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Richard Strauss

Sunday, January 22, 2017


parterre box

January 17

A point upon a map of fog

parterre boxSan Francisco Opera in 2017-2018 presents the Ring cycle, a new John Adams/Peter Sellars collaboration called Girls of the Golden West, plus new productions of Elektra (Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe, Adrianne Pieczonka) and Manon (Nadine Sierra, Michael Fabiano.) The full press release follows: SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 17, 2017) — San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and Music Director Nicola Luisotti today announced plans for the 2017–18 repertory season. The Company’s 95th season will open Friday, September 8 with a gala performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot led by Maestro Luisotti and an international cast starring Martina Serafin, Maria Agresta and Brian Jagde. On the occasion of this special evening, San Francisco Opera Guild will produce their signature event Opera Ball 2017, presented in honor of Nicola Luisotti, who concludes his tenure as the Company’s music director at the end of the 2017–18 Season. San Francisco Opera’s new season features the highly anticipated world premiere of Girls of the Golden West by composer John Adams; the return of Francesca Zambello’s production of Richard Wagner’s epic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung); bold new productions of Richard Strauss’ gripping music drama Elektra and Jules Massenet’s sensual Manon; and revivals of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot and Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. All performances will be presented at the War Memorial Opera House. Today’s public announcement was held at San Francisco Opera’s Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera before an audience of the Bay Area press corps, cultural and civic community leaders and special guests. Director Francesca Zambello, composer John Adams and librettist/director Peter Sellars joined Matthew Shilvock for the live-streamed press conference. “Our 2017–18 Season encapsulates the power of opera to tell the great stories of humanity, whether about us as individuals or as a society. The diverse sweep of engaging productions features many of the world’s finest artists, including some very exciting debuts,” said Matthew Shilvock. “The season was planned by David Gockley, and it represents the tenets of excellence that defined his incredible tenure with the Company, including the commissioning of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West. We are so proud to premiere this new opera in the fall as a culmination of the worldwide events honoring John’s 70th birthday year.” Shilvock continued: “Beginning in September, we also honor Nicola Luisotti in his final season as our distinguished music director. The energy and vitality he has brought to us will resonate long into our future. The esteemed forces of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus, Dance Corps and Crew will create spectacular worlds on the War Memorial Opera House stage, worlds that will move, transport and thrill audiences. At the apex of this is the summer Ring Cycle, the most monumental celebration imaginable of the Company and the community that we serve. I am incredibly excited for what lies ahead.” The 2017–18 Season marks Matthew Shilvock’s second as general director of San Francisco Opera. Shilvock is the Company’s seventh General Director in its 94-year-history, following in the footsteps of Gaetano Merola who founded San Francisco Opera in 1923, Kurt Herbert Adler (1953–1981), Terence A. McEwen (1982–1988), Lotfi Mansouri (1988–2001), Pamela Rosenberg (2001–2005) and David Gockley (2006–2016). Due to the necessity of long-term artistic planning and contracting of artists, David Gockley planned the 2017–18 Season. Shilvock’s first planned season as general director will be the 2018–19 repertory season. At the conclusion of the 2017–18 Season, Nicola Luisotti will formally step down as music director. Maestro Luisotti made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2005 conducting Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and became music director in 2009. During his tenure with the Company, he has led over 40 opera productions and concerts, including a historic performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem that united the orchestras and choruses of San Francisco Opera and Teatro di San Carlo of Naples on the War Memorial Opera House stage. During the fall season, Luisotti will conduct performances of Turandot, La Traviata and the annual San Francisco Opera in the Park concert. As an expression of San Francisco Opera Guild’s appreciation of Nicola Luisotti’s artistic contributions, Guild President Jane Mudge designated the Italian maestro as their distinguished honoree for Opera Ball 2017. “I am deeply honored to be on the podium for the gala opening of San Francisco Opera’s 2017–18 Season and to lead such an important cast of singers in Turandot,” commented Nicola Luisotti. “I’m very proud of the work we have accomplished during my time with San Francisco Opera. As I will be stepping down from the post of music director at the end of next season, it will certainly be an emotional year for me. I believe strongly in our Company and that we will continue to make extraordinary music each night. My wife, Rita, and I both thank the entire Company, the San Francisco Opera Guild and the Bay Area community from the bottom of our hearts.” For the 2017–18 Season, San Francisco Opera has invited many of the world’s leading singers, as well as emerging artists, to perform at the