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Georges Bizet

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 2

Met signs non-unique Yannick as music director

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discTo no surprise at all, the Metropolitan Opera has just announced Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its next music director. As we foretold , the incoming music director will not take up his duties until 2020-21, leaving the company in an uncomfortable state of interregnum. Even more complicated, Yannick let it be known today that he has renewed with the Philadelphia Orchestra until 2025-26, an exceptionally long contract and one which seems to declare that his first loyalty is with Philly. And there is no suggestion of the Montreal maestro giving up his association with his hometown Orchestre Métropolitain. All of which indicates that the Met has replaced a unique music director, James Levine, with a younger man who is not available for several years to come and whose affinities will often lie elsewhere. Not a great deal. UPDATE: The panic over Yannick. Typically, the Met released the news first through its press office, the New York Times , which followed up with a choreographed hallelujah by Zachary Woolf, describing his body art and life partner. A press release followed a while later: New York, NY (June 2, 2016) – The Metropolitan Opera announced that the acclaimed conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin will be the company’s new Music Director. The position has previously been held by only two artists in the company’s storied 133-year history—James Levine, who after 40 years in the position stepped down at the end of the recently concluded season to become the company’s first Music Director Emeritus, and Rafael Kubelik, who held the title briefly in the company’s 1973-74 season. In the Met’s 2017-18 season, Nézet-Séguin will assume the interim title of Music Director Designate. He will become Music Director in the 2020-21 season, the first season in which he is available to take over the full responsibilities of the position. However, he will immediately become involved in the company’s artistic planning, which happens many years in advance. As Music Director, Nézet-Séguin will be responsible for the overall musical quality of the Met. He will have artistic authority over the company’s orchestra, chorus, and music staff, and will work in tandem with Met General Manager Peter Gelb to oversee the planning and casting of each Met season, including repertoire choices, new productions (including the selection of creative teams), revivals, and commissions. Nézet-Séguin will initially conduct five different operas each season he is Music Director, as well as concerts with the Met Orchestra. In each of the seasons in which he is Music Director Designate, Nézet-Séguin will conduct two operas. Next season at the Met, he will conduct his first Wagner opera with the company, a revival of Der Fliegende Holländer. “Becoming the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me,” said Nézet-Séguin. “I am truly honored and humbled by the opportunity to succeed the legendary James Levine and to work with the extraordinary orchestra, chorus, and staff of what I believe is the greatest opera company in the world. I will make it my mission to passionately preserve the highest artistic standards while imagining a new, bright future for our art form.” “Yannick was the clear choice of the Company,” said Gelb. “He is the right artist at the right time to lead us forward into a new and what I believe will be a glorious chapter in the history of the Met.” “The Metropolitan Opera has been the great artistic love of my life, and it has been tremendously rewarding to see the company develop and improve over the past 45 years,” said Levine. “I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Yannick on taking the musical reins, and I look forward to seeing the good work continue under his watch.” “The MET Orchestra enjoys a tremendously fruitful, positive relationship with Maestro Nézet-Séguin, and we are delighted in his appointment as Music Director,” said Jessica Phillips, clarinetist and chair of the Met’s Orchestra committee. “He embodies the artistic leadership, musical excellence, and respect for rich tradition that opera lovers around the world have come to cherish. We eagerly look forward to working together to shape this new era at the Met.” “The singers and stage performers at the Met welcome Yannick Nézet-Séguin, joining the historic line of artists from James Levine’s great tenure back to Toscanini and Mahler,” said David Frye, tenor and chair of the Met’s chorus committee. “Yannick has led great performances with the company, and we’re eager to expand our collaboration.” Nézet-Séguin made his Met debut in the 2009-10 season, conducting a new production of Bizet’s Carmen. He has returned in every subsequent season, leading acclaimed performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo, Gounod’s Faust, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Dvořák’s Rusalka. He led the opening night performance of the Met’s 2015-16 season, a new production of Verdi’s Otello. Nézet-Séguin’s operatic career was launched when he was appointed Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor of the Montreal Opera at age 23. Since then, he has conducted a wide breadth of repertoire at a number of the leading companies, including the Vienna State Opera; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; La Scala; Dutch National Opera; and the Salzburg Festival, in addition to the Met. He is also a frequent guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Since 2012, Nézet-Séguin has been Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which announced today that he has extended his contract with them through 2025-26. (A separate press release on that announcement is available.) Given the close proximity of New York and Philadelphia, Nézet-Séguin will be able to easily commute between his two posts, and the Met and the Philadelphia Orchestra will also be exploring the possibilities for artistic collaboration between the two institutions. He is also the Music Director of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain and of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, a position he will resign at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.

