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    A King Arthur Rarity Is an Apt Way to Return to the Opera

    Ernest Chausson’s “Le Roi Arthus,” with its fragile promise of renewal, is coming to the Bard SummerScape festival.In the third act of Ernest Chausson’s opera “Le Roi Arthus” (“King Arthur”), Guinevere asks Lancelot, “United in love, united in sin, will we also be joined in death?”The tangled Arthurian love triangle is familiar from “The Once and Future King,” “Camelot” and the works of Sir Thomas Malory. But here the question, set to longing sighs in the orchestra, immediately evokes another complicated 19th-century operatic romance: Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.”Chausson’s only opera, which is being given a rare staging at the Bard SummerScape festival starting on Sunday, never fully escapes the shadow of “Tristan.”But in “Le Roi Arthus,” he also managed to find his own path. A contemporary of Henri Duparc and Gabriel Fauré, Chausson (1855-99) is today best known for his “Poème” for violin and orchestra. Born to wealth, he composed slowly and carefully. “Arthus,” which he wrote over the course of almost a decade in the 1880s and ’90s, didn’t premiere until 1903, years after he died in a cycling accident. By the turn of the 20th century, the work already seemed dated, and it has only occasionally been performed since.“It’s unbelievably beautiful,” Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College and the production’s conductor, said in an interview. “And not only beautiful, but grammatically very smartly put together.”Chausson, like many composers of the late 19th century, labored in the shadow of Wagner. But in his only opera, he did carve out his own path.Fine Art Images/Heritage Images, via Getty ImagesLike many composers of his time, Chausson labored under the anxious influence — what he called the “ardent and despotic inspiration” — of Wagner. “If you’re going to be influenced by someone, Wagner is as good as you can get,” Botstein said. “But it is terribly obvious that it’s not by Wagner; there is very French chromaticism and a French melodic sensibility.”Chausson was well aware of the threat of merely rewriting “Tristan.” His friend Claude Debussy wrote to him in 1893 with concerns that part of Debussy’s own opera then in progress, “Pelléas et Mélisande,” “resembled the duet of Mr. So-and-So” — meaning Wagner. Later, after reviewing a draft of “Le Roi Arthus,” Debussy wrote to Chausson, “We would gain, it seems to me, by taking the opposite course.”Chausson’s score does occasionally sound like Wagner, notably in a brief, portentous appearance by Merlin. But he also made conscious decisions to distance himself from the master: He tends to avoid characteristically Wagnerian dense orchestration and that composer’s shifting thickets of leitmotifs — bits of music representing characters or concepts.As was Wagner’s practice, Chausson wrote his own libretto, and repeatedly edited it — especially after his colleague Duparc sent him a 51-page critique singling out the opera’s similarities to “Tristan.” By its final form, unlike in Wagner’s opera, Lancelot and Guinevere’s illicit affair is already in progress at the start of the opera, and they are fully in command of their own fates — not, as in “Tristan,” under the spell of a love potion. And Lancelot, crucially, experiences a crisis of conscience unlike any faced by Wagner’s hero.Chausson makes his mythic figures into fallible, conflicted humans. Arthur (at Bard, the baritone Norman Garrett) struggles with the loss of his marriage and of his most trusted confidant. The extended duets for Lancelot (the tenor Matthew White) and Guinevere (the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke) explore earthly questions of trust, loyalty and love — far from Wagner’s weightily philosophical, Schopenhauerian mists.Louisa Proske, the production’s director, sees this as one of the opera’s strengths. “This love is organic, it’s genuine, and it’s human,” she said in an interview. “And it’s very modern, in the sense that Chausson is really interested in the impasse between the two lovers and how the arguments on each side keep playing out.”Writing about “Le Roi Arthus,” the musicologist Steven Huebner has pointed out that Guinevere can be seen as a typical fin-de-siècle operatic seductress, her chromaticism aligned with Carmen before her and Salome after — “driven by sensuality, a threat to virility.”But Proske disagrees. “She’s not a femme fatale who splits up the good work of the men,” she said. “She is a woman who is fighting for a love that she deeply believes is sublime, and the highest good in this world. There’s so much substance in what she says and expresses musically.”Proske’s staging mixes images from different cultures, both ancient and modern. She said that the abstract set and timeless costumes — including new heraldry for Arthur’s knights — “create a tension between the past and the future.”“They’re not historically accurate,” she added of the designs. “They express an imaginary idea of Europe. I really love that it’s, at the same time, an action movie as it has knights and kings and queens. It has this kind of grand, epic scale that is really fun to put onstage. And at the same time, it’s deeply an opera of ideas.”The work depicts Arthur’s Round Table at its twilight. “The Round Table,” Proske said, “which Arthur devotes his life to, stands for or embodies an idea of good governance and good kingship, which is not quite the same as democracy.”The political context will come to the fore in Bard’s presentation of what is perhaps the opera’s most distinctive sequence: its ending, in which a boat arrives to carry Arthur away. Five offstage sopranos and what the score describes as an “invisible chorus” call to him to “come with us beyond the stars” for a “deep, endless sleep.” (Morgan Le Fay and Avalon go unmentioned.) This all comes after two protracted death scenes for Lancelot and Guinevere, who strangles herself with her own hair.The Bard production will bring that invisible chorus onstage. “Arthur and the heroic, charismatic autocratic nobility essentially disintegrate and recede into the heavens,” Botstein said. “The people come onstage. They represent the future. There’s a symbolic vision of the possibilities of democracy.”Proske also sees the ending as an image of recurrence: “It’s the situation of a political leader at the end of his life. It is a complete failure because the project has failed. The gift that the chorus brings to Arthur is to say that it hasn’t failed, because in the future, it will recur, your thought will live on and take shape in different periods of history, and people will pick up what you left us.”Such a fragile promise of renewal and rebirth is perhaps an apt way to return to the opera house after the coronavirus pandemic. “I think this is a really exciting piece to come back with, because at heart, it actually thinks about the necessity of collective storytelling,” Proske said. “I hope that the audience will feel part of that collective at the end and will take home something that will stay with them.” More

