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By David Salazar
The Royal Academy of Music will present “Le Nozze di Figaro” this March.

Starting on March 21, 2023, at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre, the production will be conducted by Alice Farnham and directed by Stephen Medcalf. Jamie Vartan will be the production designer while Simon Corder will act as the lighting designer.

The famed Mozart opera will run through March 24, 2023, for a total of four performances. The cast will be comprised of opera students from the Royal Academy of Music’s post-graduate program. Artists include Vitor Bispo, Luiza Willert, Michael Ronan, Georgia Mae Ellis, Choe Harris, Wonsick Oh, Magnus Walker, George Curnow, Jacob Phillips, Ellen Mawhinney, Cassandra Wright, Hovahannes Karapetyan, Angharad Rowlands, Rebecca Hart, Duncan Stenhouse, Samuel Kibble, and Henry Ross, among others.

The Royal Academy of Music’s opera department has previously presented productions of Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” (conducted by Trevor Pinnock and directed by Freddie Wake-Walker), Händel’s “Imeneo” (conducted by David Bates and directed by Paul Carr) Händel’s “Semele,” Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges“ and Jonathan Dove’s “Flight.”

By Francisco Salazar
This week audiences will get to hear several recital albums with great song cycles and songs. Here is a look at this week’s new releases.

Schubert’s Schwanengesang & Beethoven
Tenor Mark Padmore and Pianist Mitsuko Uchida appear on record for the first time in this live recording from London’s Wigmore Hall. They perform Schubert’s “Schwanengesang” and Beethoven’s only major song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte.” Decca releases the new album.
Blow / Purcell: Venus & Adonis / Dido & Aeneas
Opus Arte releases two classic court operas brought together in Sweden’s historic Confidencen Theatre. “Venus & Adonis,” composed in 1683 by John Blow, is considered the earliest example of English opera while Henry Purcell’s “Dido & Aeneas,” from 1689, has become one of the most famous and beloved operas from the Baroque era.

Befreit: A Soul Surrendered
Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton release an album on Chandos featuring works by Margarete Schweikert, Richard Strauss, Johanna Müller-Hermann, and Gustav Mahler.

Visions Illuminées
Mary Bevan joins the 12 Ensemble, Ruisi Quartet, and Joseph Middleton for music by Fauré, Britten, Ravel, Duparc, Chabrier, Chausson, Debussy, and Augusta Holmès. Signum Classics releases.

Voyage Intime
French soprano Sandrine Piau combines works by Schubert, Liszt, Wolf, and Clara Schumann with Lili Boulanger, Duparc, and Debussy. David Kadouch accompanies on piano and Alpha releases.

By Chris Ruel
Tenor Zach Borichevsky stepped in at the 11th hour to sing Edgardo in Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur‘s production of “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

After a series of artist cancelations because of health, soprano Kathryn Lewek, Borichevsky’s wife, suggested him to the director of the house for the jump-in.

First, the production saw the baritone singing the role of Enrico drop out. Vladimir Stoyanov was called in to replace him. Stoyanov was at the Sofia airport when the call came through.

Four days later, another principal fell ill, tenor Oreste Cosimo.

With two principals down, the production was in dire straits until Lewek, making her role debut at the house, suggested her husband.

Borichevsky saved the show with just seven hours to prepare.

The couple met when the two had performed “Lucia” eight years earlier.

Love was in the air in nice when Lewek and Borichevsky kissed at the end of the love duo between Lucia and Edgardo. According to reports, the kiss was quite a hit.

By Chris Ruel
The Columbia University School of Music will present a symposium on March 25, 2023, titled “Operatic Feminisms,” which aims to explore the possibilities for feminist opera studies and the role of women in opera in the 21st century. The symposium will include public panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions featuring scholarly works and cross-disciplinary exchanges.

The New Opera Workshop and Columbia Collegium Musicum will present works by women, both historical and contemporary, and the symposium will conclude with the world premiere of three new operatic works.

