Press

Mon, January 9, 2017

Prototype Festival’s Striking Heroines
The New Yorker

Several decades after Catherine Clément wrote “Opera, or the Undoing of Women,” a classic feminist critique, women still frequently come to grief on opera stages. The form can’t seem to dispense with what Clément describes as a punitive adoration of female singers: “They suffer, they cry, they die.” Yet modern tales of doomed heroines tend to reflect a more progressive, critical sensibility, particularly when female composers take the helm. Such revisionism could almost be the theme of this year’s Prototype Festival, which, in the past four years, has become essential to the evolution of American opera. On the bill are Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves” (Jan. 6-9), about a Scottish wife who sacrifices herself to aid her maimed husband [conducted by Julian Wachner]; David Lang’s “Anatomy Theater” (Jan. 7-14), which shows the dissection of an eighteenth-century English murderess; and Matt Marks’s “Mata Hari” (Jan. 5-14), about the seductive Dutch dancer who allegedly spied as a double agent during the First World War.

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Prototype Festival’s Striking Heroines
Women of indestructible spirit dominate this year’s slate of operas.

By Alex Ross

Several decades after Catherine Clément wrote “Opera, or the Undoing of Women,” a classic feminist critique, women still frequently come to grief on opera stages. The form can’t seem to dispense with what Clément describes as a punitive adoration of female singers: “They suffer, they cry, they die.” Yet modern tales of doomed heroines tend to reflect a more progressive, critical sensibility, particularly when female composers take the helm. Such revisionism could almost be the theme of this year’s Prototype Festival, which, in the past four years, has become essential to the evolution of American opera. On the bill are Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves” (Jan. 6-9), about a Scottish wife who sacrifices herself to aid her maimed husband; David Lang’s “Anatomy Theater” (Jan. 7-14), which shows the dissection of an eighteenth-century English murderess; and Matt Marks’s “Mata Hari” (Jan. 5-14), about the seductive Dutch dancer who allegedly spied as a double agent during the First World War.

“Breaking the Waves” had its première at Opera Philadelphia in September. The libretto, by Royce Vavrek, is based on Lars von Trier’s 1996 film, which, like other von Trier works, has drawn accusations of misogyny because of its brutal treatment of the principal female character. Bess, a member of a strict religious community on the Isle of Skye, marries an oil worker named Jan; when he suffers a paralyzing accident, he asks her to have sex with other men. Bess becomes convinced that by abasing herself to the point of death she will cure him. Her scheme succeeds, through a supernatural logic reminiscent of the redemptive self-sacrifices of various Wagner heroines. As with Wagner, we wonder whether Bess’s act confirms or transcends stereotypes of feminine devotion.

In Mazzoli’s opera, such issues quickly recede: we trust that the lead character is not undergoing degradation for the sake of male fantasy. The story is no less harrowing—it’s perhaps more so, given that Kiera Duffy, who sang the lead in Philadelphia and reprises it at Prototype, must act out cruel scenes night after night, at times in the nude. Nonetheless, the desperate scenario of self-destruction and redemption seems to be a projection of Bess’s will to believe, her reshaping of the fabric of the world. Mazzoli’s score supports that dynamic by wedding strong lyric invention to an unsettled, insidiously dissonant chamber-orchestra texture that evokes the jagged beauty both of Skye and of Bess’s inner landscape. Benjamin Britten is a palpable influence, particularly in thrashing orchestral tempests and some melismatic, Peter Quint-like writing for tenor. Yet Mazzoli absorbs these and other elements into her own spare, propulsive voice.

Lang’s “Anatomy Theater,” which was first seen at L.A. Opera in June, offers some of the grisliest images ever shown in an opera house. But the composer handles the material with an eerie grace, creating space for another courageous solo turn. The mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell also spends much of the evening naked, lying on a table and singing as examiners scour her body for signs of evil. They find none, and she goes on singing. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the January 9, 2017, issue, with the headline “In Extremis”

Tue, December 27, 2016

Mazzoli-Vavrek WAVES Gets Second Break, at New York’s Prototype Festival in January
Broadway World

BREAKING THE WAVES was co-commissioned by Beth Morrisson Projects, which also happens to be one of the producers of Prototype (full name: Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now) with HERE. The third presenter in New York is Trinity Church Wall Street, whose music director, Julian Wachner, is conducting the performances, with the church’s choir along with NOVUS NY. (As composer and conductor, Wachner also has his own piece on the Prototype schedule, REV. 23, a work in progress billed as “the hitherto unpublished last chapter of the Book of Revelation as dictated by St. John the Divine and transcribed by Cerise Lim Jacobs,” at National Sawdust on January 14.)

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BWW Preview: Mazzoli-Vavrek WAVES Gets Second Break, at New York's Prototype Festival in January

Richard Sasanow Dec. 27, 2016  

For a new opera to have its second major showing less than four months after its premiere is unheard of--but then BREAKING THE WAVES, based on the Lars Von Trier film of the same name, isn't just any opera. This triumph by composer Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek, and direction by James Darrah--with a star-making turn by soprano Kiera Duffy in the central role of Bess--debuted at Opera Philadelphia on September 22, 2016. It is having its New York premiere on January 6-9, 2017, over the first weekend of the Prototype Festival at NYU's Skirball Center. (The Festival runs from January 5-15, 2017, starting with the World Premiere of MATA HARI by composer Matt Marks and librettist/director Paul Peers on the 5th, at HERE's Mainstage, 145 6th Ave, New York, NY.)

BREAKING THE WAVES was co-commissioned by Beth Morrisson Projects, which also happens to be one of the producers of Prototype (full name: Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now) with HERE. The third presenter in New York is Trinity Church Wall Street, whose music director, Julian Wachner, is conducting the performances, with the church's choir along with NOVUS NY. (As composer and conductor, Wachner also has his own piece on the Prototype schedule, REV. 23, a work in progress billed as "the hitherto unpublished last chapter of the Book of Revelation as dictated by St. John the Divine and transcribed by Cerise Lim Jacobs," at National Sawdust on January 14.)

Of the other major characters in the Philadelphia production, baritone John Moore is back in the crucial role of Jan, Bess' husband, whose accident sets the drama in motion, and mezzo Eve Gigliotti returns as Bess' sister-in-law, Dodo McNeill.

The opera's creative team, including the composer, librettist, director, some of the singers and the original conductor, Steven Osgood, gathered together back in September at the Guggenheim Museum's Works & Process series to talk about the development of the work. Here are some excerpts from the piece I wrote then.

Quick: What film won the Golden Globe for Best Movie in 1997? It was THE ENGLISH PATIENT. But more important for composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, the question is "What film didn'twin the Golden Globe in 1997?" The answer (for them, at least) is Lars von Trier's BREAKING THE WAVES, which they've transformed into an opera of the same name, co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects.

It's the story of Bess, living on the Isle of Skye (off Scotland's west coast) in the '70s, who meets Jan, a Norwegian oil rigger working nearby and marries him. Much of the opera takes place in the aftermath of an accident on the rig that renders him paralyzed, after he suggests she satisfy her sexual needs with other men. (Needless to say, there's a caveat that "the production includes nudity, sexual content, and explicit language.")

I promise not to give away any major secrets--though if you saw the von Trier film, you know it doesn't end happily for the heroine--except that the opera should foster much wider appreciation for the music of Mazzoli and help people "discover" Kiera Duffy's soaring soprano. It's a dark film--and the perfect source for an opera, says the composer. "Each of the characters is infinitely deep and incredibly complicated and I feel that opera's superpower is creating a subtext and saying two things at once."

Here are a few things you should know about this new, unconventional--and exciting--opera, taken from the "Works and Process" discussion.

This was not Mazzoli and Vavrek's first time working together. It is a follow-up to SONGS FROM THE UPROAR, a 75-minute chamber opera based on the life of Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, which premiered in 2012 at The Kitchen in New York City.

Librettist Vavrek became obsessed with the film version as a teenager. Vavrek is the "poster boy" for contemporary opera librettos--he has already had a major success this year with JFK, which premiered in Dallas, with a score by David T. Little (also his composer on the acclaimed DOG DAYS). He had the task of paring down a two-hour movie to give the opera the bones on which the music would have room to get into the heads of the characters. "This is my favorite film of all time. I found it--or it found me--when I was 14 years old," says Vavrek. Growing up on a farm in northern Alberta, Canada, he first became aware of it watching a film clip at the Golden Globe Awards on television and, he says, "It changed my life." It was his idea to turn it into an opera, as a follow-up to his work with Mazzoli on UPROAR.

Composer Mazzoli didn't think it was a good idea--at first. Mazzoli loved the film so much that she thought it was a terrible idea to make it into an opera. "The idea blew my mind," she says. "Why adapt something that was already amazing?" But she couldn't get the idea out of her head: "It resonated with me and I could hear the music from the characters."

She worked two Scottish musical traditions into the piece: First, traditional Gaelic songs of the Highlands, "the way that members of a church sing a melody that they all know but don't line up together, and you get this wash of sound." Second, the sound of bagpipes. "In researching this project I found that I love bagpipes, which worked itself into the piece but not in an overt way; there are no bagpipes in it, but there's this dense harmonic language that comes out of listening to them."

Director James Darrah also didn't buy the source material as an opera--at first. Darrah, the third of the opera's creators, first heard Mazzoli's music ["Symphonia for Orbital Spheres"] at an LA Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles and knew he wanted to work with her--but when he heard she was working on an opera of BREAKING THE WAVES (BTW), he didn't buy it instantly.

"It was in many ways a perfect film," says the director, but while he thought of it as "intimate, quiet," he found that Mazzoli's take used it as a jumping off point to tell the same story in an almost totally different direction. He calls it a "fever dream of an opera" that takes the story and goes in a way that is "visceral and evocative and full of real human beings, beauty and sexuality."

The opera was developed through Opera Philadelphia's Composer-in-Residence program. This included a workshop in January of this year, where all the principles, cast and orchestra were assembled under one roof for the first time. Musical director Osgood recalls, "In the course of those five days, we had several goals, the first being to get a sense of the full piece.... But it was also our chance to discover the language of the opera. Missy, Royce and James had worked together and had a language that they shared, but the rest of us, the musicians and cast, had just received the score a few weeks before the workshop.

"It was a room where everyone entered extremely nervous.... It's complex music. And, yes, we wanted to get it right, but ... it was more important to be as curious as possible, as patient as possible.... Along the way, instead of asking 'what is it supposed to be?', it became 'why is it supposed to be that way?', 'why is she saying it to him?' and 'why is that pause there?'"

The Scottish landscape was inspiring to the creators. The OP Composer-in-Residence program allowed Mazzoli, Vavrek and Darrah to go off to Scotland, to the Isle of Skye, where the opera--and film--takes place, going to the sites where von Trier chose to film. They were inspired by the physical landscape and the violence of nature there. Vavrek took along some of his libretto and had the landlady at the bed-and-breakfast where they stayed read it to hear it with the local pronunciation, for a sense of place. (Later, they would have a coach specializing in this accent--different from Scottish--to act as the "dialect police.")

Mazzoli says they didn't know what to expect. She recalls, "We had an outline of where we wanted to go--all the places where the film was shot, but what ended up being inspiring... were the contrasts, the violence of the landscape. It is a very loud landscape--even though it is a quiet place, it seemed to be screaming at me--and... on one of our walks, I knew the opera was going to begin with this massive chord at the start of [the aria], 'His Name is Jan.'"

Evoking the Isle of Skye, but not literally. According to Darrah, von Trier evokes a gut response when you watch the film, while the opera needed to have designers who help the piece make sense on stage. This meant scenery--here, a unit set by Adam Rigg with projections by Adam Larsen and lighting by Pablo Santiago--that would evoke the Isle of Skye without being too literal, because otherwise "it would feel like a Disneyland ride." With all its surfaces taking projections, the set portrays an ever-shifting landscape that conjures up the places and the sense of place of the island, but also creates "an abstracted environment that doesn't compromise character." The costumes by Chrisi Karvonides also help create an atmosphere rooted in time and place, the early 70s.

"Missy writes musically what I equate to a dream state: The sense of time and space is surreal," says Darrah. "What's incredible is that the piece starts out linear, structured and blurs as it goes on. It rockets to its conclusion, becoming increasingly fractured and increasingly upsetting."

Music director Osgood already knew Mazzoli's work when he received the score, but was unprepared for what he saw. Osgood found it vastly different from her other work: "Location, these incredible complex people, all of that is wrapped up in the piece." He describes the musical language as "wonderfully kaleidoscopic"--"very dark, very expressionistic."

He found that Mazzoli has imagined "very, very deeply what was going to happen on the stage," naturalistic theatre "in all its gravitas and angst," including the temperature of the room at any moment--and how interactions change the temperature.

While Mazzoli's score for BREAKING THE WAVES is unquestionably modern, opera-goers have nothing to be afraid of. The Works & Process preview was the second time I'd heard excerpts from the wonderful score. (It was featured as part of American Lyric Theatre's showcase at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, last February.) The music is gorgeous--lyrical, accessible and often "eloquent" though it can be spiky and is decidedly of this moment. As music director Osgood put it, "It's like Janacek lived now and wrote an opera about culture and society and mothers."

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BREAKING THE WAVES will have three performances at NYU's Skirball Center on LaGuardia Place in New York, January 6, 7 and 9.

Sat, December 24, 2016

Perfect Pitch: A Candlelight Christmas
Washington Life Magazine

During the holidays, the Washington area offers a rich variety of concerts for everyone to enjoy, and many happen right at The Kennedy Center. This year, The Washington Chorus under the direction of Julian Wachner continued its tradition of presenting “A Candlelight Christmas.” One of the fascinating features of this concert is the intentional inclusion of audience participation. Before the concert, as his tradition, Wachner came out on stage prior making all to feel comfortable and encouraging everyone to participate in the singing.

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Perfect Pitch: A Candlelight Christmas

BY PATRICKMCCOY · DECEMBER 24, 2016

The Washington Chorus presented annual “A Candlelight Christmas” at The Kennedy Center

During the holidays, the Washington area offers a rich variety of concerts for everyone to enjoy, and many happen right at The Kennedy Center. This year, The Washington Chorus under the direction of Julian Wachner continued its tradition of presenting “A Candlelight Christmas.” One of the fascinating features of this concert is the intentional inclusion of audience participation. Before the concert, as his tradition, Wachner came out on stage prior making all to feel comfortable and encouraging everyone to participate in the singing.

Beginning with a beautiful processional by the chorus, there was a feeling of awe and mystery as the voices moved into the hall with the glow of candlelight. The traditional carol “Once in Royal David’s City” grew from a lone solo voice to the full chorus accompanied by Christopher Betts at the organ. Continuing in the grand tradition of the festive carol, the program continued with the “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Marked by the glorious fanfare of the brass ensemble and organ, the favorite carol was sung lustily by the full house.

Three choral settings of beloved carols were featured next by The Washington Chorus. “Sing We to this Merry Company” by John Rutter was an expression of joy as the brass, organ and percussion seemed to announce the good news. The setting of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” arranged by Gerre Hancock was especially a gorgeous showcase for the women’s voices of the chorus. Soaring tones and expressive legato singing was such a hallmark during the rendering of this carol. Closing the group was the rousing “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” by John Gardner. The dance-like, syncopated rhythms and precision from the drums carried the spirit of the text forth with joy.

Educational outreach has been a major part of Julian Wachner’s tenure as music director of The Washington Chorus. Continuing in that spirit, The H-B Woodlawn Chamber Singers under the direction of Bill Podolski performed four seasonal favorites. Of special interest was a lovely contrasting arrangement of the carol “Ding Dong, Merrily on High” arranged Chester Alwes and a jazzy take on the traditional spiritual “Mary Had a Baby” by Philip Kern which quoted the familiar tune “Ode to Joy.”

The full Kennedy Center audience was eager to join in singing of Christmas Carols. Favorites of the evening were “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and Julian Wachner’s setting of “Joy to the World” which put the voices of the audience on full display. Wachner seemed to enjoy quick, fast tempos that definitely kept the audience on their toes.

A special treat was the appearance of the internationally acclaimed tenor Carl Tanner in Adolphe Adams’ classic “O Holy Night.” Tanner sang with a bright, resonant tenor that projected into the hall with great ease. Building the momentum with the full organ and surrounded by the seraphic voices of the chorus, the holiday favorite resounded with majestic power and wonderment.

Ending a wonderful evening of music was the chorus’ signature “The Dream Isaiah Saw” by Glenn Rudolph and “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Thu, December 22, 2016

Singing Our Way Back to Hope
Sojourners

Even today, as I write this, I feel the tears welling up again, having just taken my college son to hear those carols again last night at the Kennedy Center where the Washington Chorus (under the direction of Julian Wachner) presented “A Candlelight Christmas,” something I try to hear every year.

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Singing Our Way Back to Hope

Lessons in Resistance from the Christmas Carols

By Jim Wallis 12-22-2016

My son just came home for Christmas after his first semester in college. I remember doing that too, many years ago. As a college student, I wasn’t a Christian; I had left my childhood faith over the issues of racism and war, both in my country and in my church.

Having rejected and having been rejected by my church, I wasn’t practicing any faith during my college years, which were marked by an intense social and political activism over the very issues that had separated me from my church’s faithlessness on justice and peace — a church that my parents helped to start and was our family’s second home.

