer you will be. Tirésias gets into a fight with a policeman, kills him (although he subsequently recovers), she reveals herself as Thérèse, and she and her husband are happily reunited.

The major roles in these two operas are taken by Rocío Pérez as The Nightingale and Thérèse-Tirésias, and Federico Longhi as the Emperor of China and Thérèse’s husband, and the productions are sung in French with surtitles in French and English.
                                                                                                                            Performances take place at Nice Opera from 28th May to 1st June. Further information and details of ticketing are available on the Nice Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Nice Opera programme notes

Le Rossignol –

Poulenc –

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Opéra Royal de Versailles stages Mozart’s ‘l’Enlèvement au Sérail’

Scene from the Opéra Royal de Versailles’ production of l’Enlèvement au Sérail
© Pascal Le Mée

The Opéra Royal de Versailles stages a new production of Mozart’s l’Enlèvement au Sérail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) this month. Directed by Michel Fau and led by conductor Gaétan Jarry, the production stars Mathias Vidal as the hero Belmonte, Florie Valiquette as his lover Constance, Gwendoline Blondeel as Constance’s servant Blonde, and Enguerrand de Hys as Pedrillo, valet to Belmonte.

The magnificent interior of the Opéra Royal de Versailles © Thomas Garnier

There can be few opera houses as magnificent as the Opéra Royal at the Chateau de Versailles. One of the greatest works by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the concert hall was conceived during the reign of Louis XIV, and built during the reign of Louis XV. The largest concert hall in Europe at the time, a great technical achievement and impressive feat of decorative refinement, it was inaugurated in 1770.

Mozart composed l’Enlèvement au Sérail in 1782, on commission from the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Written in German as Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the original libretto was by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner, reworked by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger. This production however is sung in French, using a translated version of the libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline, a French playwright, librettist and a contemporary of Mozart.

This comical romance was written as a singspiel – featuring dialogue that is not sung but spoken. Set in a Turkish harem, the plot surrounds the attempt by Belmonte to rescue his beloved Constance from the clutches of Pasha Selim. The opera premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater on 16th July, 1782, with the composer conducting. The premiere was a great success and launched Mozart’s Viennese career.

Mathias Vidal as Belmonte and Enguerrand de Hys as Pedrillo © Pascal Le Mée

Tenor Mathias Vidal – who takes the role of Belmonte – is best known for his French romantic repertoire, and has also sung roles including those of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore and Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Almaviva in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Ramiro in La Cenerentola. In this current season, he has appeared as Nadir in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, the title roles in of Rameau’s Platée at Zurich Opéra and in Massenet’s Don Quixote as well as in numerous concerts.

The up and coming young Canadian soprano Florie Valiquette opened this season in two new productions at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, taking the roles of Matilde in Vaccai’s Giulietta & Romeo and Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as well as Gabrielle in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne at the Opéra de Montpellier. Having also undertaken various concert appearances, she was described by La Libre Belgique as “… imaginative and committed with a ravishing treble”.

Florie Valiquette as Constance and Michel Fau as Selim Bassa © Pascal Le Mée

Highlights of this season for soprano Gwendoline Blondeel, known for her “pure emission and her musical intelligence” says Forum Opera, include appearances of the roles of Poesia/Fiordiligi in Luigi Rossi’s Il Palazzo Incantato at Opéra National de Loraine, Sangaride in Lully’s Athys at the Théâtre des Champs Elyseés and several concert performances of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine with Cappella Mediterranea.

Among the recent engagements of tenor Enguerrand de Hys are the roles of Bobinet in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne at Opéra de Bordeaux, Tybalt in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Opéra de Nice, Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, as well as the tenor solo in Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor at Opéra de Limoges.

Mathias Vidal as Belmonte © Pascal Le Mée

Also in the cast are Nicolas Brooymans as Osmin and Michel Fau in the spoken role of Selim Bassa. Fau is a French actor and writer, known for his roles in the films Cyrano de Bergerac, Swimming Pool and Marguerite.

