The new season begins with a Verdi Festival. A trilogy of Verdi Masterpieces for audiences to get their teeth stuck into. Beginning with Don Carlos - performed in the original and slightly longer French version.
For me the most memorable part of this production will be our fabulous costumes. I get to wear some incredibly comfortable blue silk pyjamas with a Pope style white pointed hat on my head. I sometimes find it hard to recognise myself when I see photos of myself in the production.
I love the music in this piece. I once had tickets to go and watch it at the Royal Opera House. I was sat in my seat ready to have my mind blown by this piece - when they announced that the performance was going to be cancelled and all tickets would be refunded! The soprano singing "Elizabeth" had been taken to hospital last minute and they did not have a cover available. I remember, feeling so disappointed that I could not watch the full opera. The Royal Opera House did put on a few small scenes and arias for the audience that didn't involve this key character. It was so magical to hear these clips. I felt so frustrated, and I could not wait to one day be able to see it again. Who would have thought that the first time I would be watching the opera, would be from inside this production with Opera Vlaanderen? (Someone touch some wood to try and not tempt fate! We have only done one of our thirteen performances so far. I really don't want the same thing to happen again.)
For Don Carlos, his life’s work, based on the theatre classic by Friedrich Schiller, Giuseppe Verdi composed a sensuous tragedy about the impossible love between the Spanish king's son Carlos and his young stepmother Elizabeth. In exchange for peace with France, she has married Carlos' father, the harsh Philip II. If there is anyone who can help Carlos out of his self-chosen role of victim, then it is his loyal friend Rodrigo, who, at risk of losing his life, commit himself to rebellious Flanders which is terrorized by Spain. This gives rise to a dangerous game of political interests and amorous intrigues.
The boundaries separating memory and dream, religion and madness become blurred. Don Carlos is a passionate story about man in all his uncertainty and vulnerability, within a social system in which ideological fronts have become rock-hard. This is a plea for humanism and idealism and the perfect start to the season.
Opera Ballet Vlaanderen presents Don Carlos in the definitive form Verdi gave to his French-language grand opéra. Director Johan Simons, who is one of today’s most prominent European theatre-makers, has long been fascinated by the explosive and revolutionary theme of Schiller’s original play.
Together with visual artist Hans Op de Beeck and costume designer Greta Goiris, he develops a scenic world that is fundamentally conceived from the perspective of Don Carlos: theatrical, elusive and fundamentally unjust. The visual language refers, among other things, to the oeuvre of artists of the 16th-century Netherlands, such as Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch. In this new production of Verdi’s masterpiece, the musical director is the Argentinian conductor Alejo Pérez.
Length: 4 hours, incl. intermission French with Dutch and English surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
After a lovely long summer vacation, I will soon be heading back to my beloved Belgium for the next season of singing high notes in the Chorus for Opera Vlaanderen. We have a great season planned and will be revising Macbeth in Gent and Luxembourg. We have a new intendant at the head of the company, and he has programmed some more pieces that fuse together the ballet and opera companies. I am excited to be a part of each of these productions.
Verdi: Don Carlos
Schreker: Der Schmied von Gent
Wagner/Verdi: C(h)oeurs 2020
Mozart: Cosi fan Tutte
Wish me luck! It's going to be another busy year.
I had such a fantastic day. What an honour it was to perform with the Yorkshire Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Ben Crick, for the York Proms.
York is the kind of city that leaves a lasting impression on all her visitors because of the wealth of history, architecture and culture that the locals are lucky enough to live right on top of.
York has a number of festivals each year, which incorporate music, arts, food, comedy and more. However, York didn't have its very own summer proms event, which is a central feature of the entertainment calendar for many other towns and cities. In 2017, a passionate local team launched the first York Proms to a sell out crowd in the York Museum Gardens, overlooked by the one thousand year old ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Bathed in glorious summer sunshine, 2000 music lovers enjoyed their picnics, waved their flags and sang along to a selection of proms favourites and music from across the classical and musical theatre repertoire.
The songs I performed were:
Quando M'en Vo from 'La Boheme' by Puccini
O mio babbino caro from 'Gianni Schicchi' by Puccini
Medley from 'The Sound of Music' by Rogers and Hammerstein
Poor Wandring One from 'Pirates of Penzance' by Gilbert and Sullivan
Nella Fantasia by Morricone/Ferrau
Tonight from 'West Side Story' by Bernstein
Jerusalem by Blake/Parry
Rule Britannia by Thomson/Arne
Pomp and Circumstance (Land of Hope and Glory) by Elgar/Benson
For more information about the event, please visit the website:
Jennifer in patriotic mood for York Proms
By Charles Hutchinson
SOPRANO Jennifer Coleman will make her York debut in Sunday's York Proms in the Museum Gardens.
