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Tagged with 'opera'

Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Valuska

A debut work at the age of almost 80: The new opera Valuska is the first of Peter Eötvös' 13 operas that the Hungarian composer wrote in his native language. Eötvös celebrates his 80th birthday on 02 January 2024. To mark this occasion, the new work will be premiered on 02 December 2023 at the Hungarian State Opera Budapest. It will be conducted by Kálmán Szennai and staged by Bence Varga.

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Work of the Week – Tobias Picker: Lili Elbe

On 22 October 2023, the newly renovated Theater St. Gallen opens with the world premiere of the world's first major opera about a person who is transgender. Lili Elbe is the latest work by Grammy Award winner Tobias Picker and his librettist Aryeh Lev Stollman, commissioned by Konzert und Theater St. Gallen. The opera features a production by Krystian Lada, with musical direction by Modestas Pitrenas. American transgender baritone Lucia Lucas will embody the title role of Lili Elbe. 

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Work of the Week – Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz: Achill unter den Mädchen

The question is not “to be or not to be”, but “who would you like to be”? In his opera, Achill unter den Mädchen, Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz raises questions about gender identity and role models. On 17 March 2023, The Munich Radio Orchestra, under the direction of Oliver Tardy, will take on the first night of this production by Franziska Severin featuring soloists from the August Everding Theatre Academy at Munich’s Prinzregententheater.

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Work of the Week – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s penultimate dramatic composition was as ambitious as its exceedingly long title suggests. From 15 May, Dutch National Opera Amsterdam’s production of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, conducted by Marc Albrecht, will be available to watch on OperaVision. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov, who was also the stage designer for the production, created a visual language that is both realistic yet magical, and which was highly acclaimed by the international press. 

The four-act opera is set in the mythical city of Kitezh and is likely to be inspired by a thirteenth century duchy at the Volga River. Legend has it the city disappeared while under siege by enemy forces. Rimsky-Korsakov combined this Russian version of the Atlantis myth with a retelling of the invasion of the Mongol army  during the thirteenth century.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya - “A Russian Atlantis”

This war is the backdrop for a love story between the virtuous farmer’s daughter Fevroniya and the Duke of Vsevolod. Their marriage is prevented by the assault of the enemies during which Vsevolod is killed. In her grief, Fevroniya prays for help for the people of Kitezh and a golden fog surrounds the city rendering it invisible to the invaders. Ultimately, Fevroniya also dies but the spirit of her fiancé brings her back to the hidden city where the opera culminates in a Wagnerian ascension of the loving couple. 

Prior to the opera’s premiere, Rimsky-Korsakov faced his own personal Kitezh when in 1905, as riots against the Tsar spread throughout Russia, he supported protesting students and was suspended from his professorship. Only when public opinion shifted in his favor and he was reinstated could the first production of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya find its way to the stage. 
Marc Albrecht, conducting the ambitious and beautifully sounding Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest, was not only able to form an arc of tension over three long and unshortened acts  of the masterfully crafted score. He also miraculously balanced the epic inner act and the lyric framing acts in a way that the action on the stage and in the pit came to perfect harmony. The production, subsequently to be shown in Paris, Barcelona and Milan is an ambassador for the huge masterwork by Rimsky-Korsakov which hopefully leads to a general revival of his operas. - Uwe Schweikert (review in ‘Opernwelt’)

The production, which is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, will be available to stream on OperaVision until August. The performance material is available from M.P. Belaieff publishers, exclusively distributed by Schott Music. 

photo: Dutch National Opera / Monika Rittershaus

Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun

Composer Krzysztof Penderecki passed away recently at his home in Poland, aged 86. As a tribute to the legacy left by one of the world’s foremost composers, Hamburg State Opera have made their original production of Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun available to stream on demand for free from 13 April. This world premiere production from 1969 is part of a series of videos from the era of the legendary intendant Rolf Liebermann that the theatre is offering during its present shutdown. It was directed by Konrad Swinarski with costume and stage design by Lidia and Jerzy Skarzynski, and conducted by Henryk Czyz.