I need those carols to remind me of who was most important in this world that I wanted so much to change. 

But every Christmas, I would drive home on Michigan’s snowy roads, from Michigan State University to my home just outside Detroit, listening to Christmas carols. I still have vivid memories of those teary drives as I listened to carols telling us what the coming of the Christ child meant for the world — the baby born into a manger.

Even today, as I write this, I feel the tears welling up again, having just taken my college son to hear those carols again last night at the Kennedy Center where the Washington Chorus presented “A Candlelight Christmas,” something I try to hear every year.

I still need to listen to those Christmas carols — sometimes desperately, especially this year. Even as that college activist kid, I needed those carols to remind me of what and who was most important in this world that I wanted so much to change. One of the reasons I always wanted to come home is that I knew those Christmas carols would be playing non-stop in my family’s house over the holidays, and the non-religious son would be quietly listening without admitting how carefully he was.

I needed those Christmas carols, and still do, to remind me of what God’s world is all about and, therefore, what our lives should be too. I listen to the carols as the foundation and inspiration for what I do, for what and my life and vocation is all about.

Because our only hope is that light does come into the darkness, that this child born in an animal stall is still more important than all the kings and rulers, that the “lowly” are closer to God than all the “high”-placed people that we are forced to watch and listen to all the time. I needed last night to remind me again.

Mary had a Baby, Oh Lord!
What did she name him? Oh, Lord.
Named him King Jesus, oh, Lord.
Where was he born? Oh, Lord.
Born in a stable, oh Lord. 

Mangers are more important in God’s world than hotels.

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay…
Born is the King of Israel!

The Word comes to poor shepherds before billionaires in God’s world.

Angels we have heard on high …
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King

Humility wins over pathetic boasting in God’s world.

Hark the Herald, angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

Peace and mercy triumph over angry attacking in God’s world.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.

When politics destroys the “calm” and “bright,” God brings both back.

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus Lord at thy birth!

Love’s pure light will win over all the hate in God’s world.

Oh Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth,
A thrill of hope, the weary word rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

When politics gives us nothing but weary words, how we need the “thrill of hope” from a new and glorious morn.

Truly he taught us to love one another,
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

This is the great reversal of Christmas. In God’s name, all oppression, and racial bigotry, and the fueling of division and conflict for political self-interest … shall cease.

The concert always ends with the Hallelujah Chorus.

The Kingdom of this world
Is become the Kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ, and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever ... 
King of Kings, and Lord or Lords,
Forever and ever. Hallelujah!

Who is in charge? Who will reign? Not the would-be rulers who now think they are in charge or believe they soon will be. Not in God’s world. Not in the hearts of those who begin with God’s word and are reminded this Christmas of what the coming of Christ means.

When it came to the carol service’s triumphant ending with the Hallelujah Chorus, we all rose to our feet, as, legendarily, did English King George II when he first heard it and people have traditionally ever since. And when we proclaimed who will reign forever and ever at the top of our lungs, I felt like pumping my fist into the air this holiday season (but didn’t for fear of embarrassing my college son).

I desperately need the hope that Christmas brings me every year, and still do; that the new order that this child brings to the world literally overturns the world of our politics today. And it is that hope allows me to sing out:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room…..
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.

I especially need my Christmas carols this year when darkness seems to be settling in on all sides, and faith will mean finding a little light in that darkness.

For reasons that some of you can understand, I have also been drawn to German theologian and political resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer this Christmas season, and to the Christmas sermons he preached as darkness grew in his own country many years ago.

Bonhoeffer said, “God is in the manger.”

"No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged. …

“ Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness. …

“And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly … God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
―Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

So that is where I go back to this Christmas — to the manger. As we approach a new political world that proudly and brazenly puts success, wealth, power at the top of everything, we go back to the “lowly,” who are at the bottom of that political world but are at the top in God’s world.

Bonhoeffer calls us to a faith that will abide.

“I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men [and women] who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all times of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future.”

After the carol service, a black pastor who was also there came up to greet me and said, “We have our work cut out for us don’t we?” Yes, I said, but what we just heard and sung reminds us of what it true, and what is not. Christmas tells us what is true and what is a lie. Singing Christmas carols reaffirms in me what is true — and deepens my resolve.

The Christmas carols remind us that truth, love, peace, and justice will abide — and will abide in us.

Fri, December 16, 2016

A Diva, Two Pianists and a Pair of ‘Messiahs’: Classical Music This Week
The New York Times

Thursday’s performance at Trinity Church, by contrast, felt gripping, raw and searching. It wasn’t without imperfections: The quality of the solo voices ranged widely this year, and there were some coordination hiccups. But the energy these musicians project is of a community engaged in an urgent act of soul-searching — even in purely instrumental moments, like the overture’s fugue, which came across as a warren of voices intent on debate.

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DECEMBER 16, 2016

A Diva, Two Pianists and a Pair of ‘Messiahs’: Classical Music This Week

By James R. Oestreich

If the silver-throated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato wants to sing glorious music by Purcell and Handel, I’m easy. Any old pretext will do. The pretext on Thursday at Carnegie Hall was “In War and Peace,” a well-traveled, predominantly Baroque program with the early-music band Il Pomo d’Oro, which has already been released on disc by Erato.

Ms. DiDonato has a lot on her mind, which she alluded to in a program note, a form letter stuffed into the booklet and a little talk at evening’s end. War and peace, all this made abundantly clear, are also to be taken metaphorically as emotional states in a journey from discord to harmony, from chaos to serenity. The program was thus divided (“War,” “Peace”), though the two were not always clearly distinguished in works that themselves subtly mingled moods.

Musically, for example, Handel’s sublime aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” (from “Rinaldo”) might seem peace itself to anyone unaware that its singer is being held captive by a sorceress. Happily, matters were somewhat clarified by projected titles and by heavy doses of theatricality — lighting effects, video backdrops, costume changes, even rudimentary dance (Manuel Palazzo) — with Ms. DiDonato listed as executive producer and Ralf Pleger as director.

It could all be a bit much at times, and Ms. DiDonato’s burnished tone, especially in Purcell’s incomparably moving lament “When I am laid in earth” (from “Dido and Aeneas”), and blazing coloratura, especially in Niccolò Jommelli’s spitfire aria “Par che di giubilo” (from “Attilio Regolo”), carried most of the freight dramatically as well as musically. The Jommelli was repeated in part as an encore, and here the projected fireworks seemed just right.

Il Pomo d’Oro was excellent in instrumental interludes as well as the arias, exuberantly conducted from the harpsichord and, once, from a cornetto by Maxim Emelyanychev. A second violinist, Anna Fusek, showed similar versatility, doubling on soprano recorder in the high-flying bird song of Handel’s “Augelletti che cantata” (from “Rinaldo”), and brought the house down.

In announcing the second encore, Ms. DiDonato gave a little speech on the power of music to transform darkness into light. “The sun is going to rise tomorrow,” she promised in league with Richard Strauss, in his song “Morgen.” The concertmaster, Edson Scheid, proved a worthy foil as violin soloist in the Strauss. And it was entertaining to hear these early musickers, who generally shun vibrato, try to beef up their tone to late-Romantic standards.

 

PETER SERKIN AND ANDREW TYSON

Juxtaposing Old and New

Mr. Serkin performed Dec. 10 at the 92nd Street Y, and Mr. Tyson on Dec. 13 at Weill Recital Hall, Manhattan.

By Anthony Tommasini

It’s unlikely that the outstanding young pianist Andrew Tyson had the veteran Peter Serkin specifically in mind when he planned the program of mostly 20th-century pieces he played so excitingly at Weill Recital Hall on Tuesday. Still, some decades ago, among the many adventurous aspects of his artistry, Mr. Serkin, now 69, was a pioneer of unconventional programming that juxtaposed old and new works. He took some heat at the time for his experiments. But he certainly shook up protocols, helping to embolden artists of later generations like Mr. Tyson, who turns 30 on Monday.

Mr. Serkin was at it again, and at his best, in a recital last Saturday at the 92nd Street Y. His program offered several Renaissance keyboard works written well before the invention of the piano and some scores by 20th-century giants, including Wolpe, Takemitsu and Schoenberg. Given the novelty of the program, you might have expected him to speak to the audience about it. That has never been his way. Mr. Serkin prefers to let music speak for itself.

He began with Josquin’s “Ave Christie,” a four-voice motet, as reset for piano in 1988 by the composer Charles Wuorinen. Unfolding in steady, ruminative contrapuntal lines, this modal music practically invited the audience to settle in and listen. Various Renaissance pieces by Sweelinck, John Bull and William Byrd were juxtaposed with Takemitsu’s crystalline “for away” (1973), Oliver Knussen’s rhapsodic, modernist Variations (Op. 24, 1989), and Wolpe’s “Form IV,” aptly subtitled “Broken Sequences.” The final work, Schoenberg’s landmark Suite, Op. 25, came across in this exhilarating performance like an ingenious, 12-tone homage to Bach.

My. Tyson, presenting the Juilliard School’s Leo B. Ruiz Memorial Recital, opened with Henri Dutilleux’s Three Preludes for Piano, music of plush colorings and pointillist outbursts. The composer Michel Petrossian, a friend of Mr. Tyson’s, came from Paris for this performance of his fantastical “The Raging Battle of Green and Gold.” Like the Dutilleux, this piece had such improvisatory and skittish qualities that Scriabin’s wild-eyed Piano Sonata No. 3 sounded almost coherent in comparison.

Playing six Gershwin selections was another great idea. The arrangements of these songs, with their jazzy harmonies and splashy riffs, set the mood perfectly for Ravel’s “Miroirs,” a French Impressionist masterpiece given a scintillating yet sensitive performance here. Mr. Tyson is a poetic virtuoso.

 

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC AND TRINITY WALL STREET

A Messiah With Mixed Signals

The Philharmonic performs Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, nyphil.org; Trinity Wall Street performs Sunday at Trinity Church, Manhattan, and Monday at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, trinitywallstreet.org.

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Handel’s “Messiah” has become such a staple of the Christmas season that New Yorkers can choose from dozens of performances offered in concert halls and churches throughout the city. Some command fierce loyalty for their distinct qualities. There is the purity of St. Thomas Church’s, rooted in Anglican tradition with its choir of men and boys; the pageantry of the big choral societies that flood the stage of Carnegie Hall; and the immediacy of Trinity Wall Street’s, in which the solos are shared among members of the small choir and the orchestra plays on period instruments.

It’s the New York Philharmonic that has had trouble standing out with a clearly defined “Messiah.” That feeling was confirmed this week when I attended Tuesday’s performance at David Geffen Hall — conducted by its departing music director, Alan Gilbert — followed by Trinity Wall Street’s version on Thursday, under the direction of Julian Wachner.

The Philharmonic’s selling point is glamour. The quartet of soloists consisted of the honey-toned Christina Landshamer, a rising German soprano; the mezzo Sasha Cooke, with her stunning deep register; the clarion tenor Matthew Polenzani, a stalwart of the Metropolitan Opera; and the bass-baritone John Relyea, who delivered Wagnerian amplitude and gravitas. The Concert Chorale of New York, meticulously prepared by its director James Bagwell, sang with warmth and finesse.

Yet this was a “Messiah” marred by mixed signals. The orchestra’s string section, using minimal vibrato, slimmed down its trademark plush sound to something approximating the lean tone of period-instrument bands, but without those ensembles’ buoyancy and grace. Balance was an issue throughout the evening, with the low strings seizing outsize attention. And emotionally, too, the Philharmonic’s “Messiah” never quite found its center of balance. Too many of the solos felt like operatic set pieces.

Thursday’s performance at Trinity Church, by contrast, felt gripping, raw and searching. It wasn’t without imperfections: The quality of the solo voices ranged widely this year, and there were some coordination hiccups. But the energy these musicians project is of a community engaged in an urgent act of soul-searching — even in purely instrumental moments, like the overture’s fugue, which came across as a warren of voices intent on debate.

Sun, December 11, 2016

‘The Messiah’ from opposite ends of the economic spectrum
The Los Angeles Times

Julian Wachner conducted ostentatiously, micromanaging details but with little sense of actual drama. A dozen members of the chorus also served as soloists, somberly stepped forward as though auditioning, singing with studied formality, with the exception of a natural warmth from soprano Molly Netter.

It was, however, a happy touch that the light-tone bass, Edmund Milly, understood his role as a Wall Street chorus member was to make sure that his “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” was pronounced with perfect diction and indignation.

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'The Messiah' from opposite ends of the economic spectrum

11/12/2016 - 17:10

By Mark Swed, Music Critic

Handel’s “Messiah” — by far the finest and most sophisticated of any Christmas staple, whether carol, ballet, poem, painting, cartoon or Jimmy Stewart movie — has always been a people’s musical messiah. The oratorio arrived on the scene to help the needy. Its 1742 premiere in Dublin was a benefit concert for the infirm and the incarcerated in debtors prison.

Today, however, you can have your own “Messiah” however you want it: as a fancy concert experience, a spiritual sacred occasion in church or homey sing-along. Should you have trouble finding exactly what you are looking for in a “Messiah” this time of year, unlikely as that may be, you can find recordings galore.

Last week there happened to be something remarkable: two different (and they couldn’t have been more different) performances of Handel’s oratorio oriented around the one percent — the top and bottom one percent, that is. On Wednesday, Trinity Church Wall Street — built a half-century before the “Messiah” was written and now encircled by hedge funds and a few paces from the New York Stock Exchange — brought its noted Trinity Baroque Orchestra and Choir to the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge for a historical Handel.

Two days later on skid row in downtown Los Angeles, Street Symphony — an ensemble made up mostly of members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Colburn students performing outreach at jails, homeless shelters and mental-health institutions — offered its second-annual “Messiah Project” at Midnight Mission.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn which “Messiah” mattered more, which souls are easier to save. The Midnight Mission event included Street Symphony Chamber Singers, core of members from the Los Angeles Master Chorale along with amateurs, as well as Urban Voices Project, whose members are part of the skid row community.

Only a few excerpts of “Messiah” were given. Tenor Don Garza, a Desert Storm combat veteran who is a longtime skid-row resident, made every word in “Comfort ye” intense. When he got to “that her iniquity is pardoned,” his conviction was such that there were shouts of affirmation from the audience and members of the chorus had to put down their scores to dab their eyes.

That alone made this not only the most relevant “Messiah” in my experience but also the most historically authentic. At the Dublin premiere, a reverend, moved to tears by one of the singers, declaimed for all to hear: “Woman, for this, be all thy sins forgiven.”

The “Hallelujah” Chorus, played and sung by superb musicians and filled out with the richest assortment of beautiful and broken voices in the audience, soared with unimaginable power.

I am always reminded upon hearing the “Hallelujah” chorus of a time when, after railing against it, John Cage was approached by an offended woman who asked, “Mr. Cage, don’t you like to be moved?”

“Yes,” Cage answered, “I just don’t like to be pushed.”

There was no pushing Friday at Midnight Mission, none whatsoever, just a need to connect, a need to make “Messiah” something to hold on to. Zanaida Robles, an educator who also works in film and television, conducted with a sense of mission.

Street Symphony’s founder, L.A. Phil violinist Vijay Gupta, told the crowd that “the musicians were walking away with a far greater gift than we can ever hope to give back to the community.” Musician after musician thanked the skid-row community for being their more most rewarding audience. However suspiciously this might sound like TED talk, the fact is that even a “Messiah-ed”-out visitor could hear every note anew. 

There were no huddled masses of homeless to maneuver through to get to Valley Performing Arts Center, and there was obviously no way Trinity could come close to creating the indescribably valuable sense of occasion that Street Symphony did. And to be fair to Trinity, which clearly has the resources to support an active music program that is widely hailed by the New York press, the church has an admirable and extensive outreach program. Moreover, VPAC goes out of its way to serve Cal State Northridge and the Valley with reasonably priced tickets.  

Still, if this uncaring “Messiah” is evidence, the church’s resources are probably better spent on the community than on music. Julian Wachner conducted ostentatiously, micromanaging details but with little sense of actual drama. A dozen members of the chorus also served as soloists, somberly stepped forward as though auditioning, singing with studied formality, with the exception of a natural warmth from soprano Molly Netter.

It was, however, a happy touch that the light-tone bass, Edmund Milly, understood his role as a Wall Street chorus member was to make sure that his “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” was pronounced with perfect diction and indignation.

The orchestra, said to be the best period-instrument group in New York, is made up of fine professionals who played like callous freelancers on a job. Appearances matter. Dressed overly formally in white tie and tails, nearly all wore casual shoes, as though the whole thing was, and is, a sham. An oboe player, when not playing, sat kicking a crossed leg, his striped socks and lime-green water bottle the main visual attraction on stage. It was “Mozart in the Jungle” in the flesh.

Dress at Midnight Mission was, of course, varied, sometimes surprisingly so, with some members of skid row finely decked out. There weren’t just bits of the “Messiah” but also an engaging new piece by the young Street Symphony composer-in-residence, Reena Esmail, “Take What You Need,” that sounded like Sondheim at his most lyric and without the cynicism. The engagement included places for the strings to vamp while three members of the Urban Voices came forward to tell their stories.

Another moving addition was two verses from the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as sing-along following Handel’s. This could become a new tradition.

In the coming days, many of the “Messiah Project” players and singers will be participating in L.A. Phil’s back-to performances of Handel’s “Messiah” and John Adams’ “El Niño,” a latter-day, Latino-inspired “Messiah” that looks at the life of real people in relation to the concept of Nativity.

