Spotlight: Simon Rattle on Film; Karita Mattila Drops Out of a New Opera; Carlo Bergonzi Visits China

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Simon Rattle on Film; Karita Mattila Drops Out of a New Opera; Carlo Bergonzi Visits China
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

A documentary about conductor Simon Rattle's efforts to bring music to disaffected teenagers is a surprise hit in Germany, where it has been raking in awards. Rhythm Is It! looks at Rattle's first educational program in Berlin, which he began in early 2003, shortly after taking the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic. Filmmakers Thomas Grube and Enrique Sšnchez Lansch (a former opera singer), set out to chronicle the early days of Rattle's tenure with the Philharmonic, but they quickly decided that the real story was his groundbreaking educational efforts, which revealed a lot about the direction Rattle would take with the venerable orchestra.

In the film, Rattle, the Philharmonic and British choreographer Royston Muldoon create a production of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with 250 teenagers, most of whom are encountering classical music for the first time. The film chronicles months of rehearsals in a former bus depot on the outskirts of Berlin, focusing in particular on the struggles of three youngsters, including an orphaned refugee from war-torn Nigeria. "Everybody who witnessed the premiere of the dance was deeply moved by the experience and many of them—including myself—had tears in their eyes when we saw the energy and honesty as well as the unbelievable brilliance and discipline of the young dancers," Rattle says in an interview published on the film's web site.

Rhythm Is It! won two German Film Awards in July and has earned numerous other honors in recent months. It has been an audience favorite at film festivals in Europe and the United States over the past couple of years and a deal is reportedly in the works to distribute it in theaters in Britain. Rattle, meanwhile, has continued his educational efforts, which he considers central to building new audiences for the Berlin Philharmonic and for music in general. Among Rattle's recent projects was another ballet performed with teenagers, Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.


Star soprano Karita Mattila no doubt disappointed some fans in her native Finland when she pulled out of a new opera by Finnish composer Mikko Heini‹. The work, titled K‹‹rmeen hetki (The Hour of the Snake), will still be premiered by the Finnish National Opera in September 2006, but soprano P‹ivi Nisula will sing the lead female role. Mattila apparently decided late last year that the part was too low for her voice, but the opera company didn't disclose the cast change until recently. Mattila's decision does not appear to have caused a rift with the Helsinki-based opera company; she is still scheduled to make her debut in the title role of Puccini's Turandot at the FNO in autumn 2006. Until then, Mattila—who first gained international fame by winning the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1983—will continue to appear at major houses around the world. In October, she is scheduled to sing in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Manon Lescaut. Her upcoming season will also include performances at the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet in Paris.


Opera legend Carlo Bergonzi has been anything but sedentary in his retirement. The tenor, renowned for his performances of Verdi, has been busy running his restaurant, Il due Foscari, in Busseto, Italy—Verdi's birthplace. Bergonzi has also been traveling widely as a teacher and speaker. This month, the 81-year-old singer was scheduled to venture all the way to Beijing to teach a master class in bel canto at the China Central Conservatory of Music. A lyric tenor who was one of opera's most admired performers, Bergonzi bid farewell to his singing career in 1994. In 2000, he returned for a concert performance of Verdi's Otello at Carnegie Hall, a role he had never performed on stage. He had to drop out mid-performance due to allergies, but he was back in full voice at a master class a few days later.


John Eliot Gardiner's new record company is a family affair. The Baroque specialist has enlisted his wife, Isabella de Sabata, to help run his fledgling Soli Deo Gloria label, which launched in January and is in the midst of issuing all 198 of Bach's sacred cantatas with Gardiner conducting. So far, all three of the label's double-CD releases have sold briskly. De Sabata, who serves as SDG's executive producer, is responsible for the discs' distinctive packaging, which features striking portraits of people from Pakistan and Afghanistan by photojournalist Steve McCurry. Gardiner started the label after Deutsche Grammophon dropped plans to record Gardiner in the complete cantata cycle.

Bach figures heavily in Gardiner's upcoming plans: He intends to record a long-lost Bach aria that was discovered in Leipzig earlier this year, and at Christmas time, he will host Bach Week on BBC radio. Gardiner is involved in non-Bach projects, too. He led a performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass at the London Proms in July. His upcoming engagements include a tour with the London Symphony Orchestra and a date at La Scala.

Composer and fiddler Mark O'Connor made a name for himself performing with two friends, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer, on the best-selling Sony CD Appalachia Waltz. With Ma and Meyer involved in other projects, O'Connor has recruited a new pair of his friends—cellist Natalie Haas and violist Carol Cook—for an ensemble he has dubbed the Appalachia Waltz Trio. O'Connor met the two musicians on different occasions—Haas at a reception, Cook at a recording session—and felt that they were kindred spirits. The trio released an album, Crossing Bridges, last November and has been touring to support it ever since, performing O'Connor's trademark string arrangements of American folk-inspired dances and ditties. O'Connor also continues to compose. At the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival earlier this month, the trio, joined by violinist Daniel Phillips, performed O'Connor's new String Quartet No. 2. The piece is also being presented this month at the La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest in Southern California as part of an unusual "world co-premiere" arrangement.

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