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Work of the Week – Jaques Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann

On 23rd July 2015, Jacques Offenbach’s opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann (“Tales of Hoffmann”) will be staged by the Norwegian Opera at the Bregenz Festival, directed by Stefan Herheim. Johanne Debus will conduct a cast that includes Daniel Johansson, Kerstin Avemo, Bengt-Ola Morgny and Rachel Frenkel. Although the composer died before the opera was finished, leaving several performing versions, Schott, together with Offenbach researchers Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck, has produced a definitive critical edition of Les Contes d’Hoffmann, which is used for this production.

At the centre of the opera is the poet Hoffmann, who, whilst waiting for his beloved Stella, tells of his failed amorous adventures. These include his destructive obsession with the mechanical doll Olympia, a fatal tryst with the singer Antonia, and the loss of his reflection during a sensual encounter with the courtesan Giulietta. After his story-telling, and realising that Stella will join his roster of failed relationships, Hoffmann takes refuge in his art, following the Muse as the only true friend of the poet.

Above all, I have a terrible, unstoppable weakness, namely that I cannot stop working. I regret this on behalf of those who do not love my music, because I will certainly die with a tune under my pen – Jacques Offenbach

The production runs until 6th August and is broadcast on 26th July on ORF3. The Komische Oper Berlin will present the opera from 2nd October 2015 in a production by the Australian director Barrie Kosky.




Work of the Week – Atsuhiko Gondai: Vice Versa

On 18 July 2015 Atsuhiko Gondai’s new orchestral work Vice Versa will receive its world premiere by Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa at Ishikawa Ongakudo Concert Hall in Kanazawa, Japan.

This is the second commission Gondai has received from Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, after the success of his work 84,000×0=0 in 2005. Vice Versa will be conducted by Michiyoshi Inoue, the orchestra’s award-winning Chief Conductor, who has taken the group on worldwide tours including to Germany, France, South America and Australia.

Vice Versa is a work exploring the limits of opposition. Gondai contrasts new compositional techniques with traditional musical ideals, constructing a work of two movements that deliberately contradict each other as much as musically possible. The intention in these movements is to create conflicting musical experiences for the audience – literally, swapping vice versa. As the composer explains:

The aim of the composition was to examine opposition in each recognisable musical element, beginning with the mutual rejection of each of the work’s movements. The music seeks to overcome this rejection and for the instruments to create a new dialogue of connection and fusion, so, one is simultaneously looking from the summit downwards, and from the bottom up. – Atsuhiko Gondai

On 4 November Gondai will present another, as yet untitled, new work for orchestra, to be premiered at Alte Oper in Frankfurt by hr-Sinfonieorchester under Andrés Orozco-Estrada.



Work of the Week – Richard Strauss: Arabella

On 6 July 2015, Richard Strauss’ late lyric opera Arabella will be staged in a new production by theatre and film director Andreas Dresden at Munich Opera Festival. Performances will take place at Nationaltheater München, with Philippe Jordan of Opéra National de Paris conducting a cast that includes Anja Harteros (Arabella), Kurt Rydl (Graf Waldner), Doris Soffel (Adelaide), Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (Zdenka), Joseph Kaiser (Matteo) and Thomas J. Mayer (Mandryka).

The opera tells the story of Arabella, a beautiful but stubborn girl intended by her parents to marry a rich man for his money. After numerous complications including the dressing of her sister Zdenka as a boy, unrequited advances and misidentification in darkened rooms, both Arabella and her sister eventually end up with the men they love.

Arabella is the final work Strauss wrote with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who died in 1929, three years before the opera’s completion. Their intention was to model the opera on their successful earlier work Der Rosenkavalier (1911) but, in the words of Strauss, “without its faults and length”. As in Der Rosenkavalier, the narrative takes place in Vienna and is rich in indulgent, Classical-style waltzes.

We must work to ensure that the waltzes sound less brilliant, less classical, and more melancholy. They must shimmer in their ambiguity and decadence to guarantee that, unlike those in Der Rosenkavalier, they stand in their proper historical place. – Philippe Jordan

The new production runs until 17 July 2015. Three further performances are scheduled in January 2016 with Bayerische Staatsoper, who will also be presenting Strauss’ Elektra and Die Schweigsame Frau at the Munich Opera Festival this year.