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    A Violinist on How to Empower Asian Musicians

    Jennifer Koh, an acclaimed soloist, calls on classical music to make space for artists of Asian descent, who remain marginalized in the field.I have not been surprised by the recent violence toward Asian Americans. I palpably remember being afraid when I was a child in Illinois, in the 1980s.At that time, Japan was seen as a looming economic force invading the United States. In 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man, was beaten to death by two white men who thought he was Japanese, here to steal American jobs. The perpetrators received a $3,000 fine and probation for killing a man who looked like my father. The message was clear: Asian American lives had little value.This message trickled down to my elementary school, where my classmates broke eggs into my hair and hit me on an almost daily basis for five years because I was not white. And yet I was grateful to be Asian American. After all, we were the model minority.This myth that all Asian Americans are quiet, diligent and successful was invented to pit minority groups against each other, making racism palatable by giving Asians distorted praise and falsely promising them access to the white American dream. The myth defers the kind of solidarity between minorities that could threaten entrenched racial power structures.This myth also hides truths: Currently in New York City, nearly a quarter of the Asian population lives below the poverty line; Asian immigrants have among the highest poverty rates in the city.A beneficiary of changes to American immigration policies that had placed quotas on nonwhite immigrants, I am the daughter of Korean War refugees. During her childhood, my mother witnessed horrific violence and experienced overwhelming fear and hunger. Although my family’s history is a common one for Korean Americans, it is a part of Asian American history largely ignored in this country. But perhaps even less known is what it is like to be an Asian American woman in classical music.“In the beginning of my career, I was told by an influential conductor — who had never heard me play — that I could never be a true artist.”Caitlin Ochs for The New York TimesHaving had few opportunities in their childhoods, my parents provided me with numerous extracurricular activities, one of which was violin lessons. But when I was growing up, I saw very few people in music who looked like me. In 1980, according to the League of American Orchestras, 96.6 percent of orchestral players in the country were white. At that time, the “Oriental presence in classical music,” as a New York Times article put it, was a topic of discussion.These days, Asians are often referred to as overrepresented minorities. In the League of American Orchestras’s most recent data, 86.8 percent of orchestral musicians are white and 9.1 percent are of Asian descent. Among executives in classical music, 91.7 percent are white. The percentage of ethnic Asians in these management positions is too small to be included.It is highly misleading to say that Asian Americans are overrepresented in what remains an overwhelmingly white and male field.Classical music is often called “universal,” but what does universality mean when the field was built for white men who still hold much of the power? In my nearly 30-year career, I have seen not even a handful of ethnic Asians — much less Asian American women — ascend to executive or leadership positions.I have witnessed throughout my career that those of us who are ethnically Asian but were born, raised or trained in America and Europe, are burdened with the belief that musicians of Asian descent are diligent, hard-working and technically perfect — but cannot understand the true essence of music, have no soul and ultimately cannot be true artists. In the beginning of my career, I was told by an influential conductor — who had never heard me play — that I could never be a true artist because he did not understand Chinese music and therefore Chinese people could never understand classical music.The American historian Grace Wang uses the term “innate capacity” to describe the belief that different types of music originate from, and therefore belong to, specific groups of people from specific places. The assumption that a musician can be a great interpreter of a composer because he or she is from the country where the composer once lived is often expressed, both implicitly and explicitly. Technique can be learned, according to this perspective, but the ability to truly understand the essence of classical music can only be acquired through bloodline and race.In 2007, it was revealed that Joyce Hatto, a white British pianist, had stolen recordings of other pianists — including those of Yuki Matsuzawa, a Japanese woman — and released them as her own. Tom Deacon, long considered a gatekeeper in classical music, a former record executive and a well-traveled competitions judge, had written on a classical music message board about both Hatto’s and Matsuzawa’s recordings, without knowing they were the same.Of what he believed to be Hatto, Deacon wrote: “My oh my, this is a beautiful recording of Chopin’s music. The pieces flow so naturally and so completely, without precious effects.” Hatto, he added, played “the octaves so incredibly smoothly that they seem to flow from her fingers”Of what was labeled, correctly, as Matsuzawa: “Faceless, typewriter, neat as a pin but utterly flaccid performances with small, tiny poetic gestures added like so much rouge on the face of a Russian doll.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-1jiwgt1{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;margin-bottom:1.25rem;}.css-8o2i8v{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-8o2i8v p{margin-bottom:0;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-1rh1sk1{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-1rh1sk1 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-1rh1sk1 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1rh1sk1 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccc;text-decoration-color:#ccc;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Aside from the obvious contrast between his praise of Hatto and his loathing of Matsuzawa for the exact same performance, what fascinates me is the language. Deacon encapsulates nearly every stereotype of Asian musicians: He writes that Matsuzawa’s performances are “faceless,” while a white woman’s “flow naturally”; the Asian pianist is technically “neat as a pin,” a “typewriter,” not organically creative and only able to copy a European’s innate capacity.Classical music continues to perpetuate these and other stereotypes, including through the continued use of yellowface — white performers painted with yellow makeup and slanted eyes — in opera productions. Yellowface normalizes caricatures of Asians and fetishizes Asian women, exoticizing them through stereotypes of them as alternately submissive and hypersexual.So how can classical music empower and create space for all members of our community?Ask Asian Americans to curate programs and create work — not just about Asia, with token Lunar New Year concerts, but about our unique experiences and contributions as Americans of Asian descent.Hire and commission Asian and Asian American singers, instrumentalists, conductors and composers to break stereotypes and amplify our individualities and complexities.Mentor Asian Americans at the beginning of their musical careers. Sponsor and promote Asian Americans in arts management and administration. Recruit Asian Americans onto the boards of arts organizations.And, when you have Asian Americans on your boards, listen to them — empower them to reframe discussions about inclusion and equity, and give them the freedom to issue statements about violence against those who look like them. Learn the histories of Asian Americans and create paths to engage with all members of your community.My mentors fought for my inclusion in the classical world. It is now my responsibility to help build a more inclusive field for future generations. I invite musicians and musical institutions to create these new spaces with me and my forward-thinking colleagues. More

