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Season of Major Firsts for Julia Bullock: Met Debut in El Niño, Liceu Debut in European Premiere of Antony & Cleopatra, World Premiere of The Shell Trial at Dutch National Opera, Philharmonia Residency, Carnegie Recital & More

(August 2023) — “An essential soprano for our times” (Los Angeles Times), American classical singer Julia Bullock undertakes a number of major “firsts” over the coming season. She makes her Metropolitan Opera debut in the company premiere of John Adams’s opera-oratorio El Niño (April 23–May 17) and headlines the European premiere of his opera Antony & Cleopatra, giving her first performances in the role he wrote for her, in a production that marks her debut at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu (Oct 28–Nov 8). She stars in Dutch National Opera’s world premiere production of The Shell Trial, a new climate-themed opera by Ellen Reid (March 16–21), and presents El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered, a distilled rendering of Adams’s opera-oratorio, with the Cincinnati Symphony (Nov 30) and on a U.S. tour with the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), of which she is a founding core member (Dec 11–21). She also undertakes two residencies as the 2023-24 Featured Artist of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra (Nov 22 & 23; Jan 31–Feb 2) and gives imaginatively curated recitals in Schenectady, NY (Jan 7), Philadelphia (Jan 11), Baltimore (Jan 14), Providence, RI (Jan 17) and at New York’s Carnegie Hall (Jan 19) and Park Avenue Armory (Sep 11 & 13), where her season begins.

Met debut in El Niño

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer-conductor John Adams is one of Bullock’s most important musical associates. It was she who created the role of Dame Shirley in his opera Girls of the Golden West and sang the role of Kitty Oppenheimer under his baton on the Grammy-nominated 2018 recording of his opera Doctor Atomic. In a note for Nonesuch Records’ 2022 release of his collected works, she explains:

“I’ve probably spent more hours of my life pouring over, analyzing, internalizing, and figuring out how to deliver his material than I have on any other composer’s music. I’m a fan of John Adams. I’m a fan of the scope of human experience his music has the capacity to hold. He’s one of the greats.”

Bullock first fell in love with Adams’s music through his Christmas opera-oratorio, El Niño. Interweaving sacred and secular texts in English, Spanish and Latin, from biblical times to the present day, El Niño considers the Nativity story from Mary’s perspective and explores, in Adams’s words, “what is meant by a miracle.” Bullock says: “This work was centered around the fragility of human existence, not human accomplishment. It centered on women, children, and life.” When she featured an aria from the work on her solo album debut, 2022’s Walking in the Dark, BBC Music magazine marveled:

“Bullock’s blazing performance of John Adams’s ‘Memorial de Tlatelolco’, a fiendish aria from his opera-oratorio El Niño, showcases her exceptional technical and expressive range.”

Next spring, the singer makes her Metropolitan Opera debut in the work’s company premiere. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, the Tony-nominated resident director of Lincoln Center Theater, El Niño’s fully staged new production will co-star Davóne Tines, the bass-baritone who, like Bullock herself, “is changing what it means to be a classical singer” (New Yorker). Two mezzo-sopranos – two-time Grammy winner J’Nai Bridges and Cardiff Singer of the World finalist Daniela Mack – will take turns to complete the trio of principals, with MacArthur award-winner Marin Alsop conducting from the pit (April 23–May 17).

Liceu debut in European premiere of Antony & Cleopatra

John Adams composed Antony & Cleopatra for the centennial of the San Francisco Opera, where it received its world premiere production last year. A co-commission and co-production with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the two-act opera features a libretto adapted from Shakespeare’s play by the composer himself. With direction by Elkhanah Pulitzer and dramaturgy by Lucia Scheckner, the production combines images of antiquity with the glamour of 1930s Hollywood.

Adams wrote Antony & Cleopatra’s female title role expressly for Bullock, but she ultimately withdrew from the San Francisco staging to accommodate her pregnancy. As a result, it is only now, when the opera receives its European premiere at the Liceu, that audiences will first see her portrayal of the Egyptian queen. Bullock makes her house and title role debuts as Cleopatra opposite the Antony of bass-baritone Gerald Finley and Caesar of tenor Paul Appleby, as in San Francisco, where the work impressed the New Yorker as “a finely wrought, fiercely expressive rendering” of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Marking the first time he has done so himself, Adams will conduct the opera (Oct 28–Nov 8).

