Archive for the ‘An American in Paris’ Category

Opera and Cigarettes

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

By: Frank Cadenhead. It was not just “politically incorrect.” The Belgian government has accused the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège of possibly violating a law by receiving financial support from a tobacco company. Support by Japan Tobacco International, whose brands include Winston and Camel, has not been hidden and the company’s logo appears is on the home page of the opera’s website, alongside those of other sponsors.

In an article in the Belgian newspaper, Le Soir, Maggie De Block, the Federal Minister of Public Health, declared that the government will “take the necessary measures” to investigate the infraction. The newspaper quotes the 1977 law for the protection of consumer health as prohibiting “advertising and sponsorship by tobacco” in Belgium.

Japan Tobacco International, however, asserted that this sponsorship was legal. The company maintains that this support is separate from any commercial purpose or activity. “Our collaboration has never made any reference or publicity for tobacco products,” they maintain.

This potential violation of the law will be investigated by the inspection services of the ministry.

Waiting… Waiting… Waiting…

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

By Frank Cadenhead: The article in today’s Le Figaro could not conceal the anger and frustration. The title “Will the Opéra de Paris Have a Program in 2021?” points to the failure of the opera administration, the Ministry of Culture and the French President Macron himself to finally name a successor to Stephane Lissner for the 2021-22 season. Why this process was not planned a year or two earlier suggests a failure of the current board and management and the weeks that are floating by waiting for the President of the Republic to name a name is only a small number compared with the total time wasted.

The short list, published April 19, is composed of Dominique Meyer, now heading the Vienna State Opera, Olivier Mantei, the director of the Opéra-Comique, Peter de Caluwe, currently in charge at La Monnaie in Brussels and Alexander Neef, heading Toronto’s opera. Macron did not delegate his responsibility in naming the opera head to the Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, so, as weeks pass, the silence continues. While Macron is dealing with a declining Yellow Vest protest and the fire at Notre Dame, other things do not get his attention.

Since opera companies plan several years in advance, this failure to plan will deal a serious blow to the incoming steward. The article notes that the Met and Madrid’s Teatro Real are now planning for 2023-24 and London, Vienna and Munich already have the productions and co-productions for 2022-23. For singers, the article notes, we are not just talking about firming up dates for Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko. Michel Franck, director of the Théàtre des Champs-Élysées is quoted in the article as saying “I contacted Stéphane Degout and Stanislas de Barbeyrac for a production in 2022 and I am not sure to have either.” The article notes that major opera directors, like Tchernaikov or Warlikowski, who only work in opera, are booked until 2023. They can only do three or four productions a year and ask for six to eight weeks of rehearsals.

One of the names which could have been on the list of candidates is Serge Dorny, heading the Opéra de Lyon. Over the years he took a regional opera company to the top ranks in Europe. The magazine Opernwelt named Lyon the Opera House of the Year in 2017, only the second time that an opera house outside Germany received that accolade. Dorny, however, was snatched up by the Bavarian State Opera for the 2021-22 season and beyond and has been at work in Munich for over a year planning future seasons.

The new director would certainly have to plan creatively and, the article suggests, the Paris Opéra will need to be “reinvented.” The new director will also need to name a successor to the highly regarded music director Philippe Jordan, among many other tasks made much harder by the delay.

Random Musings On the Paris Music Scene

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

By Frank Cadenhead: The short list of candidates to be the incoming GM of the Opera National de Paris has been known for a few weeks now and we expect an announcement any day. President Macron, however, has been occupied with other matters, not the least of which is the Notre Dame catastrophe of yesterday afternoon. I was at the Apple Store a few meters from the Palais Garnier opera house. It was late afternoon when I exited and I saw yellowish smoke in the sky and, walking to the Metro, saw emergency vehicles and police cars passing, sirens blaring and threading their way between rush-hour traffic. It was only when I got home that the news hit.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is, of course, one of the iconic symbols of France and its rich heritage. We learn this morning that the exterior structure is secure but the interior has sustained damage in the range of 70%. News, just minutes old, declares that the main organ, built by Francois Thierry in the 1730s, has survived the conflagration.