War Memorial Opera House. They include: Maria Agresta, Jamie Barton, Stephanie Blythe, J’Nai Bridges, Julia Bullock, Melissa Citro, Leah Crocetto, Aurelia Florian, Christine Goerke, Evelyn Herlitzius, Hye Jung Lee, Karita Mattila, Ronnita Miller, Adrianne Pieczonka, Martina Serafin, Nadine Sierra, Nina Stemme; Raymond Aceto, Paul Appleby, Atalla Ayan, Daniel Brenna, David Cangelosi, Michael Fabiano, Greer Grimsley, Soloman Howard, Brian Jagde, Brandon Jovanovich, Elliot Madore, Štefan Margita, Ryan McKinny, Brian Mulligan, David Pershall, Artur Ruci?ski, Andrea Silvestrelli, Falk Struckmann, Davóne Tines and Alfred Walker. Featured conductors, directors and designers include: Patrick Fournillier, Christopher Franklin, Grant Gershon, Nicola Luisotti, Henrik Nánási, Donald Runnicles; Vincent Boussard, Garnett Bruce, Anja Kühnhold, Shawna Lucey, Peter Sellars, Keith Warner, Francesca Zambello; John Conklin, David Gropman, David Hockney, Vincent Lemaire and Michael Yeargan. Ian Robertson is San Francisco Opera Chorus Director. FALL 2017 SEASON Puccini: Turandot (September 8–30; November 18–December 9) The 2017–18 Season opens Friday, September 8 with Turandot, Giacomo Puccini’s 1926 unfinished masterpiece of fantasy and romanticism set in legendary Peking (last duet and finale by Franco Alfano). San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts an international cast led by the acclaimed Viennese soprano Martina Serafin as Princess Turandot. A frequent performer with the Vienna State Opera, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and the Opéra National de Paris, Serafin sang her first performances in North America with San Francisco Opera in 2007 as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. American tenor Brian Jagde, who was praised by The Mercury News for his “ardent and expressive” role debut as Radames in Aida last November, returns in 2017 to take on Calaf, another new role which is known for the famous aria “Nessun dorma.” Italian soprano Maria Agresta will debut as the tragic heroine Liù on September 8, 12, 15 and 21. Heralded for her artistry in a variety of roles, Agresta’s performance as Amelia in Simon Boccanegra with Rome Opera led Opera News to observe: “her voice is exquisitely focused and freshly attractive in coloration, her legato impeccable and her soft singing as effortless as her fortissimos above the staff.” Last season at London’s Royal Opera, Agresta was praised for her portrayal of Violetta Valéry in La Traviata, which featured conductor Luisotti on the podium. American soprano and current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Toni Marie Palmertree will perform Liù on September 24 and 30. Palmertree thrilled San Francisco Opera audiences in November 2016 when, with two hours’ notice, she stepped in for an ailing colleague to perform as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly. American bass Raymond Aceto sings the role of Timur. Director Garnett Bruce stages this revival of David Hockney’s colorful production and Company Chorus Director Ian Robertson prepares the San Francisco Opera Chorus. Turandot returns to the stage in November and December with a cast led by Swedish soprano Nina Stemme in the title role. Admired for her Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera in 2011, Stemme gives an equally accomplished stage portrayal of Turandot, for which the New York Times praised her “powerful, luxuriant voice [which] retained its warmth throughout the evening, with blazing high notes.” American soprano Leah Crocetto sings Liù, a role which she first performed with San Francisco Opera in 2011 and subsequently at the Metropolitan Opera during the 2015–16 Season. American bass Soloman Howard makes his Company and role debut as Timur, and American conductor Christopher Franklin bows for the first time with the Company leading the Opera Orchestra and Chorus in the November and December performances. Brian Jagde returns as Calaf and Joo Won Kang (Ping), Julius Ahn (Pang), Joel Sorensen (Pong), Brad Walker (a Mandarin) and Robert Brubaker (Emperor Altoum) complete the cast in all performances. Strauss: Elektra (September 9–27) On September 9, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s 1909 opera Elektra surges back onto the War Memorial Opera House stage for the first time in two decades in a provocative new production by celebrated English director Keith Warner. This psychologically complex and vocally formidable opera requires lyric artists of the first rank and San Francisco Opera has assembled a superlative cast that includes soprano Christine Goerke, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, along with bass-baritone Alfred Walker in his Company debut and tenor Robert Brubaker. The staging of this co-production with the National Theatre in Prague and the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe will be directed in revival by Anja Kühnhold. The creative team features the work of set designer Boris Kudli?ka, costume designerKaspar Glarner, lighting designer John Bishop and video designer Bartek Macias. American soprano Christine Goerke returns to San Francisco Opera in one of her most celebrated roles as the deranged and vengeful Elektra. Her portrayal of the part with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall led the New York Observer to proclaim: “To the rarefied society of superb interpreters of Elektra, consisting of perhaps two or three singers in each generation, we can now welcome Ms. Goerke.” American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, “who boasts one of the most powerful voices in opera” (New York Times), makes her role debut as Elektra’s embattled mother, Klytemnestra. Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, renowned for her interpretation of Chrysothemis, returns to the Company for the first time since performing Tosca in 2009. In his first appearance with San Francisco Opera, American bass-baritone Alfred Walker sings Orest and tenor Robert Brubaker is Aegisth. Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, General Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin, makes his podium debut with the Company leading Strauss’ intricate and explosive score. Warner’s setting of this opera based on the classic Greek tragedy brings Elektra into the present day. The British director commented: “On one hand, Elektra is really an amazingly complex, deep piece and on the other it is an almost horror movie kind of thriller. Dreadful, terrible deeds are happening in this family: there have been murders in the past and there will be more murders on the day when the story is taking place. We have decided to set the piece in a modern museum where a girl is going through and reading about Sophocles’ Electra and Carl Jung’s Electra complex. The artifacts and information trigger a series of memories in her and we go back into her story. She must confront the truth by confronting the terrible events that started this whole chain reaction of murder and mayhem.” Verdi: La Traviata (September 23–October 17) A revival of Verdi’s enduring classic La Traviata opens on September 23 with Maestro Nicola Luisotti leading a cast that includes three artists making their Company debuts in leading roles. Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian, who has performed Violetta Valéry in Berlin, Munich, Oslo and Tel Aviv, will sing her first performances in the United States as the courtesan who sacrifices everything for love. Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan debuts as Alfredo Germont, a role which he will also sing this year in March and April at the Metropolitan Opera and in June at Covent Garden. Polish baritone Artur Ruci?ski will portray Giorgio Germont. Since his 2010 breakout performances in the title role of Eugene Onegin at Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Ruci?ski has been heard in many of the world’s leading opera houses and has performed Germont in Berlin, Verona and London. John Copley’s elegant production returns and will be directed in revival by Shawna Lucey. Flamenco performer and Artistic Director of Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco Carola Zertuche contributes new choreography in her Company debut. Massenet: Manon (November 4–22 Soprano Nadine Sierra and tenor Michael Fabiano headline a new production of Jules Massenet’s opera of young love and reckless passion, Manon, which returns to the Company’s repertory on November 4 after an absence of 19 seasons. Sierra sings the title role for the first time in her career, which in 2016 included acclaimed debuts with the Metropolitan Opera, Milan’s La Scala and Opéra National de Paris where her “lithe soprano masterfully soared with tones of exceptional grace” in Cavalli’s Eliogabalo (Musical America). Hailed as “a sensational performer” by The Guardian for his role debut as Lensky in Eugene Onegin and last heard with San Francisco Opera in June 2016 performing the title role in Don Carlo for the first time, Fabiano premieres another new role with the Company in 2017 with Chevalier des Grieux. At a recent San Francisco Opera gala, the duo of Sierra and Fabiano were featured in the “vocally steamy” St. Sulpice scene from the opera. The San Francisco Chronicle declared “nothing got the audience quite so jazzed as the incendiary duet from Massenet’s Manon.” Baritone David Pershall, who made his first appearance with the Company in September 2016 as Roucher in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, returns as Lescaut. Bass James Creswell is Comte des Grieux, baritone Timothy Mix is De Brétigny and tenor Robert Brubaker portrays Guillot de Morfontaine. Parisian-born conductor and Massenet specialist Patrick Fournillier, who made his Company debut in 2010 conducting Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac and who also led the 2013 new production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, returns to conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Massenet’s plush score. Vincent Boussard, whose production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi was presented at San Francisco Opera in 2012, returns to direct this new interpretation of Manon, a co-production with the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Israeli Opera, featuring sets designed by Vincent Lemaire, costumes designed by Boussard and lighting by Gary Marder. Boussard noted: “Manon is a specific play from 18th-century France, rewritten by Massenet in the 19th century, who was dreaming about that earlier time. So, we have to find all the crispy colors of all those periods of time. I tried to make it as pure as possible in terms of setting, not too much decoration. It is a style that requires the singers to be great performers because Manon is a very intimate piece. I believe that the story of a young lady who wants to listen to a call for freedom and pleasure belongs to our period of time.” Adams: Girls of the Golden West (November 21–December 10) On November 21, the War Memorial Opera House will play host to one of the musical season’s most eagerly anticipated events: the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, the newest opera by composer and California resident John Adams, written expressly for San Francisco Opera. With a libretto by director Peter Sellars, Girls of the Golden West explores the dramatic and often brutal stories of