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Georges Bizet

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The Boston Musical Intelligencer

June 5

Bizet with BVDs Headed to Hub

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Ginger Costa-Jackson and Brian Jagde compare footwear. SAN FRANCISCO—Would that Boston burghers had possessed the municipal wisdom to include in Government Center the equivalent of the dignified Doric cum Art Deco War Memorial Opera House which stands in pride along with three other theaters in San Francisco’s Civic Center. Its richly detailed and well-endowed public spaces invite us to a lofty and celebratory gilded auditorium which raises high our expectations for the production to come. After a displeasingly brisk overture, the great gold curtain grandly rose Wednesday on a wrinkled translucent gray movie screen fronted by a flagpole and telephone booth. Was this all we would see from our $396 seat? The opening scene, visually impoverished but for a soldier in his underpants and combat boots running punishment laps around the immobile soldiers’ chorus, transported us more to the gritty imagination of stage director Calixto Bieito’s “…wild and cruel universe full of primal virility” than to the stage of the Opéra Comique or the demimonde of Seville. According to SF Opera, their show was aimed at “fans of [Beyoncé’s] Lemonade, or Tarantino.” Such would have no trouble with the dialog cuts (did “coquette” really have to come through the supertitles as “bitch”?) or the dropping of repeats. They also probably would not have detected the few bars or lines removed here and there. But based on what this visitor is used to hearing, and on what at least one company violinist retains in memory, we detected some unfamiliar connections and non sequiturs. As re-created by Bieito’s longtime collaborator Joan Anton Rechi, the gray and black stage vacuity stood in, according to the director’s manifesto, for the autonomous North African Spanish city of Ceuta in the post-Franco era. The conceit permitted such disarming touches as selfies during a love duet, the virginal Micaëla’s unlikely chin-flick (le barbe to Bizet) directed at Carmen, and a gypsy rumble staged in a parking lot with six electrified 1980s-era Mercedes Benz W123s. The insertion of a nude matador’s butt-slapping moonlight purification ritual during the Act III entr’acte must have been stimulated by motivations unrelated to the time and place of the setting. But come on guys: have the courage to make this scene visible rather than lighting it so coyly as to obscure the best parts. Nudity isn’t even banned in Boston anymore. Gypsies and soldiers enjoy Escamilo Michael Sumuel’s high notes as the bull awaits his tumble. Sounds much brighter and more exciting than we experience in the inadequate Shubert Theater rose powerfully from the pit via Carlos Montanaro’s forward-moving direction. The main chorus projected excellent tone and character as did the children, though blocking appeared stiff, and the nine dancers made little impression. Joan Anton Rechi designed suitably bland but menacing uniforms for the soldiers, but her go-go-era outfits for Mercedes and Fransquito jarred. Micaëla’s sequined bell bottoms suggested something much pushier than a quiet country girl. Carmen’s rags evoked no particular period, although the black lace thong she dropped shocked only because no ’80s Carmen would have so encumbered herself in the first place in a warm climate. Rechi dressed the chorus in generic motley. Providing the players with a warm aura Gary Marder’s lighting scheme made something almost interesting of silhouettes on the backdrop. His woodsy projections for the gypsy rumble evoked an image perhaps too pastoral, but at least something finally registered. At the beginning of the fourth act, when a pumped beefcake contingent knocked over a monumental cutout of a bull and tore it to pieces, we had witnessed the evening’s single coup de théâtre with one of only four tangible objects (cars counting as one) in Alfons Flores’s almost nonexistent set. The principal SF singers all acquitted themselves at least honorably, though the vocally winsome and dusky Carmen, Ginger Costa-Jackson, shirked her castanet duties and danced unmemorably. Brian Jagde’s Don José alone gave us goosebumps, holding nothing back emotionally as he gave stentorian notice that the force was with his instrument. Too bad he was required to close the show by dragging a supine Carmen offstage, caveman-style, rather than honorably surrendering to the guards. When this BLO-SF Opera co-production runs in our town from Sept. 23rd to October 9th, Bostonians expecting sunny scenic climes and gorgeous chorus girls rolling cigars on their thighs may be distressed by Calixto Bieito’s black box theater of cruelty. Furthermore, as an unfortunate foil to our opulent Keith Memorial Theater/Opera House, the dominant staging element consists of a mostly blank projection screen (and BLO would be well-advised to make more of this feature). Visual interest beyond the rococo decor of the house will emanate almost solely from brightly costumed singers and dancers. Since SF Opera generously filled the broad War Memorial stage with a cast of 100, BLO is advised not to stint in that department. I can’t imagine, though, that in the tight, though expanded, pit of a former movie theater they will be able to equal SFO’s 62 players, or the quality of their sound. Last words from Bieito: “My Carmen is not picturesque, nor folkloric, nor a collection of engravings of a stereotypical old Spain. She is intuitive, earthy, passionate, melancholy, sensitive—a young person who desires to drink up life—who is living in a dangerous and violent society.” If you say so. But from our take, Bieito’s macho directorial shtick could have comported perfectly well with more atmospheric scenic richness. The phone booth, the flagpole and the projection screen (Photoshopped by BMInt) constituted the set. A wind machine was about to animate the flag. Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer The post Bizet with BVDs Headed to Hub appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