Several distinguished speakers will participate in the symposium, including:

Eric Balboni, a Professor of Practice in Music at Anna Maria College and Fairfield University.
Eugenia Forteza, Founder and Lead Editor at 360° of Opera and a staff writer at Classical Singer Magazine.
Megan Gillis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of City Lyric Opera, has extensive experience working with high-profile organizations such as Steinway & Sons.
Anne Midgette was the classical music critic of the Washington Post for 11 years and the first woman to review classical music for The New York Times.
Candace Magner, creator, publisher, and general editor of Cor Donato Editions, a publishing house dedicated to the works of composer Barbara Strozzi.
Niloufar Nourbakhsh is a founding member of the Iranian Female Composers Association and has performed at many festivals and venues, including Carnegie Hall, Mostly Mozart at Lincoln Center, and Direct Current Festival at the Kennedy Center.

By Francisco Salazar

Grammy Award-winning choir The Crossing, led by conductor Donald Nally is set to give the world premiere of Martin Bresnick’s “Self-Portraits 1964, Unfinished.”

The performance will be on March 24, 2023 at Church of the Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square and will be co-presented by Penn Live Arts. The concert will also reunite The Crossing with PRISM Quartet.

The program will also feature Bernd Franke’s 2005 composition, On the Dignity of Man, a setting of excerpts from the most well-known philosophical document of the 15th century, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s undelivered speech of the same title.

Also for saxophone quartet and choir, the work is notably different from Bresnick’s “Self-Portraits 1964, Unfinished,” in that the two ensembles live in quite different musical worlds.

By Logan Martell
The Washington Chorus has announced a five-year extension for Dr. Eugene Rogers’ contract as Artistic Director and the appointment of Anthony Salvi-Exner as Executive Director.

First appointed in 2020, Dr. Rogers is the director of choirs and an associate professor at the University of Michigan; his choirs have performed at national and regional conferences in China, South Africa, and the US.

“I am overjoyed to continue leading and partnering with one of America’s leading symphonic choruses,” said Rogers in a press release. “As Artistic Director of TWC, my vision is that through audacious, distinctive, and inclusive programming—and in tandem collaborations with the amazing colleagues and artists in the Washington, DC region and beyond—we will build on our rich musical legacy and foster a strong and diverse community of artists. Creativity and collaboration will be at the heart of this work.”

Prior to his appointment, Salvi-Exner served as Interim Executive Director since August of last year. He brings with him 30 years of executive experience in several companies, such as Chief Operating Officer of VMD Corp, a professional services company. “I am honored and humbled to be selected as Executive Director for an organization that is committed to delivering outstanding choral music to the DC community.” said Salvi-Exner. “The Washington Chorus has a long and storied history, and I am excited to help lead the organization into our bright future.”

The appointments come as TWC prepares for their upcoming “Free at Last: A Musical Tribute to Dr. King’s Legacy” concert on April 4, 2023. Held at The Kennedy Center, the show commemorates the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, with a performance of Undine Smith Moore’s “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr” and the Durufle “Requiem.”

By Chris Ruel
Boston’s award-winning LGBTQ+ and allied classical choir, Coro Allegro, will celebrate the 100th birthday of queer composer Daniel Pinkham with works for double choir, brass quartet, and organ on May 7, 2023, at Church of the Covenant in Boston, MA.

Pinkham was prolific as a composer. In addition, was a harpsichordist, organist, faculty member of the New England Conservatory, and Music Director of Kings Chapel for more than four decades. “He exemplified the spirit of the Allegro Choir,” said Core Allegro’s Artistic Director, David Hodgkins.

The program for the honorary features Pinkham’s Fanfares, along with his Christmas Cantata (Sacred Symphony), and Ralph Vaughan Williams’, Mass in G minor. Shawn Crouch’s motet for 12 voices, “Paradise” will have its Boston debut.

Featured soloists are tenor Matthew DiBatistta, organist Heinrich Christensen; trumpeters Richard Keelkey and Cheryl Przytula; trombonists Hans Bohn and Robert Couture; and on percussion Thomas Schmidt and Desiree Glazier-Nazro; and, Timpanist Michael Weinfield-Zell. David Hodgkins leads the choir.

By Francisco Salazar
Opera Colorado and the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver are set to present Loveland native Michelle DeYoung.

The recital will be held on March 30, 2023 in the Gates Concert Hall and will include songs by Ziesl, Duparc, Mahler, and Korngold. Pianist Cody Guy Garrison will join DeYoung.

The Colorado-born mezzo-soprano is one of the most in demand mezzo-sopranos in the world who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, and the Concertgebouworkest.

She has also performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Teatro alla Scala, Bayreuth Festival, Berliner Staatsoper, and the Paris Opera.