pioneers on California’s Gold Rush frontier during the 1850s. Initiated by the Company’s former General Director David Gockley, this auspicious opera debut will be the culmination of the yearlong, worldwide celebrations honoring the American composer’s 70th birthday. A co-commission and co-production between San Francisco Opera, The Dallas Opera, Nationale Opera and Ballet Amsterdam and the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Girls of the Golden West will premiere in San Francisco, a mere 200 miles away from the opera’s setting in the historic mining sites of Rich Bar and Downieville. The opera is presented by arrangement with Hendon Music, Inc., a Boosey & Hawkes company, publisher and copyright owner. Adams, whose previous operas Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic have all been produced by San Francisco Opera, began work on the score in June 2015. He said, “I have a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from where these events in the opera took place. I know the terrain. I have hiked through those valleys and along those hillsides. This is home to me. Not many composers can hope to be as lucky as I to have this connection to the historical reality.” The libretto by Sellars is drawn from period sources including The Shirley Letters, vivid accounts of life at Rich Bar written by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe, using her pen name “Dame Shirley”; speeches by civil rights champion Frederick Douglass; poetry of Argentinian, Chilean and Chinese miners; songs of the period; and the journalistic writings of Mark Twain. Reflecting on these historic writings, Sellars commented: “The true stories of the Forty-Niners are overwhelming in their heroism, passion and cruelty, telling tales of racial conflicts, colorful and humorous exploits, political strife and struggles to build anew a life and to decide what it would mean to be American. And let me add that I’m hugely stimulated by the dynamic, high-spirited and deeply moving music that John is creating. I am in high anticipation in my eagerness to bring this new work to life, first in San Francisco, and later around the world.” “One of the key elements in the opera,” Adams remarked, “is the trove of original Gold Rush song lyrics that I’ve set. These are lyrics that, in their frank and homely simplicity, describe the hardships, wild expectations and crushing realities these miners experienced.” Adams continued, “I am unusually excited about our cast for this world premiere. They are, in a lot of ways, a slam dunk.” Soprano Julia Bullock will make her Company debut as Dame Shirley. Earning acclaim for her performances in contemporary works by Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Tyshawn Sorey, Bullock’s performance in Purcell’s The Indian Queen with the English National Opera was admired by The Telegraph for its “moments of heart-stopping beauty.” Bass-baritone Davóne Tines makes his first local operatic appearance as Ned Peters, an African-American cowboy and former slave who is drawn to the promise of the frontier. At age 30, Tines has had three operas composed with his voice in mind, and was hailed in a tweet by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross as a “great, electrifying singer.” Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges returns to the Company as Josefa Segovia, a young Mexican woman who serves drinks and entertains the miners at The Empire Hotel in Rich Bar. Along with her 2016 San Francisco Opera debut as Bersi in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, Bridges, whom the Los Angeles Times and Opera News have declared a “rising star,” also won acclaim last year for her portrayal of Nefertiti in Philip Glass’ Akhnaten with LA Opera. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, who recently portrayed Amfortas in Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival, will make his Company debut in Girls of the Golden West as Clarence King. Tenor Paul Appleby, who last appeared with the Company as Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 2015, returns to sing the pivotal role of Joe Cannon, a miner whose desire for Josefa leads to a crisis in the camp. Having previously appeared with San Francisco Opera as Madame Mao Tse-tung in Nixon in China in 2012 and Olympia in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2013, Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee returns to portray Ah Sing, the Chinese courtesan who wishes to marry Joe. Baritone Elliot Madore, who first appeared with the Company as Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd, portrays the bartender of The Empire Hotel, Ramón. San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Lorena Feijoo will portray the mid-19th-century entertainer and celebrity Lola Montez, who was known for her provocative “Spider Dance.” Sellars, who “has created a body of work that will transcend epoch and place, style and fad” (Opera News), anchors a creative team that is drawn from the worlds of opera, theater and cinema, including set designer David Gropman, costume designer Rita Ryack, lighting designerJames F. Ingalls, sound designer Mark Grey and choreographer John Heginbotham. Conductor Grant Gershon, currently in his sixteenth season as the artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, will lead the cast, San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Dance Corps in this new work. The collaboration between San Francisco Opera and John Adams began with the co-commission of The Death of Klinghoffer and presentation of its West Coast premiere in 1992. The Company commissioned the composer to create Doctor Atomic, presenting that work’s world