Although Walt Disney Concert Hall is but a healthy walk from Midnight Mission, it might as well be as far away for the skid row residents as the Goldman Sachs headquarters near Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. But skid row will surely be felt.

I would love to see a video of Don Garza singing “Comfort ye” shown to set the mood for those performances. But when Street Symphony performers can show it’s a wonderful life lived for music, I think we will be in good hands. 

Sun, December 11, 2016

Compelling ‘Messiah’ from a chorus of soloists
The San Francisco Chronicle

The choral singing sounded robust and finely detailed. The orchestral playing was a blend of seamless ensemble work and a few superb solo turns (trumpeter John Thiessen’s dazzling contribution to “The trumpet shall sound” only reconfirmed his status as one of the great Baroque instrumentalists of our time).

And Wachner, who has proved himself an inspired but sometimes mannered conductor in recent appearances with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, shaped the entire evening with an eye to giving these familiar strains new and vivid life. Not a chorus, not a solo aria, not an orchestral interlude sounded casual or pro forma — every moment crackled with interpretive energy.

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Compelling ‘Messiah’ from a chorus of soloists

By Joshua Kosman

December 11, 2016

If you were searching the program booklet for a listing of the vocal soloists in the performance of Handel’s “Messiah” presented by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, you would have found the task a slightly tricky one. It turns out that this is a vocal ensemble so rich in talent that its members just step to the fore, one after another, whenever there’s a solo that needs singing.

That was just one of the novelties in the vibrant account of this Baroque masterpiece, presented in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall by Cal Performances. With conductor Julian Wachner leading a performance that also featured the excellent Trinity Baroque Orchestra, it was an evening calculated to rejuvenate the spirits of anyone beginning to weary of the annual “Messiah” tradition.

The choral singing sounded robust and finely detailed. The orchestral playing was a blend of seamless ensemble work and a few superb solo turns (trumpeter John Thiessen’s dazzling contribution to “The trumpet shall sound” only reconfirmed his status as one of the great Baroque instrumentalists of our time).

And Wachner, who has proved himself an inspired but sometimes mannered conductor in recent appearances with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, shaped the entire evening with an eye to giving these familiar strains new and vivid life. Not a chorus, not a solo aria, not an orchestral interlude sounded casual or pro forma — every moment crackled with interpretive energy.

True, an element of calculation crept in here and there, when Wachner seemed a little too intent on underlining passages that would have been perfectly effective in a more traditional guise. In particular, the glacial tempos he chose at key junctures (the opening “Comfort ye,” the alto aria “He was despised” or the concluding “Amen”) came off as bids for eccentricity.

Yet not even those episodes could stall the gripping sense of engagement that suffused the performance overall. And there were many interpretive decisions — from the mellifluous cast of the bass aria “The people that walked in darkness” or the momentum-driven account of “I know that my Redeemer liveth” to the placement of trumpets in a high balcony for the chorus “Glory to God in the highest” — that paid rich rewards.

The music program that Wachner oversees at the Trinity Church in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, an ambitious undertaking that encompasses early and contemporary music alike, has been the object of increasingly admiring attention in recent years, and this performance was as good a reminder as any of why that is so.

Certainly it’s the rare chorus that can simply pluck vocal soloists from among its ranks and give them the spotlight — although the success of most of these artists made one wonder why it’s not done more often.

Among the most dazzling contributors was countertenor Timothy Parsons, whose magnificently muscular singing in “But who may abide” made one want to coin a new vocal category just for him — the heldencountertenor, ready to sing Wagnerian roles in his powerful falsetto. Soprano Sarah Brailey brought tonal elegance and expressive fervor to “He shall feed his flock” and again to a splendid closing account of “If God be for us,” countertenor Clifton Massey offered a fluid rendition of “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” and bass Christopher Dylan Herbert leaped into tenor territory for a wonderfully unhinged “Thou shalt break them.”

At the dark, luminous center of the evening came “He was despised,” sung with glorious intensity and pathos by mezzo-soprano Luthien Brackett. Even taken at a snail’s pace, the lushness and delicacy of the performance were magical.

Thu, December 8, 2016

Tuning into holiday recordings
The Bay Area Reporter

Julian Wachner continues to do fantastic work with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, as their atmospherically recorded The Snow Lay on the Ground: Festive Carols from Trinity Wall Street (Arsis) shows. Together with the Trinity Youth Chorus and Novus NY, these renditions of Wachner’s arrangements, along with his four unedited, first-take organ improvisations, score a 10. Dynamics are excellent for CD, with the beginning of “Joy to the World” strong enough to bolster a crumbling empire.

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Tuning into holiday recordings

Music

Published 12/08/2016

by Jason Victor Serinus

For the latest installment of B.A.R. 's annual holiday recording round-up, we begin with the one that's received the Upper/Downer Pairing of the Season Award for 2016, Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker & Symphony No. 4(Mariinsky SACD). The source is that happiest of campers, Valery Gergiev, and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Tchaikovsky's delightful fantasy ballet zips along at a pace that will keep dancers on their toes. In case they're flying too high, the fate theme from the Fourth Symphony will remind you of the consequences of living a closeted life amidst societal pressure to partner with a member of the opposite sex. Since Tchaikovsky's possible suicide is not a fate you wish to bestow on any young child, please encourage them to explore their full potential with pride. You also might encourage them to stop the disc once The Nutcracker ends.

While we're wallowing in downers, how about the hi-resolution disc pairing Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Schoenberg:Kol Nidre; Shostakovich: Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti(CSO Live SACD)? It's the wrong Jewish prayer for Hanukkah, and the Michelangelo is no romp in the park, but the recording does help us acknowledge that Jews are celebrating Hanukkah amidst a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. It also reminds us that some of the greatest artists of all time, e.g. Michelangelo, were homosexual. Narrator Alberto Mizrahi, dramatic though he may be, sounds far too arch and evil for the Schoenberg. But bass Ildar Abdrazakov is magnificent in the Michelangelo .

Time to clear the air with The King's Singers' Christmas Songbook(Signum). "Get on down/Santa Claus, he's comin' to town" is not what you'd expect from these six proper Englishmen, but their renditions are coy and comfy. Gustav Holst, Meredith Wilson, Irving Berlin and Franz Xavier Gruber gather round the Christmas tree on this a cappella follow-up to the boys' sometimes campy The Great American Songbook project.

Sporting two different dos, one for her natural trumpet, and the other for her fuller-sounding modern version of same, Alison Balsom joins the Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Cleobury and Tom Etheridge on organ, and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge for Jubilo (Warner), a very fine disc of trumpet music by Fasch, Bach, Torelli, and Corelli (his Christmas Concerto).

Carolae: Music for Christmas (Naxos) is a fitting showcase for the craft of Grammy-nominated English composer James Whitbourn (b. 1963). Several world premiere recordings, including the portentous "Veni et illumine," accompany the disc's centerpiece, the various Missa carolae. Medieval influences abound, as does a weighty musical sensibility that seems equally fit for a TV miniseries soundtrack or a Christmas procession for a long-forgotten King and Queen. In answer to the question, "What is the world coming to?" it's been there for far longer than your lifetime, honey.

If only great tenor Fritz Wunderlich hadn't drunk too much and, shortly before his 36th birthday, tripped on the laces of his boots, falling down the stairs to his death in a hunting lodge. Thankfully, his glorious gifts were recognized early. Thus do we have Fritz Wunderlich Sings Festival Arias (SWR Music), comprised mainly of early, rare radio tapes of Bach, Handel, Buxtedhude, Schuetz, and Telemann. Arias from Des Messias are gorgeous, with historically apt embellishments but sometimes ponderous tempi. The earliest recording was made shortly after Wunderlich turned 25.

Julian Wachner continues to do fantastic work with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, as their atmospherically recorded The Snow Lay on the Ground: Festive Carols from Trinity Wall Street (Arsis) shows. Together with the Trinity Youth Chorus and Novus NY, these renditions of Wachner's arrangements, along with his four unedited, first-take organ improvisations, score a 10. Dynamics are excellent for CD, with the beginning of "Joy to the World" strong enough to bolster a crumbling empire. Only the over-enunciation (the t's could kill) and extra effort to sound like anything but singers from New York detract from an otherwise superb production.

Canadian pop singer Sarah McLachlan's Wonderland (Verve) uses a modest amount of percussive and spacey effects to frame McLachlan's sweet, upbeat, breathy voice. The feeling may be pop, but the optimism is like a blast from the past. It feels like what you might expect from a cozy family Christmas where all talk of politics is banned.

The NOLA Players' Christmas in New Orleans (Verve) is a retro, jazz-tinged big-band visit to a land where good cheer compensates for a lack of snow. Forget about breaking new ground, and instead pass the egg nog.

Christmas with Septura (Naxos) features an excellent bass septet performing arrangements of music by Bach, Handel, Rachmaninov, and Warlock. The arrangement of "Ich freue mich in dir" ("I am delighted in thee") is a joy to listen to. This is a great one to play in the background to lift everyone's spirits.

Voces 8's Winter (Decca) offers a spacious, New Age take on music by Olafur Arnalds & Arnor Dan Arnarson, Arvo Part, Peteris Vaska, Ola Gjeilo, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Judith Bingham. The eight singers are quite accomplished, and the presentation a variation of the Great Pyramid Meets the Crystal Cathedral. The sound is as lovely as the mixed a cappella ensemble is photogenic.

Wed, December 7, 2016

Perfect Pitch: Sounds of the Season
Washington Life Magazine

Join The Washington Chorus for their annual concert of holiday favorites accompanied by organ, brass and percussion. From the procession of the choir by candlelight to the majesty of the brass and organ, this is a concert that is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. This concert marks music director Julian Wachner’s last holiday concert with the chorus that he has served conducting for the last 10 seasons.

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Perfect Pitch: Sounds of the Season

BY PATRICKMCCOY · DECEMBER 7, 2016

With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the Nation’s Capital never disappoints with an array of music to get you in the mood for family, friends and cheer.

JAZZ PIANIST DONAL FOX
Renowned jazz pianist Donal Fox performs three short sets in the Stuart Davis exhibition, right in front of the work “Swing Landscape” An American composer, pianist and improviser, Fox is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition. Though this is not billed as a holiday concert, jazz music has that infectious sparkling quality to put you in a cheery mood any time of the year. The National Gallery of Art, West Building. Saturday, December 3 at 12:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. FREE. www. nga.gov

THE TALLIS SCHOLARS 
Be prepared to be transported in time as the famed a cappella ensemble makes their Library of Congress debut. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the vocal ensemble is known around the world for their excellent command of tone and musicianship. They have performed the music of the Renaissance in many prestigious halls, including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Sistine Chapel, Wigmore Hall and the Sydney Opera House, among others. Tuesday, December 6 at 8:00 p.m. Coolidge Auditorium, The Library of Congress. Ground Floor-Thomas Jefferson Building. FREE. www.loc.gov

SWINGIN’ NUTCRACKER A LA ELLINGTON
Step Afrika gets audiences in the holiday spirit this year with a twist on a holiday classic! A jazzy twist on Tchaikovsky’s famous musical masterpiece, the outstanding dance troupe swing to the beat of the classic in jazz master Duke Ellington’s arrangement along with standards by Strayhorn and jazz composer Paul Murtha. Semi-staged, performances with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will take place at The Music Center at Strathmore and Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Thursday, December 8, 8 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD, 20852 Tickets:. $12.50-60.00 www.bsomusic.org 

December 9-11 (performance times: 7:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.). Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. 1212 Cathedral Place. Baltimore, MD 20852

HANDEL’S MESSIAH WITH THE NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC
The holiday season seems incomplete without the performance of Handel’s most popular choral work “Messiah.” Conductor Stanley Engebretson leads an impressive cast of soloists including soprano Danielle Talamantes, Magdalena Wor, tenor Matthew Smith and Christopheren Nomura with the chorale and orchestra. And if that does not get you excited, imagine standing tall with the other members of the audience to sing the famous “Hallelujah” Chorus. The Music Center at Strathmore. 5301 Tuckerman Lane. North Bethesda, MD 20852. Ticket information: www.nationalphiharmonic.org

Saturday, December 17 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 18 at 3:00 p.m

A CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS WITH THE WASHINGTON CHORUS
Join The Washington Chorus for their annual concert of holiday favorites accompanied by organ, brass and percussion. From the procession of the choir by candlelight to the majesty of the brass and organ, this is a concert that is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. This concert marks music director Julian Wachner’s last holiday concert with the chorus that he has served conducting for the last 10 seasons. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. Ticket information: www.kennedy-center.org

Sunday, December 11 at 2:00 p.m
Saturday, December 17 at 4:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 20 at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, December 21 at 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 22 at 7:00 p.m.

Tue, November 29, 2016

La sensualité mystique selon Julian Wachner
Le Devoir

Ce concert de lundi, dédié à Christopher Jackson par les musiciens et organisateurs, fut de ceux, rares, qui laissent pantois. En ce qui me concerne, il m’a projeté en arrière, en janvier 1988, lorsque j’ai eu la chance de travailler et de chanter cette oeuvre avec Carlo Maria Giulini. La parenté d’esprit entre Wachner et Giulini m’a sauté aux oreilles dès la première page de la partition, que j’ai d’ailleurs refermée illico pour recevoir dans mon coeur ce qui s’annonçait et s’est largement confirmé : un don musical d’une très rare hauteur de vue…

...La brillance du choeur n’a d’égale que l’éblouissante tenue de l’orchestre : une justesse impeccable, des ensembles de violons (introduction de l’Agnus Dei) comme on n’en a jamais entendu de la part d’un orchestre baroque ici, des solistes de classe mondiale — le corniste, la violoniste, l’hautboïste, et, plus que tout, la flûtiste dans un sublime Benedictus. Un tel orchestre baroque touffu de haut niveau, c’est exactement ce que nous devrions avoir à Montréal dans une évolution logique de notre milieu baroque sur les 20 dernières années. Mais nous vivons dans le ronron plutôt que dans l’expansion et ces New-Yorkais, qui ont mis notre fiasco collectif en pleine lumière, appellent à être réinvités dans les prochaines éditions du Festival Bach.

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CRITIQUE CLASSIQUE

La sensualité mystique selon Julian Wachner

29 novembre 2016 |Christophe Huss | Musique

Messe en si mineur
Solistes et Choeur de Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Baroque Orchestra de New York, dir. Julian Wachner. Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste, lundi 28 novembre 2016.

Au moment du bilan du Festival Bach 2016, il sera difficile de dire quel en fut l’himalayen sommet, entre les Variations Goldberg de Serge Babayan et la Messe en si de Julian Wachner et ses musiciens. Pour ma part, je dirais qu’il est encore plus difficile d’atteindre un tel niveau dans la Messe en si que dans les Goldberg.

Ce concert de lundi, dédié à Christopher Jackson par les musiciens et organisateurs, fut de ceux, rares, qui laissent pantois. En ce qui me concerne, il m’a projeté en arrière, en janvier 1988, lorsque j’ai eu la chance de travailler et de chanter cette oeuvre avec Carlo Maria Giulini. La parenté d’esprit entre Wachner et Giulini m’a sauté aux oreilles dès la première page de la partition, que j’ai d’ailleurs refermée illico pour recevoir dans mon coeur ce qui s’annonçait et s’est largement confirmé : un don musical d’une très rare hauteur de vue.

Giulini insistait pour obtenir des musiciens une Messe en si certes articulée, mais sans le moindre staccato : « On s’adresse à Dieu, on le fait humblement et pas par à-coups » disait-il en substance. Wachner a dirigé des lignes puissantes, des hymnes ancrés dans la terre. Chez lui, le rebond n’est pas sautillement. Wachner, plus encore que Thomas Hengelbrock dans son enregistrement, a accompli le rêve de Giulini, avec des instruments anciens et un effectif idéal.

Les signes d’une lecture quasiment extra-lucide ne manquaient pas. À la base, il y avait la disposition du choeur, presque aléatoire et non par pupitres en blocs. Cela décuple la difficulté, mais cela donne une sensation de foule dans sa diversité. Il y avait aussi la vision du coeur de l’oeuvre, ce triptyque Et Incarnatus, Crucifixus, Resurrexit parfaitement enchaîné, avec une exacte respiration. Mieux encore, Wachner fait débuter le Crucifixus par des voix solistes, mais lorsque, dans le développement, la musique simule littéralement les clous que l’on plante, c’est tout le choeur qui scande les entrées, car c’est bien la foule qui crucifie Jésus. Sous les élans qu’impulse Wachner, la ferveur anime d’une sensualité mystique les choeurs tels que Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum ou Dona nobis pacem.

Là où ces invités de Trinity Wall Street ont été hors normes, c’est en fournissant les solistes à même le choeur. Neuf chanteurs, pas un point faible, quelques voix plus que remarquables (la soprano Sarah Brailey, le contreténor Timothy Parsons dans Qui sedes, le ténor Brian Giebler dans Benedictus) et la facilité, donc, pour Wachner de mobiliser la voix (tessiture, couleur, volume) qui magnifie l’éloquence du solo ou du duo.