By David Salazar
It has not been the easiest time for soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams. Her debut at Paris Opera has been, to say the least, controversial. On the one hand, she is pushing for redefinitions of what art is and how we should face the standard operatic repertoire. On the other hand, the audience’s reaction has been, in her own words, “passionate.” Her Isolde has been applauded but also criticized and even heckled. Hers is a different approach to the role than listeners are acclimated to.

“Maybe in five years, they will applaud me,” she says.

During her run as Isolde, I had the privilege of conversing with Williams and asking her about the importance of her being in Paris and, more importantly, about how she is processing her Wagnerian moments in Paris. Williams was extremely gracious and shared another reason that Paris is such a central space in her affective life; her late father was perhaps the main reason she came to the city.

OperaWire: One thing that caught my attention is that you studied English Literature. How does that shape your approach to memorizing a role?
Mary Elizabeth Williams: In the English language, we say that there is more than one way to skin a cat. And it is true that there are many ways to learn an opera, but I go absolutely by the text first. The libretto, of course—but also the legends, the books, and the various versions of the legend. I think all of that is really helpful. That is my way into the character. And that is also my way into the music and into understanding why Wagner or Verdi wrote the way they did.

OW: Isolde has been your first Wagnerian role, and you sang this season in Seattle and Paris, both gigantic rooms. How does this experience happen between the space and the voice?
MEW: I am still experimenting with this hall [Bastille]. When I was a young artist, I did not sing in Bastille; I sang in Garnier. Maestro (Gustavo Dudamel) wants [“Tristan und Isolde”] to be full of parlando as much as possible. In the score, there are a lot of piano and mezzo-piano markings, but we have to be respectful of the space here. The risk-taking is good, and it is getting better with every performance. To sing with quiet expression—and for this expression to be heard—is my goal.

OW: You have been deemed a non-traditional Isolde. How do you deal with that?
MEW: I am not a traditional Isolde, but I am not a traditional anything, really. None of us are traditional anything, because we singers come to a role with the bodies that we have, with our individual voices and our own points of view.

So I really try, in all roles, not only Isolde, to come up with a fresh and independent take on the text. To look at what he or she—most of the times it is a he—wrote and how they wrote it, and try to convey that as beautifully as possible…people want to hear pretty things! And also, I want to create a character that makes sense.

It is very interesting to me that some people here have been very passionate in their responses—both positive and negative—and I take that to heart. I completely respect it. As an artist, I salute the audience. I am doing it for everybody. This is my version today. This is what I have to give, and I give what I have with all my heart every time. This—like every role I sing—is a work in progress.

OW: Paris Opera has their issues with casting this season; however, most singers were accepted by the audience—and applauded. Why do you think the reaction to your singing has been so negative?
MEW: I cannot speak for them [the few that decided to boo]. Unfortunately, we can’t have a dialogue. And I hesitate to answer that question because I do not want to impose or assume [anything.] I can tell you how I live with the negative response because it is, of course, very painful. But then I say to myself: they are at least passionate…and they are staying until the end!

In America, the big joke is, “you’ve made it if they actually stay until the end of the second act.” Here they are staying for all three acts!

I think I am just really different. And I think there are a lot of things in this passionate reaction that can start conversations about opera as a whole—conversations that need to be had. For example: what is the artist’s responsibility, ultimately? Are we responsible for maintaining a status quo? Are administrators responsible for hiring people based on preconceived notions about who is the appropriate singer for a specific role? Or are we supposed to live life and make art through our bodies in the ways that we know how?

This controversy around my singing Isolde could also contribute to very important debates about the relationship between artists and their audiences. I agree that polite acceptance of something is not helpful. When “Tristan und Isolde” premiered, there was a lot of push-back. When “The Marriage of Figaro” premiered, there was a lot of push-back, too. These are just two examples. Art is very often controversial!

Of course, it would be nice to live in controversy with more respect…but I hear them, and I accept I am not what some people expect as an Isolde here in Paris. But I also hear from the audience response that a lot of people are very happy with what I have to offer in this role. That is the nature of art.

Are we, as performers, expected to weigh ourselves down and do again what has already been done—and is, therefore, a stale imitation of a past performance?

Is that perhaps why “Don Carlos” [at the Met this season] did not have a huge audience, but they came in droves for “The Hours?” Perhaps “The Hours” had an advantage because there was no preconceived conception of what the opera should be.