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    Graham Vick, Director Who Opened Opera’s Doors, Dies at 67

    The British director was no stranger to the prestige houses, but his calls to make opera more inclusive and available to everyone eventually found their moment.LONDON — Graham Vick, a British opera director who worked at prestigious houses like the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala while also seeking to broaden opera’s appeal by staging works in abandoned rock clubs and former factories and by bringing more diversity to casting, died on Saturday in London. He was 67.The cause was complications of Covid-19, the Birmingham Opera Company, which he founded, said in a news release.Mr. Vick spent much of the coronavirus pandemic in Crete, Greece, and returned to Britain in June to take part in rehearsals for a Birmingham Opera production of Wagner’s “Das Rhinegold,” Jonathan Groves, his agent, said in a telephone interview.Mr. Vick was artistic director at the company, which he saw as a vehicle to bring opera to everyone. His productions there, which were in English, often included amateur performers. And he insisted on keeping ticket prices low so that anyone could attend, and on hiring singers who reflected the ethnic diversity of Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city. His immersive production of Verdi’s “Otello” in 2009 featured Ronald Samm, the first Black tenor to sing the title role in a professional production in Britain.The company never held V.I.P. receptions because Mr. Vick believed that no audience member should be seen as above any other.Ronald Samm was the first Black tenor to sing the title role in “Otello” in a professional production in Britain.Peter Roy“You do not need to be educated to be touched, to be moved and excited by opera,” he said in a speech at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards in 2016. “You only need to experience it directly at first hand, with nothing getting in the way.”Opera makers must “remove the barriers and make the connections that will release its power for everybody,” he added.Oliver Mears, the Royal Opera House’s director of opera, said in a statement that Mr. Vick had been “a true innovator in the way he integrated community work into our art form.”“Many people from hugely diverse backgrounds love opera — and first experienced it — through his work,” he said.Graham Vick was born on Dec. 30, 1953, in Birkenhead, near Liverpool. His father, Arnold, worked in a clothing store, while his mother Muriel (Hynes) Vick worked in the personnel department of a factory. His love of the stage bloomed at age 5 when he saw a production of “Peter Pan.”“It was a complete road-to-Damascus moment,” he told The Times of London in 2014. “Everything was there — the flight through the window into another world, a bigger world.”Opera gave him similar opportunities to “fly, soar, breathe and scream,” he said.Mr. Vick studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England, intending to become a conductor. But he turned to directing and created his first production at 22. Two years later, he directed a production of Gustav Holst’s “Savitri” for Scottish Opera and soon became its director of productions.With Scottish Opera, he quickly showed his desire to bring opera to local communities. He led Opera-Go-Round, an initiative in which a small troupe traveled to remote parts of Scotland’s Highlands and islands, often performing with just piano accompaniment. He also brought opera singers to factories to perform during lunch breaks.Mr. Vick became director of productions at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1994. That same year he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera with a raucous staging of Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” the first time the company performed the opera. He also directed Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron” and “Il Trovatore” at the Met.Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times called Mr. Vick’s “Moses und Aron” “a starkly modern yet poignantly human staging.”Mr. Vick put on his first production at La Scala in Milan in 1996, directing Luciano Berio’s “Outis.” In 1999, after a multiyear renovation and expansion, he reopened London’s Royal Opera House with Verdi’s “Falstaff.”Mr. Vick with the cast of “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” at the Birmingham Opera in 2019.Adam FradgleySome of his productions received mixed or even harsh reviews. “Stalin was right,” Edward Rothstein wrote in The Times in reviewing “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” in 1994, calling Mr. Vick’s production “crude, primitive, vulgar,” just as Stalin had done with Shostakovich’s original. Just as often they were praised, however.Despite Mr. Vick’s success at traditional opera houses, he sometimes criticized them. “They’re huge, glamorous, fabulous, seductive institutions, but they’re also a dangerous black hole where great art can so easily become self-serving product,” he told the BBC in 2012.Mr. Vick’s work at the Birmingham Opera Company, which he founded in 1987, was celebrated in Britain for its bold vision. Its first production, another “Falstaff,” was staged inside a recreation center in the city; other productions took place in a burned-out ballroom above a shopping center and in an abandoned warehouse.Mr. Vick decided to use amateurs after rehearsing a Rossini opera in Pesaro, Italy, in the 1990s. It was so hot and airless one day, he recalled in a 2003 lecture, that he opened the theater’s doors to the street and was shocked to see a group of teenagers stop their soccer game and watch, transfixed.“To reach this kind of constituency in Birmingham, we decided to recruit members of the community into our work,” he said. People who bought tickets should see reflections of themselves onstage and in the production team, he added.Mr. Vick kept returning to Birmingham because, he said, it was only there, “in the glorious participation of audience and performers,” that he felt whole.The company was praised not only for its inclusivity. Its 2009 staging of “Otello” “gets you in the heart and the guts,” Rian Evans wrote in The Guardian. And Mark Swed, in The Los Angeles Times, called Mr. Vick’s production of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Mittwoch aus Licht” in 2012 “otherworldly.” (It included string players performing in helicopters and a camel, and was part of Britain’s 2012 Olympic Games celebrations.)“If opera is meant to change your perception of what is possible and worthwhile, to dream the impossible dream and all that, then this is clearly the spiritually uplifting way to do it,” Mr. Swed added.Mr. Vick, who died in a hospital, is survived by his partner, the choreographer Ron Howell, as well as an older brother, Hedley.In his speech at the Royal Philharmonic Society awards, Mr. Vick urged those in the opera world to “get out of our ghetto” and follow the Birmingham example in trying to reflect the community where a company is based.People need to “embrace the future and help build a world we want to live in,” he said, “not hide away fiddling while Rome burns.” More

