Intermusica artists commemorate the centenary of the ending of the First World War
Several Intermusica artists were involved in events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War this month both on and around Armistice Day on 11 November.
Renaud Capuçon joined Yo-Yo Ma in Paris on Armistice Day itself to perform Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello for world leaders including President Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump.
Also on Armistice Day, Marin Alsop led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a performance of Brahms' German Requiem, which broke from tradition by presenting the Requiem Mass in German rather than the usual Latin. In October, Alsop also conducted three concerts with Daniil Trifonov and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra honouring the Armistice entitled A Time for Reflection.
Andrew Manze led the combined forces of the NDR Radiophilharmonie and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in two performances of Britten's War Requiem, first at the Kuppelsaal Hannover on 3 November and then at Liverpool Cathedral on 10 November. Click here to watch Manze and members of the orchestras talk about the project.
In Cardiff, Mark Wigglesworth conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and soloists Emma Bell, Alan Clayton and Roman Trekel in Britten's War Requeim, which interspersed the words of the Mass for the Dead with the poetry of Wilfred Owen.
On 4 November, the London Symphony Orchestra gave the London premiere of Sir James MacMillan's All the Hills and Vales Along, a new oratorio written for soloist Ian Bostridge and based on poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley who was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
On 10 and 11 November, Cantori New York gave the US premiere of Thierry Escaich's oratorio "Cris", which was written after the novel by Laurent Gaudé Les Cris de Paris which explores the experience of French soldiers in the trenches. Its world premiere came in 2016 at the Théâtre de Verdun to mark the centenary of the Battle of Verdun, the longest of the war.
Hubert Zapiór joined the Albany Symphony at the Proctors Theater in Schenectady to perform War Requiem under the baton of David Allan Miller.
On 10 November Anthony Gregory and Susan Bickley joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Turnage's opera is an adapatation of Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play of the same name, which critiqued the damaging impact of the war.
On 9 November, Marta Fontanals-Simmons joined the Jenaer Philharmonie to perform Benjamin Ellin's One Before Zero, a one-movement oratorio commemorating the Battle of the Somme. The work weaves together first-hand accounts of the Great War in English, German and French and illustrates, both linguistically and musically, how the trauma of war affected all nations equally. Click here to read an interview with Fontanals-Simmons about the piece.
Martyn Brabbins and English National Opera perform a staged version of Britten's War Requiem directed by Kaspar Holten on 16 and 22 November. Intermusica's David Butt Philip leads the soloists for the performances.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons appears in specially written work to commemorate 100 years since WWI
As Remembrance Day approaches, Intermusica spoke with mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, who on 9 November performs in One Before Zero, a large-scale work by composer Benjamin Ellin, written as part of centenary commemorations of World War One.
Described as a one-movement oratorio for the Battle of the Somme, the work weaves together first-hand accounts of the Great War in English, German and French and illustrates, both linguistically and musically, how the trauma of war affected all nations equally.
The piece received its world premiere in France in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Last month, Fontanals-Simmons and Ellin took the piece to Žilina, Slovakia, where it prompted a moving reaction from the audience. Now they are preparing to bring the work to Jena, Germany, ahead of Armistice day, a time when people across the world will pause to reflect on the impact of WWI.
“Let there not be a man or a woman among us who, when this greatest of tasks is over, will not then be able to say: I was not idle.”
In Ellin’s words, “One Before Zero is the moment before battle, zero hour, when hostilities began. It’s that dawning of awareness for a soldier as he is faced with death and realising that his enemy could be feeling exactly the same emotions.”
The work is scored for solo mezzo-soprano and baritone, boys’ choir, mixed choir and orchestra. The libretto ranges from propaganda material and patriotic songs to official military statements and letters from soldiers at the front. The beginning focuses on the patriotic feelings expressed on all sides as war began, before morphing to reflect dark desperation as the fighting took its toll. Rather than express a political viewpoint, One Before Zero brings together everyone’s stories: by including texts in English, French and German, differences subside, and common humanity comes to the fore.
While the baritone takes the role of a soldier reporting from the trenches, the mezzo is both the voice of propaganda and the women left behind. Fontanals-Simmons explains: “My role is the voice of propaganda, encouraging men to enlist. There is a poignant moment in the piece when the mezzo and baritone sing a duet together. The mezzo is the woman waiting at home, scanning the newspapers for any news of her loved one, and the baritone is telling his story from no-man's land as he lies mortally wounded. The duet builds musically as the mezzo realises her loved one is dead. Ben writes beautifully – not overly romanticised at all.”
