Press Room

Julia Bullock’s Season of Firsts: Wigmore Recital Debut, ROH Title Role Debut, Upload’s U.S. Premiere & More

Julia Bullock (photo: Allison Michael Orenstein)

Honored by Musical America as a 2021 Artist of the Year, and currently gracing the cover of the December issue of Opera News, Julia Bullock is “one of the singular artists of her generation – a singer of enveloping tone, startlingly mature presence and unusually sophisticated insight into culture, society and history” (New York Times). This fall, she embarks on a season of firsts. In London, she makes her Wigmore Hall recital debut with a program ranging from Schubert lieder to songs composed by Nina Simone (Nov 29), before launching 2022 with her title role debut opposite Joyce DiDonato in a new production of Handel’s Theodora at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Jan 31–Feb 16). The new year also brings two important U.S. engagements. Having won accolades in the world and Dutch premieres of Michel van der Aa’s Upload, next spring Bullock stars in the multidisciplinary opera’s U.S. premiere at New York’s Park Avenue Armory (March 22–30). Then she returns to the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) to headline an expanded iteration of her original program “History’s Persistent Voice,” now featuring the world premieres of new SFS commissions from Rhiannon Giddens, Camille Norment and Cécile McLorin Salvant, as well as the West Coast premieres of works by Tania León, Allison Loggins-Hull, Jessie Montgomery, Carolyn Yarnell and Pamela Z (May 17). Bullock also looks forward to the release of her debut album on Nonesuch Records in 2022 (details to come). As Opera News writes, her “voice and vision are forces to be reckoned with.”

Wigmore recital debut (Nov 29)

It was in recital at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that Bullock proved herself “a musician who delights in making her own rules” (New Yorker). Now, in London, where she serves as 2020–22 Artist-in-Residence of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she joins celebrated Japanese-American pianist Bretton Brown for a characteristically wide-ranging recital at the city’s Wigmore Hall. This takes in lieder by Schubert and Wolf; songs by Rossini; Weimar-era showtunes by Kurt Weill; selections from Luciano Berio’s 4 canzoni popolari; John Cage’s “She Is Asleep”; Bullock’s own arrangement of Nina Simone’s “Revolution”; and Jeremy Siskind’s arrangements of 20th-century songs by Cora “Lovie” Austin, Connie Converse, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Dr. Billy Taylor, with whose civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” the program concludes.

Title role debut in Theodora at Covent Garden (Jan 31–Feb 16)

Two years ago, Bullock made her first Royal Opera House appearance at the intimate Linbury Theatre, where she anchored the London premiere of Zauberland under the direction of International Opera Award-winner Katie Mitchell. Now the two artists reunite at the Royal Opera House for the director’s new production of Handel’s late masterpiece Theodora. Marking Bullock’s debut on the storied venue’s main stage, this provides a modern, feminist context for a work not heard at Covent Garden since its 1750 premiere. Making her title role debut in all seven performances of the dramatic oratorio’s historic revival, she will head a stellar cast alongside Grammy-winning American mezzo Joyce DiDonato and Opus Klassik award-winning Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, led by Baroque specialist Harry Bicket, Artistic Director of The English Concert.

U.S. premiere of Upload at Park Avenue Armory, NYC (March 22–30)

Bullock has created roles in the world premiere productions of such important new operas as John Adams’s Girls of the Golden West and Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Most recently, at the Bregenz Festival and Dutch National Opera, she starred as the Daughter in the staged world and Dutch premieres of Grawemeyer Award-winner Michel van der Aa’s Upload, which addresses the implications for human relationships in our highly technological world. Hailed as “the work of an artist in absolute command of his toolkit, employing a restraint that makes for smooth shifts between acoustic and electric, live performance and film,” the multidisciplinary opera won praise from the New York Times for its “long, lyrical lines – lushly delivered by Bullock with rending emotion” and “subtle longing.” Next spring, Bullock reprises her role in Upload for its U.S. premiere at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, once again in Van der Aa’s own production, which co-stars Roderick Williams as the Father, with Germany’s Ensemble Musikfabrik under the leadership of Otto Tausk, Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony.