World premiere of The Shell Trial at Dutch National Opera

Next spring, Bullock stars in Dutch National Opera (DNO)’s world premiere production of The Shell Trial, which she created in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Ellen Reid and Reid’s regular librettist, Roxie Perkins. Commissioned by DNO in a co-production with Het Geluid (Maastricht), Opera Philadelphia and the Bregenz Festival, the opera was inspired by a 2021 Dutch court case ruling that Shell Global was legally responsible for contributing to climate change. Perkins’s libretto is based on the award-winning play De zaak Shell by Rebekka de Wit and Anoek Nuyens, which premiered in 2020 and caused a stir on the Dutch and international stage. Presenting a range of voices and perspectives in the climate crisis, the opera makes the complexity of the case increasingly clear, blurring the boundaries between guilty party and innocent victim, between good and bad, and between individual and collective responsibility. Creating the roles of The Law/The Artist, Bullock will co-star with mezzo-soprano Claire Barnett-Jones as The Government, baritone Audun Iversen as The CEO and tenor Anthony Léon as The Consumer, with the Nieuw Amsterdams Children’s Chorus and members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, under Manoj Kamps’s musical direction (March 16–21).

Bullock already has a history of premiering and championing new opera at DNO. Since making her house debut in the European premiere of Adams’s Girls of the Golden West in 2019, she has returned to headline both DNO’s world premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Upload, a New York Times critics’ pick, and the company’s European premiere of Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine, which she conceived in collaboration with Peter Sellars, Tyshawn Sorey and Claudia Rankine. OperaWire observed:

“Together they created a scintillating performance that successfully fulfilled its aims. The star of the show was, of course, Bullock, who created an intense, powerful, and insightful reading. … The message Bullock, Sellers, Sorey, and Rankine wanted to convey to the audience was expertly delivered both on an emotional and intellectual level.”

El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered with Cincinnati Symphony & AMOC

As artist-in-residence of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018-19, Bullock devised a new chamber orchestral arrangement of El Niño with contributions from her husband, Christian Reif. Alongside colleagues from the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), she premiered this distilled rendering at New York’s Met Cloisters, where her fellow soloists were Davóne Tines and J’Nai Bridges, as for her upcoming Met debut. The New York Times reported:

“With these three singers, El Niño was in safe hands. … Ms. Bullock, her voice by turns warm and teeming with urgency, felt at times larger than the chapel itself. … And the way she programmed El Niño elevated an already-revisionist work to something much more powerful.”

Titled El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered, Reif’s arrangement of the work is the vehicle for a series of Bullock’s fall engagements. The first of these is with the Cincinnati Symphony, where Reif – “a conductor of considerable stature” (San Francisco Chronicle) – conducts a performance featuring contralto Jasmin White and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo alongside Bullock and Tines (Nov 30). Next, with Reif and AMOC, Bullock takes Nativity Reconsidered on a seasonal four-city U.S. tour. Together with Tines, Roth Constanzo and White, she reprises the work at Kansas City’s Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral (Dec 11), Stanford University (Dec 13), Yale University (Dec 15) and New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Dec 21).

Recitals at Carnegie Hall, Park Avenue Armory, Kimmel Center & more

Describing Bullock in recital, Opera News writes:

“Bullock’s radiant soprano shines brightly and unfailingly. She also summons a rich, earthy, mezzo-ish quality in her low register. Most compellingly, however, she communicates intense, authentic feeling, as if she were singing right from her soul.”

This fall, the singer joins pianist John Arida in the beautifully restored and intimate space of the Board of Officers Room at New York’s Park Avenue Armory (Sep 11 & 13), where she was most recently seen in Upload’s North American premiere, before giving a New Year U.S. recital tour with pianist Bretton Brown, with dates at Union College in Schenectady, NY (Jan 7); Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center (Jan 11); Shriver Hall, where she makes her Baltimore recital debut (Jan 14); Brown University in Providence, RI (Jan 17); and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Jan 19).