Because of the French Catholic tendency to have their cathedrals reach for the sky, the vast interior spaces do not offer a comfortable acoustic setting. While concerts are a frequent feature in the Notre Dame schedule, they are very seldom important or feature major musical groups. Notes frequently tend to wander around the vast spaces and return to the stage at inappropriate times. Music in the less ambitious Protestant German churches, for example, do not have acoustical problems to that extent. The temporary absence of the cathedral from the Paris music scene will not have an important impact on the local music scene.

What will have an Impact is more delay in naming a successor to Stephane Lissner at the Paris Opera. Lissner’ mandate ends in July 2021 and the Élysée Palace announcement has been expected for a few weeks now. It is generally known that opera houses plan at least three years in advance. The Opéra is always competing with the other top companies for star singers and directors so Paris is already hurt. Serge Dorny, who leaves the transformed Opéra National de Lyon to head the Munich State Opera at the same time, was named in March of last year and certainly has his own Munich staff busy planing rep and schedules for 2021-2022 and beyond.

Names still on the list are Peter de Caluwe (La Monnaie de Bruxelles), Christophe Ghristi (Capitole de Toulouse), Alexander Neef (Opéra de Toronto), Joan Matabosch (Teatro Real in Madrid), Jean-Marie Blanchard (ex-director of the Grand théâtre de Genève), Olivier Mantei (Opéra Comique), Jean-Louis Grinda (Opéra de Monte-Carlo), Dominique Meyer (Vienna State Opera), Laurent Joyeux (Opéra de Dijon) et Marc Minkowski (Opéra de Bordeaux).

The Orchestre de Paris season is filled with talented conductors, some being looked at to replace Daniel Harding when his three year term ends with this season. Women are a feature of the next season and some have noted particularly that American conductor Karina Canellakis is conducting the opening concert September 4th and 5th and one other in the season. She shares the season with Susanna Malkki, Martin Alsop, Simon Young and young Corinne Niemeyer. Male guests include Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Francois-Xavier Roth, Christoph von Dohnányi, Herbert Blomstedt and Valery Gergiev.

More on La Scala’s Saudi Ties.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

By Frank Cadenhead. In an interview in the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, the La Scala Opera GM is holding firm on his idea to accept a controversial gift of 15 million euros over five years from the Saudi government. This agreement would also give the Saudi Minister of Culture, Price Bader ben Abdallah, a seat on the board of directors of the legendary opera company.

Alexander Pereira was firm in his support of this proposal despite a storm of opposition from Italian politicians across the political spectrum. He clearly described La Scala’s unique financial position among the worlds leading opera companies in his interview: “We must not stoke these short-term controversies. The situation is very simple: La Scala costs about 125 million euros each year, just like the other great European theaters—the Vienna State Opera or the opera house in Monaco. The only difference is those state governments cover about 75-80% of their budget, while in Milan it’s less than a third. Every year La Scala must therefore find at least 45 million euros from individual sponsors. I find them.”

Pereira went on to describe a further future connection between the two countries: “They’re looking to open a music and dance conservatory in Riyadh, run by La Scala’s academy. This would bring in another 7 million euros for the the academy, paid out in three years.” He was asked “But isn’t it true that Saudi Arabia does not respect fundamental human rights”? “We know it’s true,” he replied, “but until we begin to actually do something to change the situation, the situation will never change. That 400 children of both sexes will receive a musical education seems to me a good thing.”

The announcement came some months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Pereira explained, when the program was first announced, that he has followed the dreaded case of Khashoggi: “I know very well what a despotic regime the Saudi regime is, but beyond the cold accounting (…), I am convinced of the positive force of the music and the moral obligation of the directors to promote their knowledge.”