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    A Queen of 19th-Century Opera Gets New Attention

    Pauline Viardot, born 200 years ago this weekend, was a famous singer, as well as a composer whose music is being salvaged from obscurity.Toward the end of her life, the opera diva Pauline Viardot took stock of her vast social network. She wrote a three-page, multicolumn list of everyone she had ever met, worked with or loved.She ended up with over 300 names, a who’s-who of 19th-century icons: composers like Rossini, Liszt and Schumann; novelists like George Sand, Victor Hugo and Ivan Turgenev, her lover; Giuseppe Mazzini and Napoleon III.Viardot entertained many of them at the weekly salons she held at her home in Paris. Classical musicians have rarely connected so widely with important figures of the day; the closest American parallel might be Leonard Bernstein, who hobnobbed with presidents and Hollywood glitterati.But like Bernstein, Viardot — born exactly 200 years ago, on July 18, 1821 — was far more than a Zelig. One of the supreme singers of her time, she was also a prolific composer, whose music is slowly being salvaged from obscurity; a savvy entrepreneur; a gifted visual artist; and a highly respected voice teacher.Born Michelle-Pauline-Ferdinande-Laurence Garcia, in Paris, Viardot was an heir to a musical dynasty. Her father, Manuel Garcia, was an international opera star and the first Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”Born in Spain, Garcia never stayed in one place for long, moving his wife and three children — Viardot’s older sister, Maria Malibran, became another of the century’s reigning divas — to Italy, Paris and London. And then in 1825, when Viardot was 4, to the United States, where his family and troupe introduced Italian operas, sung in their original language, to the American public.Viardot’s musical talents emerged early. She took piano lessons with Liszt and developed a girlhood crush on him. As a young woman, she played duets with Chopin, a friend. But when she was 15, her mother dashed her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, declaring that Pauline would pursue the family trade: singing opera.She made her debut in 1839 in London as Desdemona in Rossini’s “Otello,” then hit her stride four years later when she brought the house down at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.”“Ravishing, velvetlike notes rang out, of the sort that no one, it seemed, had ever heard,” an audience member later recalled, adding, “Instantly an electric spark ran round the audience.”Viardot photographed in the title role of Gluck’s “Orfeo,” a part she took when Berlioz resurrected the opera in 1859.Sepia Times/Universal Images Group, via Getty ImagesWhen she was 18, she met and married the historian, art critic and theater director Louis Viardot, 21 years her senior. In a reversal of gender norms, he resigned from his post as director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris after their wedding to focus on Pauline, her career and, ultimately, their four children.With a voice of uncommon range and flexibility, Viardot became famous on Europe’s major stages in signature roles that included Zerlina and Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni,” Adina in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” and the title role in Bellini’s “Norma.”“Her technical skill alone is immense; in the completeness of her chromatic scale she is, probably, without a rival,” said an article published in Fraser’s Magazine, a London journal, in 1848.But, the writer went on, “the principal feature which characterizes her is the dramatic warmth of her impersonations. She throws herself heart and soul into a part.”Toward the end of her life, Viardot took stock of her vast social network, a list that included Bellini, Liszt and Victor Hugo.MS Mus 264 (367)/Houghton Library, Harvard UniversityComposers sought her out for important premieres: She was the first Fidès in Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” and Charles Gounod’s first Sapho. When Berlioz resurrected Gluck’s “Orfeo” for the Parisian stage in 1859, Viardot was the diva for whom he rewrote the title role. A decade later, Brahms chose her as the soloist for the premiere of his Alto Rhapsody.After retiring from the opera stage in 1863, Viardot continued singing in concerts and being what we’d call today a macher. She owned the original manuscript of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” which composers including Fauré and Tchaikovsky made pilgrimages to see. In 1869, she wrote an effusive letter to Richard Wagner congratulating him on a performance of “Die Meistersinger.” But his notorious anti-Semitic essay, “Judaism in Music,” published under his name the following month, soured the relationship, and Wagner and his wife, Cosima, began referring derisively to Viardot as a “Jewess.” (She was not Jewish.)Following her father, who was a gifted composer as well as a brilliant singer, Viardot put significant time and energy into composing. Her work is not nearly as widely known as that of Robert Schumann, Liszt, Saint-Saëns or others in her social circle. But her music was deeply appreciated by her contemporaries, with one person going so far as to compare her talent to Schubert’s. Clara Schumann referred to her as “the greatest woman of genius I have ever known.” A fierce advocate for her students, she died, just a month shy of her 89th birthday, in 1910.Today, her works are enjoying a resurgence among scholars and performers — part of a wave of interest in long-neglected composers like Amy Beach, Florence Price, Clara Schumann and others.Viardot wrote hundreds of pieces, the majority of them songs for solo voice and piano. Her first was “L’Enfant de la montagne,” published when she was just 19 in a collection organized by Meyerbeer, Paganini and Cherubini. Like so many of her songs, she was its major advocate, using it to show off her vocal skills in concerts in Leipzig, Germany, and other cities.Her songs have more recently become popular fare for prima donnas including Annick Massis, Cecilia Bartoli and Aude Extrémo. They range from playful and virtuosic (“Vente, niña, conmigo al mar”) to hauntingly beautiful (“L’Enfant et la Mère” and “Hai luli”). The publisher Breitkopf und Härtel has released a new critical edition of some of the songs on texts by Pushkin, Fet and Turgenev. (Viardot’s Russian was superb.) She also wrote works for piano and violin, the instrument of her son, Paul Viardot. Her other three children, also musicians, performed her compositions, too.True to her specialty, Viardot also wrote operas. These were mostly performed by her students and children in her home, with piano accompaniment, but at least one, “Le Dernier Sorcier,” was orchestrated and performed in 1869 in Weimar Germany.Shannon Jennings as Marie, the Cinderella character in Viardot’s opera “Cendrillon,” which is enjoying a rare revival at Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia.Angelina Namkung, via Wolf TrapWolf Trap Opera in Virginia has revived her “Cendrillon” just this weekend. Viardot wrote both the music and words for this chamber operetta about Cinderella, a fanciful interpretation of the fairy tale by Charles Perrault.“Her music is both challenging and wonderfully singable,” Kelly Kuo, the production’s conductor, said in an interview. “You just know that it was written by someone who really understood what she was doing.”Among the guests at the 1904 premiere of “Cendrillon” were the editor and musician Salvatore Marchesi and his wife Mathilde, an influential voice teacher. Finding Viardot’s music charming, they wrote of their certainty that it would have “a successful run through the world.” Although somewhat delayed, their prediction is perhaps beginning to come true.“Viardot,” Kuo said, “is a perfect example of an artist who should be much better known today.”Hilary Poriss is an associate professor of music at Northeastern University and the author of “Gioachino Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville,’” forthcoming from Oxford University Press. More

