Verdi Requiem  |  June 2015

ARTISTS: New York Philharmonic; New York Choral Artists; Alan GilberT; Angela Meade; Lilli Paasikivi; Russell Thomas; Eric Owens

Verdi composed his massive Requiem for the first anniversary of the death of poet Alessandro Manzoni, a fellow nationalist whom he revered deeply. It has become a truism to say that this dramatic Mass for the Dead is more operatic than liturgical (the great conductor Hans von Bülow called it Verdi’s “latest opera, in church vestments”), but one cannot resist doing so. This music expresses fear, piety, supplication, and hope, and its dynamic range extends from softest pianissimos to bone-rattling fortissimos. Brahms declared the Requiem “a work of genius,” and Verdi’s wife, who can be forgiven her bias, stated: “Posterity will place it, with wings outspread, in domination of all the music of mourning ever conceived by the human brain.”


Der Fliegende Holländer  |  November 2014

ARTISTS: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Andris Nelsons; Kwangchul Youn; Anja Kampe; Christopher Ventris; Jane Henschel; Russell Thomas; Terje Stensvold

The Wagner year 2013 brought something special to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's concert schedule. The RCO pulled out all the stops with a full performance of a Wagner opera in concert version. Busy carving out an impressive career for himself and making his fifth appearance at Bayreuth last summer, Andris Nelsons has certainly earned his spurs as a Wagner specialist. He leads the RCO and a cast of international soloists in Der fliegende Holländer, an opera about the captain of an infamous Dutch ghost ship who can be freed only by a woman who consents to marry him.


The Gospel According To The Other Mary  |  March 2014

ARTISTS: Los Angeles Philharmonic; Los Angeles Master Chorale; Gustavo Dudamel; Kelley O'Connor; Russell Thomas; Tamara Mumford

A timely, controversial work of grand proportions, The Gospel According To The Other Mary is a full-scale re-imagining of the Bach oratorio from composer John Adams and iconoclast writer/director Peter Sellars. Focusing on the oft marginalized perspectives of Mary Magdalene and Martha, The Gospel According To The Other Mary sets Biblical characters and events, including the resurrection of Lazarus and the passion of Christ, in a powerfully political, contemporary light. As with the nativity oratorio El Nino (a response to Handels Messiah), and the opera Dr. Atomic, the libretto is been assembled by Peter Sellars, who has interwoven events from the New and Old Testaments with poetry reflecting themes of faith and liberation from the 12th Century mystic Hildegard von Bingen, to the 20th Century Mexican feminist poet Rosario Castellanos.


Beethoven/Turnage  |  January 2014

ARTISTS: New York Philharmonic; New York Choral Artists; Alan GilberT; Russell Thomas; Shenyang; Kelley O'Connor; Julianna Di Giacomo

In the concert hall and beyond, Beethoven is held up as the iconic orchestral composer, and his symphonies as the essential canon of orchestral music.The Ninth, in particular, has come to be seen as a monument of the repertoire, with conductors proving their worth by how they scale it. There is validity to this perception of the place that Beethoven’s symphonies hold in the repertoire: almost every symphony that has been written since relates to it, either because later composers tried to carry on what he started, or deliberately defied his precedent. It is important for modern audiences to be reminded that the concerts at which Beethoven’s pieces were premiered were contemporary music events. It is with the hopes of refreshing our stance toward the Ninth, and of showing how today’s composers still build on and react to earlier precedents, that we juxtapose it with Frieze, by Mark-Anthony Turnage, the wonderful composer who accepted our challenge to create a companion for the symphony that has cast such a very long shadow.


Belisario  |  November 2013

ARTISTS: BBC Concert Orchestra; Sir Mark Elder; niccola alaimo; joyce el-khoury; camilla roberts; russell thomas; alastair miles

Belisario is, quite simply, one of Donizetti's finest achievements. Dating from the high watermark of Donizetti's maturity, Belisario proved a triumph on stages throughout the 19th century. Yet, incredibly, it is little known today. The libretto tells the moving and typically complicated story of the sixth-century Byzantine general. Falsely accused by his wife of killing their son, he was blinded and exiled as his punishment. His daughter's discovery that her father's former captive, Alamiro, was her long-lost brother, restores Belisario's reputation; tragically, too late to save his life. Recorded in the studio with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder, this two disc set is accompanied by a complete libretto with an English translation alongside an article and synopsis by the eminent 19th Century musical scholar, Jeremy Commons.


Macbeth  |  February 2011

ARTISTS: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and chorus; James Levin; Zeljko Lucic; Maria Guleghina; John Relyea; Dimitri Pittas; Russell Thomas

Esteemed Shakespearean director Adrian Noble focuses on the timeless and universal themes embraced by Verdi. This atmospheric production, starring Željko Lučić and Maria Guleghina, highlights the ferocious royal couple’s erotic connection as the lynchpin of their ruthlessness. James Levine presides over a powerful performance that features some of Verdi’s most stirring choral writing.


Zaide  |  May 2009

ARTISTS: Louis LangréE; Peter Sellars; Russell Thomas; Morris Robinson; Ekaterina Lekhina; Aix-en-Provence Festival Orchstra

Zaide, the unfinished opera by Mozart, appeared in a controversial production directed by Peter Sellars at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2008. Composed in 1780, two years before The Abduction from the Seraglio, Zaide contains melodies of incredible inventiveness. The opera lacks an overture, a finale and many spoken dialogues, yet the missing elements allowed Sellars to elaborate and transform the work into a grand manifesto against slavery. Sellars' vision provoked a scandal, as it had previously in Vienna and London, but the Cour de l'Archevêché has experienced plenty of scandals.


A Flowering Tree  |  September 2008

ARTISTS: London Symphony Orchestra; Schola Cantorum Caracas; John Adams; Jessica Rivera; Russell Thomas; Eric Owens

A Flowering Tree, by Pulitzer Prize–winning composer John Adams, was commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Adams and his longtime collaborator, co-librettist/director Peter Sellars, adapted an Indian folktale to create A Flowering Tree. The opera shares with Mozart’s The Magic Flute the themes of youth, magic, transformation, and the dawning of moral awareness. A Flowering Tree tells the story of an impoverished young Indian girl, Kumudha, who has the magical ability to transform herself into a tree and sells her blossoms at the palace to help her ailing mother. The Prince falls in love with her, and they marry but are torn apart by his jealous sister. After Kumudha is cast out into a netherworld as half woman, half tree, and the Prince becomes a wandering beggar, they meet again years later at the prince’s sister’s palace. No longer physically recognizable, Kumudha reunites with her prince through her beautiful singing voice.


Aceldama  |  January 2003

ARTISTS: Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony; University of Miami Chorale; Thomas Sleeper; Thomas Barrettl; David Crawford; Sandra Lopez; Russell Thomas

This one-act opera on the story of Cain and Abel taken through the ages to the Holocaust and beyond was written by Thomas M. Sleeper, Director of Orchestral Activities and Conductor of the University of Miami Orchestra and Opera Theater. "Aceldama," which in Greek means "field of blood," appears in reference to the field where Cain slew Abel in the first recorded homicide (in fact, fratricide) of the Judeo-Christian tradition. "Aceldama" is sometimes also used to describe the field where Judas committed suicide after his betrayal of Christ. The opera Aceldama is based on the story of Cain and Abel and takes this tragedy through the ages to the Nazi Germany death camps and beyond. Elements are fused from accounts of the Holocaust, Jewish and Christian texts, the Upanishads, the Arthurian legend, Dante's Inferno, and the Faust legend.