Jonathan’s Viennese Auditions

by Jonathan Pell

It is 6:00 in the morning and I am in the Vienna Airport waiting for my flight back to Dallas. I came over for three intense days of auditions held at the historic Theater an der Wien, where a panel of my colleagues and I heard almost 100 singers from 34 countries. There were representatives from Florence’s Maggio Musicale, as well as the opera houses in Antwerp, Toulouse, Santiago, and several German opera houses, including Cologne.

Among the singers auditioning there were a number of Americans who are either based in Europe or were here on an audition tour, including soprano Ava Pine, who was dazzling in arias by Handel and Gounod even at 10:30 in the morning !

Perhaps the most exciting auditions for me were a group of singers from the young artist program at Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Theater, and there was one soprano in particular that was really impressive. I expect that she is at the beginning of what promises to be an extraordinary career.

There were so many singers from so many countries that I couldn’t help but be struck by the extraordinary passion shared by all of these artists from around the world who have devoted themselves to a life in music.

I was also able to attend two performances while I was here, which was fascinating. The first was a new production of Verdi’s IL TROVATORE at the Vienna Volksoper (sort of the Viennese equivalent of the late, lamented New York City Opera or London’s English National Opera) which starred tenor Stuart Neill as “Manrico.”
Some of you may remember him in the title role of FAUST in Dallas in 1998, and obviously he has moved on to significantly heavier repertoire.

The following evening I attended a stunning new production at the Theater an der Wien of Mozart’s IDOMENEO, starrring Richard Croft in the title role. It was conducted by Rene Jacobs and staged by Damiano Michieletti, and performed by a superb cast which also included Marlis Peterson as “Elettra.”

The production was somewhat puzzling, but filled with breathtaking imagery and performed with intense commitment. I have not always enjoyed productions of this opera seria, which often seems static, but even with jet lag I was riveted from beginning to end.

It was also wonderful to see Rick Croft, who is on the faculty at the University of North Texas, enjoy such a personal triumph.
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Jonathan Pell, Artistic Director
The Dallas Opera

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, California Part II

by Jonathan Pell

Yesterday afternoon I heard all the singers in the Los Angeles Opera’s young artist program.  Unlike many of the other similar programs around the country, the Los Angles program really draws on singers from around the world rather focusing just on Americans, and this group had representatives from Russia, Korea and Mexico, as well as from the United States.

I was delighted that the most polished singer yesterday was Amanda Woodbury, a soprano who has twice placed second in the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, and who was invited to join the LA Opera ensemble by Joshua Winograde, who oversees the program, after hearing her as a judge for the Dallas competition.  Her residency in Los Angeles comes to an end soon, but she has grown tremendously under the program, and is being rewarded with a performance of “Micaëla” in their current production of CARMEN later this week.  She is certainly someone to keep an “ear” on.

Last night’s performance of CARMEN starred Brandon Jovanovich as “Don Jose”, who leaves the run in Los Angeles on Sunday to begin rehearsals on Monday in Dallas for the same role.  It will be interesting to see how he approaches this role in what will be a very different production in Dallas. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – California – Part 1

by Jonathan Pell

San Francisco-20130924-00110

I am in Los Angeles this morning after two days in San Francisco where I attended back to back performances of Boito’s rarely performed opera MEFISTOFELE and the third performance in the world premiere run of Tobias Picker’s new opera DOLORES CLAIBORNE, both starring Patricia Racette.

It was an astonishing feat when Ms. Racette agreed just three weeks before opening night to take on the demanding title role of the Picker premiere after the originally scheduled artist, Dolora Zajick, withdrew from the project after rehearsing the opera for several weeks.

Pat Racette was in San Francisco rehearsing MEFISTOFELE, which opened the San Francisco Opera season, and bravely agreed to learn the part and save the day.  It was a daring thing to do (particularly considering that there were several performances in the schedule where the productions were on consecutive nights) and from the audience’s reaction last night, also a very smart move on her part.  It is a real “tour de force” and she certainly deserved the ovation that greeted her at the curtain call. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe – Part VII

by Jonathan Pell

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00 under the auspices of the Santa Fe Concert Association composer Jake Heggie played a recital of some of his songs, accompanying tenor William Burden, soprano Heidi Stober and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, all of whom are singing with the Santa Fe Opera this summer.

The only set of songs that I had heard before was a cycle set to some texts written by Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for Heggie’s first opera DEAD MAN WALKING, beautifully sung at the end of the program by Miss Mentzer.

The rest of the material was new to me (including one song performed by a surprise guest, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is a great friend of the composer, and for whom he is writing GREAT SCOTT, commissioned by the Dallas Opera, and scheduled to open the season in the fall of 2015.) Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe – Part VI

by Megan Meister

This posting must be prefaced by confessing that if someone held a gun to my head and demanded to know what my favorite opera was, after much waffling back and forth, I would probably have to confess that it would be Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA.  It was music from this opera that first captivated me as a child of six and was the first recording I ever owned (with Albanese, Peerce and Merrill, conducted by Toscanini.)

That having been said, tonight’s performance of Verdi’s 1853 masterpiece puzzled me.  There was so much about it that was wonderful, not the least of which were the stunning vocal performances and committed acting of soprano Brenda Rae and Michael Fabiano as “Violetta” and “Alfredo.” Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe Part V

by Jonathan Pell

This is the fifth time in forty years that the Santa Fe Opera has mounted a production of Offenbach’s satirical operetta THE GRAND DUCHESS OF GEROLSTEIN, but this time it was done for mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who looked stunning in the lush period costumes, sang exquisitely (most notably in the beautiful aria “Dites-lui” which is one of the few quiet moments in this rollicking comedy) and delivered the English language dialogue with great panache and delicious comic timing.