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    In ‘Bach & Sons,’ a Composer Stares Down Death

    The new play at the Bridge Theater in London and two other productions on the city’s stages examine characters facing the end.LONDON — Few actors could stare down mortality better than Simon Russell Beale in “Bach & Sons,” a problematic new play at the Bridge Theater that benefits from a piercing central performance. Telling of the often testy relationship between the composer Johann Sebastian Bach and two of his 20 children, both sons who were musicians as well, the writer Nina Raine has come up with a research-heavy play that could be described as “Amadeus” lite. Like that play, Peter Shaffer’s celebrated take on Mozart, “Bach & Sons” features extended discussions of the nature of mediocrity, and also leans toward the scatological. Amid an expletive-heavy script, one character makes a passing reference to “a turd in the tureen.”Nicholas Hytner’s production boasts an evocative design from Vicki Mortimer, with cascading keyboards hanging above the stage; as in “Amadeus,” the dialogue often cuts off to make way for excerpts from the composer’s output. Beale with Racheal Ofori as Anna Magdalena Wilcke in another scene from “Bach & Sons.” Manuel HarlanOver time, Bach Sr. loses his sight and cedes ground to his son Carl (a vivid Samuel Blenkin), whom the father derides as musically “efficient” — a decided slight from a visionary who likes his art messier and more inspiring. Yet all Carl wants is simply to be loved. (Another son, Wilhelm, is played by Douggie McMeekin as an artistic prodigy doomed to failure.)The family chat consists largely of extolling the power of music, when you can’t help but feel that, really, they would have gotten on with making it. A climactic discourse on dissonance reminded me of Georges Seurat’s quest for harmony in the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” to cite a more moving depiction of the creative process than “Bach & Sons,” with its boilerplate pronouncements about the value of art. Even so, Beale commands attention as the aging and worn Bach fades away. The composer’s canon, we’re told, can be characterized as a meditation on “the variety of grief,” and Beale communicates a man who has lived that grief himself: The actor cuts against the sentimentality of the writing to catch directly at the heart. “You can’t go on living and living and living,” says a character at the start of Nick Payne’s “Constellations” — and so it’s not altogether surprising when this 70-minute play turns toward confronting death in its second half.Payne’s one-act two-hander was first seen at the Royal Court in 2012 before transferring to the West End and then Broadway. The elegant staging from the director Michael Longhurst is now being revived at the Vaudeville Theater through Sept. 12, with the designer Tom Scutt’s buoyant cloudscape of balloons intact.Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker in Nick Payne‘s “Constellations,” directed by Michael Longhurst at the Vaudeville Theater.Marc BrennerThis time, there are four casts rotating across the run, and London theatergoers have so far had the opportunity to see two of them. (Among those still to come is a gay coupling that will feature the TV and stage name Russell Tovey.) The changing players reveal wildly contrasting takes on a tricky if accessible text in which events, large and small, are replayed with different outcomes, in accordance with Payne’s interest in the existence of a “multiverse.” That notion of alternate worlds coexisting alongside ours fuels a play that explores the infinite variability of life’s every moment, except the final one, which is always death.Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker, the oldest duo of the four, are also the more actorly of the two seen so far: You feel Wanamaker, especially, standing outside her character, Marianne, a Cambridge brainiac who holds forth on quantum mechanics and string theory. The parts don’t feel like a natural fit for either performer, though Capaldi, a onetime Doctor Who on TV, compensates with an abundance of charm. A much younger company brings together Sheila Atim (who won an Olivier for her role in “Girl From the North Country”) and Ivanno Jeremiah, who have a visceral connection onstage. Jeremiah is immediately likable as Roland, a beekeeper who meets Marianne at a barbecue and engages with her in a strange conversation about licking your elbow — to be honest, such exchanges work much better with the younger cast. Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah in “Constellations.”Marc BrennerAnd when Marianne confronts her possibly foreshortened life, the astonishing Atim communicates the gravitas of the situation even as Payne’s play makes clear that her fate can be rewritten with a happier ending in a parallel universe. These two are so good that, on a fourth viewing of the play, I felt as if I were seeing “Constellations” afresh: Atim and Jeremiah replay familiar material so it seems new — a virtue in a play that makes so much of repetition.If “Constellations” is late in raising the specter that its leading woman will die too soon, we know from the start that this is what will happen to the heroine of “Last Easter,” the 2004 play by Bryony Lavery at the intimate Orange Tree Theater through Aug. 7. (The show will be livestreamed on the theater’s website on July 22 and 23.) The director Tinuke Craig’s nimble production finds surprising levels of comedy in this story of June (the excellent Naana Agyei-Ampadu), a lighting designer with terminal cancer who goes on a pilgrimage with three friends to Lourdes, France, because — well, why not? Maybe a miracle will happen.June, it seems, is especially fond of the painter Caravaggio, and the first act veers away from anything maudlin toward lessons in art history one minute, a jaunty snatch or two from the song “Easter Parade” the next. The tone is unexpectedly breezy, and the camaraderie between June and her pals, also theater practitioners, is nicely done. These friendships keep June’s spirits buoyant, even as her body starts to let her down.From left, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Jodie Jacobs and Peter Caulfield in Bryony Lavery’s “Last Easter,” directed by Tinuke Craig at the Orange Tree Theater.Helen MurrayYet after the intermission, as June’s condition worsens, the writing turns more self-conscious. June’s devoted buddy Gash (Peter Caulfield) twice calls out “cliché alert,” and several events are described as “undramatic,” an unusual choice of adjective for a dramatist. (The quartet also includes the character of a heavy-drinking actress who soon wears out her welcome, both as written and performed.)The imminence of death seems to defy this gifted writer, who goes for the sort of deathbed scene that has been seen onstage and in movies many times over. Whatever the reason for “Last Easter’s” prosaic closing scenes, they share with “Constellations” a sense that mortality comes best in good company.Bach & Sons. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Bridge Theater, through Sept. 11.Constellations. Directed by Michael Longhurst. Vaudeville Theater, through Sept. 12.Last Easter. Directed by Tinuke Craig. Orange Tree Theater, through Aug. 7. More