premiere in 2005. Adams’ collaboration with Sellars extends back to 1987 when Sellars directed the world premiere of Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China, with a libretto by Alice Goodman, at Houston Grand Opera. San Francisco Opera presented Nixon in China in a production by Michael Cavanagh in 2012. SUMMER 2018 SEASON Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (June 12–July 1) (The Ring of the Nibelung) From June 12 through July 1, 2018, San Francisco Opera will present one of the greatest and most ambitious works of music, theater and stagecraft ever created: Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). When first unveiled as a full cycle at San Francisco Opera in 2011, Francesca Zambello’s production was hailed by the New York Times as “boldly contemporary” and the San Francisco Chronicle observed: “San Francisco Opera’s most ambitious undertaking in years also turned out to be the company’s greatest triumph.” The 2018 Ring Festival will revive the acclaimed production in three complete cycles of the tetralogy: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Director Francesca Zambello returns to direct and introduce several new features, including technologically advanced projections, new imagery and restudied stage action that were not part of the production’s earlier incarnation at San Francisco Opera in 2011. Utilizing visuals from various periods of American history in each of the four operas, Zambello commented: “Since directing the Ring again in 2016 in Washington, D.C., the power of the work feels even more contemporary. We are presenting a world in some ways familiar to our audience but also one that will feel very mythic as we look to our country’s rich imagery. The characters seem known to us as we have placed more emphasis on the role of the family and the role of redemption through all the female characters. The great overarching themes of the Ring—nature, power and corruption—resound through America’s past and haunt our present.” Renowned Wagnerian conductor Donald Runnicles returns to lead cast, orchestra and chorus in all three cycles. An international cast of the world’s leading Wagnerians has been assembled for this production of the Ring, including a trio of exceptional artists who are new to the Company. German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius will portray Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung; American tenor Daniel Brenna will bow as Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung; and German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann, who has performed most of the low-voiced roles in the Ring, makes both his Company and role debuts as Alberich in Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Known throughout the world for his interpretation of Wotan King of the Gods, American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley brings his celebrated portrayal to the War Memorial Opera House stage for the first time. Finnish soprano Karita Mattila will sing Sieglinde in Die Walküre. American tenor Brandon Jovanovich reprises the roles he performed in the 2011 production: Froh in Das Rheingold and Siegmund in Die Walküre. Triumphant in her Company debut as Adalgisa in the 2014 performances of Bellini’s Norma, American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton will sing the roles of Fricka in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, and Waltraute and the Second Norn in Götterdämmerung. Štefan Margita and David Cangelosi reprise the roles of Loge and Mime respectively, portrayals for which the two tenors were highly praised in the Company’s 2011 Ring. Bass Raymond Aceto sings the roles of Fafner (Das Rheingold and Siegfried) and Hunding (Die Walküre); baritone Brian Mulligan portrays Donner (Das Rheingold) and Gunther (Götterdämmerung); and bass Andrea Silvestrelli is Fasolt (Das Rheingold) and Hagen (Götterdämmerung). As part of today’s announcement, San Francisco Opera revealed additions to the roster of artists who will be featured in the four Ring operas. Soprano Julie Adams joins the previously announced cast as Freia in Das Rheingold and Gerhilde in Die Walküre. Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and incoming Adler Fellow soprano Sarah Cambidge will portray the three Norns in Götterdämmerung. The Valkyries in the third act of Die Walküre, who sing the memorable “Ho-jo-to-ho”s following Wagner’s iconic “Ride of the Valkyries,” will be performed by Adams, Cambidge, Melissa Citro, Laura Krumm, Lauren McNeese, Renée Rapier and Renée Tatum. All artists will perform their roles in each of the three cycles, which are scheduled for June 12–17, June 19–24 and June 26–July 1, 2018. Ring cycle performances take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. To provide Ring aficionados and those who are new to the work additional points of engagement, San Francisco Opera will partner with Bay Area cultural institutions to present myriad activities during the 2018 Ring Festival, including lectures and other events. The full calendar of ancillary programs will be announced at a later date. For more information, visit sfopera.com/ring . Regarded as one of the world’s leading companies in presenting the Ring, San Francisco Opera first produced Wagner’s masterwork in 1935 with Friedrich Schorr (Wotan), Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund/Siegfried), Elisabeth Rethberg (Sieglinde) and Kirsten Flagstad (Brünnhilde). Later stagings followed in 1972, 1985, 1990, 1999 and 2011. For details of past San Francisco Opera presentations of Turandot, Elektra, La Traviata, Manon and the Ring, visit the online performance archive at archive.sfopera.com .

