After a trying 2004, Deborah Voigt got off to a strong start in 2005, winning rave reviews in Germany for her first-ever portrayal of the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Nevertheless, the Berliner Morgenpost felt compelled to preface its applause with comments on Voigt's weight, noting that the usually zaftig soprano reportedly shed some 80 pounds in recent months. Voigt, as you may recall, became something of a poster child for the weight-challenged when Covent Garden fired her last year from a production of Ariadne auf Naxos because the casting director didn't think she would look good in the slinky evening dress he picked out for the part. Voigt's troubles were compounded by the series of hurricanes that hit Florida, where she makes her home. The stress of dealing with the devastating storms led her to pull out of a Vancouver production of Rosenkavalier last fall that was supposed to serve as a warm-up for her Berlin Marschallin. Even without a dry run, the German critics said the trimmed-down Voigt's performance was an "undisputed success." This spring, Voigt takes her Marschellin to the Vienna State Opera. The Minnesota Orchestra, meanwhile, has just announced that Voigt will sing Tosca in concert during the 2005-06 season.
Where's Hilary? Young virtuoso Hilary Hahn is an intrepid blogger as well one of today's most talented violinists. The latest entry in her online diary finds her in Oslo, the final stop on frigid wintertime tour of Scandinavia with Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mario Venzago. Hahn describes Scandinavia as one of her favorite parts of the world. She writes: "The people are warm and engaging, the air is clean and crisp, the mix of old and new architecture is fascinating, and no matter how many times I walk through the streets of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland (I have yet to visit Iceland), I never fail to stumble across a statue I hadn't noticed before, or a small alleyway or an enormous building I haven't yet explored." Oslo has been especially good to the 26-year-old violinist; that's where she recorded a disc of Mendelssohn and Shostakovich concertos that won widespread acclaim.
Expect to see a lot more of Michael Tilson Thomas in the coming years. The San Francisco Symphony recently announced a $10 million challenge grant from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund to support Keeping Score: MTT on Music, a multimedia educational program led by the orchestra's music director. Described as an effort to reawaken interest in classical music, Keeping Score will attempt to reach young people through broadcasts, the Internet, DVDs and programs in schools and communities. The television component debuted on PBS last June with two one-hour PBS programs. Among the projects to be funded through the Haas grant are three television series and a radio series, all scheduled to launch in 2006. Tilson Thomas, once considered something of a young podium firebrand, marks his 60th birthday this year and the San Francisco Symphony will celebrate with him by holding a festival exploring the conductor's musical roots. MTT, whose grandparents were founders and stars of New York's Yiddish stage, will lead an eight-day celebration beginning in late June titled "Of Thee I Sing: Yiddish Theater, Broadway, and the American Voice."
This year's other milestone birthday boy, the soon-to-be-80-year-old Pierre Boulez, is celebrating with a whirlwind tour. Fresh off a series of Carnegie Hall appearances in January with the London Symphony Orchestra, the composer and conductor plans more spring dates in New York and Europe, plus two trips to direct the Chicago Symphony, where he has been a frequent guest since 1969. Just a few weeks before his March 26 birthday, Boulez leads the CSO in three programs and participates in a lecture-conversation with conductor David Robertson and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. The celebrations culminate in Chicago in May when Boulez leads the CSO in a concert that includes Alban Berg's Chamber Concerto.
Got a big musical event? Call Yo-Yo Ma. The superstar cellist remains one of classical music's most sought-after performers, judging by his recent string of gala appearances. Just this month, Ma helped inaugurate the new $100 million Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland, just outside Washington, the sparkling new hall that will serve as a part-time home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Ma was also part of the glittering celebration to mark the debut of the Frank Gehry-designed concert hall in Los Angeles in 2003 and he continues to lend his star power to smaller organizations as well. On February 26, Ma will be the guest soloist as Alabama's Huntsville Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, his album, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone, a collection of film music, has been perched atop the Billboard classical charts for 19 straight weeks before being toppled by the 5 Browns, the Juilliard-trained family of piano virtuosi.
After several months of silence, Ricardo Muti has spoken up about the controversy surrounding his abrupt withdrawal from a production at London's Royal Opera last fall. Muti, music director of La Scala, told the Guardian in an interview published this month that his decision was "painful and sad, but I know I did the right thing." Muti, whom the opera company had been wooing for years, gave only a month's notice before pulling out of the planned production of Verdi's La forza del destino. Muti insisted that his difficulties stem entirely from the sets. The staging originated at La Scala but had to be altered considerably for the Covent Garden. As a result, both the director and La Scala disassociated themselves from the production. "I was caught in the middle: between loyalty to a public that I like very much and loyalty to my own theatre. I was in a no-win situation," Muti told the newspaper.