Still, both works are extraordinary. When offered in an effective performing edition, “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse” is a complex, psychologically probing music drama. And “Poppea,” a tale of the Emperor Nero’s ruthless move to cast aside his wife and marry his ambitious mistress, anticipates by centuries the salacious sex-and-intrigue dramas of recent times.
— Anthony Tommasini
The Case of the Elusive Tenor
If things had gone according to plan, you’d now be seeing posters of Jonas Kaufmann all over New York. That German tenor, one of the world’s most sought-after singers, was scheduled to star in the Metropolitan Opera’s hotly anticipated new production of “Tosca,” opening in a gala performance on New Year’s Eve.
But in the spring, as the latest installment in years of canceled appearances, Mr. Kaufmann announced that he was not only pulling out of this most glittery of New York events but would also have to refrain from any extended opera commitments in the city altogether. Weeks of rehearsal, he said, meant just too much time away from his family.
It was a blow for Mr. Kaufmann’s many fans. But the coming season holds two “Trostpflaster”(“consolation bandages,” in German). In January, he teams up with his longtime chamber-music partner, the pianist Helmut Deutsch, in a Carnegie Hall recital featuring Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin.” This song cycle is lighter and more bucolic in character than “Winterreise,” which Mr. Kaufmann recorded a few years ago with his customary dramatic ferocity and intensity of tone. It will be interesting to hear him channel a more flexible, lyrical mode of expression.
Then, in April, the main event: Mr. Kaufmann will pull out the Heldentenor stops when he joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Andris Nelsons (who also canceled on “Tosca”), in a concert performance, also at Carnegie, of Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.” This will be his first go at Tristan, but New Yorkers who were able to catch Mr. Kaufmann’s commanding performance in the title role of “Parsifal” at the Met a few years ago know that he has the power, bloom and stamina required for these Wagnerian roles. Here he will join the soprano Camilla Nylund in the heady, love-drugged duet that is the opera’s central sequence.
— Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
The Philharmonic’s New Conductor. New Leader. And New Hall?
It is an intriguing time for New York Philharmonic watchers and listeners. The Dutch maestro Jaap van Zweden, the orchestra’s music director-designate, will open the season on Sept. 19 with Mahler’s challenging Fifth Symphony; its former executive director, Deborah Borda, has just returned as president and chief executive; and the fate of its perennially troubled home — the 1962 Philharmonic Hall, renovated repeatedly and renamed Avery Fisher Hall, then David Geffen Hall — remains uncertain.
Some fear that Mr. van Zweden will retrench from Alan Gilbert’s forays into modern and new music. Oddly, because I was otherwise occupied during his visits to the Philharmonic, I have seen him conduct only new music: Steven Stucky’s Lyndon B. Johnson oratorio, “August 4, 1964,” of 2008, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which he currently directs (along with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra).
Obviously, giving the premiere of a work commissioned before his arrival in Dallas is not enough to certify Mr. van Zweden as a champion of new music. But in another hopeful sign, after that Mahler Fifth gala, the opening Philharmonic subscription program will add the New York premiere of Philip Glass’s Concerto for Two Pianos (Sept. 22 and 23).
I am inclined to give Mr. van Zweden the benefit of the doubt. I well remember how skeptical I was when another conductor, Kurt Masur, took over the Philharmonic in 1991. From his previous New York visits with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, I, like many others, thought of Mr. Masur as a somewhat stodgy, provincial Central European, but from his first performances as music director, he electrified the Philharmonic, which fared spectacularly well through much of his tenure. More of the same, please.
What the strong-willed Mr. Masur could not do was peacefully coexist with the equally strong-willed Ms. Borda, who decamped in 1999 to run the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which she helped elevate to a standard-setter in many regards. Since she and Mr. van Zweden seem to be working in harmony, her return to New York bodes only well for the Philharmonic.
In Los Angeles, Ms. Borda oversaw the inauguration of Walt Disney Concert Hall, an experience that should serve her well in dealing with the Geffen Hall situation. There has been talk — so much talk — of revamping the hall yet again, or razing the building and starting over. Which way will Ms. Borda’s vote go, and will it finally prove decisive?
— James R. Oestreich
New York Blooms With Touring Orchestras
No city is more fortunate than New York when it comes to touring orchestras. But you wonder what we have done to deserve this season’s starry array.
Mahler predominates. In October, Antonio Pappano brings his Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, a group he has quickly brought to international standard. Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is on one program; Martha Argerich, no less, plays Prokofiev on the other. November has Zubin Mehta, decent in this repertoire, taking on Mahler’s Third with the dark-toned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, one of three concerts. Daniele Gatti, a visionary in Mahler, comes to town in January with his new orchestra, the storied Royal Concertgebouw: They assay the First, an evening that follows a foray into Wagner and Bruckner.
Perhaps Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra are not piquant enough for you in the Ninth, which they give in January? Try Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra in May, as part of their Mahler mini-festival at Lincoln Center, which also includes “Das Lied von der Erde,” boasting Stuart Skelton and Christian Gerhaher as vocalists, and Deryck Cooke’s completion of the Tenth Symphony, a Rattle calling card. In your night off during that trilogy, nip across to Carnegie Hall to hear Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, almost a perfect orchestra, in the Seventh.
If Mahler is not your thing, there is some respite. The Mariinsky Orchestra comes in November with Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3, a gloriously overheated work that will still pale in comparison with Daniil Trifonov’s playing his own piano concerto the next evening. In the new year, Riccardo Muti and his Chicago Symphony have a marvelously diverse program of Stravinsky, Higdon, Chausson and Britten, as well as a spot of Brahms; the Boston Symphony outshines them in April with Shostakovich’s Fourth and the second act of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” with the small matter of Jonas Kaufmann singing the male lead. Gustavo Dudamel, meanwhile, makes two visits, first with the Vienna Philharmonic in a tediously cast series, enlivened only with a rather surprising performance of Ives’s Second Symphony, and then with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is always a less interesting orchestra on tour than at home — Beethoven’s Ninth is on the bill.
Of course, none of this compares to the main attraction: Kirill Petrenko, destined for the Berlin Philharmonic, leading two March concerts, including the company of the Bavarian State Opera, surely the finest in the world, in a performance of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier.”
— David Allen
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