Lyric Festival of Stone Theatres 2024

The Ancient Stone Theatre of Syracuse

July is traditionally the month in which the celebration of the 1,000 year-old stone theatres of Sicily opens. This Festival of Stone Theatres, directed by Francesco Costa and promoted by the Sicilian Opera Choir, administered by Alberto Munafò Siragusa, takes place each summer, in some of the most beautiful and ancient stone theatres of Sicily, such as Taormina, Syracuse, Tindari, Morgantina and Palazzolo Acreide.

Recognized as an initiative of high cultural and artistic importance, this Festival of over 40 performances – dedicated to the theme of ‘Wonder’ – will open on July 21 and also includes venues such as the Andromeda Theater of Santo Stefano Quisquina, the Roman Villa of Terme Vigliatore, the Theater of Giardini Naxos, the Roman Mausoleum of Centuripe, the city of Piazza Armerina, the Greek Theatre of Monte Jato, Ragusa Ibla, Catania, the Temple of Hera in Selinunte, the Norman Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul of Agrò, Casalvecchio Siculo and the Palazzo Cagnone of Francavilla di Sicilia, representing the connection between art, music, history and mythology.

The Ancient Theatre of Taormina

Among the events of this festival are are Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, featuring soprano Elena Mosuc as Liù, on August 9. Puccini started writing Turandot in 1920, but work on the score went slowly – it was five years before Puccini had written most of it – then, tragically, he died in 1924, before he could complete it, and without being able to enjoy the success of one of his most popular and most often performed works. The last duet and finale were written by Italian composer and pianist, Franco Alfano in 1926. This performance will be repeated on August 11 at the Greek Theatre of Tindari.

Also this year, the organization continues the experimental and pioneering project of the simultaneous translation of opera into sign language, which marks the beginning of a real cultural and social revolution, with the prestigious partnership of Rai Accessibility and Rai Public Interest.

The Greek Theatre of Tindari

Guests can see a tribute to the great Italian musician, composer and arranger Ennio Morricone – a traditional event at this Festival – at the Greek Theatre of Tindari on August 2, and at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina on August 10. Lyric tenor Alberto Urso will star in a concert dedicated to the “prince of 20th-century Italian music”, to be repeated on August 21 in the heart of Sicilian baroque – the open air theatre of the Noto staircase.

Also at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina on August 6 there will be suites from three other Puccini operas – Tosca, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly.

The legendary Sicilian Domenico Modugno – the original singer of the 1958 hit Volare – will be celebrated on August 13, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of this great singer, actor and composer. This performance will feature Sicilian names, such as Mario Incudine, and take place exclusively at the Greek Theatre of Tindari, under the artistic direction of Anna Ricciardi.

Another novelty is the format dedicated to the spirituality of Franco Battiato, Batti(A)to Spirituale, for vocal ensemble, strings and Celtic harp, which will combine the energy of the ancient rocks with the mysticism of the songs of this well-known Etnean singer-songwriter and also celebrate the centenary of the philosopher of ‘asystematicity’, Manlio Sgalambro.

Soprano Diana Damrau – © Simon Fowler

The season will close with a recital, Amore e vita, by soprano Diana Damrau, of whom Operawire says “… Damrau’s vocal delicacy [is] able to open a phrase with a delicate crescendo, while often ending them with soft holds as if she were embracing them to the fullest”. This performance takes place at the Catania Teatro Romano on September 22.

The Lyric Festival of Stone Theatres 2024 takes place during July, August and September this year. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit the Coro Lirico Siciliano website.

All photographs courtesy of Coro Lirico Siciliano except where otherwise stated

Information sourced from:

Coro Lirico Siciliano programme notes

PBS

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A Monaco Summer Favourite – Concerts at the Prince’s Palace

Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, Monaco – © Axel Bastello

The end of July in Monaco heralds a series of Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, and this year the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra has a superb selection on offer, running from 11th July to 4th August.

