Mortier's First Season at NYC Opera to Include Nixon, Einstein, Francis, Death with Bostridge

Classic Arts News   Mortier's First Season at NYC Opera to Include Nixon, Einstein, Francis, Death with Bostridge
G_rard Mortier wasn't kidding when he said that he wants to remake New York City Opera. The Belgian director/administrator — who was appointed the company's next artistic director last February and begins his tenure in the fall of 2009, upon his retirement from the helm of the Paris Opera — has revealed some of his plans for his first season. There are indeed no Butterflys or Bohmes; instead, there's the kind of repertoire that you'd expect to find at a hip outpost like BAM.

In an interview with The New York Sun published today, Mortier said that he would devote his entire first season to 20th-century works.

As he indicated in May, the company will present eight operas in 2009-10 (down from the current 13), all of them in new stagings, with the opening production to be Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. The season program will also include two milestones of American opera (both of which, as it happens, had famous productions at BAM): Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach and John Adams's Nixon in China.

Also scheduled for the City Opera stage is Britten's Death in Venice, with Aschenbach played by Ian Bostridge, who earned raves for his performance of the role in English National Opera's widely-praised production in June.

In the Sun interview, Mortier reiterated his desire to connect with New York's audience and with the wider city. Tellingly, all four of the above works — fully half of his first City Opera season — are in English.

Mortier also confirmed his plans to produce Messiaen's Saint-Fran‹ois d'Assise that season at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue, where it will be staged amid an installation by artist Ilya Kabakov. The five-hour operatic biography of St. Francis of Assisi — really more like a very long medieval miracle play — received a mixed reception at its 1983 world premiere in Paris, but its North American premiere at San Francisco Opera in 2002 won hosannas from critics all over the continent.

Other venues where Mortier plans to present operas — in general, three productions per season, with five at the company's Lincoln Center home, the New York State Theater — include BAM, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and (if negotiations work out) the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Another Mortier initiative will be educational performances on weekend afternoons, which he envisions as being part concert and part talk show. He also mentioned that, as he does now in Paris, he hopes to give informal talks in the lobby 45 minutes before curtain time, introducing the evening's opera to anyone who wants to listen.

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