Gaétan Jarry leads the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra Royal de Versailles in performances of Mozart’s l’Enlèvement au Sérail between 22nd and 26th May at the Opéra royal de Versailles. This production will be recorded for release on the Château de Versailles Spectacles label.

Information sourced from:

Opéra Royal de Versailles programme notes

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles Spectacles

Artists’ websites

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Semyon Bychkov returns to Concertgebouw to lead Orchestra & soloist Vilde Frang

Semyon Bychkov © Umberto Nicoletti

Ever-popular conductor Semyon Bychkov returns to the Concertgebouw Orchestra for a programme of music which includes Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The guest artist is the inspirational Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang.

Semyon Bychkov has a particular love for Russian music – hardly surprising since he was born in St Petersburg. He subsequently emigrated to the US and now lives in Europe, where he is Chief Conductor & Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic. He also holds the Otto Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair at the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra © Simon Van Boxtel

Maestro Bychkov has long-standing and successful relationships with many of the major orchestras and opera houses of the world, as well as with the Concertgebouw, having made his debut with the Orchestra in 1984, and been a regular guest since then. An outspoken supporter of Ukraine, he was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in that country, and has since spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, and on radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK and the USA.

Vilde Frang, said by The Strad to possess “Startling emotional sincerity and inspired musical imagination”, plays the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1. Making a return visit to the Concertgebouw, she has also appeared at venues including London’s Wigmore and Royal Albert halls, the Tonhalle in Zurich, the Rudolfinum in Prague and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. She regularly appears at festivals such as Salzburg, Verbier, Lucerne and the London Proms, and since 2020 she has been a member of the artistic board of the Oslo Chamber Music Festival. 

Highlights among Ms Frang’s recent and forthcoming engagements include performances with Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Europe, as well as the St Petersburg Philharmonic and ensembles in the US such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra.

Dmitry Shostakovich started working on his challenging and dramatic First Violin Concerto in early 1948 – a time during which he was being denounced by the Soviet authorities for his perceived ‘counter revolutionary’ sympathies. His great friend and contemporary, violinist David Oistrakh, was doubtless the inspiration for this concerto, and even though Oistrakh played it privately and apparently made a recording of it at home, Shostakovich decided that it was too risky to publish the work, so he hid it in a desk drawer for seven years.

It wasn’t until 1955 – two years after the death of Stalin – that Oistrakh premiered the work, with Yevgeny Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, at Leningrad Philharmonic Hall, on 29th October of that year. The composer couldn’t, however, resist making a point – he very deliberately made sure that the date on which the work had been composed was made public.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, the last great figure of Russian Romanticism, was regarded as the leading piano virtuoso of his day. He finally left Russia after the 1917 Revolution – the second of his self-imposed exiles – and he ultimately settled in the United States. He missed his homeland, though, and the Russian people, and spent most of his time performing, not composing.

The Symphonic Dances, written in 1940 – roughly two years before his death – was the last work that he wrote, and the only one which was composed in its entirety in the United States. In it, he looks back at his career, quoting excerpts from his past compositions, and hoped that the Symphonic Dances would eventually become a ballet, which it ultimately did, although not until 40 years after Rachmaninoff’s death. The work – which was written for and dedicated to Eugene Ormandy – was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra on 3rd January, 1941.

The programme opens with the Carnival Overture by Antonín Dvořák – one of his liveliest and popular short works for orchestra – which celebrates the human capacity for life and joy. Initially part of a trilogy entitled Nature, Life and Love, this triptych was ultimately published as three separate works under the titles In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello. The original work was premiered by the Orchestra of the National Theatre in the Rudolfinum, Prague, under the baton of the composer, on 28th April, 1892.

Semyon Bychkov leads Vilde Frang and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in works by Dvořák, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw on 16th and 17th May. Further information and details of ticketing are available on the Concertgebouw website.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw programme notes
Artists’ websites
Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1
Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances
Dvořák Carnival Overture

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