La brillance du choeur n’a d’égale que l’éblouissante tenue de l’orchestre : une justesse impeccable, des ensembles de violons (introduction de l’Agnus Dei) comme on n’en a jamais entendu de la part d’un orchestre baroque ici, des solistes de classe mondiale — le corniste, la violoniste, l’hautboïste, et, plus que tout, la flûtiste dans un sublime Benedictus. Un tel orchestre baroque touffu de haut niveau, c’est exactement ce que nous devrions avoir à Montréal dans une évolution logique de notre milieu baroque sur les 20 dernières années. Mais nous vivons dans le ronron plutôt que dans l’expansion et ces New-Yorkais, qui ont mis notre fiasco collectif en pleine lumière, appellent à être réinvités dans les prochaines éditions du Festival Bach.

À propos de festival, saluons, une fois n’est pas coutume, la clairvoyance des commanditaires, tels Canimex, la Fondation Jarislowsky et, dans le cas de ce concert, les avocats de BCF, qui ont la bonne idée de s’associer à une manifestation si intelligente et si efficace, hélas nettement moins soutenue par les paliers gouvernementaux que des manifestations et institutions nettement moins performantes et imaginatives.

Thu, September 22, 2016

Monteverdi Helps Musicians Honor Late Conductor
Classical Voice America

Sometimes a gifted musician can attain a central and uncontested position in a city without manifesting any ambition to do so. Such a figure was Christopher Jackson, the mild-mannered but visionary conductor and organist who co-founded the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal in 1974 and went on to define for Montrealers how Renaissance masters should sound. His death last year at age 67 left SMAM without its leader but with an indestructible legacy of leadership, which the choir (expanded to 24 voices and abetted by an orchestra of 23) celebrated on Sept. 19 by presenting Monteverdi’s Vespers as a memorial.

On the podium was Julian Wachner, who became a great friend of Jackson while they were like-minded professors at rival Montreal universities (Jackson at Concordia and Wachner at McGill). Now known for, among other things, his work at Trinity Wall Street and with the Washington Chorus, Wachner summoned a lavish performance of this 100-minute masterpiece. If Monteverdi inevitably had his eyes fixed on heaven, Wachner’s interpretation reminded us of how firmly the composer’s feet were planted on earth.

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Monteverdi Helps Musicians Honor Late Conductor

By Arthur Kaptainis

MONTREAL — Sometimes a gifted musician can attain a central and uncontested position in a city without manifesting any ambition to do so. Such a figure was Christopher Jackson, the mild-mannered but visionary conductor and organist who co-founded theStudio de musique ancienne de Montréal in 1974 and went on to define for Montrealers how Renaissance masters should sound. His death last year at age 67 left SMAM without its leader but with an indestructible legacy of leadership, which the choir (expanded to 24 voices and abetted by an orchestra of 23) celebrated on Sept. 19 by presenting Monteverdi’s Vespers as a memorial.

On the podium was Julian Wachner, who became a great friend of Jackson while they were like-minded professors at rival Montreal universities (Jackson at Concordia and Wachner at McGill). Now known for, among other things, his work atTrinity Wall Street and with theWashington Chorus, Wachner summoned a lavish performance of this 100-minute masterpiece. If Monteverdi inevitably had his eyes fixed on heaven, Wachner’s interpretation reminded us of how firmly the composer’s feet were planted on earth.

One sensed the materiality of the conception from the beginning in the strong beats of the overture, nicely counterpoised with the dance interludes. “Psalms” had drama and gravitas: the lively rhythms of the last, “Lauda Jerusalem,” came through effectively despite the resonance of the Church of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount. A glowing place for Jackson’s exquisite renderings of Palestrina and Lasso, this exuberantly decorated Romanesque structure is a challenging forum for more opulent music.

Choirs and soloists occasionally migrated to various stations in the sanctuary to create characteristic antiphonal or echo effects, although in this setting all the music seems to radiate from everywhere. Sopranos Marie Magistry and Stephanie Manias blended lucidly in an operatic “Pulchra es.” Tenor Nils Brown was a force among the male soloists. If burnished tone was wanting in the “Nigra sum” as performed by another tenor, expression was not.

Looking muscular in short sleeves, Wachner stood to the side during a few of the simpler movements but mostly exercised leadership with big gestures and unflagging momentum. Doxologies sounded impressive rather than formulaic, and while I cannot rid myself of the habit of judging Monteverdi’s harmonic language according to the standards of his successors, I was able to appreciate the minimal sound of the “Duo seraphim” for what it was.

There was no intermissison,  none being needed. Strings, cornetts, andsackbuts alternated brilliantly in the “Sonata sopra Sancta Maria.” A solemn treatment of the “Ave maris stella” led to the concluding Magnificat, a complex work in its own right, with varied and intriguing effects, but also an excellent forum for the pure choral sound that Jackson built.

There was much applause from the loyal SMAM audience for the performance and for the purpose — this being a benefit concert. All the participants donated their services. (Brown and bass Martin Auclair were described in the program as “project initiators.”)

Andrew McAnerney, a former member of the Tallis Scholars, was named artistic director of SMAM last December. The Englishman will be in charge of a program of Elizabethan motets and madrigals on Oct. 16. There can be no doubt that McAnerney has a fine and disciplined squad to work with. And a remarkable tradition to uphold.

Arthur Kaptainis writes about music for the Montreal Gazette and Musical Toronto.

Wed, September 21, 2016

Ferveur et exaltation
Le Devoir

Christopher Jackson, cofondateur du SMAM il y a 42 ans (son complice Réjean Poirier tenait lundi la partie d’orgue), directeur musical emblématique de l’institution pendant près de trois décennies et leader de la musique ancienne au Canada, affectionnait particulièrement les Vêpres de la Vierge de Monteverdi. Le programme du concert en son hommage, lors duquel les musiciens ont offert leur prestation afin que l’ensemble des recettes contribue à la pérennité de l’institution, allait donc de soi.

La seconde annonce préalable fut celle du chef Julian Wachner nous informant que, contrairement à ce qu’indiquait le programme, les Vêpres seraient données sans pause. Heureuse et capitale initiative, préservant le souffle et l’architecture de l’oeuvre, mais confrontant également l’auditeur à l’éclatement progressif des espaces sonores (déploiement en double-choeur, puis utilisation des effets d’écho) comme en un big bang musical.

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CRITIQUE CONCERT

Ferveur et exaltation

21 septembre 2016 |Christophe Huss | Musique

Concert à la mémoire de Christopher Jackson. Monteverdi : Vespro della Beata Vergine. Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Julian Wachner. Église Saint-Léon de Westmount, 19 septembre 2016.

Un grand moment musical en mémoire d’un grand bonhomme, à quelques jours du premier anniversaire de la mort. L’église Saint-Léon de Westmount était pleine à craquer lundi soir pour un concert que Marie-Christine Trottier, présidente du Conseil d’administration du Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (SMAM), annonçait au micro« rempli d’amour et de reconnaissance ».

Christopher Jackson, cofondateur du SMAM il y a 42 ans (son complice Réjean Poirier tenait lundi la partie d’orgue), directeur musical emblématique de l’institution pendant près de trois décennies et leader de la musique ancienne au Canada, affectionnait particulièrement les Vêpres de la Vierge de Monteverdi. Le programme du concert en son hommage, lors duquel les musiciens ont offert leur prestation afin que l’ensemble des recettes contribue à la pérennité de l’institution, allait donc de soi.

La seconde annonce préalable fut celle du chef Julian Wachner nous informant que, contrairement à ce qu’indiquait le programme, les Vêpres seraient données sans pause. Heureuse et capitale initiative, préservant le souffle et l’architecture de l’oeuvre, mais confrontant également l’auditeur à l’éclatement progressif des espaces sonores (déploiement en double-choeur, puis utilisation des effets d’écho) comme en un big bang musical.

Grande ferveur

Un événement si émouvant avait toutes les chances d’être habité par une grande ferveur. Mais il courait aussi le risque d’être paralysé par l’émotion, d’autant que les principaux solistes — Marie Magistry, Stephanie Manias, Nils Brown, Michiel Schrey, Bernard Cayouette, Normand Richard et Martin Auclair — émanaient du choeur. Absorber une vague d’émotion débordante en choeur est une chose ; l’assumer en s’exposant au-devant de la scène en est une autre. Et pourtant, à tout moment, ferveur et exaltation dominaient.

Certes, le premier « exposé », Michiel Schrey dans Nigra sum, a converti sa tension en une nasalisation excessive. Mais la réussite de ce solo très orphique l’a détendu pour la suite et a rassuré tous les solistes, qui se sont engagés dans une positive joute vocale.

Élan mystique

Dans l’esprit de Christopher Jackson, Julian Wachner a amené les troupes du SMAM à célébrer ces Vêpres de la Vierge avec un sens exceptionnel de l’élan mystique. Dans la lecture de l’oeuvre, nous étions nettement sur le versant sacré du théâtre, avec une vision grandiose, plutôt que sur l’imbrication sacré-profane plus bondissante et à taille humaine prônée par un Leonardo Garcia-Alarcon. De là, de cette célébration d’une oeuvre plus grande que nature, l’explosion vocale de Lauda Jerusalem, la gradation duNisi Dominus, mais aussi des jeux d’ombre et de lumière dans le Dixit Dominus, de plans et de volumes dans le Laetatus sum.

Les grands moments (appariement vocal des deux sopranos dans Pulchra es, mystérieuse invocation de la Trinité dans Duo seraphim) ont cimenté une soirée inoubliable, un digne hommage, montrant au passage l’unicité et le caractère vital du SMAM dans notre paysage musical.

Mon, September 19, 2016

Remembering Christopher Jackson
Breakfast Television Montréal

Julian talks to BTMTL about a special concert to honor the memory of his good friend Christopher Jackson, founding artistic director of Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal.

Fri, September 16, 2016

Classical Music to Come: A Finnish Star, Minimalism and Wagner
The New York Times

‘TIME’S ARROW’ Fresh from its revivifying holiday performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” which set the New York standard, the musical forces of Trinity Wall Street, under Julian Wachner, turn to their annual winter festival, formerly known as Twelfth Night. Early and new music come together this year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the church’s St. Paul’s Chapel. The premieres include Paola Prestini’s installment in Trinity’s ongoing “Mass Reimaginings” series. Jan. 1-12, trinitywallstreet.org.

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Classical Music to Come: A Finnish Star, Minimalism and Wagner

By ZACHARY WOOLFESEPT. 16, 2016

Dates are subject to change.

September

JACK QUARTET This essential, uncannily assured new-music ensemble is making a personnel change, trading out two of its members for new players. A transitional version of the team performs at the end of a four-day festival at the tiny loft space Spectrum, featuring the alert music of Robert Morris. (The fully new JACK makes its debut Oct. 30 and 31 at the Park Avenue Armory, with the premiere of Roger Reynolds’s multimedia, acoustic- and computer-derived “FLiGHT.”) Sept. 18, jackquartet.com.

ALAN GILBERT’S FINAL SEASON As the New York Philharmonic’s music director since 2009, Mr. Gilbert has done his best to deliver a jolt of experimentation to a hidebound (not to say intransigent) institution. He will depart in June with a final program promising to “foster the idea of a global community,” but before that he will lead premieres by John Corigliano, Wynton Marsalis, HK Gruber, Lera Auerbach, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonic’s composer in residence, including his new cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma. Not all is new: Classics by Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms and others are on Mr. Gilbert’s agenda, as is his first time leading Handel’s “Messiah” as music director and an impeccably cast concert performance of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold.” It’s a characteristically heady, even giddy, blend — a reminder that if New York may be gaining a more charismatic force in the standard repertory in Mr. Gilbert’s successor, Jaap van Zweden, it may well be losing something more precious than that. Sept. 21, David Geffen Hall, nyphil.org.

‘BREAKING THE WAVES’ Based on the bleaker-than-bleak 1996 Lars von Trier film about a woman whose disabled husband urges her to have sex with other men, this new opera by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek is likely to elicit fewer laughs than “The Barber of Seville.” But the work’s ambition is par for the course for the young Opera Philadelphia, whose season also includes a setting of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in war-torn Africa and Rossini’s “Tancredi,” starring the redoubtable Stephanie Blythe. Opens Sept. 22, operaphila.org.

‘TRISTAN UND ISOLDE’ Wagner’s epochal experiment in duration pushed tonality and the human voice nearly as far as they could go. Opening the Metropolitan Opera’s season, “Tristan” is less upbeat gala fare than a test of a company’s resources — particularly its orchestra. The Met players, long buffed in Wagner by James Levine, will be led by the more febrile Simon Rattle, in just his second Met outing. (On Sept. 18, he conducts the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys in a tribute to its late director, John Scott.) Mariusz Trelinski, who staged a haunting double bill of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Met last year, directs; Nina Stemme, bringing both power and control, and Stuart Skelton are the star-crossed leads, joined by Ekaterina Gubanova, Evgeny Nikitin and René Pape. Opens Sept. 26, metopera.org.

DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Under its music director, Leonard Slatkin, this ensemble punches well above its weight in presenting new, often American music. A thread running through this season, “Gershwin and His Children,” explores the influence of pop culture on classical music, featuring works by Milhaud, Bernstein, Corigliano, Lalo Schifrin, Terence Blanchard and Gabriel Prokofiev, among others. The opening concert includes “Big Data” by the Spanish composer Ferran Cruixent, known for blending traditional instruments and technology. Sept. 29, dso.org.

JOHN ADAMS AT 70 Philip Glass may have the mainstream recognition, but Mr. Adams is the contemporary American composer most enthusiastically embraced by the classical establishment. His 70th birthday will be celebrated around the country: On Sept. 29, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens its subscription season with the Beethoven-sampling “Absolute Jest,” which the New York Philharmonic will also play, alongside the grand “Harmonielehre,” in March. Los Angeles will later present the endearing oratorio “El Niño” and the seminal opera “Nixon in China,” which will also return to Houston Grand Opera, the site of its 1987 premiere. In March, the St. Louis Symphony brings to Carnegie Hall Mr. Adams’s swarming “Gospel According to the Other Mary.” (St. Louis’s recording of Mr. Adams’s violin concerto “Scheherazade.2” is to be released by Nonesuch Records on Sept. 30.) laphil.com.

TENET The medieval innovator Guillaume de Machaut is the subject of “The Cycle of Invention,” this accomplished early-music ensemble’s trio of concerts at the Tenri Cultural Institute. (The group will also perform Monteverdi’s Vespers in December and Bach’s “St. John Passion” in March.) Sept. 30, Jan. 13, May 5, tenet.nyc.

‘THE HUNGER’ Using opera to relate history, Donnacha Dennehy’s lush new score explores Ireland’s Great Famine, drawing on first-person accounts, video commentary and early recordings of Irish folk songs. Alan Pierson conducts the ensemble Alarm Will Sound at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the staging is by Tom Creed, with designs by Jim Findlay. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, bam.org.

October

SIMÓN BOLÍVAR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF VENEZUELACarnegie Hall opens its season with this barnstorming ensemble of young musicians from a nation in crisis, led by its star conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. The first night of three has a dance theme, including Ravel’s “La Valse” and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The next evening brings works by Juan Carlos Nuñez, Paul Desenne and Heitor Villa-Lobos; the run closes with Messiaen’s sprawling “Turangalîla-Symphonie.” Oct. 6-8,carnegiehall.org.

‘TRANSCENDENTAL’ When the young pianist Daniil Trifonov played Liszt’s complete “Transcendental Études” at Carnegie Hall in 2014, David Allen called it a “flabbergasting, exhausting achievement” in The New York Times. In the liner notes of his new recording, Mr. Trifonov calls these pieces “existential meditations,” and he has added a second disc to encompass Liszt’s other solo-piano études. (He returns to Carnegie in December, not with Liszt but Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky.) Oct. 7, Deutsche Grammophon.

‘THE HOUSE TAKEN OVER’ Based on a short story by Julio Cortázar, Vasco Mendonça’s tense opera disintegrates from realism into stylization. R. B. Schlather’s production, the work’s American premiere, is copresented by National Sawdust, the Manhattan School of Music (Etienne Siebens conducts the school’s orchestra), and the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where the opera had its premiere in 2013. Oct. 9, nationalsawdust.org.

‘CASSANDRA’ A musicologist once wrote that an almost telepathic similarity of subject and style links this crushing 1905 opera by Vittorio Gnecchi with Strauss’s “Elektra” (1909). The comparisons can be made anew as Teatro Grattacielo, devoted to Italian rarities, brings the Gnecchi work out of mothballs at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater. Oct. 8, grattacielo.org.

GLENN BRANCA A master of the overwhelmingly ecstatic, this composer and guitarist continues his experiments with the fearsome roar of multiple electric guitars, in different tunings, with “The Third Ascension” and “The Light (for David),” dedicated to David Bowie, at Roulette. Oct. 8,roulette.org.

PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA Appearing first with a longtime collaborator, Simon Rattle, for Mahler’s Sixth Symphony at Carnegie Hall, this luxe ensemble then has three more Carnegie dates (Nov. 15, March 7, May 9) with its current music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The programs suffer from a puzzling dearth of music by living composers — instead, Ravel, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Schumann — and, indeed, little off the beaten path at all, though Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”) gets an unusual hearing, and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” will show off an as-yet-little-heard Expressionist side of Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s opera work. Oct. 10, philorch.org.