Here she answers Charles Hutchinson's questions on the Proms, her X Factor past and opera present.
Do you have any York connections, Jennifer?
“No, though my sister lived there for one year, and I visited her when she was there. I have more connections with Yorkshire. My Mum is from Yorkshire and grew up in Rotherham. I still have family in the county.”
Have you sung previously in the city? If so, where, when and what?
“This will be my first performance in York. In Yorkshire, I’ve previously given a recital in Sheffield St Marie Cathedral. And I have sung at lots of weddings all over the county."
Have you sung at Proms concerts previously? If so, when and where?
"I have. At one memorable occasion, I sang at one in London a few years ago for St George’s Day with the Royal British Legion Band. It was lots of fun.
"But this Proms in York will be different because of performing with the orchestra [the specially formed Yorkshire Festival Orchestra]. I’m really excited to hear the beautiful sound they will make."
What will be your Proms highlights this weekend?
"For me, the highlight of any Prom is always singing the patriotic section at the end, when the audience join in with Land Of Hope And Glory and Jerusalem."
Why are Proms concerts so popular?
"I think the Proms concerts have become part of British culture: a time to celebrate our nationality and feel patriotic. The only other time we get to feel this is once every four years during the football World Cup.
"What’s more British than a glass of Pimm's and a picnic in the British sunshine, with some fresh strawberries, and being serenaded by beautiful music? Heaven!"
What did you learn from your X Factor boot camp at the age of 17?
"I learned through my experience as a teenager on The X Factor that I wanted to be a professional singer when I grew up.
"At that time, I didn’t even listen to classical music or opera, so I had no idea that is what I would later become. It made me practise more every day and made me work really hard to end up where I am now. It made me realise that it was possible to achieve a career in singing."
Describe your experience of singing at the Royal Albert Hall….
"Every stage has its own personality. Some are historic and old and full of charm; some are super-ornate and fancy and maybe even a little pretentious. Some are modern and designed for modern-day audiences.
"But, at the end of the day, I go on and do what I do. It doesn’t matter where I am or what stage I am singing on. When the lights are on, you can’t see anything anyway."
What’s coming up next for you in your singing diary?
"I'm working as a full-time singer with Opera Vlaanderen, Best Opera Company 2019 in the International Opera Awards.
"For the 2019/20 season, we're performing in Verdi's Don Carlos, Verdi's Requiem, Verdi's Macbeth, Dvorak's Rusalka, Schreker's Der Schmied von Gent, Wagner/Verdi's C(h)oeurs 2020, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutti and Schumann's Faust.
"Next season we'll be performing Macbeth in Gent, and then we'll take the show to Luxembourg for a couple of performances.
"I'm really enjoying performing as one of the witches. It means I get to explore some unusual colours in my voice and I can embody a whole different physicality on stage.
"I also really enjoy travelling as part of my job. I'm so lucky that I've been able to explore so much of the world through my performing career."
Tickets for Sunday's York Proms are on sale at yorkproms.com, on 01904 555670 or in person at the Visit York Visitor Information Centre, Museum Street. Gates open at 5pm; entertainment starts at 5.15pm; main concert, 7.30pm.
Wow! - I can't believe it is the final opera this season - opera number 7 with Opera Vlaanderen. It has been a very intense year with some very challenging pieces of music, to learn and perform in very limited time. I am so glad that we are finishing the season with this opera. Verdi's Macbeth is a true masterpiece; and also super fun to perform in. This is a high energy production with lots of movements and physicality. I really feel like I am getting a work out during the witches scenes. During rehearsals, my Fitbit detected that I was doing some kind of "sporting activity". I found that quite amusing because I was just doing my job. In the photo above, I am the witch on the far left, with what looks like a rainbow over my head, the slow exposure really captures the movement of waving these paper streamers (or the Flemish word: Slingers) in the air. I think this shot really shows well the energy that we put into this scene in the 3rd act.
We are only performing Macbeth in Antwerp this time. It will return again later in the year, during next season, for performances in Gent and Luxembourg. Let's hope they don't run out of the fake blood before then! We use so much of it in this production.