Royal Opera House

June 13

Verdi and the rise of the mezzo-soprano

Fiorenza Cossotto as Azucena in the Covent Garden Opera Company revival of Il trovatore at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden © 1973 Royal Opera House Verdi forged a new operatic tradition when he made the lead character of Il trovatore a mezzo-soprano. In a letter to librettist Francesco Maria Piave , the composer described Azucena as the principal role, the one that (if he were a prima donna!) he would wish to sing. Verdi’s decision would have exciting consequences not only for his operas but for the art form as a whole. The term ‘mezzo-soprano’ was first used in the early 18th century to describe female voices placed between the increasingly high-lying soprano and the low, dark-hued contralto. For years it was rarely used. Handel’s lower female parts are mostly for contralto, while Mozart’s lead female roles were all written for soprano – even ones such as Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro ), now usually sung by mezzos. With the decline of castratos early in the 19th century, mezzos began to take on heroic young male roles, such as Romeo in Bellini ’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. A number of exceptional mezzos were also muses for bel canto composers – singers such as Isabella Colbran, who created the title role in Rossini ’s La donna del lago . But sopranos still dominated – it wasn’t until Verdi’s 17th opera that he put a mezzo in the spotlight. Azucena was worth the wait. The role presents exciting dramatic challenges, and also provides a chance to show off the characteristic wide range of the mezzo-soprano voice. Azucena’s first interpreter, Emilia Goggi , was a former soprano, and Verdi contrasts dramatic low-lying passages with thrilling forays into the high register, in a part that covers more than two octaves. Small wonder that Azucena remains a dream role for many singers. It was more than a decade until Verdi returned to the mezzo voice, but with Eboli (Don Carlo ) and Amneris (Aida ) he created two mezzo-soprano roles equal in stature to the operas’ soprano heroines. In both cases, Verdi uses the mezzo’s rich timbre and wide range to depict sensual and troubled young women. They are among his most fascinating characters, and both inspired Verdi to create wonderful music, such as Eboli’s flamboyant ‘Veil Song’ and ‘O don fatale’ and Amneris’s anguished Act IV soliloquy. Verdi was not the only composer to realize the mezzo-soprano’s potential. Berlioz wrote most of his lead roles for this voice type, as he preferred its rich timbre to the brighter soprano. Bizet and Massenet put the mezzo’s dark, warm timbre to varied uses, with the sensual gypsy Carmen and the motherly Charlotte in Werther . In Russia, mezzo-sopranos often played sensual, energetic female characters, who contrasted with innocent soprano heroines, as with Lyubasha and Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride . By the 20th century, the growing bank of mezzo roles had produced more star mezzo singers. These singers not only inspired the composers of their day to create new roles, but also began to take on roles originally created for sopranos that demanded both strong low and middle registers and powerful high notes. Parts such as Kundry in Wagner ’s Parsifal and Octavian in Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier , though first sung by sopranos, are now mezzo territory. Meanwhile, singers such as Janet Baker had many new roles created for them, most notably by Britten and Walton . Today the mezzo-soprano continues to be in the ascendant, with the heroines of Heggie ’s Dead Man Walking , Maw ’s Sophie’s Choice , Adès ’s The Tempest (Miranda) and Birtwistle ’s The Minotaur (Ariadne) all written for this vocal type. As Verdi realized back in the 1850s, if you’re looking to create a sensual and emotionally complex female character, the wide range and warm tones of the mezzo-soprano voice are irresistible. Werther runs 19 June–13 July 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 27 June 2016. Find your nearest cinema . The production is generously sponsored by BB Energy and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, The Taylor Family Foundation, Susan and John Singer, Spindrift Al Swaidi and the Maestro’s Circle Il trovatore runs 2–17 July 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to outdoor screens around the UK for free on 14 July 2016. Find a screening near you . The production is a co-production with Frankfurt Opera and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund




Royal Opera House

June 7

Opera Essentials: Massenet's Werther

Rolando Villazón as the title role in Werther, The Royal Opera © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2011 The story begins… Werther, an intense young man, falls madly in love with Charlotte – only to learn that she is engaged to her childhood friend Albert. Following Charlotte’s marriage, the despairing Werther threatens suicide. Will Charlotte admit that she loves him before it is too late? The first psychological novel The libretto of Werther is based on the bestselling novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Goethe , first published in 1774. Goethe’s inspirations for his novel included the suicide of his friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, and his own experience of an unrequited passion for a girl named Charlotte. Massenet softened Goethe’s story, above all by making it clear that the love between Charlotte and Werther is mutual. Internal tragedy Benoît Jacquot ’s production contrasts the intense emotions of Werther and Charlotte with the repressive society in which they live. Charles Edwards ’s sets take us from a sun-dappled courtyard in the optimistic Act I via a bleak terrace in Act II and a gloomy drawing room in Act III to Werther’s garrett room, where the lovers are reunited as snow falls outside. Christian Gasc ’s elegant period costumes include a blue velvet coat and buff waistcoat and trousers for Werther – his preferred dress as specified by Goethe. A sophisticated score Massenet ’s score for Werther is one of his most skilful; through-composed but with some beautiful arias. Poignant use is made throughout of recurring musical ideas. These include a troubled motif linked to Werther’s suicide, and the beautiful ‘Clair de lune’ fragment, first heard in Act I as Charlotte and Werther return from the dance. The ‘Clair de lune’ music returns with passionate intensity in Act IV when Charlotte finally confesses to Werther that she loves him. From Vienna to London Werther was first performed at the Vienna Hofoper in 1892. It was well received there and later (after an initially mixed reception) had success in Paris. However, its London premiere in 1894 was a failure, and the opera didn’t enter The Royal Opera’s repertory until 1979. It has since won worldwide acclaim as one of Massenet’s finest scores, and Werther and Manon are currently the only two of Massenet’s many operas still to be regularly performed. Recommended if you like… Bizet’s Carmen Gounod’s Faust Massenet’s Manon Werther runs 19 June–13 July 2016. Tickets are still available. The production is generously sponsored by BB Energy and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, The Taylor Family Foundation, Susan and John Singer, Spindrift Al Swaidi and the Maestro’s Circle .



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