(Foto: Matthias Creutziger)


Work of the Week – Mark-Anthony Turnage: Blood on the Floor

Paris Opéra Ballet’s “L’anatomie de la sensation (pour Francis Bacon)” featuring Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Blood on the Floor, opened this week at the Opéra Bastille in Paris. The production, with choreography by Wayne McGregor, was first performed in 2011. Peter Rundel conducts Ensemble Intercontemporain, and the four jazz soloists for whom the piece was written: Peter Erskine (percussion), Martin Robertson (saxophone), John Parricelli (guitar) and Michel Benita (bass guitar).
Blood on the Floor is named after a painting by Francis Bacon, who has provided the influence for several of Turnage’s previous compositions. It was the first score Turnage wrote for jazz musicians, though he has been a fan of the genre since his early teens. The incorporation of improvisation and resultant partial loss of creative control was a new experience for Turnage, who had always written heavily-notated and meticulous scores. In converting this into a work for the stage, the dancers are also granted this improvisatory freedom.
The score is fiercely emotional, having been written during the time of the tragic drug overdose and death of Turnage’s brother Andrew. In the sixth of the nine movements, Elegie to Andy, the haunting melody is based on one also performed at Andrew’s funeral.
Just as he asks that the Bacon painting be seen only as a starting point, Turnage does not want a family tragedy to be seen as the single, over-determining focus of the piece.  It is, though, unmistakably its fulcrum and the emotional heart of a complex work that takes him into areas of tonality not explored before. – Brian Morton
The production will receive seven performances in July.

Work of the Week – Huw Watkins: In The Locked Room

On 4 July 2015, Huw Watkins’ one-act chamber opera In the Locked Room will receive its German premiere in a new production by Staatsoper Hamburg, directed by Petra Müller and conducted by Daniel Carter. The opera was originally premiered in 2012 in a joint production by Music Theatre Wales and Scottish Opera, who commissioned the work. The libretto was written by David Harsent, with whom Watkins wrote his previous chamber opera Crime Fiction (2009).

Based on the short story by Thomas Hardy, In the Locked Room concerns Ella and her career-focused husband Stephen who have rented a room in a holiday home on the English coast. Ella discovers that Ben Pascoe, a poet for whom she has a deep fascination, is an intermittent lodger in the next-door room. This fascination quickly develops into an obsession with the possibility of them meeting. The boundaries between reality and fantasy become blurred and Ella’s connection to reality weakens. Consumed by her obsession, she decides to stay in her dream world.

A loose door knocking in an empty house.
A room within a room.
I know the place… I go to it in dreams…

Watkins describes In the Locked Room as:

“inward-looking and reflective, grappling with deep emotions. There are isolated outbursts, and I hope that they are the more powerful for being withheld. The overall mood is one of wistfulness and melancholia.” – Huw Watkins

The production by Staatsoper Hamburg will feature Christina Gansch as Ella, Benjamin Popson as Stephen, Maria Markina as Susan the property owner and Vincenzo Neri as Ben Pascoe. Performances will run from 4 to 12 July.


foto: Benjamin Ealovega


Work of the Week – Hans Werner Henze: Il re Teodoro in Venezia

Composition and interpretation can be two sides of the same coin. During 1990 and 1991 Hans Werner Henze created his own version of Giovanni Paisiello’s opera Il re Teodoro in Venezia (1784) and in doing so filled the roles of both interpreter and composer. The adaptation was an opportunity for Henze to demonstrate his adoration for Paisiello’s music and to offer his own personal perspective on the work. On 24 June 2015, Henze’s version of the opera will be performed in a new production directed by Lenka Horinková at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

Il re Teodoro in Venezia is a ‘heroic-comic drama’ that tells the story of Theodor Neuhoff, a Westphalian baron and adventurer. During a short stint as king of Corsica he loses all his money and is forced to flee from his creditors to Venice where he hides in a tavern and falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter. Chaos follows with a series of comical misunderstandings that prevent the ex-king from admitting to his bankruptcy and the fact that he lost his throne. Theodor is ultimately incarcerated in his debtor’s prison in London where he defiantly proclaims: “The world is like a wheel: eventually those at the bottom will return to the top”.

In his interpretation, Henze wanted to give audiences to the opportunity re-experience the opera. His modifications include new dissonances, added bel canto quotations and rhythmic variations. He also re-orchestrated the work to consist of twelve winds, string sextet, mandolin, guitar, piano and percussion.

Ancient forms seem to me like classical ideals of beauty: unattainable but still visible from a distance. The path to these is the most difficult and the most impossible. For me, it is the only folly worth living for. – Hanz Werner Henze

Following the opening night on 24 June, further performances will take place on 28 June, 24 September, 8 October, 12 November and 17 February 2016.

photo: Slovak National Theatre



Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: Ubu Rex

Penderecki’s first and only comic opera Ubu Rex, based on the 1896 Theatre of the Absurd play ‘Ubu Roi’ by Alfred Jarry, was first performed in 1991 at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. On 20 June Opera Baltycka in Gdañsk presents a production by Janusz Wiśniewski.

Set in two acts, Ubu Rex opens with a “duet of sleeping noises”. The action begins with the cowardly and greedy captain Ubu being persuaded by his wife to murder the king and take the throne for himself. Their plan is successful, and Ubu’s first act as king is to order meat and gold to be handed out to the people to win their loyalty, with the stage direction “Everyone is dancing and gorging. Great funfair.” Ubu quickly descends into tyranny, ordering the death of the aristocrats, judges and financial ministers and implementing policies to satiate his own financial greed. The oppressive leader’s rule is ultimately defeated by the Russian army but Ubu escapes, setting sail with his entourage to a new land.