Meeting in Music

January 20

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra – Prêtre

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Also sprach Zarathustra Philharmonia Orchestra Georges Prêtre BMG/RCA VD87733 (1988). Recorded 1983 [flac, cue, log, scans] A short but interesting disc.




Royal Opera House

January 11

Girls being boys being girls: a short history of opera’s trouser roles

Matthew Rose as Baron Ochs and Alice Coote as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The trouser (or breeches) role – a young male character sung by a woman – has been part of opera since its early days. And the role type has flourished since, in a variety of contexts. In the 18th century, the bulk of heroic male roles were written for soprano or alto castratos – but the trouser role was never just a ‘castrato substitute’: Handel ’s Radamisto and his heroic adolescent Sesto in Giulio Cesare are the most famous examples. Towards the end of the century, Mozart became probably the first composer to recognize the trouser role’s erotic potential, with Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro . His adolescent passion for Countess Almaviva is made all the more risqué by the fact that the lovesick page is sung by a woman, and Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte have additional fun when Cherubino dresses up as a serving maid. As castratos became a dying breed in the early 19th century, mezzo-sopranos increasingly took on Italian opera’s heroic lead male roles. Rossini wrote several principal breeches roles, including the title role of Tancredi and the soldier Arsace in Semiramide . Donizetti also created a few, although he tended to demote his trouser roles from heroes to sidekicks – as with Maffeo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia , or Smeton in Anna Bolena . The tradition reached its culmination in 1830 with Bellini ’s Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi ; the virtuoso writing for mezzo-soprano perfectly expresses the hero’s youthful ardour and impetuosity. Over in France, 19th-century grand and comic opera alike saw an explosion of trouser roles: chiefly pages and lovesick adolescents. Although they were rarely in the first rank of dramatic importance, they were usually given beautiful arias, such as Ascanio’s ‘Mais qu’ai-je donc?’ in Berlioz ’s Benvenuto Cellini or Siébel’s ‘Faites-lui mes aveux’ in Gounod ’s Faust . The page-boy became such a popular character type that composers even added them to scenarios, as with the invented Stéphano in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette , with his lovely aria ‘Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?’. In French comic opera, a girl could even play the hero on occasion, as with the title role of Massenet ’s Chérubin , or Prince Charmant in Massenet’s Cendrillon (a nod to pantomime’s Principal Boy tradition ). In 19th-century German opera, trouser roles were usually limited to children and supernatural beings, such as Puck in Weber ’s Oberon . Two notable exceptions were the young warrior Adriano in Wagner ’s Rienzi , a virtuoso role modelled on Bellini’s Romeo, and the flamboyant Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss ’s Die Fledermaus . But the the trouser role really came into his own in Germany from 1890 to 1930, with a number of feisty boy characters including Humperdinck ’s Hänsel and the Schoolboy in Berg ’s Lulu . Meanwhile in the former Czechoslovakia Janáček created one of the most poignant breeches roles in his 1930 opera From the House of the Dead: the boy prisoner Aljeja, described by the composer as ‘such a tender, dear person’. But before this, in 1911, came Octavian in Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier , perhaps the greatest trouser role of all. With this young nobleman, in love with an older woman, Strauss fully exploits the breeches role’s capacity to convey youth through the high female voice, and also its slightly risqué sensuality, particularly in the opening scene with Octavian and the Marschallin in bed. He playfully draws attention to the trouser role’s inherent artificiality by having Octavian dress up as a girl. And he provides one of the most satisfying portrayals of late-adolescent love through Octavian’s stunning duets with the Marschallin and Sophie, and the sublime trio for all three characters in Act III. Small wonder that in his next opera Strauss insisted on writing the ardent male Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos for mezzo-soprano. His breeches roles are a crowning glory of a distinguished tradition. Der Rosenkavalier runs until 24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .