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    Outspoken Music Scholar to Lead Spoleto Festival

    Mena Mark Hanna, who has studied colonialism in classical music, will be the first person of color to lead the renowned arts group in Charleston, S.C.A scholar who has spoken forcefully about the legacy of colonialism in classical music will serve as the next general director of Spoleto Festival USA, the renowned arts group in Charleston, S.C., announced on Tuesday.Mena Mark Hanna, 37, the son of Egyptian immigrants, will be the first person of color to lead the festival, which was founded in 1977.The appointment of Hanna comes as the festival tries to recover financially from the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of its 2020 season and led to a 70 percent decline in ticket sales this year. The festival’s leaders are also grappling with questions about increasing diversity in staff and programming amid a broader reckoning over racial justice in the United States.Hanna, who will take office in October, said he would make it a priority to use culture to confront the legacy of slavery in the United States and build an inclusive environment.“Art has a very unique role to play in this conversation by really harnessing its transformative power to bridge differences,” Hanna said in an interview. “More needs to be done in terms of making sure that we have diverse perspectives at every single point of the life cycle of a work of art.”Hanna will replace Nigel Redden, the longtime leader of the festival, who last fall announced plans to retire after 35 years, citing the pandemic and the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement, among other factors. Redden, who is white, said at the time that the movement had made him realize the importance of stepping aside to make way for a new generation of leaders.Hanna is a protégé of Daniel Barenboim, the celebrated conductor who founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with the Palestinian American intellectual Edward Said. Hanna is a professor of musicology and composition at Barenboim-Said Akademie, a music conservatory in Berlin named for both men. He previously served as assistant artistic director at Houston Grand Opera.Members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra performing at the Barenboim-Said Akademie in November 2019.Peter AdamikAs a scholar, Hanna investigated difficult questions about cultural imperialism in art. He has called classical music a “thoroughly colonized medium” rooted in 19th-century norms, and he has criticized the persistence of orientalism in operas such as “Aida.”At Spoleto, Hanna will inherit one of the country’s most prominent music festivals, with an endowment of about $20 million and an annual budget of about $8 million. In June, the festival finished its 45th season, staging some 77 opera, theater, dance and music performances over 17 days.The festival is known for bringing artists together across disciplines and commissioning and staging innovative works, such as “Omar,” an opera by Rhiannon Giddens that is based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim man from West Africa who was enslaved and transported to Charleston in 1807. It will premiere at the festival next year.Hanna said he was eager to explore ways that art might be able to help bring attention to social challenges.“We have a unique opportunity to define how our history can inform our present and how we can be stronger for it,” he said. “We can use art to give us a glimpse of a future that can only be imagined right now.” More

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    Even the Tuning Up Gets an Ovation as Tanglewood Reopens