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 .

parterre box

May 30

Evensong

When Neil Shicoff celebrated the 40th anniversary of his 1975 stage debut as Ernani in Cincinnati, no one had any idea that it would, essentially, mark the end of his career. In 2014 he added the roles of Canio (at Wiener Staatsoper) and Calaf (at Volksoper Wien) to his repertoire to great acclaim. Indeed, speaking with him just a few months between those debuts, we talked about other roles which he was considering. He also discounted the idea of managing an opera company after the bizarre situation where he was considered by the press and public to be the de facto successor to Ioan Holender as Intendant of Staatsoper, and was shaken by the unexpected decision by the Austrian government in 2007 to give the job to Dominique Meyer Shicoff was so upset by the decision that he withdrew from a new production of Benvenuto Cellini at Salzburg that summer. But now, we have learned that he is, indeed, the head of opera at St. Petersburg’s Mikhaylovsky Theatre and has relocated from Wien to upstate New York, with no singing engagements in sight. As he relates in his emotional remarks after the gala, the most important houses of his career were the Met (with a shout out to James Levine) and Wiener Staatsoper, and I had the good fortune to witness his greatest triumphs in both houses. Among them, I attended his 1976 Met debut as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, an occasion which he fondly recalled sharing the stage with the likes of Italo Tajo and Fedora Barbieri; I was also in the house when he received the rarely-awarded title of Ehrenmitglied (honorary member) of Staatsoper after a 2003 performance of La Juive. Shicoff was never shy about his temperament and life-long stage fright, so please keep this in mind when listening to this gala: it takes him a while to warm up. Also keep in mind that between the ages of 25 and 65 he sang over 200 performances at the Met and almost 250 at Staatsoper in addition to appearing in all of the world’s great opera houses and festivals. The gala is remarkable not only for Shicoff, but the participation of Krassimira Stoyanova, Anja Silja, Elena Maximova, and Feruccio Furlanetto. And by all means do listen to the onstage comments at the end, by Meyer and Shicoff – the perfect coda to a remarkable career. Neil Shicoff: 40 Years on the Stage Wiener Staatsoper Frédéric Chaslin, conductor 03 May 2015 Jacques Offenbach LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN Prologue Hoffmann – Neil Shicoff Lindorf – Paolo Rumetz The Muse/Nicklausse – Stephanie Houtzeel Andrès – Thomas Ebensten Nathanaël – Carlos Osuna Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky PIQUE DAME Act II, scene ii Gherman – Neil Shicoff Countesss – Anja Silja Lisa – Krassimira Stoyanova Jacques François Fromental Halévy LA JUIVE Act IV Eléazar – Neil Schicoff Cardinal de Brogni – Ferruccio Furlanetto Rachel – Krassimira Stoyanova Princess Eudoxie – Simina Ivan Georges Bizet CARMEN Act IV Carmen – Elena Maximova Don José – Neil Shicoff Escamillo – Clemens Unterreiner Frasquita – Simina Ivan Mercédès – Juliette Mars Comments by Dominique Meyer and Neil Shicoff