The opera is set in the small French town of Loudun, a showplace for sensational occurrences in 1633-34 that were extensively documented and gained renown around Europe, regarded with a mix of fervent repulsion and voyeurism. Urbain Grandier, the village priest of Loudun, was accused in 1633 of having bewitched the nuns, above all Prioress Jeanne of the newly founded Ursuline-Cloister. Under torture he admitted to regretting his lapsed lifestyle and having had relationships with two women – one of whom expected a child from him – but refused steadfastly to confess to his “Devil’s Work” despite “proofs” of the same. In the summer of 1634 he was burned at the stake. For years afterwards the obsessions of the nuns occupied doctors and exorcists, the events ending only as Cardinal Richelieu withdrew his financial support of the cloister.

Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun – an opera about tolerance

The trial against Urban Grandier was included in François de Pitaval’s collection of famous criminal cases. This source, along with the autobiographical recollections of Prioress Jeanne from 1644, and two reports of the trial from 1634 and 1693, were used by Aldous Huxley in 1952 as the basis for his non-fiction novel, The Devils of Loudun. Eight years later John Whiting dramatised Huxley’s writings, and this was the starting point for Penderecki’s libretto (translated into German by Erich Fried). 
For Penderecki, The Devils of Loudun is a work about tolerance and intolerance. Grandier was the victim of political intrigue, where even Jeanne was not really his enemy, but a victim of religious-political fanatics; her erotic neuroses exaggerated by Richelieu’s handiwork into a necessary possession by the Devil. – Wolfram Schwinger 

This world premiere production will be available on Hamburg State Opera’s streaming service until 27 April.

Work of the Week – Hans Werner Henze: The Bassarids

With almost every opera house and concert hall around the world closed, we focus this week on a recent production of Hans Werner Henze´s opera The Bassarids, currently available for free on the online platform OperaVision. Reviews of Barrie Kosky´s staging and Vladimir Jurowski´s musical direction were splendid so this is a fantastic opportunity to explore the depths of this opera, considered a pinnacle of not only Henze´s dramatic output but of the entire mid-century classicism in opera.

The libretto for The Bassarids, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based on Euripides’ Bacchae; it tells the story of Pentheus, the new ruler of Thebes, banning the cult of Dionysus before being unwittingly drawn into the revelry by Dionysus himself, disguised as a stranger. Pentheus is eventually killed by his own mother, who has mistaken him for a wild animal, before Dionysus reveals his true identity and demands adoration from the Thebans for his revenge against the tyrant. The one-act opera’s large instrumentation and sophisticated libretto make The Bassarids an ambitious project. With Dionysus and Pentheus embodying two extremes of human existence, there is great potential for reference to the present day.

Today I consider The Bassarids, which I now understand to a far greater degree and hold much dearer than when I was composing the work, to be my most important music theatre work. It is […] still relevant for us, but specifically addresses questions associated with the years around 1968: what is freedom and what is bondage? What is repression, what is revolt and what is revolution? This is all in fact demonstrated, insinuated and suggested by Euripides. The multiplicity and richness of relationships, the tangible sensual relationships between the ancient civilisation of this Archaic period and our time are captured in Auden’s text; Euripides is transposed into our time in a manner which could not have been better achieved with the best possible stage production of the original Greek play, as we are constantly reminded of our distance from a different, long-gone civilisation. – Hans Werner Henze

The video will be available to stream on demand until 13 April and a final performance of the Komische Oper Berlin production is scheduled for 26 June.

photo: © Komische Oper Berlin / Monika Rittershaus

Work of the Week – Christian Jost: Egmont

Christian Jost’s opera Egmont premieres at Theater an der Wien on 17 February conducted by Michael Boder. The work was commissioned by the theatre for 2020 in celebration of Beethoven’s 250 Anniversary. Keith Warner has created the production for the premiere.

