Opera Rara 2018

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  • Thursday, January 18, 2018 - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A huge variety of styles, forms and eras are all joined by the leading motif: opera. Following the resounding success of last year’s festival, the Opera Rara Festival once again fills the stages of Kraków and the hearts of music lovers!

 “When the Krakow Festival Office and Capella Cracoviensis inaugurated the Opera Rara Festival in January 2017, the atmosphere was thick with questions. Will the new, condensed formula work? Will the event earn the audience’s approval? The answers to all questions turned out to be positive immediately, so we didn’t hesitate to expand our collaboration and our event,” says Izabela Helbin, director of the Krakow Festival Office. So what does the Opera Rara 2018 Festival has in store? It brings a myriad forms, presenting vocal recitals with piano and orchestra, concert versions of operas and two stage performances prepared especially for the event. The festival also reaches for works from the period of Romanticism and contemporary composers, without losing any of its Baroque heritage. Concerts are held between 18 January and 13 February, in a truly Carnival atmosphere of joy, celebration and artistic expression. Let’s take a break from our daily lives and immerse ourselves in opera!

To hell and back!

We kick off the festival by stepping over the threshold of Hades, guided by Christoph Willibald Gluck and Jean-Philippe Rameau – composers responsible for the reform (and staggering success!) of 18th-century French opera who frequently and enthusiastically sent their protagonists into the depths of hell. The star of the evening Enfers (18 January, ICE Kraków) is the acclaimed baritone Stéphane Degout. He is accompanied by the ensemble Pygmalion; the musicians were warmly received during the Misteria Paschalia 2017 Festival, appearing under the baton of the group’s founder and artistic director Raphaël Pichon, originator of the Enfers programme. The infernal concert features recitatives, operatic arias and duets and excerpts from requiems by Gluck, Rameau, Lully, Charpentier and de Lalande, coming together to create a musical drama. “I’m not a fan of traditional recitals. Singers step up and down from the scene for every piece. There’s no drama (…). There’s no story,” explains Pichon. This time there will be plenty of action – gods of the Styx, beware!

We remain in infernal circles immersed in French music thanks to the orchestra Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu, its conductor Franck-Emmanuel Comte and a select group of soloists (including soprano Céline Scheen and tenor Cyril Auvity), appearing at the J. Słowacki Theatre on 21 January. The evening focuses on Marc-Antoine Charpentier and his two most famous secular works: Les arts florissants and La descente d’Orphée aux enfers. In the former, Hades is the place of punishment, while in the latter it is a land where we search for love. In fact, our story has a happy ending: Charpentier’s captivating, uplifting harmonies accompany the blossoming of the arts, and – going against the original version – Orpheus’s victory over death and darkness.

On stage

“At the heart of the festival are two stage productions, with Szymanowski and Schönberg on one side (…) and the contemporary opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on the other,” promises Jan Tomasz Adamus, artistic director of the Opera Rara Festival and director of Capella Cracoviensis.

Paweł Świątek, director of the performance bringing together Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 3 “Song of the Night” and Schönberg’s monodrama Erwartung, describes it as “a tale of fear of oneself when faced with the death of someone we once shared the world with”. The mystical night is explored by soloists Andrzej Lampert (tenor) and Evelina Dobračeva (soprano), accompanied by the Kraków Festival Orchestra formed especially for the event and the Capella Cracoviensis Choir under the baton of Michał Dworzyński. The performance is held at the J. Słowacki Theatre on 19, 20 and 22 January.

Neurology in opera? Why not! The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, the Minimalist opera by Michael Nyman – contemporary composer best known for his soundtracks to films by Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion (The Piano!) – tells the story of the clinical case of the singer and vocal teacher Doctor P. Suffering from visual agnosia, the patient searches for a way to find himself once again in a world he can see but cannot recognise. So he rebuilds it anew and organises it through that which is closest to his heart: music. The performance directed by Kristof Spiewok (4, 7 and 12 February, ICE Kraków) stars the world-famous Polish baritone Tomasz Konieczny accompanied by Sinfonietta Cracovia under the baton of Jurek Dybał.

Main protagonist

Who or what is the most important element in an opera? The conductor, perhaps? No, it’s the voices! The Opera Rara Festival pays homage to this most beautiful and intricate instrument through recitals which focus entirely on the performers’ vocal skills.

The English baritone Christopher Maltman, appearing in Kraków for the first time, presents songs by George Butterworth, Arthur Somervell, Gerald Finzi, Hugo Wolf and Charles Ives to tell the story of the tragic fate met by hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died in battles of the First World War. The Opera Rara instalments of the recital The Soldier – From Severn to Somme (23 January, Kraków Philharmonic) is dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers, forced to leave behind their carefree youth to die fighting at battlefields far from home. The programme, created jointly with the pianist Joseph Middleton, commemorates the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

Anna Larsson’s distinctive voice – sumptuous, low yet with a vast range – captivates in works by Mahler and Wagner, which she performs at the most important stages around the globe. During her first ever recital in Kraków (30 January, Kraków Philharmonic), she performs Alexander Zemlinsky’s Symbolist cycle Maeterlinck Lieder, Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, a selection of songs by Richard Strauss and love songs by Alma Mahler. She is accompanied by Francisca Skoogh on piano.

