Leos Janacek's final opera, From the House of the Dead, has its Metropolitan Opera premiere on November 12 in a new production by celebrated director Patrice Chéreau, making his U.S. opera debut.
Esa-Pekka Salonen, until recently the widely acclaimed Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, makes his Met debut conducting this powerful opera. Chereau has been a legendary figure in Europe since his 1976 centennial Ring cycle production at the Bayreuth Festival. In addition to numerous theater and opera productions, he has also directed twelve films (including Intimacy and Queen Margot) but has rarely worked in the U.S. This co-production of From the House of the Dead was first presented in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Aix-en-Provence, with critics calling it, "the operatic event of the year" (Le Figaro) and "music theater at its best" (Die Presse, Vienna). The London Telegraph declared: "I was so moved, enthralled and uplifted by this great performance of Janácek's last opera that I scarcely know where to begin." "This is Janacek's From the House of the Dead as it should be, an evening where crushing wretchedness meets exquisite hope," said the Financial Times. The cast includes Peter Mattei as Shishkov, Stefan Margita as Filka Morozov, Kurt Streit as Skuratov, Peter Hoare as Shapkin, and Willard White as Gorianchikov.
"From the House of the Dead is based on a book by Dostoevsky, who spent years in a prison camp in Siberia and later wrote about it," says Chereau. "In Janacek's opera, life in the prison is incredibly alive, incredibly strong: it's exactly our life, reconstructed in a prison...There are many fascinating stories. They're all about the solitude of the prisoners, about their love...It's all of mankind in an opera, the whole of mankind is onstage. Remember, on the first page of Janácek's score he wrote a sentence by Dostoevsky: 'In every human being, a divine spark.'"
Richard Peduzzi, who designed the sets for the Met's season-opening new production of Tosca, also designed the sets for From the House of the Dead. Other members of the production team are all making Met debuts: associate director Thierry Thieû Niang, costume designer Caroline de Vivaise, and lighting designer Bertrand Couderc. Performances run through December 5.
The staging, a co-production among the Met, Vienna Festival, Holland Festival, Aix-en-Provence Festival, and La Scala, will play in Milan after its Met performances. It was taped in Aix and released on a DVD, winning the prestigious Académie Charles Cros award for best opera performance in 2008. A video preview is available at www.metopera.org.
Finnish maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen just completed a highly successful 17-year tenure as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He organized festivals, including The Tristan Project, toured frequently with the orchestra, conducted world premieres by Lutoslawski, Adams, Saariaho, Stucky and many others, and oversaw the orchestra's move into its new home, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. He is now Conductor Laureate in Los Angeles, as well as the Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of London's Philharmonia Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Baltic Sea Festival. Earlier in his career, he served as Chief Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (1985-1995), Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra (1985-1994), and Director of the Helsinki Festival (1995-1996). Salonen is also a recognized composer. Among his best known works are the orchestra pieces LA Variations (1996), Helix (2005), Foreign Bodies (2001), and Stockholm Diary (2004), as well as his Piano Concerto (first performed in 2007 by Yefim Bronfman), Violin Concerto (premiered this year by Leila Josefowicz), and the string quartet Homunculus (2008).
Swedish baritone Peter Mattei makes his role debut as Shishkov. After he appeared as Figaro in Bartlett Sher's new production of IL Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met in 2006, which was seen live in HD, the New York Times said, "Mr. Mattei, an elegant singer who can spin a legato phrase with velveteen smoothness, has also received high praise for the dynamism and naturalness of his acting. He is a prime example of a new generation of opera singers, fine vocal artists who care deeply about acting and do it very well." Last season, he sang Don Giovanni-a signature role-at the Met where he has also appeared as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro and Marcello in La Bohème. Mattei sings with major opera companies throughout the world in a repertoire that includes the title roles in Eugene Onegin and Billy Budd, Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Rodrigo in Don Carlo.
Stefan Margita makes his Met debut as Filka Morozov, a role he has previously performed in this production in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Aix. The Czech tenor sang Loge in Das Rheingold at the San Francisco Opera last year. His repertoire also includes Grigori/Dmitri in Boris Godunov (Houston Grand Opera) and Zinovy in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Royal Opera, Covent Garden)
American tenor Kurt Streit sings Skuratov. He was Lysander in the Met premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996) and has also sung Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, Count Almaviva in The Ghosts of Versailles, and Cassio in Otello with the company. Elsewhere he has often portrayed Mozart parts such as Tito, Idomeneo, and Don Ottavio, but also performs a wide variety of roles, including Boris in Kat'a Kabanová (Royal Opera, Covent Garden), Jack in Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage (Lyric Opera of Chicago), and Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer (Teatre Liceu, Barcelona).
In his Met debut, British tenor Peter Hoare sings the role of Shapkin, which he has performed in this production in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Aix. A former percussionist who switched to a vocal career, he now sings roles such as Herod in Salome, Laca in Jen?fa, and the Captain in Wozzeck (all at Welsh National Opera), Sellem in The Rake's Progress (Lausanne Opera), the Schoolmaster in The Cunning Little Vixen (Scottish Opera), and Bardolph in Falstaff (Royal Opera, Covent Garden).
Willard White adds the role of Gorianchikov to his Met repertoire. The bass-baritone made his company debut as Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande in 2000 and has also appeared as Ferrando in Il Trovatore and the Gnome in Rusalka. A native of Jamaica, he has a broad repertoire that includes the four villains in Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Royal Opera, Covent Garden), Somnus in Semele (Aix-en-Provence), Klingsor in Parsifal (Royal Opera, Covent Garden), and the title roles in Der Fliegende Holländer (English National Opera), Falstaff (Aix-en-Provence), Porgy and Bess (Glyndebourne Opera), and Saint François d'Assise (San Francisco Opera).
Patrice Chéreau began working as an actor and director in the 1960s and took over the direction of the Théâtre de Sartrouville in the Paris suburbs at the age of 22. He later worked with Giorgio Strehler at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and went on to take the helm of other theaters in France. In 1976, he directed the now legendary centennial production of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuth Festival, which immediately won him acclaim as one of the world's foremost opera directors. Among his most renowned opera productions are Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Paris Opera in 1974, the first complete, three-act presentation of Lulu at the Paris Opera in 1979, Wozzeck at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1993, Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival in 1994, Così fan tutte at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Paris Opera in 2005, and Tristan und Isolde at La Scala in 2007. Chéreau, who is also a writer and actor, works often in theater and in film. He has won many prestigious awards, including the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize for his film Queen Margot, as well as several Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscar, Molières, the French Tony awards, and the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. His films include Queen Margot, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Intimacy, His Brother, and Gabrielle. His theatrical productions include classical works such as Phèdre, Hamlet, and Peer Gynt, as well as many works by contemporary playwrights. He directed and acted in the play Dans la solitude des champs de coton ("In the Loneliness of the Cotton Fields"), which was staged at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music in 1996.
Richard Peduzzi made his Met debut with Luc Bondy's opening night production of Tosca. The French set designer has a 40-year creative partnership with Patrice Chéreau which includes their opera productions of Der Ring des Nibelungen (Bayreuth Festival), Lulu (Paris National Opera), Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival), and Tristan und Isolde (La Scala). Peduzzi also frequently collaborates with Luc Bondy in theater and opera, including The Turn of the Screw (Edinburgh International Festival), Cruel and Tender, a reworking of Sophocles's Trachiniae (London's Young Vic), Handel's Hercules (Brooklyn Academy Of Music), and Philippe Boesmans's Julie (Aix-en-Provence Festival).