    The mood was festive as the Boston Symphony returned to its summer home for its first in-person performances since March 2020.LENOX, Mass. — If you were brave enough, there was a time last summer when you could still turn into the drive of Tanglewood, the idyllic summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra here. There were the usual local teenagers to direct you to your parking space, one pointing the way every few yards; the usual state troopers, patrol cars idling, there to tip a hat; the usual flowers, lining the path through the pristine white gates.But the familiarity stopped there. Walking through the grounds, kept open and manicured even in the absence of performances, the loneliness was overwhelming. No volunteers, overeager to help. No ice creams. No parents fretting, wondering how far from the stage to set up, safe to settle their infant when the time came. Nothing to see, the Koussevitzky Music Shed boarded up, disconsolate; no music to hear, only the birds.Well, music is coming home.The Boston Symphony opened its shortened, little-short-of-miraculous summer season here with a concert on Saturday night, the orchestra’s first in-person performance since the dark, fearful nights of March 2020, and its first with its music director, Andris Nelsons, since the January prior.Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony in a Beethoven program on Saturday night.Jillian Freyer for The New York TimesThe program was made to please, and please it did, but the atmosphere would have been festive regardless. There were standing ovations for the orchestra, standing ovations for the conductor, standing ovations for Mark Volpe, the orchestra’s just-retired president and chief executive. The players, not normally given to outward expressions of emotion, stomped their feet when their leader, Tamara Smirnova, found the right key on the piano to invite them to tune.The authorities had set attendance at half the norm, but the rolling grounds hummed with chatter, lawn chairs crammed close; the front rows of the Shed felt full, three-foot distancing or not. There would be no intermission, though the concert still lasted nearly two hours; there would be no “Ode to Joy,” with singing still banned. I saw a single mask, amid thousands of faces.By Sunday afternoon, when a second concert took place, it all felt oddly normal: students wandering in and out of the Shed, hearing a piece then leaving to practice, or not; spectators darting for cover as the rain came down, giving up on their defenses against the bugs; the whole place glowing, despite the gloom, with the bright green tarps that were on offer at the door, some protecting bottoms from the mud, others shielding picnics from the rain. Priorities.“Reconnect, Restore, Rejoice,” the front of the program book declared. Nelsons, in his halting, earnest way, spoke from the stage of how the pandemic — seemingly thought of in the past tense, even as the world counts over four million lives lost — reminded us of “how much we need art, how much we need culture,” and of music being “comfort for our souls.”The whole place glowed and felt like normal, our critic says, with people worried about typical things, like rain and bugs.Jillian Freyer for The New York TimesThere would be no revolutions here, and no memorials either, just a restoration of the ancien régime: an orchestra playing what it has long played, and playing it pretty well. Beethoven it would have to be, and the Fifth Symphony, too — the Beethoven of triumph over disaster, of the human spirit, indomitable.Near enough, at least. Surely it will take time for players, even of this quality, to form a collective again, to fill out their sound, to find the attack and the togetherness that mark the best ensembles. An improvement from Saturday night was already audible on Sunday, in a peppy run-through of Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony.Before that, there were slack moments in the Beethoven, bars when balances were set aside in pursuit of sheer exuberance, passages that were allowed to drift by a conductor who has seemed to grow more standoffish as an interpreter since his arrival in Boston in 2014.But the effect was still potent, surprisingly not so much for the impact of the whole, but for glimmers of the players set free: the clarinet of William R. Hudgins, so mellow, such a balm; the flute of Elizabeth Rowe, so unusual in its woodiness; the trumpet of Thomas Rolfs, so rousing at full stretch.Nelsons conducts Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto with Emanuel Ax at the piano.Jillian Freyer for The New York TimesThe same fine subtleties appealed in the work of the soloists on offer, too, neither of them ostentatious. Emanuel Ax is nobody’s idea of a spotlight-hugging pianist, preferring to share it or give it away wholesale, but what a delight it was to hear such discretion in his “Emperor” Concerto — such care taken over the voicing of a chord, such sensitivity in the way his right hand shaped phrases in response to the orchestra. Baiba Skride took much the same approach to the Sibelius Violin Concerto, an affecting account of deep, even forlorn introspection, much of it played inward, toward the violas on her left.Comfort for the soul, indeed.The question remains, however, whether this orchestra will decide to attempt more, even as salaries recover from 37 percent cuts and losses of more than $50 million in revenue cast a shadow over the budget. It has brought in a new president and chief executive, Gail Samuel, from the ambitious Los Angeles Philharmonic; an encouraging amount of its streaming energy over the past year was spent exploring music that it has for too long ignored; and the Symphony Hall season will offer new works by Julia Adolphe, Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin.But that season looks dreary compared with those being offered by similarly tradition-bound orchestras elsewhere. It speaks volumes that scant time was dedicated here to anything contemporary, even if Carlos Simon’s “Fate Now Conquers” made its mark, throbbing with frantic energy while seeming to run on the spot, with its brief response to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.The Boston Symphony returns, then — and continues merely to abide. More

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    A Festival Has a Monumental Premiere (and Some Other Operas, Too)