The Well-Tempered Ear

May 13

Classical music: Handbell director Brad Schultz will say good-bye to Madison with two performances of “Postcards From France” this weekend.

By Jacob Stockinger The Ear has received the following notice: Music director Brad Schultz of the Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) will finish his tenure with MACH by conducting “Postcards from France ” in two performances this weekend. Concerts are on Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Asbury Church, 6101 University Avenue; and on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium . Tickets can be purchased in advance ($12 adult, $9 senior/student) at any of the advance ticket outlets (Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports) or at the door ($15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students). After three very successful years of directing the choir, music director Brad Schultz (below) has resigned due to added responsibilities on the Luther College faculty starting next fall. Throughout his tenure, Brad has helped MACH’s ringers retain the spirit and skills which have led this auditioned choir to be recognized as one of the leading handbell groups in America. He introduces the concert as follows: “Maybe it was the first time you tasted a delicious French roll , or saw the Eiffel Tower . Maybe it was an exposure to music, culture, or fashion. Maybe it was in your early ventures as a reader (“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”), or depictions of la belle vie (the French “good life”) in the movies. We have always had a fascination with all things French; from culture, to custom, to cuisine, to cinema. “There’s no denying French advancements in music, either. From the cathedral to the salon, Leonin and Perotin to composers of chanson and popular music, France has always left a musical mark on the world. “We invite you to join us this weekend for a celebration of all things French. Revered composers Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin and Faure will be represented, alongside pieces that remind us of French culture , landscape and architecture. We’re excited to be joined again this season by flutist Barbara Paziouros Roberts.” Here is the complete program: Grand Valse Brillante , Op. 18, by Frédéric Chopin, Arranged by Ruth Artman Jubilation by Fred Gramann The Sunken Cathedral (La cathédral engloutie) by Claude Debussy, Transcribed by Kevin McChesney Pavane by Gabriel Fauré, Arranged by Albert Zabel The Ball (from “Children’s Games”) by Georges Bizet, Arranged by Betty B. Garee Suite for Flute & Piano, Op. 116, by Benjamin Godard: II. Idylle Danse Macabre by Camille Saint–Saéns, Arranged by Michael R. Keller Down the River by Jason W. Krug Intermission Fountains by Kevin McChesney Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie, Arranged by Karen Roth Pavane pour une Infante Defunte by Maurice Ravel , Transcribed by Kevin McChesney Cathedrals by Margaret R. Tucker Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes ) by Joseph Kosma, Arranged by Bank Wu MACH rings over 6 octaves of handbells and 7 octaves of handchimes, the largest assemblage of these instruments in Wisconsin. This fall, while the choir searches for a new director, MACH will be led by founder and former director Susan Udell, who retired from the group in 2010. For more information about MACH, visit the website at http://www.madisonhandbells.org . Tagged: Arts , autumn leaves , Bizet , cathedral , Chamber music , Champs-Élysées , chanson , children , Chopin , cinema , Classical music , Claude Debussy , cuisine , culture , dance , Debussy , Eiffel Tower , Faure , flute , fountains , France , French , French music , games , Gymnopedie , handbells , Jacob Stockinger , Luther College , Madison , Madison Area Concert Handbells , Maurice Ravel , Music , Paris , pavane , Piano , pop , popular music , Ravel , Saint-Saens , salon , Satie , Suite , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Waltz , YouTube

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