More stories

  • in

    Nadia Boulanger, Music’s Greatest Teacher, Wrote an Opera

    Nadia Boulanger’s “La Ville Morte” was repeatedly thwarted by death and World War I, then nearly lost. Finally, it is having its American premiere.In March 1912, the famous violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe visited the home of his fellow musician Raoul Pugno in Paris. At the piano, Pugno played and sang through “La Ville Morte,” an opera he was writing with Nadia Boulanger, a mentee-turned-collaborator 35 years his junior.“Of this very private performance,” Ysaÿe wrote to Boulanger later that month, “I keep the most profound and happiest impression.” The opera, he told her, was “so beautiful, so sound, so poignant.”“La Ville Morte” was the most ambitious project of Boulanger’s young composing career. And once it took shape, with a piano-vocal score completed that summer, she wrote under the final measures, “Alleluia!!!!”But one thing after another kept “La Ville Morte” from reaching the stage. In 1914, Pugno, an essential partner in selling it to the public, died. World War I broke out, delaying the planned premiere, not for the last time. Several years later, Boulanger’s dear sister, the composer Lili Boulanger, died, too, and Nadia virtually stopped writing or promoting her own music.Robin Guarino, center, the director of “La Ville Morte” for Catapult Opera, rehearses with the singers. Guarino said she was amazed by the score and the “feminism sizzling under the surface.”Ava Pellor for The New York TimesBoulanger would instead go on to become one of the greatest music teachers in history — a formative figure for titans of the 20th century, like Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter, and other legends, including Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach and Philip Glass.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    Anthony Davis Puts His Operatic Spin on Edith Wharton

    Anthony Davis has written operas based on recent history. But now he is adapting, and dramatically changing, Wharton’s 1912 novel “The Reef.”The composer and pianist Anthony Davis is known for drawing inspiration from real-world figures in his operas.“X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” — recently mounted by the Metropolitan Opera — and “The Central Park Five,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020, are both grave, ripped-from-the-headlines stories about well-known people.But Davis has also written rollicking adaptations of literary material. Less frequently produced but no less interesting are chamber operas like “Lilith” — a saucy and inventive take on the story of Adam’s first wife that features a divorce court in the Garden of Eden. Similarly, “Lear on the 2nd Floor” is a riff on Shakespeare that brings “King Lear” into contemporary discussions about medicine and Alzheimer’s disease.“The Reef,” Davis’s latest music drama to arrive onstage and his follow-up to “The Central Park Five,” seems more fitting in that literary cohort. That is, once it’s finished. Still in progress, the piece dipped its toes into the world by way of a recent workshop performance at Merkin Hall, presented by the Berkshire Opera Festival.Adapted from Edith Wharton’s 1912 novel of the same name, “The Reef,” with a libretto by Joan Ross Sorkin, has been in development, in fits and starts, since 2014. (Since then, Davis premiered “The Central Park Five” and revised the score of “X,” ahead of its traveling revival.)At the Merkin performance, the work departed significantly from Wharton’s text. For one thing, it’s set in Martinique rather than in Paris or the French countryside. The novel’s love-triangle treatment of romance, late Victorian propriety and social class has also been altered by a change of one character’s racial identity: The demimonde-adjacent Sophy is, in Davis and Sorkin’s version, the nursemaid Sonya, a biracial member of the sugar-cane estate’s domestic staff. A quartet of other Black workers on the estate, named the Invisibles, has also been added to the mix. The opera’s creators are toying with the idea of setting their story in 1928 to make more of the Jazz Age’s emergence.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    La Scala Opera Taps Fortunato Ortombina to Succeed Dominique Meyer