‘CIRCLE MAP’ It’s Kaija Saariaho’s fall in New York, with a number of events surrounding the Met premiere of her opera “L’Amour de Loin” in December. The New York Philharmonic offers a preview of sorts with a program of four mostly recent works, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen (a longtime Saariaho collaborator) and staged by Pierre Audi in the soaring drill hall at the Park Avenue Armory. (The Mannes School of Music presents Ms. Saariaho’s somber oratorio “La Passion de Simone” in November, and the Juilliard School’s Axiom ensemble will devote a concert to her on Dec. 12.) Oct. 13-14, armoryonpark.org.

PEOPLES’ SYMPHONY CONCERTS One of the best deals in classical music, this venerable series presents world-class performers for less than $10 a ticket. The season begins with the violin-piano team of Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner and also includes the violinists Augustin Hadelich and Christian Tetzlaff; the Juilliard String Quartet; and the pianists Yefim Bronfman, Paul Lewis and Garrick Ohlsson. Oct. 15, pscny.org.

‘WINTERREISE’ Last year, the piercingly poignant tenor Mark Padmore sang this classic Schubert song cycle to open Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Do you need to hear him do it again? Yes — because this time it’s not precisely Schubert, but rather Hans Zender’s constantly surprising “composed interpretation” of the cycle, an arrangement for small orchestra being performed at Carnegie Hall with Simon Rattle conducting the hall’s resident Ensemble Connect. (It’s truly a “Winterreise” season at Carnegie, with more traditional renditions coming from Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès on Oct. 23, then Alice Coote and Julius Drake on Feb. 4.) Oct. 16.

WHITE LIGHT FESTIVAL Vaguely spiritual in theme, Lincoln Center’s fall festival begins with “Human Requiem,” a staging of Brahms’s great “German Requiem” organized by Simon Halsey, choirmaster par excellence, and featuring the Berlin Radio Choir. That group also performs a program of Bach, Brahms, Schoenberg and Knut Nystedt, and Gianandrea Noseda leads the London Symphony Orchestra, its chorus prepared by Mr. Halsey, in Verdi’s Requiem. The choreographer Mark Morris has organized an immersion in Indian music; William Kentridge directs a puppet-theater production of Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse”; and the pianist Jeremy Denk’s solo recital spans Machaut to Philip Glass. (On Oct. 15, Mr. Denk opens the 92nd Street Y’s season with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.) Oct. 16-Nov. 16, whitelightfestival.org.

‘GUILLAUME TELL’ Rossini’s expansive final opera, not heard at the Met since 1931, returns to the company in a light-soaked production by Pierre Audi. In his last season as principal conductor (a position once widely thought to be his steppingstone to the music directorship that has now gone to Yannick Nézet-Séguin), Fabio Luisi leads a cast that includes the intelligent baritone Gerald Finley in the title role, Marina Rebeka as Mathilde and the platinum-toned tenor Bryan Hymel as Arnold. Opens Oct. 18.

AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Leon Botstein uses his ensemble as a kind of drill, delving deep into the repertory to unearth forgotten treasures. A four-program season at Carnegie Hall begins with a double bill of one-act operas — Krenek’s “Der Diktator” and Strauss’s “Friedenstag” — written between the world wars. (The other concerts explore Leonard Bernstein’s circle in Boston, 20th-century Czech composers and Elgar’s oratorio “The Apostles.”) Oct. 19,americansymphony.org.

‘THE SOURCE’ A 21st-century masterpiece, Ted Hearne’s harrowing oratorio about Chelsea Manning and her revelations to WikiLeaks blends rock propulsion, chamber-music intimacy and four eerie, Auto-Tuned voices to create an enigmatic space of reflection on horrors of recent history, aided by Mark Doten’s collage text and Daniel Fish and Jim Findlay’s ambiguous, claustrophobic staging. The ambitious Los Angeles Opera presents the work’s West Coast premiere in a tantalizing month or so that also offers Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten,” Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” and Matthew Aucoin’s new score to accompany the silent film “Nosferatu.” (“The Source” travels north in February for a run at San Francisco Opera.) Oct. 19-23, laopera.org.

SPHINX ORGANIZATION Devoted to promoting racial diversity in classical music through competitions, grants and educational activities, this invaluable organization also presents an annual concert at Carnegie Hall featuring its flagship orchestra, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and the Catalyst Quartet, this year focusing on repertory with a Latin bent. Oct. 20,sphinxmusic.org.

COMPOSER PORTRAITS The Miller Theater’s signature series of dives into one artist’s work at a time begins with the New York landmark John Zorn on a program that includes five world premieres played by the Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet and American Brass Quintet. (If that doesn’t tucker you out, Mr. Zorn’s recent, sprawling series of bagatelles will be performed in a 10-hour marathon on Oct. 22 at National Sawdust.) Portraits of Lei Liang, Zosha di Castri, Beat Furrer, Misato Mochizuki, Johannes Maria Staud and Klas Torstensson round out the Miller season. Oct. 20, millertheatre.com.

EIGHTH BLACKBIRD To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the gorgeous Arts Club of Chicago, David Lang has written a piece based on Gertrude Stein’s 1925 lecture “Composition as Explanation,” to be performed by this admired Chicago-based ensemble. Oct. 22,artsclubchicago.org.

DANISH STRING QUARTET This fiery group presents a program at Carnegie Hall that explores finality: On the docket are Shostakovich’s last quartet (his 15th) and Schubert’s last chamber work (the String Quintet in C, with the cellist Torlief Thedeen joining in). Oct. 26.

NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Never quite getting the respect it deserves playing across the Hudson River from the New York Philharmonic and an international parade of guests, this excellent orchestra introduces its charismatic new music director, Xian Zhang, who begins her tenure with Tchaikovsky: the Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Simon Trpceski) and Symphony No. 5. (The entire season seems an effort to show that she and her band can more than hold their own in symphonic classics by Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Schubert, Shostakovich and Brahms.) Oct. 27-30, njsymphony.org.

‘JENUFA’ The soprano Karita Mattila caused a sensation when she sang the title role in this riveting Janacek masterpiece at the Met a decade ago. She returns now as the tortured Kostelnicka, part of a cast that also includes Oksana Dyka as Jenufa, Daniel Brenna, Joseph Kaiser and Hanna Schwarz; David Robertson conducts. Opens Oct. 28.

‘CANTICLES OF THE HOLY WIND’ This stirring, hovering work for four choirs will be performed by the Crossing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s airy Medieval Sculpture Hall; the group will perform “Canticles” again in May on the Upper West Side under the auspices of Symphony Space, to celebrate the release of its recording of the work on Cantaloupe Records. (Symphony Space will also present Alarm Will Sound in Mr. Adams’s “Ten Thousand Birds” in Morningside Park on May 14.) Oct. 29, metmuseum.org.

November

STEVE REICH AT 80 Not resting on his laurels, this Minimalist master spends the season holding the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, which hosts a celebratory birthday concert that includes “Pulse,” a new work for winds, strings, piano and electric bass. Its composer says that it’s calmer than his recent “Quartet,” which joins “Pulse” on the program alongside his video opera “Three Tales.” Other tributes come at the Miller Theater (Ensemble Signal, on Oct. 25), the Juilliard School (the Axiom ensemble, on Oct. 29), National Sawdust (a World Music Institute program juxtaposing “Drumming” and the Ghanaian music that inspired it, on Dec. 10) and Symphony Space (a marathon “Wall to Wall” concert on April 30). Nov. 1.

RHYS CHATHAM A veteran of the New York downtown scene, this impresario, composer and musician blended Minimalism and punk in influential works of the 1970s and ’80s. Issue Project Room presents him in solo concert at its ornate space in Downtown Brooklyn, still in the process of a major renovation. Nov. 3, issueprojectroom.org.

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC In two concerts at Carnegie Hall, the world’s most dazzling orchestra takes a brief break — for Boulez’s “Éclat” — from a dive into classics of the Viennese tradition: Brahms’s Second and Mahler’s Seventh Symphonies and works by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Nov. 9 and 10.

PAULINE OLIVEROS Presented by the collective Bang on a Can and designed to accompany “Take Me (I’m Yours)” — an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of works blurring the line between artist and audience — this beloved composer and performer plays a digitally enhanced accordion and invites listeners to contribute sounds from their own meditations. Nov. 10, thejewishmuseum.org.

MORTON FELDMAN AT 90 It’s startling to realize that Feldman, the magician of glacial slowness who died in 1987, was just 10 years older than Steve Reich. To honor what would have been his 90th birthday year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts the Calder Quartet at its Cloisters location to play his sublime String Quartet No. 2, which can last five or six hours. Nov. 12.

ACCADEMIA BIZANTINA One of the most vibrant early-music ensembles, which recently released a thrilling recording of Haydn symphonies, arrives at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall with a Bach program under its inspired director, Ottavio Dantone. Nov. 15.

‘FLIGHT’ This sweetly melancholy ensemble show, inspired by the true story of a refugee who lived for years in a Paris airport, has been popular since it was written in 1998 by Jonathan Dove, his nervous, pulsing style not dissimilar from John Adams’s. Juilliard Opera performs it to open a season that also includes Handel’s “Agrippina” (a collaboration with the school’s period ensemble, Juilliard415) in February and Janacek’s searing “Katya Kabanova” in April. Nov. 16, 18, 20, juilliard.edu.

BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV With intriguingly personal interpretations of standards, this young Uzbek pianist, who gave an impressive recital in Carnegie Hall’s smallest space earlier this year, gets a chance on the hall’s big stage, bringing a program of Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Prokofiev and Balakirev. Nov. 17.

JAAP VAN ZWEDEN The read on Mr. van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s next music director, is that he’s a bit antipathetic to new music; we’ve heard he’s a Beethoven-and-Bruckner kind of guy. That’s not exactly borne out by a careful look at his career, and he’ll have a first chance to prove his contemporary bona fides with the orchestra at David Geffen Hall as he leads the premiere of “Unearth, Release,” Julia Adolphe’s new concerto for principal violist Cynthia Phelps. Rounding out the program are favorites: the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and Tchaikovsky’s seething Fourth Symphony. Nov. 17-19.

WILD UP This boisterous Los Angeles ensemble, led with sweat-flying energy by Christopher Rountree, lands in Brooklyn for three concerts at National Sawdust in two days. Nov. 18 and 19.

‘SEE YOU LATER’ This evening-length performance, featuring Third Coast Percussion and directed by Cathie Boyd, combines works by David T. Little (“Dog Days”), Peter Garland and Gavin Bryers under the auspices of Montclair State University’s adventurous Peak Performances series. (The season there continues with Amy Beth Kirsten’s “Quixote” and a string quartet festival focusing on the composer William Bolcom.) Nov. 18-20,peakperfs.org.

‘ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDER GROUND’ For those who found Gerald Barry’s operatic version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” uproarious when it played at Lincoln Center this spring, his new theatrical work, based on Lewis Carroll, may be even more madcap. The brilliant soprano Barbara Hannigan stars as Alice; the composer Thomas Adès conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Nov. 22, laphil.com.

December

‘L’AMOUR DE LOIN’ For the first time since 1903, the Met will stage an opera by a woman. Kaija Saariaho’s shimmering piece about a medieval troubadour, which had its premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, arrives in New York under the incisive baton of Susanna Malkki, in her Met debut. A talented cast — Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips and Tamara Mumford — will be directed by Robert Lepage (of the Met’s disastrous “Ring” cycle), who promises to fill the stage with LED lights. Opens Dec. 1.

CLAIRE CHASE This vividly dramatic flutist, also the founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, presents the fourth installment in “density 2036,” her 22-year project aiming to commission a wide new repertory for solo flute. This year’s performance, at the Kitchen, includes works by Richard Beaudoin, Suzanne Farrin, Vijay Iyer, Pauchi Sasaki and Tyshawn Sorey. (It’s a flutish fall: Tim Munro, long a member of Eighth Blackbird, begins his solo career with “Recounting,” a program at the Miller Theater on Nov. 10.) Dec. 1- 2, thekitchen.org.

‘AL-QUDS: JERUSALEM’ Mohammed Fairouz, a prolific and inventive young composer, has written a new oratorio seeking to capture some of Jerusalem’s complex dynamics and sounds. Presented in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fall exhibition “Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven,” the work features the Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr. (Mr. Fairouz’s Machiavellian opera, “The New Prince,” has its premiere at Dutch National Opera in March.) Dec. 9,metmuseum.org.

KATE SOPER Known as Empac, the dazzling Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is a hotbed of the new, giving artists luxurious amounts of time and space. New to the center this season is a dizzyingly complex audio system consisting of 496 independently controllable loudspeakers; fall performances include, on Sept. 22, the pianist Mabel Kwan playing Georg Friedrich Haas’s “Trois Hommages.” And Ms. Soper, a pure-voiced singer and composer, leads the premiere of her “Ipsa Dixit,” featuring a collage of texts that call understandability and expression into question. Dec. 9,empac.rpi.edu.

LOFTOPERA Attending one of this young company’s packed warehouse performances, you wouldn’t know that classical music was (as we always read) in trouble. Socialites and hipsters are pressed together watching productions of irresistible exuberance and polish; the beer flows freely. After opening its season with Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte,” the group turns to Verdi’s grim “Macbeth.” Opens Dec. 9, loftopera.com.

DIANA DAMRAU As the New York weather chills, it will be up to this silky, effortlessly humane soprano to warm us up. In town for a few months of opera at the Met, she takes a night off for a recital on Dec. 10 at Alice Tully Hall with the harpist Xavier de Maistre, with helpings of Debussy, Strauss and others (lcgreatperformers.org). Then she rings in the new year at the Met with the company premiere of Bartlett Sher’s production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and also starring Vittorio Grigolo, with whom Ms. Damrau partnered excitingly in “Manon” last year. And there’s more: She’ll sing Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met starting on Feb. 10; the sensational bel canto tenor Javier Camarena is Arturo.

TALEA ENSEMBLE Dazzlingly, even disconcertingly precise and confident in the most demanding new music, this crucial group comes together with the Neue Vocalsolisten ensemble of Germany for two American premieres at the Alliance Française: Ramon Lazkano’s “Ceux à Qui” and Fabien Lévy’s “Après Tout.” Dec. 14, taleaensemble.org.

CHRISTIAN GERHAHER His voice airy yet grounded, his intelligence and compassion deep, this German baritone has provided some of the most memorable opera and recital performances in recent years. He joins his longtime collaborator, the pianist Gerold Huber, at Alice Tully Hall for a program of Mahler: selections from “Das Lied von der Erde” and “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and the five “Rückert-Lieder.” (Count the dry eyes in the house for “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.”) Dec. 17,lcgreatperformers.org.

January

‘TIME’S ARROW’ Fresh from its revivifying holiday performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” which set the New York standard, the musical forces of Trinity Wall Street, under Julian Wachner, turn to their annual winter festival, formerly known as Twelfth Night. Early and new music come together this year to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the completion of the church’s St. Paul’s Chapel. The premieres include Paola Prestini’s installment in Trinity’s ongoing “Mass Reimaginings” series. Jan. 1-12, trinitywallstreet.org.

PROTOTYPE: OPERA/THEATER/NOW Now in its fifth year, this festival of contemporary chamber opera and performance has become New York’s most dependable home for intriguing music theater. Presented by Beth Morrison Projects and Here Arts Center, this season’s offerings include Matt Marks and Paul Peers’s “Mata Hari,” David Lang and Mark Dion’s “anatomy theater” and Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s “Breaking the Waves,” fresh from its premiere in Philadelphia. Jan. 5-15,prototypefestival.org.

‘SERIAL COPLAND’ He wasn’t just the populist of “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid”: Last season, the San Francisco Symphony gave us a helping of Aaron Copland’s thornier works, and this intimate concert at Le Poisson Rouge delves deeper, as the pianist Adam Tendler, joined by the JACK Quartet, plays the early Piano Variations and the late Piano Quartet and Piano Fantasy. Jan. 19, lpr.com.

STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN An awe-inspiring, mildly insane endeavor: Daniel Barenboim and his vigorous ensemble bring all nine of Bruckner’s numbered symphonies to Carnegie Hall, in nine concerts that juxtapose those epic spans with Mozart, including six piano concertos that Mr. Barenboim will lead from the keyboard. Jan. 19-29.

FOCUS! FESTIVAL Joel Sachs, the Juilliard School’s doyen of the new, organizes this important annual immersion, diving this year into the contemporary music of Latin America. Jan. 20-27, juilliard.edu.

NEW YORK FESTIVAL OF SONG As part of the New York Philharmonic’s festival “Beloved Friend — Tchaikovsky and His World,” this well-loved vocal series delivers a program of songs at Merkin Concert Hall by that composer and his Russian contemporaries, featuring the soprano Antonina Chehovska and the baritone Alexey Lavrov. (A delightful, very different program on Feb. 21 includes selections from a new William Bolcom opera, the premiere of a song cycle by Gabriel Kahane, and Paul Bowles and James Schuyler’s “Picnic Cantata.”) Jan. 24, nyfos.org.

February

‘DUST’ Mannes School of Music planned to present this 1998 work by Robert Ashley (1930-2014) last season, but experimental opera is a challenge to produce within a traditional, tradition-bound conservatory. The school, which has a renewed focus on contemporary music to go with its new home downtown, has persevered, and “Dust,” set among five denizens of a small urban park, will finally make it to the Mannes stage. Feb. 1-4, newschool.edu.

