An American in Paris – in Paris!

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on November 28, 2014 by figarosi

imagesThe new musical, An American in Paris, was born Saturday evening, November 22, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. A co-production with the Pittsburg Civic Light Opera, when it finally gets to Broadway, get your tickets early. It will be a smash hit.

You would think that someone would have thought about it before. There is, of course, a long history of American musicals being transferred to celluloid but the 1951 Vincent Minnelli film of the same name, with Gene Kelly and a young Leslie Caron, was begging to be put on the boards (it won six Oscars) and why it waited a half-century is anyone’s guess. The music, by some composer named George Gershwin, has already proved its usefulness over the years.

But this movie only provided the inspiration for an entirely new version with a libretto by Craig Lucas (based on the original text by Ira Gershwin). It has a new musical framework by Rob Fisher and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. The central focus on dance is the major departure from the film and the ballet sequences are one of the most impressive parts of the entire work. It is not by accident that Jerry Mulligan, the young artist that “missed his boat” back to America, is played by Robert Fairchild, a star of the New York City Ballet. His love interest, the young French girl Lise Dassin, is Leanne Cope from the Royal Opera’s ballet. In shifting sets that transport us from streets to drawing rooms to cafes, it is the cafe where Jerry meets Adam Hochberg, the misanthropic Oscar Levant character from the film. It was his writing music for, and falling in love with, the young dancer that leads to a new ballet sponsored by an aristocratic French family. Jerry is, of course, smitten too as is the shy young son of the family, Henri Baurel.

You might hear some Gershwin you don’t know by heart. The first ballet sequence is from the Concerto in F, but there are ballet sequences to the Second Prelude for piano and another with the Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. But otherwise songs like “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Love is Here to Stay,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and others placed in seamless settings creates an evening not to be forgotten.

Many roles arrived fully mature: Robert Fairchild danced with stunning brilliance and his role as Jerry needs no touchup. Brandon Uranowitz’ grumpy Hochberg is perfectly formed and hugely engaging. Leanne Cope, as Lise, a ballerina who makes a living at the perfume counter at Galerie Lafayette, has all the potential but seemed hesitant with her voice. Leanne Cox as upscale Madame Baurel and her husband, Monsieur Baurel (Scott Willis) are fully formed contributors as is Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, a sardonic and rich American donor who is also attracted to Jerry. The sometimes scrappy pit orchestra, conducted by Brad Haak, will improve with time. Costumes and decor, by Bob Crowley, are period perfect. When the show hits its stride it will be unstoppable.

Parenthetically, at the intermission, I ran into two critic friends. While my invitation was somehow for opening night, they were invited for the December 10 performance, repeating the NYC practice of having critics wait a couple of weeks for new shows opening on Broadway. Both had bought tickets for opening night, however, with one complaining about the cramped conditions in the upper balcony, a seat he would not normally experience. And there were problems opening night. An excruciating sound system was mostly fixed in the second half and some searching, by some of the cast, for the right sound was to be expected.

The story is told with assurance and the handsome and often glamorous sets work well to give the story a natural flow. The curtains open, for example, for the new ballet and the audience sees a reverse image of their own rather famous theater as the venue. The ballet, set to music from the symphonic poem which gives the work its name, is, of course, a hit and the new ballet star learns to follow her heart and pledge to Jerry. Shouts of approval and a standing ovation, rather rare in France, ended the triumphal launch of a major new work. It is running until January 4th.

Cecilia Bartoli is in the house!

Posted in News on May 26, 2012 by figarosi

Sunday, May 27, the Whitsun Festival at Salzburg will be broadcasting a live production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare.” Bartoli is singing Cleopatra with counter-tenor Andreas Scholl in the title role. It begins at 8:40 pm on the television channel Arte, available around Europe. For the rest of the world it will also be streamed live on their site, liveweb.arte.tv, and will remain available there for another 60 days.

An extraordinary cast has been assembled: Anne Sofie von Otter (Cornelia), Philippe Jaroussky (Sesto), Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo), Jochen Kowalski (Nireno), Ruben Drole (Achillas). Giovanni Antonini conducts the orchestra Il Giardino Armonico. The production is by Moshe Leiser et Patrice Caurier. The cast and production is also scheduled for the Summer festival in Salzburg

Bartoli is in her first year as the director of the Whitsun Festival and, as well as giving herself star status, has just announced she will be singing the title role of Bellini’s Norma next year. The fact that it is one of the grand soprano roles in opera and she is a mezzo has not yet been fully explained.