The series opened with a sold-out concert led by American conductor James Gaffigan, General Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia and of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra. The soloist in this concert was French pianist Alexandre Kantorow, and the programme featured the symphonic poem Le chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) by César Franck, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2, and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

This concert is followed on Thursday, 18th July, by an evening led by Cristian Măcelaru, Music Director Designate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Măcelaru is quoted as saying: “Art is a deep necessity in our world today, not just to portray an image or tell a story, but to communicate the deepest of our human emotions”.

Spanish violinist María Dueñas – © C Felix Broede

The soloist is Spanish violinist María Dueñas, winner of the first prize in the 2021 Yehudi Menuhin Competition. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has praised her for the “freedom and joyous individuality” of her playing, and The Strad has described her rising-star status as “seemingly unstoppable”. She plays Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. Also on the programme are two works by Tchaikovsky – his ever popular Capriccio Italien – inspired by the sound of bugles which the composer heard from the nearby barracks during a trip to Italy – and the symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s friend and former pupil, Sergei Taneyev.

The concert on Friday, 26th July is led by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, said by The Times to “…. still galvanise musicians as few others ever will”. Having held the positions of Music Director of orchestras such as the Philadelphia and Teatro alla Scala, as well as Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonia, he has led ensembles such as the Berlin, New York and Vienna philharmonics, and was Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010, of which he has now been appointed Music Director Emeritus for Life.

Riccardo Muti – courtesy riccardomutimusic.com

Under Maestro Muti, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic plays the elegant Contemplazione by Alfredo Catalani and Franz Schubert’s grand Symphony No 9, known as The Great, and regarded by some as the most important of the 19th century’s post-Beethoven symphonies.

This concert will be repeated on Sunday evening, 28th July.

Thursday 1st August sees the Orchestra led by Russia conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky, he of the “aristocratic gesture” according to GB Opera Magazine. Currently Chief Conductor of the NDR Philharmonic, Maestro Kochanovsky has been described by Diapason Magazine as having “… confirmed his place among the great conductors of our days”.

Pianist Nikolay Lugansky – © Marco Borggreve

The soloist in this all-Russian programme is Russian pianist Nikolay Lugansky, described by Le Monde as “… not simply the most wonderful Russian pianist of modern times; he is one of the most outstanding artists of our epoch …”. Lugansky’s album, Richard Wagner: Famous Opera Scenes, has been named one of the best classical music albums of 2024 to date by Gramophone Magazine.

Following Mikhail Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, he plays Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1 – which Moscow Conservatory Director Nikolay Rubinstein refused to play because he felt it was so badly written. Tchaikovsky, to his credit, refused to change a single note of the concerto and offered the premiere to German virtuoso Hans von Bülow who played it for an American audience, where it was hugely successful, a success followed up in Europe. The concert ends with Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from his opera Prince Igor, where the Prince and his son, having been taken prisoner by the Polovtsian leader Khan Konchak, bear witness to the slaves’ performance of these thrilling dances.

The season draws to a close on Sunday, 4th August, with Music Director Kazuki Yamada leading the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. Maestro Yamada is also Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, strengthening the link between the CBSO and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic at the beginning of the current season with performances of the Verdi Requiem and the Mahler Symphony No 2, featuring the CBSO Chorus.

Pianist Simon Trpčeski – © B Ealovega

The soloist in this final concert is Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski, highly regarded for his powerful virtuosity and deeply expressive approach. Having appeared with some of the major international orchestras – such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester Berlin and Dresden Philharmonic, and as an acclaimed recitalist, Trpčeski has this past season been Artist in Residence with both the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. In this concert, he plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 Op, completed in 1881 as Brahms emerged from the shadow of Beethoven – a daunting inhibition surely.

Smetana’s Ma vlast – courtesy Naxos Records

Also on the programme is The Moldau, the second movement of Bedřich Smetana’s patriotic symphonic suite Má vlast (My Country), completed in 1874. Má vlast depicts the flow of the Vltava River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside to Prague, celebrating the composer’s love of his homeland. The concert ends with Antonín Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. This is a high-spirited piece, reflecting the tumult and festivity of a carnival, which was originally the second of a trio of concert overtures depicting Nature, Life and Love. Dvořák subsequently separated the three pieces which he renamed In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello.