No matter the repertoire, we must preserve the idea that things are going to be different in each performance.

OW: How does it feel personally?
MEW: It is not fun to be the test case for this conversation, but these conversations have to happen. I love opera. And if I am the test case, so be it. […] I recognize I am a relative unknown here in Paris. Even though I studied here, I haven’t sung here, and I definitely have never sung any Wagner here because I just started singing Wagner. But I am sure that some members of the audience could think: who does this woman think she is? She comes here to this important theater; she has never sung here; she is singing Wagner, and to top it off, she dares to sing it in a way that is different than what people are anticipating! I get it.

But, as I said, I’ve also been receiving a lot of positive feedback…especially from people who have never been to a Wagner opera or who didn’t like the Wagner they have seen. So, for some people, my take on Isolde is a breath of fresh air. So, how do we reconcile the needs of the seasoned audience with those of the newcomers? We have to find ways to include new voices in opera and new ideas about repertoire without alienating the audiences which have been supporting this art form for decades while also including new people, new ideas, and new understandings of what beauty is. We need to find a way to have it be okay, even if we do not always agree. It is the only way to go forward.

OW: Although this is your Paris Opera debut, you were a student in the Paris Opera Atelier program. How was this first Paris experience?
MEW: The reason that I ended up coming to France was my father. My father was 56 when I was born. He fought in the Second World War here in France. He was a Black man from the South, and he came here [to Paris.] He was very linguistically talented, and he spoke French and learned enough German and Italian to be an unofficial translator—of course, he was Black, so he couldn’t work as an official translator at that time. He ended up working for a lower general, which saved his life. He was protected from the most terrible fighting because he spoke French. He loved his time here, and he thought, as a Black American, that he was treated [in Paris] with a respect that he didn’t find in America at that time. He said to me—he died when I was 23—that the best place for Black people in Europe is France. If you have any problems, go to France. About a year after my father died, I was having problems getting into young artists’ programs in America because I was big and loud and did not know what to do with my voice yet. I was not really useful. Young artists’ programs in America want singers that can do small roles and be “plugged in” to help out in many ways. I was not someone who could be plugged in. Now I understand that, but at the time, it was very difficult. Then I heard my father’s voice, literally, saying to me, “Go to France.” This was back in the early internet days, before Google. And I looked up “Paris Opera young artists,” and luckily, they had a young artists’ school. I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in my kitchen, and I decided I was going to apply. I came here to audition, not knowing anybody or really anything about the school. The program took me on; they were quite clear that I wasn’t really ready to “do” anything for them, but they acknowledged my talent and wanted to help me. Literally, they just paid me to study. I did not sing anything for them beyond the occasional concert in Opera Garnier. I was no use to them at all; I was 24 or 25, […] and it was the most formative time of my life. I was—and am—very grateful to them. My father was right. When you are having problems and don’t know where to go, come to France. Come even when you are not having problems!

OW: Currently, there are more contemporary opera titles than there were ten or twenty years ago. Do you feel yourself getting into new music repertoire?
MEW: At the beginning of my career, I did sing contemporary opera. I did “Amistad,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “Margaret Garner.” I think I did all that in one year. “Amistad” is a story of a slave ship rebellion, and “Margaret Garner” is about an enslaved woman that killed her two children in order that they not be enslaved. I began to understand that the modern operas for people that look like me are often very depressing and emotionally taxing. We end up telling stories that revolve around our oppression and mistreatment.

I encourage modern opera composers writing today to allow all of us, no matter our color or background, to tell stories that are universal, regardless of how we look or where we come from—like I am doing now, actually! In many ways, one of the things I love about “Tristan und Isolde” is that it is a completely relatable story and could happen anywhere. What matters is the relationships are clear between the characters. There is a lot of artistic freedom and joy in telling a story like this one.

By Chris Ruel
A planned concert presentation of Bizet’s “Carmen” at Royal Albert Hall, featuring Joyce DiDonato, has been canceled due to the health of conductor John Nelson.

While the nature of Nelson’s health condition has not been disclosed, his doctors have advised him to rest for several weeks before returning to the podium.

According to an official press release, the scheduled performances of “Carmen” in Strasbourg, Apr. 4 and 6, with Michael Spyres and Elena Maximova, are still on the books. Aziz Shokhakimov, music director of Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, will conduct.

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