Spotlight: Alagna and Gheorghiu in Los Angeles; James Conlon Goes Back to School

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Alagna and Gheorghiu in Los Angeles; James Conlon Goes Back to School
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

Tenor Roberto Alagna killed his wife in Los Angeles this fall—but she didn't seem to mind. Alagna sang the role of the clown Canio in I Pagliacci while his real-life wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, played Canio's wife, Nedda. As called for in the libretto to Leoncavallo's verismo favorite, Canio killed Nedda on stage in a murderous rage. At the curtain call, however, Alagna got a big kiss from Gheorghiu—all was forgiven.

Alagna stepped into the Los Angeles Opera's presentation of Pagliacci after Ben Heppner dropped out, and the star power of opera's glamour couple (they were married backstage at the Metropolitan Opera) drew large audiences to the revival of Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 production, even though the relatively brief opera was offered without its customary companion, Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. Critical reaction was somewhat mixed: most reviewers were enthralled by the husband-wife team, but the showbiz paper Variety thought Alagna's Gallic tenor was insufficiently boffo in this beefy role.

Alagna is currently touring to promote an album of songs associated with one his heroes, Luis Mariano, a Spanish-born, French operetta singer who was a major stage star in postwar Paris. After that, it's back to opera for Alagna, who begins 2006 singing in Manon Lescaut and La bohme in Turin. Gheorghiu, meanwhile, heads east. In late November, she is scheduled to present a solo recital in Seoul. Gheorghiu thrilled audiences in Korea the last time she was there, in 2002, for a duo appearance with her husband.


With the help of broadband videoconferencing technology, Pinchas Zukerman performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons live for children in three Canadian provinces earlier this month. More than 70 youngsters from Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario—most of them aboriginal—took part in the event. In addition to hearing Zukerman play, the kids learned about Vivaldi's life and presented their own interpretations of the Seasons, drawing from native cultural traditions. For Canadians, who know Zukerman best for his podium work as music director of the Ottawa-based National Arts Centre Orchestra, the performance was a reminder that Zukerman first made a name for himself as a young violin virtuoso. On a break from conducting in Canada this month, Zukerman is pursuing his first career in Europe, playing violin and viola in a series of recitals as part of a wide-ranging tour that is taking him to Munich, London, Paris, Edinburgh, Milan, Sardinia, Naples, and Bologna. Pianist Marc Niekrug, Zukerman's accompanist for more than 30 years, is joining him on the trek.

Ever since the early days of his career, when he performed with the chamber ensemble Tashi, clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman has been interested in new music. This season, he performs several recent works, both in concert and on disc. In September, Stoltzman premiered Argentinean composer Astor Piazzola's Contemplacion y Danza with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Early this month, he joined the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony for the first performance of American composer David Stock's Clarinet Concerto. And in December, Stoltzman and the Cincinnati Symphony will perform Takemitsu's Fantasma Cantos, a 1991 piece written for Stoltzman and commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation. These performances come on the heels of a new recording, on the Ondine label, of the concerto composed for Stoltzman in 2002 by Einojuhani Rautavaara, one of Finland's major composers. Rautavaara and Stoltzman collaborated heavily on the concerto, which pays tribute to Benny Goodman and to Copland's Clarinet Concerto, a favorite of Stoltzman's. Stoltzman also recently released a collection of contemporary works by composers Daniel James Perlongo, Keith Lay, Gordon Goodwin, Anthony Iannaccone, and Andrew Stiller, the fifth CD in an ongoing series of discs of new music the clarinetist is recording for MMC. Stoltzman's plans for the rest of the season include an appearance in New York in April with his son, the jazz pianist Peter John Stoltzman, as part of the Peoples' Symphony Concerts series.

Conductor James Conlon, a New York native and Juilliard graduate, returned to his alma mater in mid-November to help celebrate the conservatory's centennial. Conlon led the Juilliard Orchestra at Lincoln Center, the first of several concerts he will perform with the student ensemble this season in honor of the anniversary. Conlon, the music director of Chicago's Ravinia Festival, will also be working on some interesting projects with adults. On December 2, he will lead the world premiere of Tobias Picker's opera An American Tragedy at the Met. The work, commissioned by the Met and based on Theodore Dreiser's Novel, features a star-studded cast that includes Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Susan Graham, and Jennifer Larmore. Francesca Zambello is the director. Conlon is also working with director Kenneth Branagh on a film adaptation of Mozart's The Magic Flute, set during World War I.

A number of the Deutsche Grammophon label's major artists have been in front of the microphones recently, recording discs that are due out early in the New Year. Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev plays four Mozart sonatas on a disc scheduled for release in time for the composer's 250th birthday, January 27. This will be Pletnev's first CD of Mozart's solo piano music. H_lne Grimaud's newest album, already on sale in France, Belgium and Switzerland, will be released internationally in fall 2006. The young pianist performs Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto and works by Clara Schumann and Brahms. Krystian Zimerman has teamed with Simon Rattle for a recording of Brahms's First Piano Concerto, scheduled for international release in March. On a disc that will be in the stores in January, Lang Lang plays works by Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann that helped shape his development as a budding musician in China.

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