The Concerts at the Prince’s Palace take place in the Cour d’Honneur du Palais Princier, Monaco, from 11th July to 4th August. Tickets may be reserved on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.

Information sourced from:
OPMC programme notes
Schubert
Tchaikovsky
Borodin
Brahms

Smetana

Dvorak Carnival
Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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San Francisco Playhouse stages Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice hit ‘Evita’

Eva Perón (Sophia Alawi) addresses her people in the San Francisco Playhouse
production of ‘Evita”

In what must be the highlight of the current season, San Francisco Playhouse stages the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hit musical Evita. Winner of 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score, Evita was described by The Stage as “…. the greatest musical the UK has ever created”.

Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) is charmed by radio star Eva Duarte (Sophia Alawi) as
Che (Alex Rodriguez looks on

The musical tells of the rise of Eva Peron from a poor illegitimate child, born in 1919, to the most powerful woman in Latin America, rallying the nation of Argentina to bring about a new era in the country’s history. Set between 1934 and 1952, the story is told in part through the eyes of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, and follows the journey of Eva Duarte through her life as an actress, to the wife of the military leader, Juan Peron, who became president of his country. Evita, as she became known to the people of Argentina, died of cancer at the age of 33.

Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) embraces Eva Perón (Sophia Alawi) as she addresses the public

Evita was originally a rock opera concept album which was released in 1976, the success of which led to the creation of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Originally directed by Harold Prince, Evita premiered at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End on June 21st, 1978, with Elaine Paige in the title role, and David Essex as Che Guevara, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical. It opened on Broadway a year later, starring Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.

It was hailed by The Guardian as “Audacious and fascinating. A beautiful score from Andrew Lloyd Webber”, and The Hollywood Reporter described it as “a ravishing spectacle”.

The Descamisados rally for the Peróns

Andrew Lloyd Webber is known for composing the scores of some of the world’s finest musicals – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Sunset Boulevard, CATS, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom Of the Opera among them. He has the distinction of having had shows continually running in the West End for 48 years and on Broadway for 41, and equalled Rodgers & Hammerstein’s record of four shows running simultaneously on Broadway.

Lloyd Webber is one of the select group of artists with EGOT status, having received Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards – one of only 17 people worldwide. He was knighted in 1992, created an honorary life peer in 1997 and has now become a member of The Most Noble Order of the Garter – an order of chivalry founded by Edward III of England in 1348 and the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system.

Che (Alex Rodriguez) and Eva Perón

Lyricist Tim Rice is also among those 17 people known as EGOTs, having worked in music, theatre and films since 1965 – the year in which he met Lloyd Webber. Their first collaboration was The Likes of Us, based on the life of Victorian philanthropist Dr Thomas Bernardo, since when they have worked on Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as Evita.

Rice has also collaborated with distinguished contemporary composers such as Elton John on The Lion King and Aida, Alan Menken on musicals such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, and Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson on Chess. He has written the lyrics for songs for a number of high-profile artists including Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, Sacha Distel, Placido Domingo, Elton John, Elaine Paige, Elvis Presley, Bobby Vee and Rick Wakeman. He was knighted by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

Eva (Sophia Alawi) and Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) address the crowd

This production for San Francisco Playhouse is directed by Bill English, with music direction by Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Nicole Helfer. In the title role is Sophia Alawi who won the 2019 San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Groundhog Day The Musical. The role of Che Guevara is taken by Alex Rodriguez, seen at the Playhouse last season in A Chorus Line and winner of a Theatre Bay Area Award for his performances in Ray of Light’s Triassic Parq, Bay Area Musicals’ Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Broadway By the Bay’s Evita. Peter Gregus makes his Playhouse debut as Juan Perón. He originated the role of Bob Crewe in the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, and other Broadway performances include Ain’t Broadway Grand and the Tony Award-winning show Contact.

Evita runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until September 7th. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the San Francisco Playhouse website.

All photographs by Jessica Palopoli

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Playhouse program notes

Artists’ websites

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