Friday, January 20, 2017
James Conlon has signed on again til 2021, which will be his 16th season with the company. Over the past 10 years he has conducted 50 different operas. Placido Domingo, LA Opera general director, said: ‘It is impossible to overstate what a profound impact James Conlon has made during his ten years in Los Angeles. The astounding energy and infectious enthusiasm that he brings to his work has made him a beloved figure for our audiences. Thanks to his prodigious musical talents, our magnificent orchestra sounds better and better every season. I myself have taken great pride in the numerous musical partnerships that James and I have shared-most recently in Verdi’s Macbethearlier this season-and I look forward to many more such collaborations.’
It has been announced that the 25th Operalia competition will take place in July 2017 n one of the most corrupt oligarchies on earth, the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The country is still ruled by its last Soviet-era leader, Nursultan Äbishuly Nazarbayev. Operalia will be accompanied by the Astana Opera orchestra and paid for by Nazarbayev’s ministry of culture. Maybe Placido should be more choosy about his pals.
French conductor Georges Prêtre (1924–2017) has died. Prêtre made his Royal Opera debut in 1965 when he was engaged to conduct the first revival of Franco Zeffirelli ’s historic production of Tosca . Prêtre conducted the cast of the original production – Maria Callas , Tito Gobbi and Renato Cioni – and his interpretation was hailed for its understanding of the score and his sympathetic coaxing of a clearly ill Callas in the title role. In fact, Callas only sang one of the four scheduled performances, a Royal Gala. This performance turned out to be her final operatic appearance. The Australian soprano Marie Collier – one of Covent Garden Opera Company’s resident artists – was rushed in to take over. Prêtre with great musical skill guided the young soprano through the demands of the role, both musically and dramatically, and joined the soprano for her rapturous reception at the end. They were given 14 on-stage curtain calls and won rave reviews. In 1980 Prêtre returned to conduct the premiere of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in John Schlesinger ’s acclaimed production. Prêtre accompanied the stellar cast – including Plácido Domingo , Geraint Evans , Agnes Baltsa and Ileana Cotrubas – with a rare and commanding authority. The Financial Times commented, ‘The orchestra were on admirably light-fingered form for Prêtre’, while The Observer wrote, ‘Prêtre conducts with warmth and vitality’. Hoffmann was soon established as one of The Royal Opera’s most popular productions and has been regularly revived. Prêtre returned in 1983 to conduct the first revival of Elijah Moshinsky ’s production of Samson et Dalila, with Jon Vickers and Shirley Verrett in the title roles. He had a genuine love of the Saint-Saëns score and brought a real vitality to the evening. Prêtre supported Vickers’s towering performance as Samson and The Times warmly greeted his conducting of the ‘beautifully soft choral singing and orchestral playing of endlessly versatile finesse’. Prêtre was recognized worldwide as an inspiring conductor. He enjoyed an exceptional rapport with Callas – both on stage and in the recording studio – and his musically assured appearances at Covent Garden in three epic productions make a fitting legacy.
