Sunday, June 25, 2017
press release: Washington National Opera (WNO) and its Executive Director Michael L. Mael today announce that Music Director Philippe Auguin will become Music Director Emeritus of the WNO Orchestra at the beginning of the 2018–2019 season. Auguin’s position as Music Director will not be extended after the conclusion of the company’s 2017–2018 season. He will then have completed eight seasons as WNO’s Music Director, having conducted 17 productions—including WNO’s first-ever complete cycles of Wagner’s epic The Ring of the Nibelung—and having filled 10 positions in the orchestra, including three principals, an assistant concertmaster, and an assistant principal.
Philippe Auguin, 56, will have completed eight seasons with WNO by the time he steps down from his post. Having made his company debut in 2009 as an 11th-hour replacement for his ailing predecessor, Heinz Fricke, in a concert version of Wagner’s “Twilight of the Gods,” he has particularly excelled in Wagner, leading “Tristan and Isolde” in 2013 and Francesca Zambello’s “Ring” cycle in 2016, which counts as one of the company’s great triumphs.
With original dwarfs, mermaids and thunder machines? Press release: Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” in historically-informed performance practice – Concerto Köln and Kent Nagano launch an extraordinary project In their most recent collaboration, Concerto Köln and the internationally-renowned conductor, Kent Nagano, pursue a leading-edge project: in cooperation with scientists at the university and Musichochschule in Cologne, they are taking on Richard Wagner’s tetralogy, “The Ring of the Nibelung”. Their undertaking will provide the international opera scene with new impetus in historically-informed approaches to musical-theatrical works of the 19th century. Jochen Schäfsmeier (Managing Director, Concerto Köln): “Concerto Köln is as honoured as it is inspirited to approach Wagner’s ‚Ring’ together with Kent Nagano and to be able to make an important contribution to the historical performance practice of 19th century music.” For the first time, the entire “Ring” is to be viewed from an early music movement perspective: the instrumental and vocal styles as well as the staging at the time of Wagner will be examined over a period of several years and compiled to form a historically-informed performance concept. Kent Nagano (Artistic Director): “It is due to historical performance practice that nowadays there is a much different understanding of many composers and their works than was standard 30 or 40 years ago. Moreover, thanks to historicized approaches, we have gained knowledge about instruments and playing techniques which opens up to us new, pioneering pathways into the interpretation and performance of our music. Richard Wagner’s ‚The Ring of the Nibelung’ is probably one of the most researched compositions yet nonetheless, a systematic approach to the tetralogy from a historically-informed perspective has not been attempted thus far. It is therefore all the more important that such an undertaking is tackled and that, in romantic repertoire now as well, normality in terms of sound which seemed irrefutable so far is called into question. I have collaborated together with Concerto Köln for several projects in the past and am convinced that I have found two most competent partners in the Cologne ensemble and the Kunststiftung NRW who are able to provide the scientific basis for a historically-informed reading of Richard Wagner’s ‚Ring’. Together we will pursue this endeavor and bring the music to the stage!” The simultaneously scientific as well as artistic undertaking on such a mammoth scale requires tremendous effort with the additional aim of becoming a guide to performance practice of 19th century music and opera. The outcome, interpreted by Concerto Köln and Kent Nagano, will be performed from the 2020/21 onward. All research findings will be published in Open Access. Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Wagner (Kunststiftung NRW): “For the Kunststiftung NRW, the support of the project, ‚WAGNER-READINGS’, is of significance in a number of ways. For several years, supporting artistic research has played a major role within the Kunststiftung’s funding programs – albeit with a primary focus on theater, dance and literature; examples of this being the Christoph-Schlingensief guest professorship for scenic research at the Ruhr University in Bochum, the Pina Bausch fellowship and the Thomas Kling lectureship at the University of Bonn. With ‚WAGNER-READINGS’, the base of support is expanded to the area of music, bringing art and research together in a so to speak ideal-typical way by conducting research into the complex correlations involved in the musical-theatrical production of Wagner and translating the results into artistic practice.” Initial work already began in May of 2017. The official go-ahead for the project is a symposium in September, 2017. Financial support is provided by the Kunststiftung NRW and the Freunde von Concerto Köln e.V. Additional support is provided by the Strecker-Stiftung and MBL Akustikgeräte GmbH & Co. KG. Further information can be found at www.wagner-lesarten.de
