MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Philip Glass’s Ahknaten at the Met

Ahknaten — in my opinion, one of Philip Glass’s greatest works — opened last night in Phelim McDermott’s excellent production at the Met. I was honored to have the opportunity to write the program note (starts on p. 40B of the attached Playbill).

On January 6, 1907, the entrance to a rock-cut tomb was uncovered in
the Valley of the Kings outside modern-day Luxor, Egypt. The mummy
safeguarded within may have been the preserved body of the pharaoh
Akhnaten (today more commonly spelled Akhenaten) …

continue

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Phelim McDermott, Philip Glass, program notes

Dialogues des Carmélites at the Met

Tonight brings the revival of the Metropolitan Opera’s classic John Dexter production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts a cast including Isabel Leonard as Blanche and Karita Mattila as the Prioress.

The production will be shown in theaters live in HD on May 12 as well. You can read my program notes here (pp. 40-47).

Filed under: Francis Poulenc, Metropolitan Opera

Bizet’s Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met

1600x685_perlesprod

Here’s the program essay I wrote for the Met’s production of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles directed by Penny Woolcock.

Filed under: Georges Bizet, Metropolitan Opera

Parsifal back at the Met

The Met’s revival of the François Girard production of Parsifal has started its run, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting.
My essay for the Met’s Playbill program is here.

Michael Cooper offers this report for the New York Times on >1,000 gallons of fake blood Girard calls for in his staging:

The blood creates striking tableaus — drenching the dress Evelyn Herlitzius wears as she sings the role of Kundry, a wild woman in the thrall of an evil sorcerer; and helping the audience visualize the spiritual quest taken by Parsifal (the tenor Klaus Florian Vogt). And it fits squarely into Mr. Girard’s conception of the opera.

 “We’re talking about life, Christ, Amfortas’s wound, sexuality, all of those things,” he said. “Blood became the connector.”

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Wagner

Angel in America

1380x591_exterminatingangel

My essay for the Metropolitan Opera on Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel. The Met’s production opens next week and will be the North American premiere:

Not every composer has a knack for finding operatic potential in unlikely sources. But over the past two decades, Thomas Adès has followed his dramaturgical instinct to some of the most spectacular successes in contemporary opera…

continue reading

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, new opera, Thomas Adès

Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin: A Sea Apart

1380x591_saariahoOn Friday, 1 December 2016, the Metropolitan Opera will premiere its new production of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin. It will mark the first time since 1903 that the company will have presented an opera by a woman composer.

Here’s my essay for the Met’s Season book on this stunning creation by Kaija Saariaho:

Since its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, L’Amour de Loin has earned a place among the most acclaimed stage works of the 21st century. The opera won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Musical Composition in 2003 and has been performed in Paris, London, Santa Fe, Helsinki, Aspen, Darmstadt, and elsewhere. Yet it took years before Kaija Saariaho became convinced that opera could be a viable medium for what she wanted to express as a composer.

continue reading

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, new music, Uncategorized

Yannick Nézet-Séguin to the Met

The Met announced today that Yannick Nézet-Séguin will replace James Levine as new Music Director.
Live stream on the news from the Met at 10:00 am EST.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, music news

Breaking: James Levine To Retire

From the Met’s Press Office:

Legendary Maestro James Levine to Retire as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera at the End of the Current Season;

Will Become The Company’s First Music Director Emeritus

New York, NY  (April 14, 2016) – Maestro James Levine, the Met’s Music Director since 1976, announced that after 40 years in the position, he will retire at the end of the current season, for health reasons. At that time, he will assume the new position of Music Director Emeritus. In this role, he will continue as the artistic leader of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, a training program for operatic talent he began in 1980, and will continue to conduct some Met performances. Next season, he will withdraw from the new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, but plans to lead revivals of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Verdi’s Nabucco and Mozart’s Idomeneo—three works he has led more than any other conductor in Met history.

He intends to conduct his remaining performances for the current Met season, which include the current run of Verdi’sSimon Boccanegra and a five-performance revival of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail later this month, as well as theMay 19 and 26 MET Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall. He will not conduct the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on May 22.