We regret to report the death of Georges Pretre, an elegant French conductor who was popular wherever he went – nowhere more so than Vienna, which adored him. He died this afternoon, at home in France. Raised in northern France, Georges was director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris from 1955 to 1959. He was a stalwart of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, 1959 to 1971, and was music director of the Paris Opéra for one season, 1970-71. He was principal conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker from 1986 to 1991. He was a regular at La Scala (see below). Mostly he freelanced around the world’s leading opera houses, giving fun and having it. He was the acme of French style in all that he did, with an infallible sense of rhythm. In terms of leaving a mark on music history, he gave the world premiere of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. His farewell performance: From La Scala: Georges Pretre, one of the greatest conductors of our time, had a fifty-year relationship with La Scala. He made his debute in 1966 conducting a legendary production of Gounod’s Faust with Mirella Freni, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. Two years later he led Turandot directed by Margherita Wallmann, and, a few days later, Die Walküre with Régine Crespin and James King. In 1969, Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz with Liliana Cosi in the choreography of George Skibine, in 1970 Sanson et Dalila in Saint-Saëns with Shirley Verrett and Pier Miranda Ferraro in 1972 with Carmen Fiorenza Cossotto, in 1973 and 1977 Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy directed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1975 in Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Franco Zeffirelli with Luciano Pavarotti and Ileana Cotrubaş, in 1976 Massenet’s Werther with Alfredo Kraus and Elena Obraztsova, Madama Butterfly in 1978 and immediately after Manon Lescaut by Puccini with Sylvia Sass and Plácido Domingo in a direction of Piero Faggioni. In 1978 Ravel L’enfant et les sortileges and L’heure espagnole; back in 1981 for Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, directed by Zeffirelli with Domingo and Obraztsova and in 1982 for Les Troyens by Berlioz in the direction of Luca Ronconi. The last operatic commitments of Prêtre at La Scala were Turandot directed by Keita Asari in 2001 and Pelleas et Melisande directed by Pierre Médecin, but he continued to give countless concerts with the orchestra. His last, triumphant concert took place on 22 February 2016. Georges Pretre was due to return to the podium for the Symphonic Season of the Teatro alla Scala on 13, 15 and 17 March 2017.
Agnes Baltsa and the Duchess of Kent at the post-performance party after the premiere of Les Contes d'Hoffmann (1980) in the Crush Room, Royal Opera House. Photograph from the Donald Southern Photographic Collection © 1980 ROH The Royal Opera’s 1980 production of Offenbach ’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann was declared a success by critics after its premiere, and its 36-year run has been testament to its enduring appeal. We’ve delved in to our archives to look back at the immense anticipation that surrounded the production and the press’s reception after the premiere. The Covent Garden production was part of nationwide commemorations – organized by the Offenbach 1980 Committee – to mark the centenary of both Offenbach’s death and of the world premiere of his most enduring work Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Anticipation for Hoffmann started building as early as May 1979, when the press started to report that Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger was seriously considering an offer to direct the production, and that star tenor Plácido Domingo was also ‘mulling over’ an invitation to join. Schlesinger and The Royal Opera had been trying to work together for some years, on Salome and Carmen , but schedules never quite aligned. In an interview with The Times after the premiere, Schlesinger confessed that much of the persuasion to direct Hoffmann came from Domingo’s involvement, particularly as previous plans to work together on Carmen had not come to fruition. Schlesinger, himself a devoted opera fan, wanted to make Hoffmann work dramatically in the face of all the known problems with the opera . The Evening Standard quotes him saying ‘of course, it is a problem piece but it is very theatrical and I am looking forward to it’. The production was grabbing headlines well before its premiere. The Daily Mail sensationally reported ‘a sex scene at the opera’ after two dancers revealed they ‘simulate love-making on a pile of cushions’ in one scene. A spokesperson for the Royal Opera House courteously replied, ‘nobody can say for sure what the production will be like… because it is still evolving’. The star power of Schlesinger and singers Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas , Agnes Baltsa and Geraint Evans , as well as beautiful costumes by Maria Björnson and magnificent sets by William Dudley , meant that expectations were high. Despite these sensational headlines, the premiere attracted a whole host of notable audience members: in attendance were Offenbach’s great-grandsons James Buckley and Michel Brindejont, Shadow Foreign Secretary Denis Healey , former Prime Minister Edward Heath and the Duke and Duchess of Kent . And indeed, the performance dazzled most that saw it – The Observer described it as ‘magnificently sung, resplendently set and superbly staged’ and the Daily Mail loved it, describing it as ‘bizarre, but a cracker’. The illusion of the doll Olympia falling apart particularly caught The Guardian’s eye, describing it as ‘a genuinely eerie piece of theatre’. In 2016 Schlesinger’s production might not raise eyebrows as it once did – but it entertains, delights and enchants as much as it always has. Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs until 3 December 2016. Tickets are sold out, but returns may become available. The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet and Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston.
Great opera singers