    Fortunato Ortombina, the general director of Teatro La Fenice, Venice’s opera house, will succeed Dominique Meyer, a respected French impresario.The Teatro alla Scala in Milan, one of the world’s most prestigious and storied opera houses, announced Tuesday that its next leader would be Fortunato Ortombina, who is currently general director of Venice’s opera house, Teatro La Fenice.Ortombina will succeed Dominique Meyer, a respected French impresario who has run La Scala since 2020 and who previously led the Vienna State Opera. The appointment of Ortombina comes as Italy’s current national government has made it clear that it favors homegrown talent over foreigners at major cultural posts.“A decision has finally been reached,” Mayor Giuseppe Sala of Milan, who is the chairman of the foundation that runs the opera house, said Tuesday after a board meeting. The appointment of Ortombina ended months of speculation and whispers in the opera world.Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, enthusiastically welcomed the appointment on Tuesday. “After three foreign general directors, Stéphane Lissner, Alexander Pereira and Dominique Meyer, an Italian returns to La Scala,” he said in a statement, which noted that the practice of Italian opera singing had recently been added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.Ortombina’s appointment was unanimous, Sala said Tuesday. It was widely expected, and followed months of rejected candidates, crossed vetoes pitting board members against lawmakers at the local and national levels, and even a new law instituting age limits for theater leaders that critics said was intended to oust the foreigners who hold such posts.The haggling had risked putting politics and vested interests ahead of the theater’s artistic legacy, said Alberto Mattioli, an opera critic who recently published a book about Italy’s opera houses and their history. “It’s all been a power game” over appointments, while omitting discussion of cultural policy or a vision for the theater and its “core business, opera,” he said.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    A Pathbreaking Singer Arrives at the Met, With Pearls and Tattoos

    Dav­óne Tines, who stars in the oratorio “El Niño,” is challenging traditions in classical music and using art to confront social problems.The bass-baritone Dav­óne Tines, wearing Dr. Martens boots, a sleeveless black shirt and six vintage pearl rings, stood on a rehearsal stage at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan the other day and began to sing.“My soul’s above the sea and whistling a dream,” he sang, a passage from the Nativity oratorio “El Niño” by John Adams, in which Tines makes his Met debut this month. “Tell the shepherds the wind is saddling its horse.”Tines, 37, known for his raw intensity and thundering voice, has quickly become one of classical music’s brightest stars. He has won acclaim for performances of Bach, Handel and Stravinsky, and he has helped champion new music, originating roles in operas like Adams’s “Girls of the Golden West” and Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”Tines has also used his art to confront social problems, including racism and police brutality. In 2018, he was a creator of and starred in “The Black Clown,” a searing rumination on Black history and identity inspired by a Langston Hughes poem. In 2020, he released a music video after the police killing of Breonna Taylor, calling for empathy and action.During a rehearsal break at the Met, he described his art as cathartic, saying his aim was to “pick apart the complicated, contentious existence that is knit into the American landscape.”“It’s a blessing to be a performing artist because you get an explicit place to put your feelings,” he said. “It’s the blessing of having a channel.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    A ‘Missionary for Opera’ Steps Down in Chicago

    Anthony Freud is leaving Lyric Opera of Chicago on good terms, though the company faces challenges in a strained environment for the performing arts.In 1975, Anthony Freud went to a performance that changed his life.Still in his teens, he waited in line for hours to see a concert version of Benjamin Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes” at the BBC Proms in London. For the Proms, seats are removed from the Royal Albert Hall to create a vast standing room, and Freud found himself pressed against the stage, just a few feet from the tenor Jon Vickers, who sang a crushingly intense Grimes.“This is what I want to spend my life doing,” he realized, recalling the show with relish in a recent interview. “I want to be a missionary for opera.”Last Sunday, Freud, now 66, was once again as close as he could be to the opera stage. At a matinee of Verdi’s “Aida,” the final full performance of his 13-year tenure as the general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Freud was front row, left aisle.Freud in the dressing room of William Clay Thompson, right, before the season finale of “Aida.”Evan Jenkins for The New York TimesHe usually sat there — in the theater’s traditional seat for the general director — only on opening nights. But “it seemed right to be in that seat today,” he said during intermission, as he made his way upstairs to greet donors.After 30 years leading opera companies — Welsh National Opera and Houston Grand Opera before coming to Chicago — Freud is retiring as one of the field’s most experienced hands. Gentle and genial, with a deep knowledge of operas and voices, he has tried to balance his venturesome spirit with the sensibilities of audiences — to challenge without alienating the people he needed for support.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ Review: A Met Milestone Returns