‘RUSALKA’ The director Mary Zimmerman has struggled at the Met (a handsome yet bloodless “Lucia,” a muddled “La Sonnambula,” a cutesy “Armida”), yet she has been engaged once more to stage this dark, gorgeously lyrical Dvorak fairy tale. Setting the opera vaguely in the 18th century, Ms. Zimmerman has on her side the slender-toned Kristine Opolais, a potent singing actress, in the title role; a cast that also includes Brandon Jovanovich, Jamie Barton, Katarina Dalayman and Eric Owens; and a veteran conductor, Mark Elder. Opens Feb. 2.

GILLES VONSATTEL This thoughtful, quietly powerful pianist plays “Revolution,” a solo recital under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at the Rose Studio, where the society hosts an excellent new-music series. Mr. Vonsattel’s program ranges over 200 years, from Dussek (“The Sufferings of the Queen of France”) to Rzewski (“Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”), by way of Beethoven, Liszt and Janacek. Feb. 2, chambermusicsociety.org.

‘LA SERENISSIMA’ Highlights of Carnegie Hall’s festival celebrating the cultural legacy of Venice include performances by Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI, Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans” and Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea.” Feb. 3-21.

ORPHEUS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA The composer Michael Hersch has often taken inspiration from art and death, and his new tone poem “End Stages” is no exception. This conductorless ensemble pairs it with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (the soloist is Vadim Gluzman) and Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony as part of its four-concert series at Carnegie Hall. Feb. 4, orpheusnyc.org.

BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Ivan Fischer, this vital ensemble’s playfully brilliant director, can make even a pair of programs at David Geffen Hall focusing on Beethoven standards seem new: the First, Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies and the Piano Concerto No. 4, with Richard Goode as soloist. (If all that wasn’t enough, Lincoln Center follows up the concerts with a trio of programs of classic filmed Beethoven performances at the Walter Reade Theater.) Feb. 5 and 6,lcgreatperformers.org.

IGOR LEVIT A week after Gilles Vonsattel plays Rzewski’s classic “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” this pianist makes his Carnegie Hall debut with a program that includes the American premiere of that composer’s “Dreams,” Part 2, as well as Beethoven’s daunting “Diabelli” Variations and three pairs of Shostakovich preludes and fugues. Feb. 10.

VIENNA PHILHARMONIC Reuniting for three evenings at Carnegie Hall with a frequent collaborator, the conductor Franz Welser-Möst, this peerlessly plush ensemble plays Schubert (the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies), Strauss (“Ein Heldenleben”), Brahms (the Piano Concerto No. 1, with Rudolf Buchbinder), Bartok (the “Miraculous Mandarin” Suite) and Schoenberg (“Verklärte Nacht”), as well as the American premiere of “Time Recycling,” by one of its own violinists, René Starr. Feb. 24-26.

ARS LONGA The relaxing of American relations with Cuba scores another victory, in the New York debut of this veteran ensemble, performing 17th- and 18th-century Cuban music by the descendants of African slaves. The concert at Corpus Christi Church, presented under the auspices of Gotham Early Music Scene and the Americas Society, is part of the invaluable series Music Before 1800. Feb. 26, mb1800.org.

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Flexing its muscles as a new-music powerhouse, this stylish ensemble and its music director, Andris Nelsons, bring to Carnegie Hall the New York premieres of George Benjamin’s aching song cycle “Dream of the Song” and Sofia Gubaidulina’s new work for violin, cello, bayan (a kind of accordion) and orchestra. (The New Juilliard Ensemble celebrates Ms. Gubaidulina’s 85th birthday year, 2016, on Nov. 14 with “Perception,” a chamber cantata from 1983). The Boston Symphony also showcases its recent focus, Shostakovich (with the “Leningrad” Symphony), as well as works by Gunther Schuller, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel and Berlioz. Feb. 28, March 1 and 2.

March

‘IDOMENEO’ Mozart’s great opera seria, which James Levine brought to the Met for the first time in 1982, returns under his baton in the same Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production. The cast is superb: Matthew Polenzani in the title role, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra and Elsa van den Heever. Opens March 6.

‘THE HANDEL PROJECT’ Building on their masterly “Messiah,” the brilliant ensembles of Trinity Wall Street add to their schedule more Handel, performing four of his oratorios (“Jephtha,” “Belshazzar,” “Israel in Egypt” and “Solomon”), one act at a time, over the course of nine hourlong Wednesday afternoon concerts. March 8-May 3.

JULIA BULLOCK Already a force in new music, this eloquent young soprano sings the premiere of Jonathan Berger’s “Rime Sparse” as part of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s program “Love Sonnets” at Alice Tully Hall. March 12.

LES ARTS FLORISSANTS This pre-eminent Baroque ensemble is joined at Alice Tully Hall by the harpist Xavier de Maistre (Diana Damrau’s recital accompanist in December) for little-heard concertos in a program devoted to Marie Antoinette, a harp amateur. (Getting in on the prerevolutionary vibe is the Boston Early Music Festival, which in November brings to the Morgan Library & Museum two chamber operas: Charpentier’s “Les Plaisirs de Versailles” and Lalande’s “Les Fontaines de Versailles.”) March 15,lcgreatperformers.org.

AKADEMIE FÜR ALTE MUSIK BERLIN Just a week after Les Arts Florissants comes to New York, it’s followed, at Carnegie Hall, by one of its only real competitors on the early-music stage, with a program that roams over Baroque Europe. Those who relish the group’s fiery recordings of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos will thrill to a performance of the Fourth. March 23.

AMERICAN COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA The young composer David Hertzberg impressed last year with “Sunday Morning,” an unusually unshowy, memorably delicate cantata for New York City Opera. This indefatigable new-music band gives the premiere of his new symphony at Carnegie Hall alongside works by Paola Prestini, Trevor Weston and Steve Reich, part of a characteristically rich season under its artistic director, Derek Bermel, and music director, George Manahan. March 24.

SHIFT: A FESTIVAL OF AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS The energy and creativity of the all-too-short-lived Spring for Music festival, a celebration of large American ensembles at Carnegie Hall, has found its way to the Kennedy Center in Washington. The name is different, but the spirit will be similar in an inaugural week of community events and performances featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Boulder Philharmonic, the Knights and the North Carolina Symphony. March 27-April 2,washingtonperformingarts.org.

‘THREE GENERATIONS’ Steve Reich has organized four concerts at Carnegie Hall charting a Minimalism-inspired, largely American genealogy of contemporary music, including works by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Mr. Reich, Terry Riley, John Adams, the Bang on a Can trio — David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon (whose electric-guitar work “Amplified” has its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December) — and premieres by Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly. March 30, April 6, 19, 26.

April

‘LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA’ This lushly orchestrated Respighi opera from 1927 will get a rare hearing at the Rose Theater in a new production by the rebooted New York City Opera. March 31, April 1, 4, 5, nycopera.com.

REYKJAVIK FESTIVAL Home to an otherworldly blend of classical, pop and electronic styles, Iceland travels to California for a musical immersion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, organized by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the composer Daníel Bjarnason and featuring a slew of premieres as well as performances by the art-rock band Sigur Rós. April 11-17, laphil.com.

JÖRG WIDMANN One of the world’s leading composers is also one of its leading clarinetists. He gives his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall featuring his own works as well as ones by Brahms, Berg, Schubert and Schumann, in luxurious company, alongside the eminent pianist Mitsuko Uchida. (On March 30, she’ll play the New York premiere of Mr. Widmann’s “Sonatina facile” at Carnegie.) April 2.

‘DER ROSENKAVALIER’ As the star soprano Renée Fleming winds down her performances in staged opera, she takes a farewell turn of sorts at the Met, starring as one of her signature creations: the wistful Marschallin in Strauss’s nostalgic masterpiece, a favorite of divas saying goodbye. The glamorous mezzo Elina Garanca plays her young lover, Octavian, and the cast also includes Erin Morley, Matthew Polenzani and Günther Groissböck, an unusually youthful Baron Ochs. Robert Carsen sets the action on the eve of World War I; the experienced Sebastian Weigle conducts. Opens April 13.

LOUISVILLE ORCHESTRA Young and adept in the language of social media, Teddy Abrams has worked mightily to open this ensemble to its community since becoming music director in 2014. That includes broadening its repertory, and this season includes a two-part festival of American music. The first concert will be co-conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, and the second features the premieres of Mr. Abrams’s own “Muhammad Ali Portrait” and his arrangement of “Louisville Concerto II,” by four local musicians, as well as Andrew Norman’s savvily frenetic piano concerto, “Split.” April 15, 29, louisvilleorchestra.org.

ANNE SCHWANEWILMS An elegant artist, particularly in Strauss, this German soprano makes her New York recital debut at Alice Tully Hall with songs by that composer and others, alongside the sensitive pianist Malcolm Martineau. April 16, lcgreatperformers.org.

‘DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER’ James Levine defined his Met tenure in large part by his sumptuous way with Wagner; now Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will succeed him, leads his first opera with the company by that composer. The dramatic propulsion of “Holländer” should suit his gifts, and a strong cast — Michael Volle, Amber Wagner, Dolora Zajick, Ben Bliss, Franz-Josef Selig and Jay Hunter Morris — will help, too. Opens April 25.

‘ARIODANTE’ Harry Bicket continues his crisp, distinguished series of Handel operas in concert at Carnegie Hall, leading his English Concert ensemble and a glorious cast, including Joyce DiDonato, Christiane Karg, Joélle Harvey, Sonia Prina and David Portillo. (December will have already brought aficionados of this elegant piece a workshop performance at National Sawdust under the young director R. B. Schlather, who has staged memorable versions of Handel’s “Alcina” and “Orlando.”) April 30.

May

‘PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE’ Franz Welser-Möst, music director of the subtle, responsive Cleveland Orchestra — possibly America’s most memorable symphonic ensemble — leads operas with airy, catlike grace. His style may well prove a natural fit with Debussy’s enigmatic masterpiece, staged here by the imaginative Yuval Sharon and starring Elliot Madore, Martina Jankova and Hanno Müller-Brachmann. May 2, 4, 6,clevelandorchestra.com.

50TH ANNIVERSARY GALA The Metropolitan Opera House — with its curvy staircases, scalloped and gold-leafed ceiling and sputnik chandeliers — opened its doors in September 1966. The Met celebrates 50 years in the stunning (if almost always way too large) theater with a rich roster of house stars, including Piotr Beczala, Plácido Domingo, Juan Diego Flórez, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Susan Graham, Anna Netrebko and Sonya Yoncheva. May 7.

BROOKLYN YOUTH CHORUS A dozen composers have contributed to “Silent Voices,” a multimedia work about power, privilege, gender roles and economic inequality commissioned by this lively ensemble and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. May 12-13, brooklynyouthchorus.org.

MET ORCHESTRA Esa-Pekka Salonen, who delivered an eerily poised “Elektra” at the Met last season, replaces James Levine for its orchestra’s traditional post-opera-season run at Carnegie Hall. Emphasizing Mahler’s vocal works, the programs include “Das Lied von der Erde” (with Karen Cargill and Stuart Skelton), “Kindertotenlieder” (Anne Sofie von Otter) and selections from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (Susan Graham and Matthew Polenzani). Works by Schumann and Sibelius round out the three concerts. May 31, June 3, June 6.

June

‘ANGELS IN AMERICA’ Peter Eotvos’s vivid adaptation of Tony Kushner’s sprawling masterpiece condenses two large plays into a single evening. It had its premiere in Paris in 2004 and comes to New York for the first time under the auspices of New York City Opera. June 10, 12, 14, 16, Rose Theater.

‘YOUNG CAESAR’ Solemn, clangorous and a little loopy, this 1971 opera by the American maverick Lou Harrison (who would have turned 100 in 2017) draws on puppet theater and gamelan traditions. It can easily fall into absurdity or camp, but here the director is the resourceful Yuval Sharon, the founder of the experimental company the Industry, who is beginning a three-year position as artist-collaborator with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. June 13, laphil.com.

Wed, September 14, 2016

‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Review: A Mythic Chinese ‘Ring’
The Wall Street Journal

Madame White Snake’s stratospheric music taxed the soprano Hila Plitmann, and Mr. Constanzo was wasted on yet another formless lament from Xiao Qing. As Ku, Ming’s wife, Heather Buck prettily sang a third version of the same lullaby text that appeared in the other operas; Julian Wachner conducted. The video effects were spectacular, particularly the scene of Ms. Plitmann cocooned in a begging bowl as a giant image of Ming ( Christopher Burchett), loomed over her. But the high production values had no corresponding musical payoff as the epic fizzled out.

Read Full Text

‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Review: A Mythic Chinese ‘Ring’
A story drawn from a Chinese folk tale about a snake demon that takes on human form in order to experience love.

By 
HEIDI WALESON
Sept. 14, 2016 6:24 p.m. ET

‘Ouroboros Trilogy,” a three-opera cycle that had its premiere in Boston at the Cutler Majestic Theater on Saturday, is the brainchild of Cerise Lim Jacobs, a lawyer turned librettist. Conceived as a kind of mythic Chinese “Ring,” though with three different composers, this trilogy examines the intersection of love and power from a female perspective. As is the case in Wagner, things don’t end well, but the similarity ends there. Each of the operas is under two hours in length, but they often felt much longer, and with the librettos clearly the drivers in the project, the music took a back seat. Two of the operas were world premieres; the middle one, “Madame White Snake” by Zhou Long, was performed by Opera Boston in 2010 and won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Ms. Jacobs drew her story from a Chinese folk tale about a snake demon that takes on human form in order to experience love. In the course of the three operas, Madame White Snake’s pursuit wreaks general havoc, including a cataclysmic flood. She is destroyed, and reincarnated to go through the whole process again, hence the Greek ouroborosreference: the infinity loop of the snake eating its tail. The librettos borrow liberally from other texts as well, and with Genesis (especially Adam and Eve and the snake), the Song of Songs, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and the Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh in the mix, it’s quite the cultural mashup.

In “Naga,” with music by Scott Wheeler, Madame White Snake stalks a young monk, who has left his pregnant wife in order to seek Nirvana. The piece is static and oratorio-like, with an adult chorus and a children’s chorus commenting on the journey. Mr. Wheeler’s choral writing has heft and complexity, but the arias often meander, accommodating the overlong text. Musical high points included the Queen of the Night-like flights of Madame White Snake, scintillatingly performed by Stacey Tappan, and the climactic battle between the snake, trying to seduce her way out of captivity, and the chorus, crying out for her destruction. The charismatic countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo rose above his dull arias as Xiao Qing, the female, partly human green snake who serves, and hopelessly loves, the white snake. Sandra Piques Eddy was poignant as the Wife; Matthew Worth,announced as ill, husbanded his strength as the Monk. Carolyn Kuan conducted, and the Boston Children’s Chorus, here as in the other two operas, was splendid.

Zhou Long’s music for “Madame White Snake” has more dramatic tension and is livelier: It features a Chinese flute, an erhu (two-string Chinese fiddle) and rain sticks, and uses the swooping phrases and extreme leaps of Chinese opera to color the nonhuman qualities of the two snakes. Madame White Snake ( Susannah Biller) falls in love with a human ( Peter Tantsits) and becomes pregnant. But she is outed as a demon by Abbot Fahai ( Dong-Jian Gong), and their ensuing struggle drowns the world. The central love duet is overly sweet, and the lengthy confrontation between Madame White Snake and the Abbot sags, but the choral parts, warning of the destruction to come, are striking.Michael Maniaci was Xiao Qing here; Lan Shui conducted.

The opera was more moving when I saw it in 2010. The cast, other than Ms. Biller, is the same, but the current production, directed and designed by Michael Counts, is more abstract. Mr. Counts uses ingenious and often beautiful video (by S. Katy Tucker) to create the world of all three operas. Video depicts nature (a brilliant night sky, blossoms on trees) and symbols from the story (the leaping snake; a woman bleeding in childbirth; a recurrent, haunting image of drowning people). But throughout, the static directing, with the singers declaring instead of interacting, made the stage pictures stiff and kept humanity at bay. Even Zane Pihlstrom’s elaborate, bejeweled costumes for the two snake-women—Xiao Qing sported a long tail—constricted them as characters.

Still, “Naga and “Madame White Snake” were both engaging; “Gilgamesh,” with music byPaola Prestini, was another story. Ms. Jacobs’s libretto, even wordier and more stuffed with external text references, featured too many rhymes that were hackneyed (tear/year) or jarringly weird (shrapnel/apple), and Ms. Prestini’s lush music felt overblown and shapeless. The plot—30 years after the flood, Madame White Snake’s son, Ming, whose wife is expecting their child, is summoned to rescue his mother from captivity and is horrified to discover his origins—had promise, but the husband-and-wife and mother-and-son interactions were soggily overwritten.

Madame White Snake’s stratospheric music taxed the soprano Hila Plitmann, and Mr. Constanzo was wasted on yet another formless lament from Xiao Qing. As Ku, Ming’s wife, Heather Buck prettily sang a third version of the same lullaby text that appeared in the other operas; Julian Wachner conducted. The video effects were spectacular, particularly the scene of Ms. Plitmann cocooned in a begging bowl as a giant image of Ming ( Christopher Burchett), loomed over her. But the high production values had no corresponding musical payoff as the epic fizzled out.

Ms. Waleson writes about opera for the Journal.