All of this high-profile political noise is at a time of the impending expiration of Pereira’s term as general manager in 2020. His management success, particularly in raising private funds, has been vital to the company but there is as yet no word on whether he will be asked to stay another term. The La Scala Opera board is due to discuss the Saudi proposal at a meeting on March 18, certainly one of the more important in their history.

The Return of Charles Dutoit?

Friday, February 1st, 2019

By: Frank Cadenhead

The monumental work of Hector Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust, programmed Sunday at the Paris Philharmonie, has a famed conductor on the podium: Charles Dutoit. The music world has noticed.

It is a highlight of the Orchestre National de France’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’ death and was to have been conducted by music director Emmanuel Krivine. Illness forced him to cancel only in the last few days and the orchestra was left with a major problem. Four major soloists and both the youth and regular orchestra choirs were already assembled and few conductors have this work in their repertory and are available on such short notice. Dutoit, of course, is a well-known champion of Berlioz and recently has plenty of free time.

One of the principal examples of conductors who routinely harassed women, his world-wide career was abruptly terminated in recent months by new forces including the #metoo movement. Most assume that it has put a definitive end to the careers of famed conductors and other leaders who have, often for decades, used their position to behave badly. But has it? Daniele Gatti has recently given notice that he will legally contest his abrupt dismissal as music director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Rome Opera took him on board as music director in December. Dutoit has been named Principal Guest Conductor for the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Russia’s oldest philharmonic orchestra, starting in May 2019.

The Orchestre National de France has made it obvious, while unsaid, that Dutoit’s invitation was an emergence action and few suspect that this is part of a movement to rehabilitate him. The orchestra also noted that the musicians were consulted before the invitation was issued. Dutoit was Music Director of the Orchestre National de France from 1991-2001 with whom he made a number of recordings and toured extensively and Daniele Gatti was music director of the same orchestra from 2008 to 2016. The Orchestre National is part of the Radio France organization and it has an established and often-used complaint program for management issues. Neither conductor has a public record of issues with musicians or staff during their time in Paris.

Orchestras and opera companies are not organizations where management is on the 57th floor and the personnel department is on floor 22. The musicians, staff and managers see each other and mingle every day. The larger issue which has not seriously been explored is the question of how much any management knew of the behavior of Gatti, Dutoit and others, like James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera. Was there a laissez-faire, “boys will be boys” attitude which continually papered over “indiscretions” by top talent? Did management pay attention to the rumors? Were they sensitive to the changing attitude of women toward sexual harassment and abuse? Did they counsel their big name talent about their behavior and how it might impact the institution.

Are there sound programs now in place which will prevent such scandals in the future? Incidents continue to pop up in the press and embarrass major institutions and this does not suggest that the management of sexual harassment issues is universal.

Added note:  In the text above it says “musicians were consulted” about the appearance of Dutoit. The orchestra manager did contact the union representing the musicians of the orchestra and received assurance that there were no objections. Later, an independent poll found that, of the 85 who responded out of a total of 120 orchestra members, some 60% disagreed with the orchestra’s invitation of Dutoit.

Berlin Opera in Good Health

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

By: Frank Cadenhead. Positive annual results for 2018 have just been announced by two largest Berlin opera houses. For the Berlin State Opera (Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden) the occupancy rate was 92 percent, two percent less than the previous year. During the calendar year, some 235,000 seats were occupied for some 300 performances. Touring was a major part of the season and Buenos Aires saw more than 20,000 attending Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and concert performances by the opera orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin with music director Daniel Barenboim. Sold out concerts were the rule when the orchestra was touring in Salzburg, Paris, Vienna, Beijing and Sydney and a Berlin open-air concert reported an audience of 10,000.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin counted 243,000 attendees with an occupancy rate of 73.2 percent. 173 performances were in the main house with 177 performances in other venues. The December 25, 2017 water damage to their house, one of the largest in Germany at 1859 seats, caused a 3.4 percent drop in the occupancy rate from the previous year but they still managed to sell some 6600 more tickets than the previous year.