Love and passion are also the focus of Natalia Kawałek’s lighthearted recital In Love With Troubles (6 February, Kraków Philharmonic). The mezzo-soprano, best known for her work with the Theater an der Wien, captivated audiences during the previous Opera Rara Festival with her interpretation of the title role in Moniuszko’s Halka. She is joined by the pianist Marcin Kozieł to present an original programme filled with fun and the absurd, including songs by Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom, Kurt Weill and Six Love Songs by the Czech composer Petr Eben.

What better way to describe the concert by Waltraud Meier than Bayreuth in Kraków? On 11 February, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, one of the finest Wagnerian performers working today, appears at ICE Kraków with the cycle Wesendonck Lieder – the fruit of the composer’s passionate yet forbidden love for Mathilde Wesendonck, author of poems he had set to music and wife of the composer’s friend. Since the concert bears the title Wagner Contexts, Meier also performs Robert Schumann’s romantic Nachtlied and Johannes Brahms’s Schicksalslied. Capella Cracoviensis and the ensemble’s director Jan Tomasz Adamus also perform other works by Wagner: the Polonia overture, the instrumental version of Liebestod – the finale of the opera Tristan und Isolde – and preludes to Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal.

Joy and sorrow, victories and defeats, love stories and tragedies – there is a bit of everything in the great theatre of the world. The concert Il gran teatro del mondo (31 January, Kraków Philharmonic) showcases two outstanding voices: the soprano Roberta Mameli and the tenor Juan Sancho. The vocalists take us on a journey to the dazzling world of 17th-century Italian opera (Claudio Monteverdi, Franceso Cavalli, Luigi Rossi) and Spanish zarzuela (Juan Hidalgo, Sebastián Durón). The music of Spanish Baroque, little known in Poland, also resounds in purely versions thanks to the works of the guitar virtuoso Gaspar Sanz. The Spanish maestro of viola da gamba Fahmi Alqhai and his ensemble Accademia del Piacere, have prepared a repertoire filled with hot southern climates.

The project Open Stage provides an opportunity for members of the public to become vocal performers. On 27 January, Cricoteka hosts Capella Cracoviensis and any amateur singers wishing to try their throat at Baroque arias. The ensemble stresses that no experience is needed! Will you be discovered as the latest Callas or Pavarotti?

Royal entertainment

What about the grand finale? It will be an evening straight from a noble court in London featuring music composed “for the king’s entertainment”. We will hear works representing a distinctively English form of music drama known as masque: Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (13 February, J. Słowacki Theatre). Purcell’s libretto is based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his light, cheerful music perfectly expresses a playful yet decadent atmosphere. Venus and Adonis, generally regarded as the earliest surviving English opera, was personally commissioned by King Charles II; the original performers were amateur singes: his lover and their young daughter. Blow presents his compositional expertise through emotional melodies requiring expressive interpretation rather than complex, technical skills, with the work culminating with a beautiful lament by the goddess mourning her lover. The finale concert of the Opera Rara Festival, performed by the Scottish ensemble Dunedin Consort under the baton of John Butt, also serves as the prologue of the forthcoming British edition of the Misteria Paschalia Festival.

***

Finally, let’s hear from the festival’s artistic director once again. Jan Tomasz Adamus says, “Opera is an international genre enriched with local sensitivities. Opera Rara 2018 lasts an entire month, because we have so much to tell you through the music we are presenting.” (Barbara Skowrońska)

Programme:

Les Enfers: recital of arias from Rameau’s and Gluck’s operas
18 January 2018, 7.00 pm
ICE Kraków Congress Centre (ul. Marii Konopnickiej 17)

The Song of the Night & Erwartung
19 January 2018, 7.00 pm
20 January 2018, 7.00 pm
22 January 2018, 7.00 pm
Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (pl. Świętego Ducha 1)

La descente d’Orphée aux Enfers
21 January 2018, 6.00 pm
Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (pl. Świętego Ducha 1)

The Soldier - from Severn to Somme: recital of Christopher Maltman
23 January 2018, 7.00 pm
Karol Szymanowski Filharmonic (ul. Zwierzyniecka 1)

Anna Larsson: Master Recital
30 January 2018, 7.00 pm
Karol Szymanowski Filharmonic (ul. Zwierzyniecka 1)

Il gran teatro del mondo
31 January 2018, 7.00 pm
Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (pl. Świętego Ducha 1)

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
4 February 2018, 7.00 pm
7 February 2018, 7.00 pm
12 February 2018, 7.00 pm
ICE Krakow (ul. Marii Konopnickiej 17)

In Love with Troubles: recital Natalia Kawałek
6 February 2018, 7.00 pm
Karol Szymanowski Filharmonic (ul. Zwierzyniecka 1)

Wagner Contexts - Wesendonck Lieder, Waltraud Meier
11 February 2018, 6.00 pm
Karol Szymanowski Filharmonic (ul. Zwierzyniecka 1)

Venus and Adonis
13 February 2018, 7.00 pm
Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (pl. Świętego Ducha 1)

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