Juan Diego Flórez in La fille du régiment © Bill Cooper Whether cast as heroic warriors, ardent lovers, romantic poets or revolutionary outsiders, tenors are the undisputed kings of opera. We look at a few of the greatest – and most challenging – tenor roles: Idomeneo – Mozart ’s Idomeneo Idomeneo is a rare example of a tenor role with no love interest. However, Mozart more than makes up for it by giving the eponymous King of Crete one of the greatest virtuoso arias in the tenor repertory, 'Fuor del mar', and through his moving musical representation of Idomeneo's struggle to reconcile paternal love and religious duty. Arnold – Rossini ’s Guillaume Tell Arnold famously led to the birth of the ‘modern tenor’ , when his first interpreter, Gilbert Duprez , sang the high C in the Act IV cabaletta ‘Amis, amis’ in full voice rather than the customary falsetto. From the flamboyance of this stirring cabaletta to the lyricism of Arnold’s Act II duet with his beloved Mathilde and his mournful Act IV aria ‘Asile héréditaire’, there are plenty of vocal delights for any tenor bold enough to take on the challenge. Arturo – Bellini ’s I puritani Luciano Pavarotti described the role of the heroic monarchist Arturo, caught between love and political duty during England’s Civil War, as ‘pure tightrope walking’. Particularly demanding episodes include the Act I aria ‘A te, o cara’ and the Act III ensemble ‘Credeasi misera’, in which the courageous Arturo has to sing some of the highest notes ever written for tenor. Aeneas (Enée) – Berlioz ’s Les Troyens Stamina and versatility are the key skills for interpreters of Berlioz’s Trojan hero. Aeneas bursts onto the stage in Act I with high, declamatory music – but the role also calls for a singer capable of delicate lyricism, particularly in the sublime Act IV duet with Dido, ‘Nuit d’ivresse’. Keeping back enough energy for Act V’s heroic and despairing aria ‘Inutile regrets’, with its huge vocal range, is also crucial. Siegfried – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Wagner’s Siegfried is arguably the hardest role in the dramatic tenor repertory. Episodes such as the Forging Song require immense vocal power, easy top notes and boundless energy. But it’s not all about decibels: the singer also has to convince as the tender, sympathetic lover of Act III of Siegfried and of Götterdämmerung ’s death scene. Most importantly, he needs the stamina to keep going throughout two five-hour operas and still sound fresh at the end! Otello – Verdi ’s Otello Otello is perhaps Verdi’s most challenging tenor role. It requires a wide vocal range, and the singer needs to project over a powerful orchestra. Otello also presents a host of dramatic challenges: his interpreter must convince as Act I’s heroic commander, and as the troubled, ultimately broken man of the later acts – and remain sympathetic despite his appalling actions. Gherman – Tchaikovsky ’s The Queen of Spades The role of Gherman not only requires a singer of great stamina – he’s rarely offstage – but also one with the acting skills to convey the character’s mental instability and obsessiveness, while making us sympathize with him in his love for Liza and his loneliness. The rewards for the tenor are great, though: Plácido Domingo described Gherman as ‘dramatically one of the most interesting characters I have ever played’. Rodolfo – Puccini ’s La bohème Rodolfo is a character that many singers find it easy to empathize with: his enthusiasm for life, youthful romantic passion and fun-loving, humorous streak. The role also contains much glorious music, including ‘Che gelida manina’, one of opera’s most beautiful lyric tenor arias. No wonder that great tenors including Enrico Caruso , José Carreras and Pavarotti have listed Rodolfo among their favourite roles. The Emperor – Strauss ’s Die Frau ohne Schatten Strauss never gave tenors an easy time of it, and the Emperor outdoes even the role of Bacchus from Ariadne auf Naxos in its vocal difficulty. He makes his first appearance with a heroic aria set fiendishly high in the voice, and further challenges await in Act II when he sings a 12-minute monologue of almost unbearable intensity. Fortunately, the music is as consistently glorious as it is difficult! Peter Grimes – Britten ’s Peter Grimes Peter Grimes’s ambivalent nature makes him one of opera’s most dramatically interesting roles. Is he a hero or a villain? A murderer or a visionary? And how much should we sympathize with him? Jon Vickers saw him as a Christ-like figure, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson as ‘a dangerous, violent, quixotic and very valuable person for whom things go wrong’. But whoever Grimes is, there’s no doubting his wonderful music, including the Act I aria ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades’. Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 28 June 2017. Find your nearest cinema. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
Beryl Grey and other Attendants to Summer in Act III of The Fairy-Queen, Sadler's Wells Ballet/Covent Garden Opera Company (1946). Photo by Frank Sharman A number of leading figures from the worlds of opera and ballet have been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2017. Composer George Benjamin , who wrote the highly acclaimed opera Written on Skin and whose much-anticipated new piece Lessons in Love and Violence will have its UK premiere at Covent Garden next Season, has been awarded a knighthood. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly becomes a Dame. Connolly made her Royal Opera debut in 2009 and has sung at Covent Garden many times since. She is particularly renowned for her performances of works by Wagner. Conductor Mark Elder becomes a Companion of Honour as does former Royal Ballet dancer Beryl Grey (pictured above). Elder regularly conducts at Covent Garden as well as leading Manchester's Hallé Orchestra while Grey was one of the leading ballerinas of her generation. Bass-baritone Gerald Finley receives a CBE, while ballet mistress Romayne Grigorova and baritone Roderick Williams receive an OBE. Other high profile recipients this year include comedian Billy Connolly, who receives a knighthood; actress Julie Walters, who is made a Dame; and Paul McCartney, who becomes a Companion of Honour. View the full list of Queen's Birthday Honours 2017 recipients