The Deutsche Oper production of Korngold’s opera, Das Wunder der Heliane was a surprise success with 87 percent capacity and will return in the 2020-2021 season. Operas outside the traditional repertory are now more often to be seen on stage but they are rarely the major season hit. Here is Renee Fleming singing an aria from this opera at a London Proms performance in 2007.

A Bloody Evening and Offenbach

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead.  The shooting in Strasbourg on Tuesday, December 11, received international attention. Three dead and thirteen wounded. What is seldom heard are stories of how individuals were peripherally affected by the attack. Thomas Quinquenel, a bassoonist with the Orchestre symphonique de Mulhouse, was inside the opera house in Strasbourg and told his story (which appeared on the website, www.lalettredumusicien.fr). He was in the pit for the second of nine performance of Offenbach’s comic opera, Barkouf ou un chien au pouvoir. This was the Opera national de Rhin’s celebration of the bicentenary of Offenbach and part of the season which presents operas in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar.

“The opera started normally and it was not until the intermission that it was announced that everyone had to stay indoors: there had been an attack 300 meters away. The atmosphere was tense. We did not know the number of victims yet, we were all on our phones. We could not go in or out, so the harpist, who only played in the third act, could not enter. She waited outside, 50 meters from the building, at the security checkpoint. We waited forty minutes in uncertainty, but then it was decided that we would continue the show. I confess that the atmosphere was strange: there was a gap between the subject of the operetta, funny and adolescent, and the news of the evening.

Then we heard that the killer was on the run, but it was, I think, a good idea to remember that we were all stuck inside – so continue and listen to the music. The show ended normally. At that time, no one was aware of the scale of the attack. There was a new announcement: we could go out, but in small groups. We, the musicians, finally took the bus back to Mulhouse. We would normally give another performance the next day, in Mulhouse. But given the day of mourning announced by the Mayor of Strasbourg, all concerts and events of the day are canceled. We will see.”

Eva Kleinitz, the opera’s director, was quoted by the newspaper Le Figaro as noting that “There were 800 in the audience and 120 in the orchestra and chorus. It was impressive to deal with such a crowd but the people stayed relatively calm. The question of stopping the performance was not considered. Our first goal was to protect the security of the public.”  “The musicians stayed perfectly concentrated,” she observed.

The company cancelled events the next day but the opera’s date tonight, December 13, was assured. The city’s music conservatory, not far from the opera house, was temporarily turned into a support space for family and friends of the victims and others affected by the attack.

Brexit and the Arts

Monday, November 26th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead  Deborah Warner is staging La Traviata opening Wednesday night at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées. She tweeted this photo and text:

“The #Traviata creative team on the Avenue Montaigne last night. Please note @10DowningStreet the passports held by this team:- French, Greek, Australian, Danish, Italian, Belgium & British. Tell me EXACTLY what happens post March, 2019.. General rehearsal tonight @TCEOPERA Paris.”

It is only a hint of the problems which the performing arts community is facing with the coming decisions about Brexit. There is an agreement between the British government and the European Union about the form and nature of the separation happening in March, what is being kept and what is not. However, remarkably, this agreement still faces a vote of the parliament in London where it’s death is rather commonly assumed. There can certainly be no renegotiation at this late date and the choices are, if parliament rejects the plan, either no agreement and a brutal EU exit for the United Kingdom or another chance at a vote of the public who might want to reconsider their rejection of the EU two years ago.

For opera management, the headache pills are always within reach. While you are planning your productions for 2021-22 season, you have no idea of the complications which may affect the free flow of goods, services and people with the UK and the EU. Worse, you already have singers and productions scheduled to open in just four or five months and have no idea what will happen to the planning so carefully set in place a few years ago.

It is unlikely that a new vote will ever happen and, even if one were held, a different outcome is not at all assured. A hard exit suddenly puts everyone in a different and entirely new world of regulations and controls and all of those plans for this and future seasons have to be reexamined. Everyone hopes those headache pills still remain easily available.