    After making history as the Metropolitan Opera’s first work by a Black composer, Terence Blanchard’s “Fire” is back — with its showstopping step dance.The Metropolitan Opera premiere of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” on Sept. 27, 2021, was a momentous event. Doubly so: “Fire” was the company’s first staged opera after an 18-month pandemic closure, and it was, after 138 years, its first work by a Black composer.The opera, with a score by Terence Blanchard and a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, took on some of the grandeur and excitement of that moment. The raucous fraternity step dance that opens the third act brought down the house.That step dance still stopped the show on Monday evening, when “Fire” returned to the Met. Two and a half years later, the work is a test case. The company has sharply increased its diet of contemporary operas — some of which, including “Fire,” sold very well as new productions. But how will these operas perform when they’re brought back, without the same promotional push?On Monday, at least, the audience seemed robust and, as it was during the initial run, notably diverse. And “Fire” remains a heartfelt piece, emanating a touching if vague sadness. But without the exhilarating sense of occasion it had at its Met premiere, the opera’s shortcomings were clearer.Based on the New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s memoir of his turbulent upbringing in Louisiana, “Fire” is a progression of episodes — some upbeat, some forlorn. It takes the form of a search: The lonely Charles, his psyche wounded as a child by his cousin’s sexual abuse and his mother’s real but distracted love, looks for belonging and healing.He tries church, fraternity membership, his siblings, a woman, another woman, but none offer what he’s seeking; all want him to be different than he is. Only after a hasty, therapy-speak conclusion in the final minutes, presided over by an ethereal choir and the voice of his younger self, can he finally accept himself and sing, “Now my life begins.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    Margaret Tynes, Soprano Who Soared in Verdi and Strauss, Dies at 104

    Because there were few opportunities for Black singers in the U.S., she became a powerhouse in Europe, performing in operas like “Tosca” and “Carmen.”Margaret Tynes, an American soprano who was acclaimed in Europe but neglected in the United States at a time when Black singers were newly breaking into the operatic world, died on March 7 in Silver Spring, Md. She was 104.The death was confirmed by her nephew Richard Roberts, who said Ms. Tynes died in a nursing home.In the 1960s and ’70s Ms. Tynes, with her incendiary, full-throated voice, in roles like Aida and Salomé, sang at opera houses in Vienna, Prague and Budapest, earning high praise on the continent — “an exceptional voice, intense in every coloring, vibrant and dramatic,” Milan’s Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote — even while U.S. critics were cooler. The Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich wrote of her performance in Benjamin Britten’s “The War Requiem” that “What Britten expects of a woman’s voice can only be achieved by a singer of Margaret Tynes’s caliber.”But she did not make her Metropolitan Opera debut until 1974, when she was 55, in a run of three performances as the title role in Janacek’s “Jenufa” that began and ended her career there.Ms. Tynes, right, in 1957 with Joya Sherrill and Duke Ellington when they recorded “A Drum Is a Woman,” for which Ms. Tynes gained a measure of American fame.Everette CollectionMs. Tynes grew up in the segregated South and gained a measure of American fame in the 1950s, recording “A Drum Is a Woman” with Duke Ellington, singing heartfelt renditions of “Negro Spirituals” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and appearing with Harry Belafonte in the musical “Sing, Man, Sing.” She also sang at the funeral of the musician W.C. Handy and toured the U.S.S.R. with Mr. Sullivan’s show in 1958.Her breakthrough in opera, the genre that defined her career, came in Europe in 1961, when she sang Salomé in Luchino Visconti’s production at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Time magazine described her as “moving about the stage with catlike grace, her rich, ringing voice zooming with ease through the high, precarious lines,” and as a “girl with veins of fire.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

  • in

    As Heartbeat Opera Reaches a Milestone, So Does Its Musical Leader

    Dan Schlosberg, who for 10 years has adapted opera classics for the company, has written its first world premiere.For the last decade, Heartbeat Opera has treated the classics like rough drafts: The scores of “Carmen” and “Madama Butterfly,” “Fidelio” and “Der Freischütz” have been starting points for something fresh, urgent and immediate.In New York, a city with fewer and fewer spaces for opera, Heartbeat sits harmoniously between the Prototype Festival, which stages new music theater at a chamber scale, and the grand tradition of the Metropolitan Opera. Heartbeat draws from the canon but reimagines it with an avant-garde spirit and an eye toward the issues of our time: gun violence, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement.Performed on intimate stages, the resulting productions smartly elicit strong reactions, whatever those may be. I haven’t liked all of Heartbeat’s shows, but I’ve never walked away with a shrug, and I’ve never regretted going.Now, in its 10th year, the company is adding something truly new to the mix: a world premiere, “The Extinctionist,” which opened on Wednesday at the Baruch Performing Arts Center as part of Heartbeat’s 2024 repertory season, alongside Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”It’s fitting that “The Extinctionist,” an opera with good bones but a flawed presentation, is composed by Dan Schlosberg. He has been the musical soul of Heartbeat since its founding, adapting works by Puccini, Donizetti and more with a vision as creative as each production’s director.Schlosberg rehearsing with the company. He leads “The Extinctionist” from the piano.George Etheredge for The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More