This role and this opera couldn’t have been a greater contrast to THE ASPERN PAPERS in which Susan Graham triumphed in Dallas a few months ago (and for which subscriber’s selected her as the recipient of this year’s Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award.). Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe – Part IV

by Jonathan Pell

Although I had heard it in concert several years ago, until last night I had never seen a staged performance of Rossini’s “opera seria” (as opposed to his more celebrated comic operas) LA DONNA DEL LAGO, based on Sir Walter Scott’s THE LADY OF THE LAKE.

To be perfectly honest, I have never been much of a fan of Scott’s historical romances (I could barely get through IVANHOE when I had to read it in school) but this turgid novel seems to have inspired Rossini to write some of his most glorious music.

The production in Santa Fe was mounted to showcase a dazzling Joyce DiDonato in the title role, and she was sensational.  Not only did she sing superbly, she was actually able to make us care about the fate of her character because of her extraordinary skills as an actress.

Dallas audiences will have the opportunity to hear her for themselves when she opens the 2015 Dallas Opera season in Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s new opera GREAT SCOTT, commissioned by The Dallas Opera. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe Part III

by Jonathan Pell

I am often asked to judge the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions around the country and several years ago I found myself in New Orleans where we were to select someone to go to New York to compete in the semi-finals.  The crop of singers that year wasn’t particularly good and at one point I turned to one of the other judges and said “Do we HAVE to send someone on?

Then walked in a very young soprano from Baton Rouge named Lisette Oropesa, who was so promising that she, not only won in New Orleans, but won in New York and was immediately invited to join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program.  She has subsequently gone on to an incredibly successful career sing leading roles at the Met and elsewhere.

I mention all this only because she was the “Susanna” in last night’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, and you can only imagine how touched I was after the performance when she thanked me backstage for being one of the first people to believe in her.

Lisette is wonderful in this role (which she has already sung at the Met) but she was only part of a terrific ensemble cast.

Susanna Phillips was a touching “Countess” (the role which served as her Dallas Opera debut in 2008) and opposite her was Daniel Okulitch as the “Count.”  An interesting thing to mention here is that Dan was also in that Dallas Opera production of FIGARO, but then he sang the title role.  He is very good in both parts, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to alternate them or opts to sing one role over the other.

The “Figaro” last night was Zachary Nelson, who was a delightful presence and sang beautifully.  A recent graduate of AVA in Philadelphia (the Academy of Vocal Arts) he must hold the record for the fastest ascent to stardom in the history of the Santa Fe Opera.  He was an apprentice here only last season, and now he is singing the leading role in an important production.

Even Susanna Phillips, who was an apprentice in Santa Fe in 2004, had to wait until 2006 to sing “Pamina” in THE MAGIC FLUTE!

Emily Fons, who I first heard as part of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center young artists’ program, was the “Cherubino” and she was really charming and funny and also sang beautifully.  She will be coming to the Dallas Opera this season to sing in two family concerts and then will make her stage debut with us in the fall of 2014 in our opening production that year.  I hate being coy about what she will be singing, but we haven’t announced the season yet!

Also in the cast was veteran mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer as “Marcellina” who launched her career in the early 80′s at the Dallas Opera, and returned to Dallas to sing “Dorabella” in COSI FAN TUTTE opposite Carol Vaness, and was also a heartbreaking CENERENTOLA at TDO in 1994.

Keith Jameson, who sang the “Simpleton” in BORIS GODUNOV at Dallas Opera a couple of years ago, was the suitably unctuous “Don Basilio” and created another indelible cameo.

This MARRIAGE OF FIGARO was a revival of a Jonathan Kent production first seen in Santa Fe a few year’s ago, but this time it was staged by Bruce Donnell who did a masterful job of telling the story of an opera with an incredibly convoluted plot.

The conductor was John Nelson, who was returning to the company after many years (his debut in Santa Fe was leading a production of Britten’s OWEN WINGRAVE in 1973) and from the opening notes of the overture I knew we were in for a wonderful evening of Mozart’s extraordinary music.

It was a delightful performance, and tonight I am looking forward to Rossini’s rarely produced LA DONNA DEL LAGO, which I have only heard in concert and never seen staged.

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Santa Fe Part II

by Jonathan Pell

I  spent most of the morning yesterday with Emmanuel Villaume, Dallas Opera’s new music director (who is in Santa Fe this summer conducting Offenbach’s LA GRANDE DUCHESSE) and general director Keith Cerny (who was back in Dallas but with whom we were meeting via a telephone conference call) discussing plans for the future.  Keith was in Santa Fe all last week with a large group of donors to attend performances and for the group to get to spend time with Emmanuel, who evidently charmed everyone.  The Dallas Opera has begun what promises to be an exciting new chapter in its long and  illustrious history! Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Santa Fe Part I

by Jonathan Pell

Last night was the first of two separate programs on successive Sunday evening’s that showcase the young artists who participate every summer in the Santa Fe Opera’s renowned apprentice program.  These talented young singers are recruited from around the country (this summer there are more than forty of them) and they appear throughout the season as the chorus, in smaller roles, and “cover” (or act as understudies) for leading roles.  In addition to that, they receive private coaching from the music staff and visiting artists, and are given the opportunity to display their talent in these fully staged and costumed scenes. Continue reading →