Egmont is based on the play of the same name by Goethe, a work to which Beethoven famously wrote incidental music. The libretto for Jost’s Egmont was adapted from the play in collaboration with Christoph Klimke for a cast of six characters and addresses both topical issues and conflicts. In the original, Prince Egmont of Gaure is portrayed to be an advocate for freedom, peace, and justice – themes that resonated strongly with Beethoven throughout his life. However, these ideas are sometimes approached from an altered perspective in the opera, which explores how society may be manipulated, and what can happen when a system falls short of its own moral and ideological values.

Christian Jost – Egmont: freedom, peace, and justice

My opera reveals a different side of Beethoven: extracts from his famous letter ‘to the immortal beloved’. The ubiquitous six-voice chorus leads us into the interior of the figures and behind the masks of their social functions in a fragile, chiseled vocal texture. – Christian Jost

Egmont will run at the Theater an der Wien until 26 February with the German premiere of the opera set to take place at Theater Bielefeld during the 2020/21 season. On 30 March, another of Jost’s operas, Voyage vers l’espoir (Reise der Hoffnung), will open in its world premiere production at the Gran Théâtre de Genève.

Work of the Week – Gerald Barry: Alice’s Adventures Under Ground

On 3 February, the world premiere staging of Gerald Barry’s opera Alice’s Adventures Under Ground opens on the main stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Thomas Adès and directed by Antony McDonald. Composed between 2013-15 on a joint commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Barbican Centre in London, and Britten Sinfonia.

Barry’s sixth opera to date, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground followed on the immense success of The Importance of Being Earnest, which since its premiere in 2011 has been performed all over the world and has been heralded as a masterpiece of modern opera. Alice is based on both of Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in a libretto created by the composer. Like its predecessor Earnest, Barry strips the stories to their bones, cramming them into 55 minutes of bold music and surreal, laugh-out-loud comedy.

Gerald Barry – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground: a surreal and funny story

The book is very dramatic, and is an ideal vehicle for divas, male or female. It’s tremendous material for showing off – it takes these unbelievable things for granted, viewing them as normal. – Gerald Barry

Alice will be performed twice a day by a double cast on 4, 6, 8, and 9 February. The co-production with Netherlands Opera and Irish National Opera will be seen in Amsterdam and Ireland in future seasons. Also this spring, on 4 March at St Giles’ Cripplegate, the BBC Singers will present a portrait concert of Barry’s choral works and his new Cello Concerto will receive its world premiere by Tatjana Vassiljeva and RTÉ Concert Orchestra at Music for Galway’s Cellissimo Festival on 29 April.

Work of the Week – Anno Schreier: Der Zauberer von Oz

On 8 December Anno Schreier’s Der Zauberer von Oz will receive its world premiere at the Theater Aachen. Christopher Ward will conduct the cast and orchestra in director Ute M. Engelhardt’s new production. Schreier’s family-orientated ‘magicopera’, liberally sets the famous story initially told in Lyman Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and popularised by the 1939 film adaptation.
Dorothy is caught in tornado that blows her from Kansas to the fantastical land of Oz. Meeting friends along the way, Der Zauberer von Oz follows Dorothy as she begins a journey to find the wizard who will help her to return home. Just as Dorothy is met by a series of unexpected events during her journey to the Emerald City, Schreier’s score is full of many different musical styles including baroque, country, and reggae.

Anno Schreier – Der Zauberer von Oz: A magician takes his audience on a wonderful journey
If I had to describe myself with one of the characters, I would describe myself first of all as the cowardly lion who cannot trust his own strength at the beginning of a new project. Later, I would select Dorothy who searches for allies and is able to confront witches and the Hammer-Heads. In my role of composer, I also attempt to be a wizard who takes his audience on a wonderful journey. – Anno Schreier

Der Zauberer von Oz runs at Theater Aachen until March 2020.