parterre box

January 9

Dirty dancing

A few months before I received for review the DVD of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen‘s 2013 opera The Picture of Dorian Gray (not to be confused with Lowell Liebermann’s 1996 opera of that name), I watched something more commonplace: a broadcast from overseas of a standard-repertory opera with a well-known tenor star, who shall remain nameless. The tenor, who can pretend insanity but probably has not tried Insanity, was doubled in one scene by an identically dressed dancer. The singer was obliged to stand, watch and react as his fit, graceful doppelganger went through choreographic foreshadowing business at some length. I joked to friends that I wonder if an opera singer in such situations ever thinks, “Ten years from now, that guy will act the whole part while I sing from the wings.” Well, the future is now, sort of. Danish composer Agerfeldt Olesen (b. 1969), British librettist Alasdair Middleton, and Swedish stage director/choreographer Marie Brolin-Tani have made of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel what Ms. Brolin-Tani calls a “choreographic opera.” In this Danish National Opera production, filmed at the Musikhuset Aarhus over four dates in August 2013, the singers are amplified and stationed in the pit with conductor Joachim Gustafsson and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. Dancers portray Wilde’s characters, and Ms. Brolin-Tani supplements the doubles with a mute Greek chorus of additional dancers. There is one other dancer with no vocal counterpart, a little person (Sigrid Kandal Husjord) whose character is billed as “The Inner.” Middleton’s libretto, in English, is a slightly simplified but generally faithful telling of the much-adapted Wilde novel’s story. The moral and naïve artist Basil (spoken role) loves and idealizes the beautiful youth Dorian (countertenor), who falls under the influence of Basil’s hedonist friend Henry (bass). Dorian wishes to remain forever as he appears in Basil’s portrait of him. With Henry’s Mephistophelean encouragement, Dorian explores sensual pleasures and vices, and his wish is granted: the toll of his sins is revealed only in the painted image. Dorian’s first lover, the young actress Sybil (pop singer), commits suicide when Dorian rejects her following an embarrassing performance. Basil confronts Dorian about rumors of his immorality and corrupting influence on others, and Dorian murders him. After narrowly escaping death at the hands of Sybil’s vengeful brother James (baritone), Dorian vows to reform and severs contact with Henry. His repentance has no effect on the painting, which grows uglier still. Dorian realizes that even his repentance is motivated by vices: vanity and curiosity. Only with his death (handled more mysteriously and symbolically in the opera than in the novel) is the spell broken. Agerfeldt Olesen began as a cellist, and prior to my confronting The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was unfamiliar with his compositions. What I listened to of his instrumental music, including a 2009 symphonic piece called Der Wind bläset wo er wil, suggested a more distinctive voice and a sharper focus than the pastiche that is his first opera. The opera’s predominant vocal style is a familiar free-ranging arioso, which the orchestra supports with Lutoslawskian shimmers and hints of jazz. Several musical detours may have been intended as homage or satire. Henry breaks into a toe-tapping number (“Who could question the moon on the sea?”) that sounds like a Harry Warren trunk song, and the bass pinches his nose during the first verse for a radio-crooner sound. Brother James waxes Claggartian in his dark threats. A scene concerning Dorian’s infatuation with Sybil is so close to Richard Strauss in Octavian-and-Sophie mode that listeners may be trying to place a specific quotation. Sybil’s futile pleading to her faithless “Romeo” takes the form of a schlocky Broadway ballad from the later 20th century. A pianist decorates the orchestral fabric with ersatz Chopin during another pivotal confrontation. It probably would be unfair to say the score never finds coherence, as there is no evidence it went looking. However, I do not find the music distinguished in its hopscotching eclecticism. It tops out at being pleasant to hear and, the first time through, perhaps surprising. When there is a low point, such as a spoken litany (“There is pleasure in [noun]”) over the chipper dance-band music of a choreographed orgy, the consolation is that we will soon be on to something different. The opera, in two acts, runs about as long as a more familiar Wilde adaptation, Strauss’s Salome. The countertenor Andrew Radley and the dancer Maximilian Schmid achieve an improbable two-man triumph with a compelling and plausible Dorian Gray. Radley’s enunciation is superb, and he has a strong grip on the musical line throughout his range, with piquant coloring down low. Schmid is given a properly pale, androgynous look (he initially resembles, in styling and wardrobe, a painting of Lulu for the Berg opera). He moves elegantly, has a spooky charisma in stillness, and always commands the stage. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybhTznHQwuw James Bobby, the baritone cast in the singing role of James Vane, also handles the important spoken role of Basil. The artist is, in his manner of expressing himself, the most plainspoken, “artless” character. I feel that the doubling was a mistake. Bobby tries to give the dialogue a casual sound for contrast with the formality of his bass and countertenor partners’ recitatives and sung lines, but an actor more experienced with dialogue would have been preferable. Sybil is sweetly voiced by German pop/folk singer Jenny Thiele, in flawless English with what sounds like an American accent. The idea, one surmises, was to separate the doomed Sybil from the others, but in a different way from what is done with Basil. Sybil is a singer, but an ingenuous, unschooled, “accessible” one. Jonathan Best, the Henry, has a mellifluous bass-baritone that thins out at the bottom but is not often tested there by this music. The final Dorian/Henry encounter is, interestingly, the closest thing to a love scene in the opera (more so than Dorian’s respective scenes with Sybil and Basil), and Best’s dancer double, Johan Ohlson, pairs with Schmid for an erotic pas de deux. Various shorter parts are given to singers of presumably long experience. Dance is typically beyond my purview, so I will not comment in depth on the choreography or the flair with which the troupe executes it. Ms. Brolin-Tani had the responsibility of keeping people moving for most of two hours in her sleekly designed stage production (sets are by Johan Kolkjaer), and not all of the moves we see are dazzling. Nothing seems entirely unmotivated by music, but the music does not always provide strong motivation, and so there is a good amount of what to my eye looks like calisthenic place-marking and stretching. From time to time, however, music, text, and physical expression come together in revealing ways and the concept begins to work. Black-clad dancers join Henry at the moment he forms his bond with Dorian, and these dancers return periodically. They accost poor Sybil like furies, and remain with Dorian even after Dorian orders Henry to leave. “The Inner,” the dancing little person, initially projects innocence and wonder, but writhes in torment at Dorian’s sins and is increasingly careworn. She could be a living representation of the painting, but there is a more literal painting too, a projected photographic image occupying an irregular aperture. An essay in the DVD’s booklet, by a Danish classical-music editor, condescends to Danish critics who “used words like ‘different and exciting’, ‘ambitious opera project’, ‘easy to be entertained by’ and went home again. Confusion on a higher plane, one might say.” The writer resorts to exclamation points in pleading for the work: “The Picture of Dorian Gray is part of a proud tradition! […] The listener can sense impulses from Richard Strauss at one moment and from the popular musical the next. But not because Agerfeldt Olesen cannot make up anything himself!” My sympathies are with the critics. There is surely skill on display here, and one feels goodwill toward several of the participants. It is not easy to write about and evaluate the success of something that has no obvious analog, and I would prefer not to get into the issue of whether this is “really” an opera, or how often or widely it may be seen in the future. Agerfeldt Olesen’s effort, one learns, won the 2013 music-drama prize from the Danish Arts Council. I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray feeling I had seen a collection of impulses in various disciplines, some of the impulses good ones, but that the impulses had added up to less than a triumph. Sometimes the success of an experiment is only in demonstrating that it is possible to do something; it falls to some subsequent effort to prove the idea is a good one. Several trials down the line, maybe the great art happens. Subtitles are in English and Danish only.



