La Scala’s Director Thinks, and Works, Globally

Catching up with Alexandra Pereira

(New York Times) —  Alexander Pereira has gone through his share of trials as artistic director of La Scala. He was nearly blocked from starting his job in 2014 when the Italian authorities questioned the legality of purchasing four productions from the Salzburg Festival. More recently, in March, he inflamed the theater’s advisory board and local politicians by courting the Saudi culture minister as a sponsor.

The minister, Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, had pledged a total of 15 million euros, about $17 million, with the promise of becoming a board member. La Scala’s administration rejected the deal and is to decide late this month whether to renew Mr. Pereira’s contract, which expires in the spring of 2020.

The house will continue with plans to collaborate with the government of Saudi Arabia on converting an all-girls’ school in Riyadh, the capital, into a coed music conservatory that will include ballet, instrumental teaching and a choir. The facilities, for 600 children, are scheduled to open in November.

At home in Milan, Mr. Pereira has increased private sponsorship for La Scala by €8 million since 2014 — relieving the house of a €6 million deficit when he arrived.  The company receives a third of its approximately €123 million budget from public funding (compared with more than half at the state operas of Vienna and Munich). […]

Opera Houses Find More Ways to Meet Fans Where They Are

(New York Times) — Since the Metropolitan Opera began broadcasting live to movie theaters, in 2006, companies from the Bolshoi to the Komische Oper Berlin have seen digital distribution as crucial to positioning themselves internationally. Only a handful of players have the standing and resources to create for cinema, and many organizations in Europe turn to free web streaming, but never before have opera houses had such freedom to produce their own content.

The Met broadcasts to cinemas in 70 countries. The Royal Opera House in London relays to cinemas in 51 countries, while the Paris Opera is present in movie theaters in 18 countries. The Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin recently transmitted a production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” to French cinemas and plans a live broadcast of one production next season (last year, the house also began streaming on its own website and in collaboration with broadcasting partners).  […]

The Latest in Opera Broadcasting


'Orest' in Vienna

Orest — an opera of unbroken tension at the Wiener Staatsoper

(Financial Times) — New commissions often disappear from repertoire after a handful of performances. So it is a healthy sign that Manfred Trojahn’s Orest has received its fifth staging, at none other than the Vienna State Opera, within a decade of its 2011 premiere in Amsterdam.

Not that this was the original agenda. The production emerges in place of an uncompleted new opera by Krzysztof Penderecki. The programming of Orest, which had been performed at Vienna’s Neue Oper in 2014, does not count as visionary. But the evening brings together a first-rate cast and tasteful staging to a score that, if conservative by contemporary music standards in the German-speaking world, elegantly builds on tradition.

As the opera plunges into the murderous rage of the mythical title character and subsequent liberation from the will of Apollo, flashes of Richard Strauss and Alban Berg create shameless historical continuity. The approximately 75-minute work creates unbroken tension through its constantly mutating, evocative orchestration.  […]

The Vienna Philharmonic Looks to a New Generation

(New York Times) — There was no mistaking the Vienna Philharmonic’s plush sound in November at the Musikverein here, as Franz Welser-Möst conducted excerpts from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” Gentle strings, glowing brass and a blend across all instrumental sections spoke to a culture of playing that has been cultivated since the 19th century.

But even for an orchestra that lives and breathes tradition, recruiting the next generation of talent is no longer self-evident. That is why, for the first time in its history, the Philharmonic is opening an academy to train musicians hands-on. Auditions begin early next year amid a busy schedule that includes touring to Lugano, Switzerland; Salzburg, Austria; Frankfurt; Budapest; and, in early March, New York.

Orchestra academies offer young players a transition from conservatory to professional life but also allow institutions to pass on their specific culture of playing. The Berlin Philharmonic has maintained its own academy since 1972, at the initiative of Herbert von Karajan, and graduates currently occupy about 30 percent of the orchestra’s seats. More recently, in 2014, the Shanghai Symphony began partnering with the New York Philharmonic to prepare instrumentalists in China for the demands of orchestral life.

The Vienna Philharmonic’s academy will be comparatively small and exclusive. Only 12 players, ages up to 26, will gain admission to a fully subsidized two-year program not only immersing them in the traditional curriculum of chamber music, private lessons and performances with full orchestra, but also exposing them to Austrian culture and history. At least one instrumentalist will be from the United States, thanks to support from the Vienna Philharmonic Society, and talks are underway with leading East Coast conservatories.  […]

Vienna Philharmonic launches Academy

Der Klang der neuen Welt

(das Orchester) — Der Dirigent Michael Tilson Thomas gründete die New World Symphony 1987 mit dem Ziel, junge Musiker nicht nur als Orchestermitglieder, sondern auch als Botschafter ihrer Kunstform auszubilden. Drei Jahrzehnte später kann die postgraduale Akademie der Klassikbranche wichtige Impulse geben.  […]

(A feature about Miami’s New World Symphony – available in print)

Sounds of the New World


L’incoronazione di Poppea, Salzburg Festival — dizzying power games

"L’incoronazione di Poppea" in Salzburg

(Financial Times) — The future empress wags her tongue in a live video. Half-naked dancers take turns spinning like a whirling dervish. So much transpires in the first opera production by visual artist and theatre director Jan Lauwers, who also presides over the sets and choreography, that the viewer may feel dizzy.