Bullock’s characteristically wide-ranging repertoire will vary with each performance. Songs associated with Marian Anderson will rub shoulders with voices as distinct as Alban Berg, Richard Strauss, Kurt Weill, Francis Poulenc, Samuel Barber, Elizabeth Cotten, Richard Rodgers and Connie Converse, whose One by One may be heard on Bullock’s solo album debut, Walking in the Dark. Released last year on the Nonesuch label, the recording was recognized with an Opus Klassik award, featured in the New York Times’s “Best Classical Music Tracks of 2022,” and named – alongside offerings from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar – among the 20 “Best Albums of 2022” by NPR, which called it “an album that shines, introducing us to an artist curating a career on her own distinctive terms.”

Artistic residency with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra

Walking in the Dark is anchored by two large-scale orchestral works – an aria from El Niño and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 – both recorded with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. Throughout the 2023-24 season, Bullock will be the orchestra’s Featured Artist, for which she undertakes two residencies.

The first is in November, when she rejoins the Philharmonia for a pair of American-themed programs conducted by Canada’s Jordan de Souza. They reprise Barber’s “lyric rhapsody” – a longtime staple of her repertoire – in the English town of Bedford, on a program with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and William Grant Still’s First Symphony, “Afro-American” (Nov 22). The orchestra repeats both symphonies the following night at London’s Royal Festival Hall, now contextualized with Bullock’s renditions of three songs by George Gershwin and two Langston Hughes settings by the poet’s friend and fellow Harlem Renaissance luminary Margaret Bonds (Nov 23).

The singer reunites with the Philharmonia early next year for Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, which she recently described as “the piece that turned me on to classical music.” Under the baton of Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, she performs the orchestral song cycle in the orchestra’s Bedford series (Jan 31) and again at the Royal Festival Hall (Feb 1). The following night, Bullock completes her Philharmonia residency with a special program at the same venue (Feb 2); details will be announced this fall.

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Julia Bullock: 2023-24 engagements
Sep 11 & 13
New York, NY
Park Avenue Armory
Recital with John Arida, piano
Works by SCHUBERT, WOLF, WEILL, ROSSINI, CAGE and BERIO, plus songs by Nina SIMONE, Billie HOLIDAY, Pat CASTLETON, Cora “Lovie” AUSTIN and Billy TAYLOR

Oct 28, 30; Nov 2, 4, 6 & 8
Barcelona, Spain
Gran Teatre del Liceu (debut)
Barcelona Opera
John ADAMS: Antony & Cleopatra (European premiere)

Nov 22 & 23
Philharmonia Orchestra (Featured Artist residency) / Jordan de Souza
Nov 22: Bedford, UK
“Music from a New World”
BARBER: Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Nov 23: London, UK (Royal Festival Hall)
“Songs from a New World”
GERSHWIN: “Somebody from Somewhere”
BONDS: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
GERSHWIN: “Summertime”
BONDS: “Winter Moon”

Nov 30
Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony / Christian Reif
John ADAMS (arr. C Reif): El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered

Dec 11–21
American Modern Opera Company (AMOC) tour

Dec 11: Kansas City, MO (Harriman Jewell Series)

Dec 13: Stanford, CA (Stanford University)

Dec 15: New Haven, CT (Yale University)

Dec 21: New York, NY (Cathedral of St. John the Divine)
John ADAMS (arr. C Reif): El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered

Jan 7–17: recital tour with Bretton Brown, piano

Jan 7: Schenectady, NY (Union College)

Jan 11: Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Kimmel Center)

Jan 14: Baltimore, MD (Shriver Hall)

Jan 17: Providence, RI (Brown University)

Jan 19: New York, NY (Carnegie Hall)
Works by composers including Alban BERG, Richard STRAUSS, Kurt WEILL, Francis POULENC, Samuel BARBER, Richard RODGERS, Elizabeth COTTEN and Connie CONVERSE, plus songs associated with Marian Anderson. The program will vary each night and is subject to change.

Jan 31–Feb 2
Philharmonia Orchestra (Featured Artist residency)

Jan 31: Bedford, UK

Feb 1: London, UK (Royal Festival Hall; Santtu-Matias Rouvali, conductor)
BERLIOZ: Les nuits d’été

Feb 2: London, UK (Royal Festival Hall; Christian Reif, conductor)
Program TBA

March 16, 18, 19 & 21
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Dutch National Opera
Ellen REID: The Shell Trial (world premiere)

April 23, 27; May 1, 4, 8, 11 & 17
New York, NY
Metropolitan Opera (debut) / Marin Alsop
John ADAMS: El Niño

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© 21C Media Group, August 2023


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