Royal Opera House

January 1

Waltzing down the years: the powerful symbolism of Vienna's defining dance

Court Ball at the Hofburg by Wilhelm Gause, 1900 One of the most enduring images of Vienna is of a city that waltzes. Elegantly dressed couples whirl around the ballroom as an orchestra plays something by Strauss – Johann II , rather than Richard , of course. And on New Year’s Day morning, the celebratory concert by the Vienna Philharmonic from the Musikverein promotes the association even further, not least with that famous, obligatory encore of An der schönen blauen Donau (By the beautiful blue Danube). When Baron Ochs introduces a waltz in Act II of Der Rosenkavalier , it is through a popular song, which then pervades the musical atmosphere and continues into Act III. If we are in Vienna, then there must be waltzes! The waltz was associated with Vienna’s culture from the earliest stages of the dance’s evolution, through the public dance halls that opened there in the early 1800s, notably the Sperl in 1807. This identification of dance with city really took off with the musical rise and supremacy of the dance orchestras of Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I , and the popular waltzes those composer-conductors wrote for them. When Johann Strauss I toured around the continent, that association was sealed internationally. The power of the waltz is a reflection of its seductive nature. In the early years of the 1800s it was considered by many an indecent dance. Not only was it exclusive of other dancers, just two rather than the more communal – and policeable – set of four or eight, but it required close physical contact. If the two partners don’t hold each other firmly, the force of the spinning throws them apart. Furthermore, it is highly advisable to look straight into your partner’s eyes all the time: that singular, fixed point of gaze helps counteract the dizzying effect of looking over their shoulder at the vertiginous impression of movement of the ballroom’s walls. By the early 20th century, the intimate, sexual element that had disturbed the prudishly conventional but excited the dancers in the early 1800s had become one of the waltz’s principal characteristics. When Baron Ochs starts his waltz song in Der Rosenkavalier, half-remembering the words, he adopts what in 1911 – the time of the opera’s premiere – was not just a familiar but a current musical form: the associations that the waltz had by then acquired chime with Ochs’s seductive intent. The nostalgia in the music in Der Rosenkavalier’s early years of performance came through Strauss’s weaving in of rococo references to the 18th century, not through his inclusion of the waltz – indeed, the anachronistic use of the waltz in a 1740s Viennese setting provoked criticism at the Dresden premiere. By the late 1920s, the symbolism of the Viennese waltz had changed forever. The Austro-Hungarian empire had fallen, and this seismic political shift released a shock-wave of nostalgia, not least in music and theatre. Entertainment presented a nostalgic and romanticized picture of a world destroyed. The Austrian capital Vienna, in decline itself, became a symbol of that wider fall of empire. When Richard Strauss wrote waltz music into Der Rosenkavalier, his audiences could still hear something of the contemporary in them. Only a couple of decades later, that same music had developed a different, retrospective quality at home and abroad. As Europe headed towards war again in 1939, the pre-World War I nostalgia associated with Vienna and waltzes grew even stronger. The associations of a waltz in Vienna in 1939 were very different from those for Richard Strauss in 1911 and the first Rosenkavalier audiences. Where the Viennese waltz had for Richard Strauss provided a musical bridge for his audiences to the world they knew, for the next generation the waltz had become a musical symbol of a world that had painfully vanished during their lifetimes. Today, more than a century after Der Rosenkavalier’s premiere, can we hear a Viennese waltz in any way other than as a romantic echo from a world we never knew? This is an edited extract from John Snelson’s article ‘Vienna in Waltz Time’, available to read in full in The Royal Opera’s programme book for Der Rosenkavalier. Der Rosenkavalier runs until 24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .

Richard Strauss
(1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.



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