Over the course of his unparalleled career at the Met, Levine has led 2,551 performances—far more than any other conductor in Met history—working with thousands of the world’s most gifted musicians and conducting more than 85 different operas, ranging from 18th century works to contemporary world premieres. In recent years, Levine has struggled with the effects of Parkinson’s disease, making it increasingly difficult for him to conduct a full schedule of Met performances.

“There is no conductor in the history of opera who has accomplished what Jim has achieved in his epic career at the Met,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager. “We are fortunate that he will continue to play an active and vital role in the life of the company when he becomes Music Director Emeritus at the end of the season.”

“Through 45 years of unwavering devotion, Maestro Levine has shaped the MET Orchestra into the world-class ensemble it is today,” said Jessica Phillips, chair of the orchestra committee and a clarinetist in the Met’s orchestra. “He has a unique ability to inspire those around him to perform to the best of their abilities and beyond. We eagerly anticipate his upcoming projects as Music Director Emeritus, which promise to add to an already incomparable legacy of tireless dedication and artistic integrity. It is an honor to carry the values Maestro Levine has instilled in us into this new era at the Metropolitan Opera—the house that Jimmy built.”

            Replacement conductors for this season’s May 22 Carnegie Hall concert, and for the remainder of Mo. Levine’s 2016-17 engagements—the new production of Der Rosenkavalier, and three May 2017 MET Orchestra Carnegie Hall concerts—will be announced in the coming days.

A plan is in place to appoint a new Music Director for the Met, who will be announced in the coming months.

As Mo. Levine transitions to his new role at the Met, John Fisher, currently Director of Music Administration, has been promoted to Assistant General Manager, Music Administration, effective immediately. Fisher’s duties include overseeing the Met’s staff conductors, rehearsal pianists, and prompters; coaching principal singers; and working with Mo. Levine and the conductors for each Met performance to prepare and maintain the highest level of musical quality.

 

James Levine at the Met

Levine made his Met debut in 1971 at the age of 28, leading a performance of Puccini’s Tosca, and quickly became a company favorite. He was named Principal Conductor of the Met less than a year later, in February of 1972, and became Music Director in 1976.

He has led a total of 2,551 performances with the company, including more than 2,000 opera performances at the Met itself as well as orchestral and chamber concerts, and national and international tours. This is more than twice the number led by any conductor in the company’s history.

Perhaps more than any musician in Met history, Levine has been noted for the ever-expanding range of operatic repertory in which he excels, one of the hallmarks of his extraordinary career. He has led Met performances of works by 33 composers, ranging from the Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, and Wagner operas that are staples of the company’s seasons to works by such composers as Berg, Berlioz, Bartók, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. Earlier this season, he conducted Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus for the first time in his Met career.

A tireless champion of new works and neglected masterpieces, Levine expanded the company’s repertory by leading the first-ever staged Met performances of Berg’s Lulu; Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; Rossini’s La Cenerentola; Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, Stiffelio, and I Lombardi; Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito; Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Moses und Aron;Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; Busoni’s Doktor Faust; and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, as well as the world premieres of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, music news

Manon Lescaut at the Met

649x486_manon_lescaut_introduction (1)Here’s my Playbill essay for the Met’s new production of Manon Lescaut:

Following the world premiere of Manon Lescaut on February 1, 1893, thechorus of critical praise included the observation that, with his new opera,“Puccini stands revealed for what he is: one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of the young Italian opera composers.”

continue reading (pdf, see p. 23)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Puccini

Tannhäuser at the Met

Tannhäuser has returned to the Met. Here’s my essay for the Met’s program:

Wagner never completely came to terms with Tannhäuser. On the
evening of January 22, 1883, less than a month before his death, he
ended a conversation with his wife Cosima by playing the Shepherd’s
Song and Pilgrims’ Chorus on the piano. In her diary entry for that day, Cosima quotes her husband lamenting that, “he still owed the world a Tannhäuser.”

Even if Wagner was merely referring to a production suitable for Bayreuth
(where the opera would be posthumously introduced under Cosima’s direction
in 1891), he remained anxious long after Tannhäuser’s premiere in 1845 abouthow to improve what he had created.

This anxiety bordered on obsession: Tannhäuser stands alone among the canonical Wagner operas as a continual “work-in-progress” over which the composer restlessly fretted, rethinking its premises on the occasion of each new production and periodically subjecting it to revision.

continue reading [pdf: p. 40]

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Wagner

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