Florence has a new opera.

Posted in News on February 10, 2012 by figarosi

Who says Italian opera is in the doldrums? Contrary to all the recent budget bad news from the country that invented the form, the dramatic new 150 million Euro ($200 million) opera house in Florence projects another view.

The house was far enough along for a celebratory opening concert December 21st with Zubin Mehta conducting. Mehta, the music director of Florence’s opera theater, exclaimed “How the new theater is at the top of the glorious history of the Maggio Musicale and Florence; It is both my wish and my engagement.”

The new Teatro dell’Opera di Firenze, designed by the firm of architects ABDR, has a 1800-seat opera house. A smaller hall, seating 1100, will be mainly for concerts and recitals. Also part of the complex is an 2000 seat open air facility. The Italian government provided half of the funds with the city and regional governments both equally responsible for the other half.

The opera’s historic home, the Teatro Comunale, will continue to host the current season while finishing touches are added to the new building’s back stage and other work areas. The official opening of the season in the new house will be on November 24 with Mehta conducting a performance of Puccini’s “Turandot.” On the schedule too is a Ring Cycle, originally seen in Valencia, by Carus Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus — something not possible to stage in the old house.

Forecast: “A New Beginning” for Lyon.

Posted in News on September 15, 2011 by figarosi

The arrival of Los Angeles-born Leonard Slatkin to head the Orchestre National de Lyon has the second city in France in a spin. A whirlwind of enthusiasm and anticipation greet his opening concerts as music director of the Lyon ensemble, the most important French orchestra outside Paris. His guest appearances last season with the orchestra drew high praise from audiences and critics as well as musicians of the orchestra.

The 65-year-old conductor has had his bumps over the last few years (a heart attack while conducting in Rotterdam and a high profile six-month strike by his other orchestra, the struggling Detroit Symphony, are among the tribulations.) The outlook for Lyon, however, is nothing but celebratory and he joins other popular Americans who have high-profile roles in French musical life: Lawrence Foster is music director of the opera and orchestra in Montpellier and John Axelrod is the popular leader of the reenergized Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire which has seasons in both Nantes and Angers.

Two pairs of concerts played on four successive nights in Lyon’s main concert venue, the 2100-seat Auditorium, celebrate Slatkin’s arrival. A pair of opening concerts on September 15 and 16, has Slatkin conducting Ravel’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and the Jazz-influenced “Piano Concerto in G major” plus Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.” The second pair, the 17th and 18th, features the monumental Second Symphony, “The Ressurection,” of Gustav Mahler which will be preceded by the elegiac Ravel setting of the Hebraic prayer, the Kaddish.

In October, the first of a series “L’Amerique de Leonard Slatkin,” is launched with a program featuring Ron Nelson’s “Savannah River Holiday,” Michel Camilo’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” (with the composer at the keyboard), Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” Suite and extracts from John William’s music for “Star Wars.” Other concerts in this series will include, in addition to other American composers, Samuel Barber and Elliott Carter. “It is conceived to introduce different aspects of the musical richness of the United States,” says Slatkin. “We will present works from this country in all their diversity. Music for films, jazz and classics will be in the mix.”

The traditional bread-and-butter repertory will also be heard with large servings of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms included in his baker’s dozen of appearances his first season. A special focus will be on the orchestra works of Dimitri Shostakovich and the two Mahler symphonies in the new season are part of a cycle with two each over the next five years.

Leonard Slatkin has more than one hundred recordings and has won five Grammy awards. He has been awarded the title Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by France and is “docteur honoris causa” of the Juilliard School in New York. His father was the conductor and violinist Felix Slatkin and his mother the cellist Eleanor Aller, both founding members or the famed Hollywood String Quartet.

The September 15 concert will be available for a period of time on Medici.tv.

The Auditorium, the home of the Orchestre National de Lyon

Lots of Opera in Europe

Posted in News on June 9, 2011 by figarosi

The range of events available on European TV and the internet in June is impressive. The blogger Opera Cake has listed many of them and I refer those of you with access to his blog at

http://opera-cake.blogspot.com/

The Future of Opera?

Posted in News on June 3, 2011 by figarosi

Opera in the town of Rennes in France is again pushing the technological boundaries. They are not content to be the first in the world to broadcast their opera in 3D more than two years ago and are not sitting on their laurels being first in offering internauts the opportunity to attend a virtual opera in their 650 seat jewel box opera house.

