Spotlight: Rolando Villaz‹n, Rising Star; Nadja Saleno-Sonnenberg, Former Smoker

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Rolando Villaz‹n, Rising Star; Nadja Saleno-Sonnenberg, Former Smoker
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

Up-and-coming tenor Rolando Villaz‹n not only has a new record contract in his pocket, he has a sex symbol in his corner. Villaz‹n's disc of Gounod and Massenet arias is one of six finalists for Record of the Year in the 2005 Classic FM Gramophone Awards, which will be handed out later this month. Under a format adopted last year, each nominated disc is championed by a British celebrity in an effort to drum up interest in the awards. Campaigning on Villaz‹n's behalf is Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the glamorous "It Girl" and fashionista once linked to Prince Charles. Palmer-Tomkinson told the press she was impressed by the 33-year-old Mexican singer's charm and suave voice.

And Palmer-Tomkinson is not the only celebrity captivated by Villaz‹n. None other than Jos_ Carreras told a Korean newspaper this month that he sees Villaz‹n as a potential successor to the Three Tenors. "I think that he is one of the great tenors of the young generation," the Third Tenor told Seoul's Dong-A Ilbo. The surging interest in Villaz‹n recently helped win him a new long-term contract from Deutsche Grammohon, which says it is betting that he will become one of the next opera superstars (the Gounod-Massenet CD up for Record of the Year was released by Virgin Classics). Listeners interested in discovering whether Villaz‹n lives up to the hype can hear the tenor in Rigoletto in the Metropolitan Opera's first radio broadcast this season, on December 17. Villaz‹n will share the stage with another rising superstar, soprano Anna Netrebko. Villaz‹n can also be heard in a supporting role in Plšcido Domingo's new recording of Tristan und Isolde.

In the buttoned-down world of classical music, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg always stood out as a tough-talking, chain-smoking, motorcycle-riding rebel. This summer, though, the tomboy virtuoso gave up one of the hallmarks of her bad-girl image—she quit smoking. In a recent blog post, Salerno-Sonnenberg describes her first 10 weeks without cigarettes and says she's as surprised as anyone that she managed to kick the habit. "A smoke in my hand," she writes, "was as much a part of me as the fiddle." Salerno-Sonnenberg—who memorably bared her soul and exposed her hard-driving personality in the 1999 film documentary Speaking in Strings—says she endured skin problems, eating binges and stress galore in her first 10 weeks without nicotine. Ultimately, however, she says the decision was worth it. "Quitting smoking is hard. Really hard. [But] I have to say that right now, this very moment, I am so proud of myself I could just cry." The new, smoke-free Salerno-Sonnenberg opens the 2005-06 season in Seattle, performing the Barber Violin Concerto. She can also be heard playing Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 on an EMI compact disc, newly reissued to mark the 2006 centenary of the composer's birth.

The incomparable soprano Renata Scotto was a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera for more than 20 years. She retired from the company in the late 1980s, but has remained active in music, teaching in both her native Italy and in the Met's backyard in suburban Westchester County, New York. In 2003, Scotto, who maintains a home in Armonk, New York, established the Renata Scotto Opera Academy at the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains. There, for a month every summer, Scotto shares her knowledge and experience with young singers from around the world, schooling them in both singing and acting. Earlier this year, the Westchester County Arts Council recognized Scotto's contributions, presenting her with one of its annual awards. Decca, meanwhile, has just reissued a lovely reminder of Scotto's artistry—a duo recital disc featuring Scotto and the great Mirella Freni singing Bellini and Mozart.


When it comes to musical families, the J‹rvis beat the Partridges, hands down. This summer, the entire musical J‹rvi clan—conductor/father Neeme, conductor/sons Paavo and Kristjan and flutist/daughter Maarika—performed together in a gala benefit for St. Petersburg's White Nights Festival. Paavo also stopped by his father's Summer Academy, a 10-day series of master classes held in the family's native Estonia, to work with young conductors. Paavo also would have conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in several June concerts honoring his father, who ended a 15-year tenure as the DSO's music director, but he injured his hand in Tokyo and remained in Japan for treatment. The conductor who substituted for Paavo was, of course, Neeme J‹rvi. Unfortunately, none of the younger J‹rvis were available to fill in when Neeme, a notorious workoholic, canceled all of his August appearances after a doctor ordered him to slow down.

With the start of the 2005-06 season this month, the J‹rvis are headed in separate directions once more. A well-rested Neeme served as a member of the jury at the Third International Sibelius Conducting Competition in Helsinki and preparing to take over as music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Paavo is getting set to begin a new season as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony while Kristjan will again lead the New York-based Absolute Ensemble. Maarika is scheduled to perform Nielsen's Flute Concerto this fall with regional orchestras in Serbia and Canada.


Julian Lloyd Webber is also keeping it in the family. In a pair of mid-September concerts in Malta, the cellist was scheduled to join the island's National Orchestra in a program containing selections from several musicals by his brother, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Also on the bill: music by the Lloyd Webbers' father, William Lloyd Webber (and Elgar's Cello Concerto). Meanwhile, Julian Lloyd Webber has been climbing the charts in England with a recent album titled Phantasia. Also featuring violinist Sarah Chang, the disc includes the title piece, which is based on themes from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, and a suite from Sir Andrew's newest musical, The Woman in White, which migrates to Broadway in November. Julian follows his Malta engagement with performances around the United Kingdom the rest of this fall.

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