“History’s Persistent Voice”: program of premieres with SFS musicians (May 17)

An innovative programmer whose artistic curation is in high demand, Bullock’s recent positions include year-long artistic residencies with the San Francisco Symphony and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A highlight of her New York tenure was the world premiere of her original program “History’s Persistent Voice.” Pairing songs developed by people who were enslaved with new music by American women of color, this was welcomed as an “unstinting look at the hardships faced by so many African Americans today,” in which “the soprano’s compelling charisma, musicality, and expressivity conveyed the power of her message” (Classical Voice America). The New York Times marveled:

Ms. Bullock sang with burning focus, as she did the whole set, which brought her mellow, dusky voice from melancholy earthiness to piercing crows. She never milked the emotion or exaggerated her presence; she commands a space without ever trying too hard.”

Bullock debuts a new expansion of the program with members of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) this season, in her ongoing role as a collaborative partner of the orchestra’s Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Once again combining traditional Black American spirituals with new vocal and instrumental music by American women of color, now “History’s Persistent Voice” will not only present the West Coast premieres of the three works first heard in New York – Tania León’s Green Pastures, Jessie Montgomery’s Freedom Songs and Allison Loggins-Hull’s Mama’s Little Precious Thing – but also several new SFS commissions, with world premieres of new works by Grammy and MacArthur award winner Rhiannon Giddens, multimedia artist Camille Norment and Grammy winner Cécile McLorin Salvant, plus West Coast premieres of those by Carolyn Yarnell and Pamela Z. Conducted by Bullock’s husband, Christian Reif, who is “a remarkable talent” (San Francisco Chronicle), the program will feature immersive visuals developed by Princess Grace Award-winning artist and designer Hana Kim.

As the SFS’s 2020-21 Artist-in-Residence, Bullock also recently curated “Lineage,” a virtual multimedia program in the orchestra’s experimental SoundBox series. Spanning almost a millennium of music from Hildegard von Bingen to Esperanza Spalding, this diverse and highly personal performance is still available for streaming here.

Season-opening success with LA Philharmonic

When Bullock launched the present season in concert with Thomas Wilkins and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at LA’s Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed her one of two “must-hear singers of opera today.” In his commentary, Mark Swed wrote:

“She dove down into the darkest, most mysterious depths of an ocean-deep soul. … Bullock [is one of] the two singers who can most promisingly bring something powerful, meaningful and even existential to opera. … They rivet attention. You can’t not listen when they sing. Your mind is not allowed to wander anywhere other than where they intend to take you. But where they take you – that is what makes them not just extraordinary but necessary. … They are leading a new generation.”

Click here to download high-resolution photos.

Julia Bullock: 2021-22 engagements

Nov 29
London, UK
Wigmore Hall
Recital with Bretton Brown, piano

Jan 31; Feb 2, 4, 7, 12, 14 & 16
London, UK
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
HANDEL: Theodora (title role debut)

March 22, 25, 26, 28, 29 & 30
New York, NY
Park Avenue Armory
Michel VAN DER AA: Upload (His Daughter; U.S. premiere)

May 17
San Francisco, CA
Members of the San Francisco Symphony / Christian Reif
“History’s Persistent Voice”
Camille NORMENT: new work (world premiere of SFS commission)
Cécile McLorin SALVANT: new work (world premiere of SFS commission)
Rhiannon GIDDENS: new work (world premiere of SFS commission)
Carolyn YARNELL: new work (West Coast premiere)
Pamela Z: new work (West Coast premiere of SFS commission)
Tania LEÓN: Green Pastures (West Coast premiere)
Allison LOGGINS-HULL: Mama’s Little Precious Things (West Coast Premiere)
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Five Freedom Songs (West Coast premiere of SFS co-commission)

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© 21C Media Group, November 2021


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