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Grammy Award-Winner Fabio Luisi Makes First Zurich Opera Appearances of Season in New Year

The New Year finds Grammy and ECHO Klassik Award-winner Fabio Luisi back at the helm of the Zurich Opera. Fresh from his decisive triumph with the Met’s star-studded Macbeth, the Italian conductor takes the Zurich podium for Robert Wilson’s celebrated staging of Norma (Jan 31–Feb 21) and a program of Mahler and Rachmaninoff with the Philharmonia Zurich and Artist-in-Residence Lise de la Salle (Jan 18). Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece marks the first of four operas that Luisi leads at the Swiss house this season – his third as General Music Director – and Zurich’s 2014-15 lineup reflects ever more clearly the quietly iconoclastic conductor’s unique artistic vision. He restores to the repertory such neglected rarities as Martinu’s seldom-staged Juliette, which – along with Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi – is one of the two new Zurich productions that he conducts himself this season, as well as leading a revival of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and two more Viennese-themed programs with the Philharmonia Zurich. Besides showcasing the bel canto and Straussian classics that are among his own specialties, Luisi’s 2014-15 Zurich programming also champions a wide range of contemporary opera, including the world premiere of Christian Jost’s Rote Laterne, a new Zurich Opera commission.

A noted bel canto aficionado, the conductor not only returns to Bellini’s Norma, now with Maria Agresta as the titular priestess, Roxana Constantinescu as Adalgisa, and Marco Berti as Pollione (Jan 31–Feb 21), but also takes the podium for Zurich’s new production of the great Italian melodist’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (June 21–July 12). This stars Joyce DiDonato and Anita Hartig as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in a new staging by Christof Loy, with whom the conductor collaborated on Bellini’s La straniera in his inaugural Zurich season. Bel canto favorites loom large throughout the Italian conductor’s programming this season, which also sees Zurich present revivals of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola and of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, L’elisir d’amore, and Lucia di Lammermoor.

Luisi himself conducts all eight performances of Bohuslav Martinu’s atmospheric but little-known 1938 opera Juliette, in a new treatment by Zurich’s General Manager Andreas Homoki, with Annette Dasch in the title role opposite Joseph Kaiser (Feb 14–March 4). The Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen considers Luisi and Homoki to be “almost a ‘dream team,” while the Zürichsee-Zeitung marvels: “Under Fabio Luisi’s direction, the orchestra and singers proceed flawlessly, everything is there: every harshness, every tenderness, the fatal compulsion, the luminous quality.” The General Music Director is especially dedicated to restoring lost gems to the operatic canon, and under his curatorship Zurich offers two more relative rarities this season, with a new production of Vivaldi’s La verità in cimento, and a revival of Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto.

Testifying to the General Music Director’s commitment to new opera, the Swiss opera house’s new season not only features the world premiere of Christian Jost’s Rote Laterne, a new Zurich commission, but presents three more operas composed over the past decade, with new productions of Frank Schwemmer’s Robin Hood (2007-08), Iris ter Schiphorst’s children’s opera Die Gänsemagd (2010), and, in its Swiss premiere, Oscar Strasnoy’s chamber opera Fälle (2012).

Embracing a range as rich as it is broad, the company also offers original stagings of The Magic Flute from Tatjana Gürbaca, La traviata from David Hermann, Lohengrin from Homoki, and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw from Willy Decker, as well as revivals of Mozart’s Il re pastore and Le nozze di Figaro, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Aida, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Strauss’s Elektra, and Puccini’s La fanciulla del West. Always “an outstanding Straussian” (Gramophone), Luisi himself leads the great late Romantic composer’s Ariadne auf Naxos, in a revival of Claus Guth’s production, starring Eva-Maria Westbroek in the title role, with Anna Stéphany as the composer and Roberto Saccà as the tenor/Bacchus (Feb 15–March 3).

An important focus of Luisi’s Swiss appointment is his leadership of the Philharmonia Zurich, with which he is also now in his third season. Reflecting his dedication to an eclectic orchestral repertory, he and the ensemble present a series of themed concerts titled “Mythical Vienna,” exploring music by the great composers of the Austrian capital. Luisi leads three of these himself; having launched the season with “a captivating program of works by Darbellay, Gubaidulina, and Mahler” (Der Landbote), on January 18 he pairs Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, and on July 12 he juxtaposes the music of Second Viennese School members Schoenberg and Berg with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The soloist in both the Russian composer’s concertos is pianist Lise de la Salle, who returns for her second season as Zurich’s Artist-in-Residence. She and Luisi are frequent musical partners whose “intelligent structural awareness” impressed the Neue Zürcher Zeitung; the review continued: “She took her time, the orchestra his, and between the two resulted in a flow of energy that sent a shiver down one’s spine.”

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 Luisi is concurrently serving in his fourth season as Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, and his Swiss engagements follow his recent triumph at the helm of the New York company’s recent revival of Adrian Noble’s Macbeth – the vehicle for Anna Netrebko’s spectacular American role debut as Verdi’s notorious anti-heroine – in which his leadership drew universal praise. The New York Times pronounced Luisi’s conducting “distinguished and authoritative,” the New Yorker deemed it “incisive,” and the Wall Street Journal observed: “Luisi, a consummate interpreter of Verdi, led a crisp, rhythmic performance.” The New York Classical Review marveled: “Luisi led a thrilling performance from the pit, weaving spooky atmospheres and wringing every drop of drama from the score,” while the Examiner, in a five-star review, explained:

“Luisi led an extraordinary reading of the score, uniting stage and orchestra pit in such scarcely seen synchronicity. Their playing alone many times created frisson after thrill, truly hair-raising excitement. When wedded to the ignited performances onstage, the effect was sheer exhilaration.”

All told, as Bloomberg concluded, the conductor’s contribution to the production “couldn’t have been better.”

Later this season, Luisi returns to the Met to lead important new stagings of Cavalleria rusticanaI Pagliacci, and The Merry Widow, besides making his Dutch National Opera debut with a new production of Lulu and returning to the podiums of the Cleveland Orchestra and Danish National Symphony Orchestra (DNSO). This week, he conducts a program of Brahms and Nielsen at the Copenhagen-based orchestra, where he was recently named Principal Conductor. The post begins in the 2017-18 season; meanwhile, the joyful reaction of the musicians of the DNSO to Luisi’s appointment was captured in this behind-the-scenes video.

A list of Fabio Luisi’s upcoming engagements follows, and more information is available at the web sites listed below.


Fabio Luisi: upcoming engagements

Dec 5
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
Nielsen: Symphony No. 2, “The Four Temperaments”

Jan 18
Philharmonia Zurich
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Lise de la Salle, piano)
Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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© 21C Media Group, December 2014

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