Today, the new production of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio,” conducted by Steuart Bedford with staging by Vincent Vittoz, will again be on the large screen in the town square and available in 3D in indoor spaces. It will also be broadcast on local and regional television and again available for virtual attendance at operabiz.fr. (Sorry, internauts, the spaces have been sold out for some days.)

But this time, 50 tablet computers (iPads, etc.) will be made available in the audience. These will allow the holder to look at the stage from different angles, wander backstage, look in the pit or follow the libretto or music score. Subtitles and help for the deaf and hard of hearing is just a click away, of course. The telephone, cable and internet company Orange is working with the Opera de Rennes to evaluate this new technology. It could very well be a hint that, somewhere in the future of television, you might just be liberated from your favorite spot on the sofa.

Still Dangerous After 181 Years?

Posted in News on April 12, 2011 by figarosi

The new brochure of the 2011-2012 season at Paris’ Opéra-Comique has only arrived in the past few days and has already caused a stir in two countries. Most Parisians know the name of the composer Auber only as the name of a metro stop near the Palais Garnier. But Daniel François Esprit Auber (1782-1871) was the most performed French opera composer in the 19th Century and his opera “La Muette de Portici” (The Mute Girl of Portici) has an important history. The fact that this opera is in the season at the Opera-Comique next year, from the 3rd to the 21st of April, has caused a minor sensation.

When performed in Brussels in 1830, two years after its debut at the Paris Opera, it was already a European favorite and had established the new genre, “Grand Opera.” The libretto, by Auber’s long-time collaborator, Eugène Scribe, is the story of an abortive attempt by the city of Naples to revolt against Spanish rule. While the chorus represents the oppressed populace, it was actually the duet “Amour sacré de la patrie” ( “Sacred Love of the Homeland”) that caused a riot in the hall. As every Belgian child knows, this immediately became the anthem of the revolution against their Dutch rulers and, some months later, Belgium was an independent country.

What turned heads was the tiny print in the Opéra-Comique brochure indicating that this opera was a co-production with “Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie” – Belgium’s principal opera in the capitol of Brussels, also known as “Koninklijke Muntschouwburg (de Munt)” in the Dutch language. (The opera is located in an area where money was minted in earlier times.) The La Monnaie orchestra will actually be in the pit and the conductor is Patrick Davin, another Belge.

Belgium was annexed by France in 1797, given over to Holland with the fall of Napoleon in 1815 but freed itself of Dutch rule in 1831. It is a parliamentary democracy with a monarch (now Albert II) with limited powers. In 1971, as a result of conflict between the two principal regions, a new confederation of three semi-autonomous regions was created: Dutch speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south with the city of Brussels – mostly French speaking but physically in the area of Flanders – a third region. This federation was created to resolve the political conflicts between the two language regions of Belgium in the 1960s.

These historic conflicts are again a factor in Belgium politics and there are even proponents of dividing the country in two. As a result of these conflicts, Belgium has been unable to form a new government since the last fell in June, 2010 (the previous government remains as a caretaker.) The stalemate marks the longest any state in history has been without a government and many young people, who refuse to accept that Belgium cannot stay united, are protesting. A recent “Nude-in” by students was well-covered by the European media and there is now a Facebook group demanding a new staging of this historic Auber opera.

In any case, this is a political hot potato and an April 7 article in the major Brussels newspaper, La Libre – entitled “La Muette de Portici?” Oui, mais pas ici!” (“The Mute Girl of Portici? Yes, but not here!”) the reporter asked a wary Peter De Caluwe, the La Monnaie boss, about his role in this project. De Caluwe, obviously ducking the political issue, spoke of conversations with Jérôme Deschamps who heads the Opéra-Comique. When Dechamps proposed a co-production of an opera by Adolphe Adam, De Caluwe, “amused,” suggested “La Muette de Portici” instead and Deschamps, unexpectedly, ran with that suggestion, now soliciting a third co-producer: the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The production will be by Emma Dante, the Sicilian director who staged the politically edgy “Carmen” of Bizet opening the La Scala season in December of 2009.

The La Libre article concludes: “There is no date planned then for this production on the stage at La Monnaie: nothing before 2015. By that time, we should have a government and, if everything goes well, still a Belgium.”