Shakespeare's Macbeth is certainly the most demonic of Giuseppe Verdi's works. The focus is on the transient nature of power. We witness how a chain of violence, terror and paranoia is unleashed, fatally and destructively pitting Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the witches against one another. Following the productions La Forza del Destino and Otello, the German director Michael Thalheimer is thus creating his own Verdi trilogy at Opera Vlaanderen.
After a prophecy, Macbeth falls prey to an unprecedented ambition and thirst for power, encouraged and orchestrated by his wife. But with the power also grows the guilt and this growing awareness leads to insanity. In the context of the 19th-century Italian opera, Macbeth was risky business. Not only did Verdi work from a harrowing play that was little-known in Italy; he also dispensed with the obligatory love story. Especially innovative was his focus on the disturbed minds of both protagonists, whereby drama and music are inseparably bound up with one another.
With the Italian conductor Paolo Carignani – certainly one of the leading maestros in the Italian opera repertoire working today – the musical direction of Macbeth is in the safest of hands.
Length: 3 hours, incl. one intermission Italian with Dutch surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
I am super proud of my company. Well done to everyone!
Opera Vlaanderen has received the International Opera Award for Best Opera Company.
Opera Vlaanderen was up against some tough competition; Opéra national de Paris, Theater an der Wien, Houston Grand Opera, Deutsche Oper am Rhein and GöteborgOperans were also nominated, but in the end it was Opera Vlaanderen who received the honors.
Artistic director Aviel Cahn when accepting the award:
"An enormous honor and a recognition of ten years of hard work by everyone at our opera house. On stage, behind the scenes, in the offices and the ateliers. More than anything, this is an award for them. This emphasises yet again that Opera Vlaanderen is part of the international top because we bring opera in exciting and societally relevant ways. I hope this award inspires everyone who - just like us - believes in the future of opera as a genre."
My first time in Luxembourg. What a very special country! I've been wanting to come and visit some friends here for a while. I'm so thrilled that I got to see them finally.
I loved revising this opera again (4 months after we last performed it). It felt like seeing and old friend. Exactly the same. Like nothing had changed. At first I was a little nervous that I might have forgotten all the words. But as soon as the piano started playing the overture in our first rehearsal it all came back into my mind. Isn't it amazing how the human memory works.
I'm sad to say goodbye to Nurse Jenny. I think this has been my favourite opera that I have had the privilege to be a part of this year.
This was a very unique experience to be a part of. Unlike any opera I have ever performed in before, Les Bienveillantes shines a torch on humanity at it's utter worst. The story is centred around a highly disturbing Nazi Officer during the second world war. The music was based mostly on Bach chorals, but Hector spent time in Auschwitz while composing the piece and I feel that his music was strongly influenced by the time he spent there.
This production brought many challenges to us as performers. One of the main obstacles was the mud that was used to literally flood the stage. It made the floor quite slippery and so you had to be conscious of every move. It also meant that the technical team and costume department would spend hours after every performance cleaning it up again!
They also managed to have a flying grand piano in this production. At first I was terrified to walk underneath the piano - incase it fell. But we soon learned that it was very safely floating above our heads the whole time. It's amazing what our talented technical team can achieve.
A world premiere after Jonathan Littell's controversial novel The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes) from 2006. The main character, SS officer Max Aue, is not only a witness but above all, also a participant in the horrors of war, but he is not burdened by it. After the creation of Infinite Now, about the First World War, Opera Vlaanderen assigned this challenging commission on the Second World War to librettist Händl Klaus and the Catalan composer Hèctor Parra. It will be directed by Calixto Bieito.
The characterisation of Maximilian Aue as a sensitive, culturally refined intellectual, but also as a psychologically traumatised, homosexual Nazi, creates an uncomfortably ambiguous situation. The adaptation of this novel as an opera is a true tour de force. With Les Bienveillantes, the composer Hèctor Parra has written his sixth major work for music theatre. He combines strong musical structures with a highly intuitive and direct dramatic tone.
For Les Bienveillantes, Opera Vlaanderen is putting together a cast of opera singers with a strong stage presence. The director and guiding spirit of Les Bienveillantes is Calixto Bieito, who has lost none of the radicalism that established him as the enfant terrible of the opera scene in his early years. The musical direction will be in the hands of Peter Rundel, a specialist in contemporary music who also previously directed Hèctor Parra's Wilde at the Schwetzinger Festspiele.
Length: 3 hours 30 minutes, incl. one intermission German with Dutch and English surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
Jennifer Coleman - is a classical / opera singer, and vocal coach, performing across the UK and internationally.