Penderecki labelled his work ‘Opera buffa’, and in doing so refers to the great masters of the genre including Rossini, whom he held in great esteem. In writing the work, Penderecki found freedom in escaping the pressure of new and radical composition, instead taking a more broad-minded approach to the music.

To write a comic opera one has to not only have experienced a lot, but also be able to look at these experiences with perspective. One must be able to laugh at oneself, something that cannot be done at the age of thirty. – Krzysztov Penderecki

The Gdansk production, premiered in 2013 on the occasion of Penderecki’s 80th birthday, will be toured to the Musikfestspiele Saar in Kaiserslautern on 27 June and in Saarbrücken on 29 June.

Photo: Sebastian Cwikla



Work of the Week – Olli Mustonen: Piano Quintet

On 12 June 2015, SPANNUNGEN: in Heimbach, Germany presents the world premiere of Olli Mustonen’s Piano Quintet, performed by Christian Tetzlaff, Florian Donderer, Harmut Rohde, Gustav Rivinius and Mustonen as pianist. The performance will be broadcast live by Deutschlandfunk.

Mustonen composed and performed his first piano concerto at the age of just twelve, and is now widely known as a talented composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. His musical aesthetic is similarly comprehensive, described by Finnish musicologist Susanna Välimäki as a polystylistic language that ranges “from Baroque to minimalism…from late Romanticism to a new spirituality”.

The Piano Quintet is structured in three movements: a fast-paced first movement, ‘Drammatico e passionate’, is contrasted by a contemplative and chromatic Andantino, followed by a Finale that incorporates themes from both preceding movements. The piece ends with an exultant hymn-like melody. Mustonen describes his experience of great music as akin to “losing oneself in untouched nature”.

In Mustonen’s music the commonplace becomes sacred in the blink of an eye; with a shimmer of light the ordinary is transformed into the mysterious.  Each and every one of Mustonen’s pieces is a journey into oneself. – Susanna Välimäki

The Piano Quintet was jointly commissioned by SPANNUNGEN:, Wigmore Hall and O/Modernt festival in Sweden. Following the performance in Heimbach, the work will be performed on 17 June 2015 in Stockholm and the UK premiere is planned for 2017 at Wigmore Hall.


Work of the Week – Paul Hindemith: Cardillac

On 6 June 2015 Paul Hindemith’s opera Cardillac opens at the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landestheater in Flensburg, Germany in a new production directed by Markus Hertel and conducted by Peter Sommerer.

The opera, written between 1925 and 1926, is set in seventeenth-century Paris and centres on the brilliant (yet mad) goldsmith who gives his name to the work. Cardillac is so proud of his creations that he declares them “too beautiful for man’s eyes” and begins murdering his customers in order to reclaim his work, proclaiming “What I created is mine!” His lack of remorse is reflected in Hindemith’s score which intentionally avoids the emotional pomp of traditional opera. The music creates a sense of detachment and callous, at times disturbingly so, such as during the joyous flute duet that accompanies Cardillac’s first murder.

After the successes of his one-act operas Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (1919), Das Nusch-Nuschi (1920) and Sancta Susanna (1921), Hindemith was excited by the prospect of writing a full-scale opera, on seeking a suitable subject he wrote:

If I had a libretto, I would need only a few weeks to write the greatest opera. I am aware of the problems associated with new opera and am absolutely convinced that, as much as is humanly possible, I can solve these completely. – Paul Hindemith

Hindemith found his subject in E.T.A Hoffmann’s “Das Fräulein von Scuderi” and was immediately drawn to the character of Cardillac. He proceeded to write the music at such speed that his librettist Ferdinand Lion could not keep up with his own adaptation of the text.

Following the performances in Flensburg, Cardillac will be staged at the Staatsoper, Vienna on 22, 25 and 29 June in a revival of Eric Bechtolf’s production.

Photo: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn


Werk der Woche – Christopher Cerrone: The Pieces That Fall to Earth

Christopher Cerrone’s The Pieces That Fall To Earth for soprano and chamber orchestra receives its world premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on May 26 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Hila Plitmann joins as soloist, with John Adams leading the orchestra as both conductor and curator of a concert that features three world premiere performances of Los Angeles Philharmonic commissions.

The Pieces That Fall To Earth is inspired by the poetry of Kay Ryan, a Los Angeles native and long time Bay Area resident. Cerrone’s inspiration emerged partially from how he read the poems: “I needed to find a way to create a large-scale architecture, rather than a set of miniatures. My solution was to mirror my own reading process of the poems.” He selected seven poems, each its own song that “form[s] a kind of monodrama wherein the work becomes progressively more and more personal.”

Hila Plitmann’s dexterity and range was also an influence in the direction of the piece, encouraging Cerrone to take risks and try something new in his vocal writing:

“I tried to actively expand my vocabulary to include melismatic lines and well as extremes of range and virtuosity.” – Christopher Cerrone

For more information on Christopher Cerrone and his music, visit