Will it work? Lang Lang and Roberto Alagna on the same stage?

Posted in Reviews on April 1, 2011 by figarosi

It was a high-risk venture that finished as a major triumph in Paris on Tuesday night. The superstar pianist Lang Lang, as part of a week’s residency, joined with the French tenor Roberto Alagna in a program of rare French arias at the historic Salle Pleyel. But the success of this “carte blanche” evening for Lang Lang was not automatically assured.

The French have a history of neglecting their rich musical heritage and the arias, with one exception, have not been heard in Paris in living memory. While some of this repertory is beginning to appear in regional operas, only the aria, “Anges du paradis” from Gounod’s Mireille, has been heard at the Paris Opera recently when that opera opened their previous season. Would the audience, even with these star names, warm to this effort?

Another worry is sometimes the omnivorous musical appetites of Lang Lang leads him to say yes to a project he has not had time to sufficiently digest prior to the performance. There was no hint of that this night. There was a vibrant rapport between the two extrovert stars with Lang Lang, no mere “accompanist” here, relishing the lovely melodies which began each aria.

Alagna sang each aria with French style and clarity of expression uncommon on world stages recently. A tenor at the heights of his power, the hall rang with his generous passion for these musical treasures. Including the Gounod, there were arias by Adolphe Adam (“Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire” from Le Postillon de Longjumeau), Edouard Lalo (“Vainement, ma bien-aimée” from Le Roi d’Ys), Ernest Reyer (“La bruit des chants” from Sigurd), Giacomo Meyerbeer (“Pays merveilleux… ô paradis” from L’Africaine) and Alfred Bruneau’s passionate `”Le jour tombe, la nuit va bercer les grands chênes” (from L’Attaque du moulin), among others.

Toward the end of the concert, Alagna took a brief break to sip backstage tea (a result of Spring allergies) and the audience happily prodded Lang Lang into playing a second delicious Rachmaninov prelude. Lang Lang’s solo works, including Chopin etudes and a sensitive reading of Schumann’s “Träumerei.” were part of the evening’s program. With the unrestrained cheering at the end, Alagna and Lang, arm in arm, circled the stage like victorious bull-fighters, shaking hands and collecting bouquets of flowers. Clearly this music has strong appeal but could Parisian opera bosses still be unconvinced?

Alagna has an album of French Opera Arias (with Bertrand De Billy and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) which has a few of the arias he sang this night. Lang Lang had a live transmission the following day from the Cite de la Musique in Paris streamed on Medici.tv. The concert was recorded by France Musique radio for later broadcasting with no date yet specified.

Victoires de la Musique Classique – 2011

Posted in News on February 15, 2011 by figarosi

The prime-time live telecast Monday night, February 14, of the French show Victoires de la Musique Classique was already good news. In competition with other shows on the major channels, its traditional weak ratings always cause talk of taping it and showing it on off hours. This is the top awards show for classical music in France, comparable to America’s Grammy awards and focuses mainly on French artists.

This year, from the convention center in the city of Nantes, it headlined the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire and their engaging young American conductor, John Axelrod. Honorary awards were presented to veteran French pianist Brigitte Engerer and to Canadian mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who ended the program singing the aria ‘Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Saint-Saëns “Samson et Dalila.” This was, not incidentally, one of the arias on her new disk of French opera arias on the Naive label.

Presented by traditional duo of Marie Drucker et Frédéric Lodéon, the Lyric Discovery of the Year was 28 year old mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine with another mezzo, Katherine Deshayes, taking home the Lyric Artist of the Year trophy.

Pianist Bertrand Chamayou, 29, was named Instrumental Soloist of the Year and trombonist Fabrice Millischer, 25, named Instrumental Soloist Discovery. Composer Thierry Escaich won Best Composer honors for his work “Alleluias pro amni tempore,” his most recent composition for chamber orchestra and chorus. He was also a winner of the same award in 2003 and 2006. Best Recording of the Year went to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for his album of the Ravel Piano Concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

Up with András!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2011 by figarosi

Hungarian-born Pianist András Schiff was given the Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. The award will be awarded on June 8, the day of the composer’s birth. This could be a needed recognition of his great talent.
Schiff has recently abandoned his native country, rejecting the right-wing and vaguely racist politics of the new government. He is a musical icon of Hungary and has toured with Hungarian orchestras for decades.
We hope he can return home one day.