Tue, September 13, 2016

An Ambitious Marathon, ‘Ouroboros Trilogy’ Brings Operatic Innovation To Boston
The ARTery

Prestini’s score was less intriguing than either Wheeler’s or Zhou’s, but was equally appropriate. She also invested the singing with her own extended technique, a kind of alternate tone pitch jump, which proved effective in conveying surprise or anger.

Costanzo sang impeccably, and Plitmann’s part as the shifty White Snake was incredibly challenging in the upper ranges. Heather Buck sang more traditionally but no less beautifully as Gilgamesh’s wife. Wachner’s work in the pit and with the hard-working double chorus was sophisticated and enthusiastic.

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An Ambitious Marathon, 'Ouroboros Trilogy' Brings Operatic Innovation To Boston

September 13, 2016
By Keith Powers

Boston opera hasn’t seen an event like this in a long while — if ever.

The ambitious "Ouroboros Trilogy" opened Saturday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Ouroboros featured three different composers, three different conductors, an international team of staging innovators and a rotating cast with some of the best young singers and choristers anywhere — all brought together through the vision of librettist and producer Cerise Lim Jacobs.

There were many outstanding moments of innovation and artistry during Saturday’s marathon, which began in the morning with “Naga,” had a mid-afternoon staging of “Madame White Snake” and concluded in the evening with “Gilgamesh.” There were plenty of misses as well.

“Naga,” with Scott Wheeler’s score and Carolyn Kuan conducting, set the trilogy in motion. An engaging but often overwhelming amalgam of sight and sound, “Naga” outlines the overarching themes: love, colored and made meaningful by death, and the hope of rebirth.

A monk (Matthew Worth) and his wife (Sandra Piques Eddy) fill the central action in “Naga.” Having renounced monasticism for his wife’s love, and thus losing his way, the monk must leave her. They vow to meet again, in an uncertain future.

The immortal Madame White Snake (Stacey Tappan) and her own companion, Xiao Qing (the Green Snake, sung with great artistry by Anthony Roth Costanzo), observe their love and their parting, envious of its depth of commitment.

The monk wanders through temptations, and the snakes observe, unseen. They cause him to be rescued from death by a Master (David Salsbery Fry), who in turn captures the White Snake. The Master’s death at the hand of the Monk ends “Naga” on an unpredictable note.

The tale is ancient and beautiful. Love invests life with meaning, but only because it ends. Trying to fracture the boundaries — gods becoming mortal, mortals striving for eternity — causes havoc.

Wheeler’s score, and the musicians who brought it to life, filled the intentions of the narrative in every way. The score has chamber music at its heart, but turns swashbuckling and sensitive with facility. Unusual colors permeate — electric guitar and saxophone complement the orchestra — but the variety generally comes from traditional means: percussion, pizzicato, solo strings or winds.

The woefully non-idiomatic libretto and overwhelming bursts of multimedia occasionally undermine the cohesion. “Naga” is a timeless story, but the talky libretto over-explains its elegance.

The staging has some great moments. Some tableaux — singers in costume (Zane Pihlstrom), beautifully posed, a lush color palette filling the background — are thrilling. Director Michael Counts has everyone moving with grace and intention, no matter how unruly the set becomes with its video projections and properties.

The singers were powerfully cast. Some moments were memorable: like the trio of soloists, with chorus support, singing over the apparently dead monk as Act 1 closes. Or the pizzicato opening of Act 2 — a symphony of simplicity, ending with Costanzo doubled by oboe in one final, tender note.

“Madame White Snake” filled the afternoon slot. The only non-premiere, it brought back of the Pulitzer Prize-winning score and production first staged in 2010 by Opera Boston. The music (Zhou Long) remained largely the same, but the sets and effects were considerably gussied up.

Where “Naga” plays to the celestial, “Madame White Snake” plays to the vernacular. The struggle between mortality and immortality is secondary to the romance of the now-human Madame White (sung rapturously here by soprano Susannah Biller), her snake identity subsumed after a thousand year meditation, for Xu Xian (Peter Tantsits). Her former lover, and fellow snake-in-hiding Xiao Qing (countertenor Michael Maniaci), serves in this iteration of the epic as her unwilling matchmaker.

Lan Shui conducted, with the chorus in a starring role, bringing to life many of Zhou’s unique extended techniques.

“Madame White Snake” maintains its drama with much more integrity than “Naga.” Again we heard an imaginative score — Zhou’s particular blend of western forms and eastern sounds. The top-shelf singing featured some gorgeous aria moments, including Dong-Jian Gong (as the Abbott seeking vengeance) offering his considerable bass artistry.

The solo highlight came at the outset, with Maniaci’s agonizing recitative prologue, a preview of the entire narrative. It was a tour-de-force of emotion, strength and drama, delivered in the most measured tones.

Once again Michael Counts’ direction placed each of the singers in organic acting positions. The set worked wonderfully, full of technical charm without violent excess. A scene closing audience-grab by the slithering white snake created an exhilarating 3-D moment of virtual reality.

One scene was transcendent: A summer teatime, a tense and tender wooing between Madame White and the doomed Xu Xian, could hold its own with any of the finest operatic moments. What truly makes “Madame White Snake” a pivotal work is its integrity. Music, score, libretto (still excessively non-idiomatic, but less obtrusive than “Naga”), costumes and video (S. Katy Tucker) never clamored for attention.

The evening presentation, “Gilgamesh,” was composed by Paola Prestini and conducted by Julian Wachner. The story moves ahead 30 years; Gilgamesh (sung by Christopher Burchett), the baby that Madame White gave birth to at the cataclysmic end of the previous opera, is now a man.

He knows nothing of his origins, but the Green Snake (the brilliant Costanzo returning to the role) reaches out to him. Gilgamesh learns of his half-snake origins when returning to the monastery to free his mother (sung here courageously by Hila Plitmann). But instead of a battle with the Abbott (Andrew Nolen) for his mother’s freedom, Gilgamesh uncovers his mother’s secret, and instead alters the future by giving up his own son.

“Gilgamesh” suffered from an unbroken evenness of pacing. The characters moved slowly. They sang deliberately. They paused frequently, attempting to invest their words with gravity. The presentation dragged.

The staging and blocking were once again superb. Some of the scenes were stunning: when the curtain raised, showing a dreaming Gilgamesh under a huge video thought-cloud, the goal of investing standard operatic stage treatments with sophisticated video techniques seemed fully achieved.

Prestini’s score was less intriguing than either Wheeler’s or Zhou’s, but was equally appropriate. She also invested the singing with her own extended technique, a kind of alternate tone pitch jump, which proved effective in conveying surprise or anger.

Costanzo sang impeccably, and Plitmann’s part as the shifty White Snake was incredibly challenging in the upper ranges. Heather Buck sang more traditionally but no less beautifully as Gilgamesh’s wife. Wachner’s work in the pit and with the hard-working double chorus was sophisticated and enthusiastic.

The libretto was deeply at fault for the pacing of “Gilgamesh.” Jacobs relied far too heavily on quotations to build meaning. Repeated verses from the Old Testament and other ancient sources — even from “King Lear” — were meant to be poignant, but sounded like a survey-class lecture.

One general premise of the trilogy — that the works are cyclical, but can be played in any order — remains to be seen, but audiences will have that chance as the operas repeat all week in individual stagings, and then on Saturday, Sept. 17, again as a marathon in a different sequence.
Most impressive of all in this ambitious presentation proved to be the team. The choruses, under Michele Adams and Emily Howe (children) and Lidiya Yankovskaya (adults), sang with robust expertise day and night.  The composers formed a dream team of modern artists, blending traditional techniques and exploring standard practices. Counts’s direction was spot-on, and for the occasional misses and excesses of the staging technologies, the work of Tucker (video), Yi Zhao (lighting) and Pihlstrom (costumes) proved consistently effective.

The “Ouroboros Trilogy” runs through Sept. 17 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College. For tickets and complete schedule information visit ArtsEmerson or call 617-824-8400.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Review: A Sublime Survey of Baroque Music
The New York Times

The execution was as delightful as the notion was preposterous: a comprehensive survey of Baroque music by a hardy band of four (or slightly more) in four hourlong concerts. Such was the annual 4x4 Baroque Music Festival, presented last week by its founder and director, the keyboardist Avi Stein [and hosted by Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts], at Trinity Church on Lower Broadway.

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Review: A Sublime Survey of Baroque Music

By JAMES R. OESTREICH

SEPT. 12, 2016

The execution was as delightful as the notion was preposterous: a comprehensive survey of Baroque music by a hardy band of four (or slightly more) in four hourlong concerts. Such was the annual 4x4 Baroque Music Festival, presented last week by its founder and director, the keyboardist Avi Stein, at Trinity Church on Lower Broadway.

Two programs were devoted mostly to the sonata as it began to separate from the dance suite in the 17th and early-18th centuries. These featured German composers who preceded and influenced Bach (last Tuesday) and English and French composers who adopted Italian style, itself represented by the Neapolitan-born English resident Nicola Matteis (Wednesday). Mr. Stein was joined in these concerts by excellent colleagues: Robert Mealy andJulie Andrijeski, violinists, and Beiliang Zhu, violist da gamba.

The performing forces expanded a bit on Friday for Handel’s early secular cantata “Apollo e Dafne” and on Saturday for three of Bach’s ripest creations. Handel, in a quick succession of recitatives, arias and duets, tells of the god Apollo’s somewhat bullying courtship of the nymph Daphne, who wants no part of him. She escapes his clutches in the end by turning herself into a laurel tree.

Jesse Blumberg sang Apollo with a free, strong and attractive baritone (once past some early low notes that challenged his range) and a lively dramatic sense. Sherezade Panthaki’s soprano, as Daphne, was also strong yet delectably sweet.

Her opening aria, a celebration of an unfettered soul and an unattached heart, was a thing of special beauty with its accompaniment of pizzicato strings and soaring recorder, gorgeously played by Priscilla Herreid. The instrumentalists added a sinfonia from Handel’s oratorio “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno” (“The Triumph of Time and Truth”) to start and the Chaconne from his ballet prologue “Terpsichore” to close.

The Bach program included another fine baritone, Tyler Duncan, excelling in the death-resigned Cantata No. 82, “Ich Habe Genug” (“I Have Enough”), right down to its depths. Hearing the opening aria of this work, with an oboe solo laying the groundwork for the sublime vocal melody, you invariably think that nothing could be more beautiful, an idea dispelled moments later by the second aria, “Schlummert ein, ihr matten augen” (“Fall asleep, you weary eyes”), with Bach in his inimitable lullaby mode. Gonzalo Ruiz played the oboe solo superbly.

Mr. Stein opened the program as harpsichord soloist in Bach’s Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052). And all the instrumentalists joined in the concluding Orchestral Suite No. 3, the one with the famous Air. (“A medium version,” Mr. Stein called it, since it lacked the trumpets evidently added by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel.)

The 4x4 festival roamed a lot after its founding in 2008 before settling in Trinity Wall Street’s St. Paul’s Chapel, which is now undergoing renovation. (The festival disappeared altogether last year, when Mr. Stein’s new duties as organist at Trinity monopolized his time.) Trinity Church, though large for the purpose, served well enough acoustically, but a return to the intimate, refurbished St. Paul’s next year will be welcome.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Enchanted ‘Ouroboros’ trilogy explores eternal mysteries
The Boston Globe

The three conductors, Carolyn Kuan, Lan Shui, and Julian Wachner, cleanly directed the orchestral waters where they needed to go, with minimal sonic flooding.

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Enchanted ‘Ouroboros’ trilogy explores eternal mysteries

By Zoë Madonna GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016

To sprawl, spread, and swell is the nature of mythology. No wonder, then, that Cerise Lim Jacobs’s 2005 birthday present idea for her husband — a song cycle based on an ancient Chinese myth about love between an immortal and a human — could not be contained in its natal skin for long. The final incarnation of that project, 11 years in the making, took over the Cutler Majestic Theatre all day on Saturday. “Ouroboros,” a cycle of three mystic operas (“Naga,” “Madame White Snake,” and “Gilgamesh”) by three profoundly distinct composers, is an enchanted exploration of the eternal mysteries humanity has always turned to mythology to explain: love, loss, hubris, mortality.

Bostonians and new music enthusiasts may have been familiar with one of the three offerings, all of which have libretti by Jacobs. Zhou Long’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Madame White Snake,” which premiered here in 2010, was performed second on Saturday. The cycle can be started at any point but must go in the same direction. Jacobs’s program note on the reincarnation of mortal characters between operas ignores the chronology, giving the impression that all the events are at once cyclical and simultaneous, as in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The loves, betrayals, births and rebirths are written into history before they happen.

Madame White Snake, the subject of the original legend, appears in each opera. Stacey Tappan, playing a recently reborn White Snake in “Naga,” was cool and exacting as a crescent moon in her long beaded sheath and fang-shaped headpiece. She wheeled through Queen of the Night-esque coloratura fireworks in a pining Act I aria, and pulled the tides back to sweetly plead for her freedom in the final scene.

Susannah Biller in “Madame White Snake” came out with her character reincarnated as human, and her harvest-moon voice was the warmest and fullest of the three White Snakes. Her acting was at its best when she was separate from the object of her ardor, tenor Peter Tantsits as a bold-voiced but slightly wooden Xu Xian. She was splendid in her first scene exalting in her transformation, and pleading with Dong-Jian Gong’s imperious Abbot that she loved Xu Xian. The legendary love might have been more convincing if the lovers had looked at each other once in a while. In the final betrayal scene, her white dress replaced by a bare pregnant belly and blood-red raiment, the two showed a first hint of connection.

Hila Plitmann as a captive White Snake in “Gilgamesh” was a half moon rising: luminous while enfolding a darkness not often found in coloratura voices, and impossible to ignore despite only appearing in one scene. Possibly because the beaded gown of the other White Snakes would have been uncomfortable as she lay on the floor, costumer Zane Pihlstrom dressed her in a flowing white robe and wig straight out of Galadriel’s closet.

The other recurring character was Xiao Qing, a man who once loved the White Snake reincarnated as a female green snake to be her loyal servant. As a nod to the character’s past and Peking Opera conventions, the role is played by a countertenor, making for a kind of reverse trousers role. Michael Maniaci, who originated the role in 2010, returned to perform in “Madame White Snake,” injecting an omnisciently sardonic streak. Anthony Roth Costanzo, appearing as Xiao Qing in both “Naga” and “Gilgamesh,” was marvelously emotive. Singing a haunting, expressive Act II aria in “Naga” and soaring modal themes in “Gilgamesh,” he was at once commanding and vulnerable, bearing the character’s 25-pound bejeweled necklace and wheeled tail like the weight of unconditional devotion.

Matthew Worth’s struggle with an illness (announced from the stage) did not detract from his singing or his portrayal of a conflicted Monk in “Naga,” and Sandra Piques Eddy was a hardy and tender Young Wife. “Gilgamesh” brought on Christopher Burchett’s Ming, the White Snake’s half-immortal son, vocally and visually puissant. Heather Buck as his wife, Ku, sang with sparkling lyricism in her rapturous Act I aria, and visceral desperation as she gave birth and had her child stolen at the end. Unfortunately, she was given some of the libretto’s clunkiest lines, addressing her pomegranate tree: “Pomum Gratum, Punicum Malum, Red Grenade.”

Jacobs’s libretti cut deepest when the characters express their individual experiences. “Your hands are like liquid gold,” Madame White Snake rhapsodizes. “Like petals unfolding, I understand my birth.” Less effective are the ponderous platitudes and prayers most often delivered by the choir. Jacobs drew on her childhood in Singapore for a mosaic of cultural references, and “Gilgamesh” is the most indulgent in that way, with biblical quotes, Buddhist and Hindu deities, ancient Chinese and Greek myths, and Shakespeare all jumbled together within a few minutes of one another.

Emerson College professor Scott Wheeler’s music for “Naga” was influenced by hymns, opera through the ages, Japanese gagaku, and Broadway. Theatricality abounded, but it never felt centered. Zhou Long’s music seamlessly fused Chinese and Western conventions, placing a Chinese flute and two-stringed erhu in the pit and giving lush pentatonic melodies to the strings, as well as putting Peking Opera contours and inflections in the singers’ parts. The scene changes were covered by his “Four Seasons,” short settings of ancient poems performed by the sublime Boston Children’s Chorus. Paola Prestini’s atmospheric but tuneful music for “Gilgamesh” inhabited an indie-opera rain forest of its own. The three conductors, Carolyn Kuan, Lan Shui, and Julian Wachner, cleanly directed the orchestral waters where they needed to go, with minimal sonic flooding.

The leviathan production was designed and directed by visual artist Michael Counts, presented by ArtsEmerson and produced by the Friends of Madame White Snake and New York-based Beth Morrison Projects, which is not known to shy away from the high-concept or risky. S. Katy Tucker’s video projections and animations colored the stage. Trees shimmered with light and bloomed with flowers, and many giant screens allowed for some neat forced-perspective tricks involving an animated snake that looked friendly until it ate the audience.

Mon, September 12, 2016

Trilogy Thrills, Madame White Snake Still Shines
The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Gilgamesh, the work of composer Paola Prestini [conducted by Julian Wachner] begins with a thunderous eruption of percussion-capped sound. Her writing for percussion remains a highlight throughout her score. It sparkles, both literally and figuratively, using glockenspiels and drums for powerful magic, and marimba in motivic development and the undercurrent drone of tense moments. Her melodies entice and speak of a modern, yet accessible flair. As Long employed at times, Prestini uses the voice for the sake of sounds rather than just pitches at special moments. Gilgamesh’s dramatic conclusion works well for the end spot it was presented in, but would likewise work as a backward foreshadow when placed otherwise in the cycle.