    At the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France, it was hard for even beloved classics to live up to the elegant intensity of Kaija Saariaho’s “Innocence.”AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — I mean it as high praise when I say that at this summer’s edition of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, none of the operas come close to Kaija Saariaho’s “Innocence,” which premiered here on July 3.Ushering new work into the world is perhaps an operatic institution’s most difficult task. This is an art form so stubbornly lodged in the past that it always feels like a miracle when a “création,” as the French call it, succeeds.And “Innocence,” which explores the aftermath of a deadly school shooting, does more than succeed. With riveting clarity and enigmatic shadows, and through a range of languages in different registers of speaking and singing, it captures both the promise and darkness of cosmopolitanism itself.It is a victory for Saariaho and her collaborators, and for the Aix Festival and Pierre Audi, its director since 2018. He managed to hold rehearsals with just a piano last summer, when all festival performances were canceled because of the pandemic, and to shift the premiere seamlessly to this year.“I have a long career in commissioning,” Audi told The Times recently. “And this is one of the five greatest pieces that I’ve ever been involved with.”It is hard for even the most beloved works in the repertory, some of which are on offer at Aix through July 25, to measure up to that. It felt symbolic that a moment that was devastating in “Innocence” — a character crushing a handful of cake onto another — returned as a silly, passing bit of slapstick the following evening in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”The carnivalesque staging of Mozart’s “Le Nozzi di Figaro.”Jean-Louis FernandezLotte de Beer’s “Figaro” production is an intentional, endearing mess — an eclectic, attention-deficit explosion practically vibrating through different aesthetics, as though on a candy high. The overture is staged as traditional, raucous commedia dell’arte; the first act is a raunchy multi-cam sitcom, on a set that gradually (and literally) collapses into a demented carnival amid the confusions of the Act II finale, complete with human-height penises strolling around.After intermission, though, the curtain rises on almost nothing — a bed inside a cube defined by white neon bars — and the acting is equally restrained and gloomy. Then the fourth and final act enacts a kind of utopian, queer-feminist knitting collective led by a minor character, Marcellina, the cast draped in garments of Day-Glo yarn. Out of the bed, which has come to be the site of male authority and adultery, an enormous, inflatable fairy-tale tree slowly grows.Thomas Hengelbrock led the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble in a crisp but sensuously phrased reading of the score. Lea Desandre was a bright, alert Cherubino; Jacquelyn Wagner, a Countess cooler than the norm.In the title role of Barrie Kosky’s staging of Verdi’s “Falstaff,” Christopher Purves was also different than the norm, at least at the start. In the first scene, Purves’s Falstaff is shown not as the usual gorging grotesque in a fat suit, but as a careful master chef, sensitively relishing his creations — and with, at best, a dad bod.Christopher Purves’s incarnation of Falstaff is not the usual gorging grotesque in a fat suit. As a careful master chef, he relishes his creations.Monika RittershausWhile Falstaff is often likable, Kosky’s implicit promise is that we’ll admire him, too. This never quite happens, as the production settles into a more well-worn groove, abounding in this director’s trademark vaudevillian touches: men pulling off wigs and dancing in skirts, the works. The title character’s seductions are barely more sophisticated than in a thousand “Falstaff” productions; the merry wives of Windsor’s revenge, little crueler.The conductor, Daniele Rustioni, led the orchestra of the Lyon Opera with a pacing that was genial but less than diamond-precise. The voices, including that of the game, hard-working Purves, were a touch too small for the roles. The test of a “Falstaff” is the effect of the great final ensemble fugue; here the sequence was pleasant rather than cathartic.There was musical catharsis to spare in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” with a supreme cast and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted with lithe flexibility by Simon Rattle. But Simon Stone’s staging — an almost comically realistic evocation of contemporary Paris, from a high-rise apartment to a Métro car — is perplexing, as it purports to explain the brunt of the plot as a woman’s fantasies after learning her husband is cheating.From left, Dominic Sedgwick, Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” directed by Stone, who moved the opera to modern-day Paris. Jean-Louis FernandezPerhaps intentionally, but still frustratingly, the production’s line between reality and fantasy keeps getting blurrier, until it’s hard to know who’s really betraying whom, who’s getting stabbed and who survives. But if Nina Stemme’s voice has lost a touch of sumptuousness, she’s never been better as Isolde — singing fearlessly, and ardently invested in the production. Stuart Skelton sings rather than barks Tristan, a tenor’s Everest, and Franz-Josef Selig is a commandingly melancholy Marke.Aix has long been notable for placing smaller pieces, including new ones, amid canonical titans and grand-scale premieres like “Innocence.” In an enormous former ironworks at Luma — the new art complex in Arles, about 50 miles from Aix — “The Arab Apocalypse” was created as part of the festival’s heartening commitment to connecting southern France and the greater Mediterranean world.But based on Etel Adnan’s direly expressionistic poems about the Lebanese civil war, with music by Samir Odeh-Tamimi and a sketched staging-in-the-round by Audi, “Apocalypse” was dreary — the score alternating between shivering and pummeling, the action busy but bland.“Combattimento: The Black Swan Theory” was a grab-bag of early Baroque Italian music, with rich helpings of Monteverdi, Cavalli, Luigi Rossi and more. Silvia Costa tried to corral this gorgeous material into a kind of stylized pageant, a loose trajectory of war, mourning, society-building, more war, more building.From left, Julie Roset, Valerio Contaldo and Etienne Bazola in “Combattimento: The Black Swan Theory.”Monika RittershausHer images were more mystifying than evocative. But the performance, led by Sébastien Daucé, was musically exquisite, with eight superb young singers ideally blending purity and passion, and 13 members of Ensemble Correspondances filling the jewel-box Théâtre du Jeu de Paume with the visceral force of a symphony orchestra.Audi’s ambitions are to expand Aix, implicitly taking on the Salzburg Festival in Austria, which opens at the end of July, and is classical music’s most storied summer event. (While Salzburg is redoubtable, the mood, clothing and ticket prices in Aix are significantly more relaxed.)The program of concerts — which, in Aix, has long been an afterthought to opera, but is a Salzburg powerhouse — will grow, as will the scope of the festival’s productions. With “Tosca,” Aix’s first Puccini, in 2019, it declared that it could cover the red-meat Italian hits. In addition to Luma, Audi has his sights on other unconventional spaces in the region.Commissions are also central to his agenda; “Innocence” is resounding proof. Seeing it a second time, on Saturday, confirmed the initial impression of its intensity and restraint, its emotional pull and intellectual power.The production — like “Tristan,” directed by Stone — keenly depicts both the shocking reality of the central tragedy and its surreal reverberations, which carry years into the future. I question only one directorial intervention: The shooter, a student at the school, is eventually shown onstage, played by a silent actor, even though he is not in the libretto.This dilutes the mystery of the piece, in which all the characters revolve around, and run from, a figure who is absent, a kind of god against whom everyone’s innocence (and culpability) is measured. When he appears in the flesh, the opera’s impact wavers.But only slightly. This is a quibble with a staging that, in general precisely, aligns with an elegant yet savage work. While recalling the starkness of Greek tragedy, “Innocence” is also among the first operatic barometers of our globalized age’s travails. More