Maria Agresta as Desdemona and Jonas Kaufmann as Otello in rehearsal for Otello, The Royal Opera © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The Willow Song and Ave Maria are connected arias sung by Desdemona, the heroine of Verdi ’s 1887 opera Otello , based on Shakespeare ’s play Othello . They are her only solo numbers in the opera, and testify to her goodness and her continuing love for her husband Otello, despite his despicable treatment of her. Where does it take place in the opera? The Willow Song and Ave Maria take place at the start of the final act of Otello. Desdemona sings the Willow Song – which she learnt as a girl – as she prepares for bed, occasionally breaking off to issue instructions to her maid Emilia, or to meditate on her own sad circumstances. She is overcome with sudden fear, and bids Emilia an emotional farewell. After Emilia has left, Desdemona prays to the Virgin Mary, then falls asleep. She will later be woken by Otello who, maddened by jealousy, murders her. What do the lyrics mean? The Willow Song describes how a girl deserted by her lover sang so sweetly that the birds gathered to hear her, and wept so bitterly that the very stones were moved to pity. The song’s title comes from the refrain: ‘Il salce funebre sarà la mia ghirlanda’ (the funereal willow will be my garland). Desdemona breaks off from her song three times: to tell Emilia that Otello will soon arrive, to take off her ring, and, agitatedly, to ask if someone is knocking at the door. Her Ave Maria begins with the words of the traditional Catholic prayer , then evolves into a personal appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and help all people: the powerful as well as the persecuted. What makes the music so memorable? The opening of Act IV powerfully evokes melancholy. The Willow Song is remarkable for its intimate mood: its lyrical, at times almost improvisatory, vocal line, and delicate orchestration, in which woodwind instruments are prominent. Verdi deftly illustrates images from the song’s text, including a busy string figuration to depict the swirling stream by which the girl weeps, and flute flurries for the birds that fly to her side. Desdemona’s two passionate outbursts at the end of the song hint at how stoically she has been controlling her grief. The ensuing Ave Maria movingly depicts how Desdemona finds consolation in prayer. Its shimmering orchestration, beautifully simple melody and ethereal coda – with Desdemona soaring to a pianissimo high note – poignantly portray innocence and trust in a beneficent higher power: a welcome contrast to the mood of bitterness and sorrow the cruel Iago has created by poisoning Otello’s mind against Desdemona. Otello’s other musical highlights The devil often gets the best tunes – so it’s no surprise that Iago has some terrific music, including the jocular Act I drinking song ‘Inaffia l’ugola!’ and the chillingly malevolent Act II ‘Credo’. Verdi movingly charts Otello’s mental disintegration, from the heroism of his Act I entry ‘Esultate!’ to the anguished, fragmentary music of his Act III solo ‘Dio! mi potevi scagliar’, and moves us to pity with his heartrending final soliloquy ‘Niun mi tema’. Memorable ensembles include Iago and Otello’s thrilling Act II duet ‘Sì, pel ciel’. And there is plenty of wonderful choral music, including the serene Act II chorus sung by Cypriots and their children in praise of Desdemona, and the mighty Act III concertato as the chorus and all the principal singers react to Otello’s public attack on his wife. Classic recordings Plácido Domingo , an iconic Otello, made several recordings of the opera, of which the 1978 version under James Levine also features the superb Iago of Sherrill Milnes and Renata Scotto ’s radiant Desdemona. Domingo’s 1994 recording , conducted by Myung-Whun Chung , includes Sergei Leiferkus as a deliciously sinister Iago and Cheryl Studer as an impassioned Desdemona. Other fine recordings include Georg Solti ’s from 1977 , with Margaret Price ’s vocal beauty and Carlo Cossutta ’s heroic stamina ideal for Desdemona and Otello; and the 1960 recording conducted by Italian maestro Tullio Serafin , with Jon Vickers a passionate Otello and the great Tito Gobbi a jocularly macabre Iago. Among the multiple filmed offerings are the Metropolitan Opera’s 1996 recording with Domingo, Renée Fleming and James Morris and The Royal Opera’s 1992 recording with Solti, Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa and Leiferkus. Zeffirelli ’s dramatic film of the opera with Domingo is also well worth a watch – if you can cope with the absence of the Willow Song! Further listening Verdi’s other two Shakespeare operas are the next logical step: his Macbeth is full of theatrical intensity and energy, while his last opera Falstaff is one of the most hilarious and touching operatic comedies. Those who enjoy Verdi’s combination of quick-moving drama and wonderful melodies will find much to enjoy in his successor Puccini ’s operas – particularly La bohème , Tosca and Madama Butterfly . Otello’s dramatic intensity and beautiful orchestration also has much in common with Wagner ’s music dramas, such as Tristan und Isolde , Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Parsifal . And for Shakespeare fans there’s a variety of other Shakespearean operas to explore, including Britten ’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Reimann ’s Lear and Adès ’s The Tempest . Otello runs 21 June–15 July 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is generously supported by Rolex and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne, John G. Turner and Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Martin and Jane Houston, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The American Friends of Covent Garden, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 - 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they were later called). Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the "total work of art". This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.
Great composers of classical music