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SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
Trilogy Thrills, Madame White Snake Still Shines
by Justin Casinghino

Binge worthy? This question is often posed in our increasingly couch-centric retreats, but what about in the live-performance universe? Can we binge there? Cerise Lim Jacobs’s brainchild “Ouroboros Trilogy,” comprising Scott Wheeler’s Naga, Madame White Snake by Zhou Long, and Paola Prestini’sGilgamesh makes a strong contender for the appellation. The trilogy premiere promised (including world premieres of both the Wheeler and the Prestini) grand opera scale, impactful music, dazzling costumes and stunningly inventive visual imagery.

“The Ouroboros Trilogy,” with libretto by Jacobs, follows the cyclic life of Madame White Snake, a mythical being inspired by Asiatic folklore, as she slithers between the boundaries of mortals and immortals, life and death, love and hatred. Accompanied by Xiao Qing, a once man turned into a half human, half female green snake, Madame White Snake finds and destroys love as the universe begins and ends around her.

The question of whether a trilogy by three different composers can really be a trilogy is not a new one to this journal. Cashman Kerr Prince posed the question in the August BMInt preview of the trilogy (also a fantastic resource for background on the project, which can be read HERE). The question has also come up in casual conversations with other composers in town. And my answer is…apparently yes! This trilogy works as a three-part package. A concept akin to the movie Four Rooms comes to mind, where four directors tackle four separate portions of a single film. Here, three composers take on the three similar versions of a story. A few ever-present objects (a circular anklet and a round alms bowl), along with the overarching direction and production design of Michael Counts make the triptych work as a cycle. Something of a large-scale twist on the cadaver exquis idea finds each composer contributing to the whole with limited awareness of the other sections. In fact, one wonders less whether the three operas work as a cycle than whether all three of the components can hold up individually.

Jacobs’s original concept indeed came at once in three parts. However, Madame White Snake was composed first; it premiered in 2010, and subsequently earned the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music. On Saturday, Naga and Gilgamesh were respectively premiered on either side of Madame White Snake. The remaining two runs of the three shows re-order this placement based on Jacobs’s vision of an interchangeable unit of three. All three operas offer strong and entertaining musical journeys, but Madame White Snake remains the grand tour. The cast of each opera, with recurrent characters being handled by different singers (with one impressive exception), performed not just adeptly, but  captivatingly. The visual display of the trilogy took advantage of modern digital technology to create awe inspiring sets worthy of the praise and growing interest the Beth Morrison Projects production group has garnered.

In the spirit of mutli-teleological orderings, let’s start with the latter. This production’s use of digitally projected imagery and animation is astounding—or in Boston terms—wicked cool. Rather than merely having impressive scenery, the sets come to life as trees have leaves swaying in the breeze, the waters of oceans and rivers ripple in the distance, and a breathtaking moon slowly pulls back into the distance as a boat floats across the stage. In addition to its use in scenic devices, animation added to the characters on stage via a projected white snake. It is here that a virtual 5th wall, one between tangible stage props and digital imagery, is defined and smashed. In amazingly well-timed movements, images pass from lighted stage effects to living creatures, parts of the moving whole. Film is also used in Naga and Gilgamesh to give the audience a glimpse into the minds of the characters. It is also used to create a feeling of depth and size by projecting pre-filmed video of a singer, with the role being sung from offstage in a lineup that was so well rehearsed, it compelled me to ask the tech crew if any of it was live action video.

These video elements are extremely effective and undeniably help entertain today’s audiences. They are no doubt part of how Beth Morrison productions are breathing a new young life into the theater. Whether you are a fan of opera or simply of stage production, or someone just wanting to try something new, these digital elements are absolutely worth seeing, as they will captivate and impress. There are a few issues. The well-timed voice-to-video synching just mentioned was remarkable in its timing, but the singer was so far off stage, it created a disconnect with the projected image. And if you are wondering if any animated elements might distract from the stage drama rather than adding to it, the answer is: yes, when an animated white anaconda is flying through the quasi-psychedelic cosmos. But these constitute minor details in an otherwise extremely effective production.

The remaining question with the digital elements in these operas touches on the work as a triptych. As mentioned, filmed elements are only used in Naga and Gilgamesh, while the projection in Madame White Snake is solely for the use of scenery and the addition of the white snake in serpent form. The hitch with this is not an artistic problem, but simply that it helps to create a definition around Madame White Snake. All three operas make successful impressions, but Madame White Snake stands out as the Pulitzer winner it is, and creating any more defining elements around it only helps to highlight its distinction.

Now to say Madame White Snake stands out is not to say the others aren’t good. In fact, it is quite the opposite, they are good—very good. But Madame White Snake is excellent, a near perfect score. From its first chord it grabs the listener and keeps him in its special world until its very last note. While all three are worth seeing, and do make a viable triptych, Madame White Snake stands as a definable centerpiece, which I believe will be true, even when not performed in the center.

The strength of Naga comes from the seamless, varied textures Scott Wheeler weaves throughout. From welcoming, bright sonorities set to oddly dark texts in the children’s choir (seated house right), floating into stark, pointed rhythmic stretches punctuated with shocking Stravinsky-esque attacks, Wheeler admirably supports his well set vocal writing. A particular stand out moment was the beginning of Act II, where pizzicato stings subtly pointed to the eastern influence within Wheeler’s Western voice. If any issues existed, it may be with the use of the electric guitar, which by its nature stood out from the others in the pit. A valiant attempt at creating an other worldly aura, particularly when sonically contrasted with the purely acoustic harp, the balance of the guitar was problematic at times, creating some moments of unfortunate cover of the singers. This is a good opera, but it’s a question as to whether it stands alone. Its story and music seems compelled to be coupled with the rest. As I knew the day was continuing, it was difficult not to hear its end awaiting more to come.

Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake is impeccable. Without question, Long’s greatest success here is his ability to manipulate tension—both harmonically and rhythmically—to stimulate undeniable emotional pulls in the listener. When his chords are dissonant, they are voiced in a way that allows them to breathe while still feeling the palpable tension within. He creates clear motivic elements, such as the rhythmically metallic clamoring of doubt in love. His use of choir (seated house left) was impressive, taking advantage of a huge range to create impactful choral settings. Also of note in Long’s score is the use of eastern instruments: percussion, erhu and wooden flutes combing into the Western score. The beauty of this is his subtle combination of non-Western sounds into the modern whole. An example is the gliss, a common performance tool on erhu. Long offers this simple gestural element as connective tissue throughout the work, where we appreciate the gliss in the erhu, the voice, the orchestral strings, the trombones, the theremin. It is a simple but incredibly effective tool to unify the whole.

Long’s score impresses in how it will speak to a wide array of opera goers. It is undeniably modern, yet also has the melodies and rich harmonic worlds that the lovers of Puccini will melt into. Elements of the east, such as a returning pentatonic motive accompanying the Green Snake are orchestrated adeptly with the clarinets, making us understand each of its returns. One element that further separates Long’s opera is his ability to weave-in lighthearted humor. He gives us brief moments of relief—times we can hear, not just see the coy interplay of two lovers. This is a special skill and speaks to Long’s mastery. The subject matter of Madame White Snake, more love than horror, perhaps offers Long more of an opportunity for humor than his counterparts, but still, he does it so well that his prowess is clear. It really should be heard.

Gilgamesh, the work of composer Paola Prestini begins with a thunderous eruption of percussion-capped sound. Her writing for percussion remains a highlight throughout her score. It sparkles, both literally and figuratively, using glockenspiels and drums for powerful magic, and marimba in motivic development and the undercurrent drone of tense moments. Her melodies entice and speak of a modern, yet accessible flair. As Long employed at times, Prestini uses the voice for the sake of sounds rather than just pitches at special moments. Gilgamesh’s dramatic conclusion works well for the end spot it was presented in, but would likewise work as a backward foreshadow when placed otherwise in the cycle. It is a fine work, but perhaps due its subject matter, never really lets go of its intensity. We are not granted the brief masterful moments of relief offered by Long, yet it holds its intensity with valor through its end.

All three operas were performed brilliantly, with no roles being an easy sing. Two characters, the white and green snakes, are found in each of the stories. The character of Madame White Snake is portrayed by a different soprano in each, and each offered captivating performances. Stacey Tappan wielded Scott Wheeler’s coloratura acrobatics with refined finesse in her Naga role. In Madame White Snake, Susannah Biller enchanted us with a purity of tone that captured the mesmerizing essence of white snake’s powers. Finally, Hila Plitmann’s white snake in Gilgamesh rose into the stratosphere of the human voice with such control that it was magic incarnate. The only disconnect in the portrayal of these roles was the costuming. Though her place in this opera is undeniably different, the change of hair and headdress kept the Madame White Snake of Gilgamesh separated from her counterparts in the others.

Xiao Qing, Madame White Snake’s traveling companion, half man, half snake, was turned female so that he could accompany his love (white snake) through time and space. To capture this androgynous role, the part is cast for a man with a female range. Impressively, this role was portrayed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in two out of the three operas (Naga and Gilgamesh). Costanzo delivered spellbinding performances. Decked out in a bejeweled gown and trailing a tail longer than he was tall, Costanzo delivered his role with a direct and penetrating projection. However, during Gilgamesh we are given a glimpse of the character’s tender side and Costanzo tenderly rolled the edge off his tone, making us feel for this half-serpent being. When he was on the stage, he commanded it—semi-serpent androgyny at its finest.

Male soprano Michael Maniaci portrayed the role of Xiao Qing in Madame White Snake. The distinction here is that Maniaci does not produce the falsetto of a counter tenor, but because of a unique development (or non-development) of his larynx, he sings naturally in the soprano range. Maniaci’s voice is beautiful and his diction exquisite. The only consideration one must make is in taking all three operas as a binge-worthy whole. With no questioning of Maniaci’s performance, when bookended by the falsetto of the counter-tenor, the quality of Maniaci’s natural soprano seems to speak more to the female nature of the role rather than to its gender-limbo.

Abbot Fahai, the force against white snake’s power, is found in Madame White Snake and Gilgamesh, with an “Old Master” counterpart in Naga. These paralleled roles were performed by basses David Salsbery Fry (Naga), Dong-Jian Gong (Madame White Snake) and Andrew Nolen (Gilgamesh). All three men delivered their roles with mystery and power, while Gong’s impressive bass-baritone range wowed in Long’s extensive Madame White Snake setting.

Paralleled characters of a monk (Naga), Xu Xian (the husband to Madame White Snake), and Ming (the white snake’s son in Gilgamesh) respectively featured tenors Matthew Worth, Peter Tantsits and Christopher Burchett. It was announced before the start of Naga that Worth was feeling under the weather, but was going to try to make it through the show. Had his sickness not been mentioned, it would not have been noticed, as he delivered a solid performance. Tantsits’s high soaring tenor combined lovingly with Biller during Madame White Snake’s beautiful duet writing. In the last of the triptych, Burchett’s emotionally honest performance of Ming and the personified Gilgamesh created unquestionable connections to his audience.

Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy (the Monk’s wife in Naga) and soprano Heather Buck (Ku, Ming’s wife in Gilgamesh) both conveyed Jacobs’s message depicting both the joy and pain of motherhood. Eddy, in the midst of a swirling psychological quasi-dream sequence, offered a tender and heart-wrenching moment in her rich tone. Buck later made us feel the joy of her character that waited so long to be with child—the love for the unborn was in each note—into singing through her labor and the subsequent taking of her child. She pulled us into the role.

The two choruses—adult and children—performed wonderfully and powerfully. These groups hold special roles throughout the cycle, Jacobs discussing in her notes that they are the voices of the drowned children and the parents thereof. The Boston Children’s Chorus did a splendid job, as did the several soloists who deserve citation in the program. The day began and ended with the solo voice of a child.

On what mayor Marty Walsh proclaimed as “Ouroboros Day,” each segment of the three-part performance hummed with excitement. Will-call lines stretched down the sidewalk, with Beth Morrison greeting people at the door. Each opera played to a nearly full house. As they strolled the streets of Chinatown and paths of the Commons and Gardens between shows, people could be overheard talking about what they just saw, and  its multi-national folktales as basis. Simply said, a true opera event happened right here in Boston. The music should be heard, the production should be seen, and there is wisdom in the text.

Binge-worthy? Absolutely.

Sun, September 11, 2016

ArtsEmerson’s “Ouroboros”: A Trilogy of Culinary Tails
South Shore Critic

Conducted by Julian Wachner, Prestini’s music was another wondrous take on this mythological world.

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ArtsEmerson's "Ouroboros": A Trilogy of Culinary Tails

The ouroboros, an ancient icon depicting a serpent eating its own tail, symbolic of eternal renewal, is now also a symbol of three grand operas, created and written by Cerise Lim Jacobs, consisting of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake, along with two World Premieres, Naga and Gilgamesh, presented by ArtsEmerson as The Ouroboros Trilogy. The endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, with each opera a fully realized production, features libretti by Jacobs, each set to music by one of three composers. Naga (composed by Scott Wheeler) is the story of a young Monk who renounces everything to find nirvana, but is tempted to abandon the path when he encounters Madame White Snake (composed by Zhou Long), which is the story of a demon who longs to become human in order to experience love, while Gilgamesh (composed by Paola Prestini) finds the demigod son of Madame White Snake realizing his true power while being pushed into a position where he must choose between his family and happiness. The operas will be performed on separate nights as well as in full day marathon events; each is less than two hours in length, performed in English with surtitles. Any serious opera buff would do well to secure tickets quickly,as these will be performed only twice more, all of them with Director and Production Designer Michael Counts at the helm.

Naga (referring to a semi-divine snake), as noted above, is the story of a young monk (baritone Matthew Worth) who has denied himself everything. The White Snake encounters him saying goodbye to his wife (mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy). Moved by the couple’s grief, she longs to experience such powerful emotion herself. The monk subsequently comes upon Xiao Qing (countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo), the Green Snake, who tempts him three times. The monk resists the first two attacks, but his resistance weakens during the third. The White Snake (soprano Stacey Tappan) stops him from turning back and leads him to a renowned healer, the Master (bass David Salsbery Fry), who takes him in as an apprentice. When the healing master discovers the White Snake, he recognizes her magic as the answer to his prayers for the salvation of the world. He believes that whoever eats of her will be healed. The monk, however, feels she should be free so the universe will appreciate her beauty and uniqueness. The Master orders him to hold the White Snake so he can sacrifice her. In the ensuing struggle, the monk releases the snake and the master is stabbed. The singing was uniformly excellent, including an adult choir and a children's chorus. The challenging score by Wheeler, utilizing electric guitar and a soprano sax as well as more ancient instruments, was lovely and wonderfully conducted by Carolyn Kuan.

Madame White Snake (soprano Susannah Biller) is the story of a white snake demon who longs to become human to experience love. She transforms herself into human form as a woman, encountering Xu Xian (tenor Peter Tantsits), a mortal man, and marries him. Afraid to disclose her true identity, she meets Abbot Fahai of the Golden Mountain Monastery (bass Dong-Jian Gong) who recognizes her for who she is. He sows the seeds of doubt in Xu Xian’s mind and gives him a truth potion which re-transforms Madame White back into a snake. The Abbot leads Xu Xian away but White Snake raises the waters to drown the Abbot. A great flood covers the world as she is defeated by the Abbot after giving birth to a son, rescued by the Green Snake (Michael Maniaci, one of the world's rare male sopranos). This too was sung expertly by the entire cast including two choruses, ably conducted by Lan Shui, and beautifully composed by the Pulitzer-winning Long.

Gilgamesh, or Ming (baritone Christopher Burchett), the semi-divine son of Madame White Snake (soprano Hila Plitmann), was abandoned during his mother’s epic battle with the Abbot (bass Andrew Nolen). He encounters her for the first time in her human form as she is imprisoned in the Golden Mountain Monastery. She reveals to him his birthright, the power to control the waters, begging him to use his power to save her. Ming returns home to find that his wife Ku (soprano Heather Buck) has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. Giving the baby to the green snake (Costanzo again), who had saved him when his mother was defeated, he returns to the Monastery. A robe and empty alms bowl are all that are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl, and departs. Once again, the singers (and two more choruses) were all in great form, especially Costanzo in his difficult register. Conducted by Julian Wachner, Prestini's music was another wondrous take on this mythological world.
Just as impressive as the audio elements were the visuals created for all three operas: the striking Costume Design by Zane Pihlstrom, the dramatic Lighting Design by Yi Zhao and the absolutely stunning Video and Projections Design by S. Katy Tucker. Tucker's work was especially mesmerizing.

The crowning moment was a (well deserved) standing ovation for Jacobs, whose obvious glowing elation with the reception of this audience was unforgettable. After decades of work on her trilogy, the palpable warmth from the opera-lovers present seemed to overwhelm her, as well it might. It was a magnificent night for opera. And, if you're in the mood for even more of an opera fix, note that Odyssey Opera Boston is producing, for one night, 9/16 only, Dvorak's Dimitrij, and Boston Lyric Opera begins its season at the end of this month with several performances of Carmen. Suddenly, Boston is awash with operatic opportunities, and Ouroboros truly shouldn't be missed.

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