MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

Cav/Pag

The Met’s new production of the popular double bill, directed by one of my favorites, David McVicar, opens tonight. The cast includes Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza, Patricia Racette as Nedda, Marcelo Álvarez singing Turiddu and Canio, George Gagnidze as Alfio and Tonio, with Fabio Luisi conducting.

From the Met’s company history:

“Cavalleria” was first performed by the Met on tour in Chicago in December 1891, paired with Act I of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” “Pagliacci” followed in December 1893 at the opera house in New York, in a double bill with Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” The Met was the first opera company to present “Cav/Pag” together on December 22, 1893, and this combination soon became standard practice around the world, but occasional pairings with other operas were still common into the early 20th century.

“Cavalleria” and “Pagliacci” individually shared the Met stage with such diverse works as “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Don Pasquale,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La Fille du Régiment,”Il Trovatore,” “Rigoletto,” “La Bohème,” and even Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Le Coq d’Or.” An unlikely double bill of “Pagliacci” and “Hansel and Gretel” was especially popular, with almost 100 performances between 1906 and 1938.

Among the notable early interpreters of the leading roles were Emma Eames, Emma Calvé, Johanna Gadski, Olive Fremstad, Emmy Destinn, and Rosa Ponselle (Santuzza), Francesco Tamagno and Enrico Caruso (Turiddu), Nellie Melba, Destinn, Lucrezia Bori, Claudia Muzio, and Queena Mario (Nedda), Caruso (more than 100 performances) and Giovanni Martinelli (Canio), and Pasquale Amato (Tonio). A new production in 1951 starred Zinka Milanov and Richard Tucker in “Cavalleria” and Delia Rigal, Ramón Vinay, and Leonard Warren in “Pagliacci.”

This was succeeded by another new staging in 1958, with Lucine Amara as Nedda, Mario Del Monaco as Canio, and Milanov and Warren reprising their roles. The following production, directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli,
premiered in 1970 with Leonard Bernstein conducting “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Fausto Cleva conducting “Pagliacci” and a cast that included Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli in “Cavalleria” and Amara, Richard Tucker, and Sherrill Milnes in “Pagliacci.”

Among the many other artists who have appeared in the two operas since the late 1950s are Giulietta Simionato, Eileen Farrell, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Tatiana Troyanos (Santuzza), Teresa Stratas and Diana Soviero (Nedda),
Jon Vickers, James McCracken, and Giuseppe Giacomini (Canio), and Cornell MacNeil and Juan Pons (Tonio). Tenors who have faced the challenge of taking on both leading roles include Plácido Domingo, Roberto Alagna, and José Cura.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera

Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Met

My essay Verdi’s Don Carlo for the Metropolitan’s current revival of the Nicholas Hytner production:

The longest and most ambitious of Verdi’s works, Don Carlo seems to encompass multiple operas. Parading across its vast canvas is an array of richly characterized individuals who elicit the full range of the composer’s art; their particular relationships play out against an epic backdrop of conflicting social, political, and religious forces. Scenes of searing intimacy and familial turmoil are juxtaposed with grand spectacles that formidably display the power of church and state.

continue reading (pdf beginning on p. 40)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Verdi

Verdi’s Ernani at the Met

The Met’s production of Ernani is back on the boards. Here’s my essay for the Met’s program:

With Ernani, the fifth of his 28 operas, Verdi was able to exercise a degree
of control over the creative process that had been unprecedented
thus far in his career. Not only did he enjoy one of the key successes of
his early years as a result, but the experience also helped clarify his sense of the
untapped potential for a powerful new style of music drama hidden behind the
conventions of Italian opera.

continue reading (p. 39 of pdf)

Filed under: essay, Metropolitan Opera, Verdi

Finding the Light, Facing the Darkness

It seems — at least as of now — that tonight’s opening of the Met’s double bill of Tchaikovsky and Bartók will proceed as planned, despite the blizzard arriving. It’s a new production directed by Mariusz Trelinski and starring Anna Netrebko as the blind Princess Iolanta for the Tchaikovsky one-act.

Toi toi toi!

My program essay:

Only two decades separate the composition of Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle. Yet during these years, the music of fin-de-siècle Romanticism sounded the last gasps of a philosophy that was rapidly being made obsolete by the efforts of a diverse generation of radical younger composers. That, at least, is the narrative we’re usually told. In fact the shift toward modernism was not nearly so clean-cut or abrupt.

You can find the whole piece here (pdf: starting on p. 3 of the insert, after p. 36)

Filed under: Bartók, essay, Metropolitan Opera, Tchaikovsky

The Tales of Hoffmann at the Met

Bart Sher’s Tales of Hoffmann production is returning to the Met this week.

Here’s my essay on Offenbach’s fascinating, problematic masterpiece for the Met Playbill (starts on p. 35 [pdf format]):

Les Contes d’Hoffmann is a most unusual swan song. In its formal ambition
and psychological scope, the opera represents a striking makeover.
Jacques Offenbach hoped to reinvent himself as an artist, proving that he
was capable of more than the wickedly satirical but lightweight brand of lyrical
theater on which his reputation had been built. And Hoffmann did secure his
place in the operatic pantheon, although the truncated version through which it first became known made a jumble of Offenbach’s original vision.

continue reading

Filed under: directors, essay, Metropolitan Opera

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