France Musique in English

Monday, November 5th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead.  Frequent world travelers often expect, whether in Dubai or Berlin, Rome, Tokyo or Santiago, that their English will normally get them from the airport to a hotel and restaurant, etc. Many notice, however, that in Paris, or elsewhere in France, a French language phrasebook can be a helpful tool. The French are proud of their language and remember that in the distant past it was an international language and see no compelling need to automatically learn to communicate in that new major international language, English. Three out of four French students have taken English classes, it is reported, but foreigners usually hear little evidence of that from the natives.

You will notice that many other countries in Europe routinely create an English version of their important websites. This is not the case in France except when it is entirely necessary. That is why the new English edition of classical music broadcaster France Musique was such a surprise. The wealth of recorded and live concerts and other offerings from France Musique is a rich treasure which has been mostly enjoyed by French-speaking audiences around the world. It is now available for a click at francemusique.com (the French version is still at francemusique.fr). The English version is clearly still in the development stage but the rich archive of some 1600 recordings of live events is beginning to be accessible.

The broadcast center of Radio France is equivalent to the BBC in the UK and France Musique, the classical music division, has not one but two important radio orchestras plus a world-renowned chorus and a splendid children’s chorus. Aside from concerts at the Auditorium of Radio France, concerts and operas are broadcast from several venues, the Theatre des Champs-Elysées, the new Philharmonie, the Opera-Comique, the Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille plus other venues around France. Audio broadcasts from these major venues are regularly broadcast and, in recent years, videos of the performances have become much more common. Available now, for example, is Ravel’s Shéhérazade with the splendid soprano Karine Deshayes and is only part of a concert of French music broadcast live from the Auditorium of Radio France on Saturday 24 March 2018. From the Opéra Comique, a delicious December 29 live performance of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, Louis Langrée conducting, is also available in one click.

Marc Voinchet, Director of France Musique, says: “We wanted to invite people from around the world to discover for themselves the full extent of our rich music catalogue. Francemusique.com offers concerts recorded at the Radio France Auditorium, musical sessions in our studios in Paris, a gallery of knowledge and musical practices, and seven fantastic online radio stations – we simply didn’t want to keep it all to ourselves anymore!” The seven streaming radio stations are “Easy Classical,” “Classical Extra,” “Jazz,” “Radio France Concerts,” Radio France’s own record label “Ocora World Music” “Contemporary” and “Film Music.” There is so much to explore.

A new theater: La Scala de Paris

Monday, September 17th, 2018

By: Frank Cadenhead

Last Tuesday, a new theater opened in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris. Well, it was not exactly “new” but, thanks to a visionary couple, “La Scala de Paris” is reborn as a 550 seat performing arts center. Recently home to some 200 pigeons, it had, before that, been a porno cinema.

Completed in 1873, the theater was a well-known place for cafés-concerts during the Belle Epoque. Converted in 1936 to a splendid Art déco cinema, in 1977 it evolved into a porno multiplex but has been closed since 1999.

The couple who took on the project of reopening the theater, Mélanie and Frédéric Biessy, have invested some 19 million euros in this project and the theater now has modern equipment and 220 adjustable acoustic panels. It normally seats 550 but can be expanded to 800 to accommodate different-sized events. The restored interior was created and managed by Richard Peduzzi, who created sets with Patrice Chéreau for both his theater and opera productions.

The theater has its eye on younger audiences and composer Philippe Manoury has created a “sonic identity” for the theater. His music, he reports, “is not recorded music but algorithms who play with probability factors. These ‘sound forms’ play from 11 am to 1 in the morning. At the end of 365 days, the parameters return to zero but with all the different combinations, it will be practically impossible to hear the same thing twice in a row. My great challenge is to discover the means to create music without the intervention of the composer.”

Opening events include young pianists Francesco Tristano and Bertrand Chamayou, the Ensemble Intercontemporain and writer Yasmina Reza talking of her father’s fascination with Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. The theater’s site: https://lascala-paris.com. A television news introduction to the theater (in French):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3hVEcwDFiY