To be sure, L’incoronazione di Poppea exposes humanity at its most base. With the exception of the philosopher Seneca, who kills himself, each and every character ruthlessly participates in the power games. Some four centuries after it was composed, Monteverdi’s opera still offers an unflinching portrayal of sexual politics. When Sonya Yoncheva (Poppea) and Kate Lindsey (Nero) vocally simulate orgasms, it does not feel out of place.

Lauwer’s collaboration with early music specialist William Christie, leading his ensemble Les Arts Florissants from the harpsichord, accords the soloists an often intriguing freedom of expression. Lindsey, in her debut as the emperor, fearlessly veers from dusky to nasal tones. Yoncheva brings a plush, seductive soprano and touch of vulgarity that is not inappropriate to the role. […]

Designing Buildings That Speak to the World

(New York Times) — From the converted industrial space of the Tate Modern in London to the polygonal, copper-clad de Young in San Francisco, the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have broken new ground in museum design. They come to the trade naturally: Encounters with visual artists were crucial to the development of an aesthetic that is as inventive and stylish as it is sleek and restrained.

But museums by no means make up the bulk of the partnership’s work; Herzog & de Meuron has established itself as one of today’s most highly sought-out firms for the way it reimagines private residences, hospitals, schools and other public spaces around the world.

Recent work has included high-profile urban projects like the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, and the luxury residential tower at 56 Leonard Street in Manhattan, which features a sculpture by Anish Kapoor at the building’s base. The firm is also at work on the modern and contemporary art center M+ in Hong Kong, scheduled to open next year; the 20th-century art museum Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin; and a new site for the Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada.

The architects have distinguished themselves by finding specific solutions for every project. For the Schaulager, a contemporary art warehouse that opened on the outskirts of Basel in 2003, Herzog & de Meuron faced the challenge of designing a building that both exhibits and stores artwork for research purposes. Through Aug. 26, the site is home to “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts,” a large-scale retrospective that arrives at the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York in October. […]

Buildings that speak to the World

Das Paradies und die Peri, Philharmonie, Berlin — a luxury line-up

Das Paradies und die Peri

(Financial Times) —  Simon Rattle has made Schumann’s oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri something of a speciality with his revivals of the rarely performed work in London and Berlin. But the conductor withdrew from what would have been his final performances as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic to attend to family-related matters, passing the baton to Mikko Franck. As if the orchestra were not already taken by surprise, four wind soloists subsequently fell ill.

Das Paradies und die Peri sealed Schumann’s international reputation following its 1843 premiere but subsequently fell out of fashion. In an at times convoluted adaptation of Persian folklore, the story follows the trials of the Peri, a half-mortal creature, as she travels through a battlefield in India, a plague-ravaged Egypt and, finally, Syria in an attempt to enter the gates of heaven.

The score, meanwhile, is rich in melodic invention and dramatic contrast as it freely integrates elements of opera and oratorio. Schumann looks back to Bach, Handel and Mozart while foreshadowing the epic structures of Wagner, deploying no fewer than six soloists and a large choir. […]

Through Opera, Debussy Reaches a New Audience

(New York Times) — It may seem a paradox that one of the most influential composers of modern sung theater completed only one opera. “Pelléas et Mélisande” brought the French composer Claude Debussy instant fame in 1902, but the stage work achieved such a perfection of his artistic ideals that he never managed to repeat the success.

Skeptical of the theater establishment, relentlessly self critical and plagued by illness in his final years, Debussy left behind a legacy that musicologists are, to some extent, still working to reconstruct. Even after a premiere performance, he would continue making adjustments, sometimes to more than one copy of a given score. And he left the majority of his stage works unorchestrated before dying at age 55.

The centennial of the composer’s death this year provides an occasion to revisit the less-known corners of his oeuvre. The label Warner Classics in January released the first compilation of Debussy’s complete works, a 33-CD set that includes four premiere recordings of vocal music. […]

Revisiting Debussy's Vocal Music

Die Gezeichneten, Komische Oper Berlin — tasteless banality

Die Gezeichneten

(Financial Times) —  Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten is a natural choice for the director Calixto Bieito, who, with or without an overtly erotic plot, is known to introduce sexual violence on stage. And yet, in his eighth production for the Komische Oper, he is not content merely to grapple with the storyline about a secret isle where noblemen indulge their fantasies with kidnapped girls.

The main character, Alviano Salvago, instead has a penchant for young boys and carries around a doll in infantile longing. The painter Carlotta Nardi has an incestuous relationship with her father, the mayor of Genoa, and it is she — not Alviano — who murders the playboy Vitelozzo Tamare in the final scene.

Schreker, presaging Berg’s Lulu and building on the seething harmonies of Wagner, captures the volatile excesses and social hypocrisy of fin de siècle Vienna. At the height of his opera career, between 1917 and 1921, the Austrian composer enjoyed more fame than Richard Strauss. He was subsequently ousted by the Nazis. […]