“Unceasingly I had scanned the Roll of Honour,
Relieved this day, dreading the tomorrow;
Weeks had flown by, still no tidings of him
From the dim horizon of the battle grim…”
Ellin’s own ancestor, Private Samuel Boot, died in the war. His army number, 19463, is used by the composer as musical inspiration – he translates it into musical intervals which appear at various times throughout the piece and then passes it from instrument to instrument to create a fugue. Other musical techniques recreate the sounds of war, from Morse code and the tuning of a radio to exploding mortar shells, depicted by a choir. Fontanals-Simmons says: “At certain points the mezzo sings recitative as if reading directly from the text; then there’s a point where I imagine I’m a dove, soaring over the trenches. The whole work feels like an opera.”
"If all were made alive again, then I would sing beside my friend"
On the work’s ending, Fontanals-Simmons notes: “It is philosophical and almost prophetic. It asks a question of us, the modern listener – however easy it is to be misled by untruths or xenophobia, can we choose a better path together? The most poignant moment for me, a transcendental moment, is right at the end when everyone is playing and singing together at full capacity and the boys' choir is singing in the gods like angels. We’re all singing this beautiful line, 'If all were made alive again, then I would sing beside my friend' in different languages – mon ami, mein Freund, my friend. We are holding hands with our neighbours. I have to choke back tears at that point.”
The piece ends with a question to the audience, asking us what we could do differently to prevent such atrocities happening again:
“A hundred years have gone by and here, in this country and in this time, we have peace. It's hard to relate in any tangible way to those who have been through war but all l I can do in performing this work is to add to the feeling of peace. We have unity now and community and we should enjoy that. Yes, there is war, hatred and division in this world still but perhaps, for 50 minutes, we can stop and share in this music together.”
The concert in Germany will be held at the Volkshaus, Jena on 9 November. For more details about the performance, click here.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons performs in recital at Aldebugh's Red House to mark Benjamin Britten's birthday
On 22 November 2018, Marta Fontanals-Simmons gives a recital at The Red House, Aldeburgh, accompanied by Lana Bode. Fontanals-Simmons has a particular affinity for art song, and works closely with Bode; the duo are 2018-19 Park Lane Group Young Artists. This is the final recital in their Listen Again series, a performance residency supported by the Britten Pears Foundation which explores new programming ideas, culminating in a series of concerts held at Britten's home.
In addition to subsequent recitals at various UK and international venues, this season also sees Fontanals-Simmons’ Royal Opera House debut: in the title role in the world premiere of Gavin Higgins The Monstrous Child. Other engagements include Amando in Ligeti Le Grande Macabre with the Norddeutscher Rundfunk at the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, and a return to Glyndebourne for the role of Zweite Dame in Mozart Die Zauberflöte.
The final Listen Again recital takes place at 17.00 at The Red House, marking the occasion of Britten’s 105th birthday.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons performs at launch of the Royal Opera House’s redesigned Linbury Theatre
Marta Fontanals-Simmons this morning performed extracts from brand new opera The Monstrous Child as part of celebrations marking the official opening of the highly anticipated revamped Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The Monstrous Child, composed by Gavin Higgins and based on Francesca Simon’s darkly humorous book of the same name, will be the first opera production to appear in the new-look Linbury. Fontanals-Simmons plays the role of Hel, ordinary teenager and goddess of the Underworld, who must take drastic action when her kingdom and eternity itself are threatened. Librettist Francesca Simon is best known as the author of the Horrid Henry books; The Monstrous Child (Faber & Faber, 2016) marked her first foray into teen fiction and has been described as ‘a stunning, operatic and epic drama like no other.’ Fontanals-Simmons will begin rehearsals in the new year with opening night on 21 February 2019.
Further highlights in 2018/19 for Fontanals-Simmons include Amando Le Grand Macabre with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Alan Gilbert and a return to Glyndebourne Festival Opera for Zweite Dame Die Zauberflöte, while recent highlights include her debut at the Teatro Real, Madrid as Jennie Hildebrand in Weill Street Scenen and the European premiere of Alasdair Nicolson Shadows on the Wall – Five Hauntings at the Barbican.
The Linbury Theatre is the jewel in the crown of the Royal Opera House’s ‘Open Up’ campaign, an ambitious 3-year refurbishment project costing over £50 million and designed to make daytime inclusivity and access a core part of the visitor experience. New and improved visitor spaces include a café and bar, Level 5 restaurant and outdoor terrace with stunning views over Covent Garden piazza. The facilities will be brought to life by a vibrant programme of free and low-cost participatory performances and events for all ages.
Click here to watch Marta's performance from the launch.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons sings Elgar with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Marta Fontanals-Simmons joins the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, to sing Elgar’s Sea Pictures on 30 September 2018. Conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton, the concert also features the music of several other British composers, including Vaughan Williams and Parry.
Fontanals-Simmons enjoys a number of concert engagements this season, with upcoming recitals at Oxford Lieder and the Red House, Aldeburgh, in addition to her Royal Opera House debut later this season, in Gavin Higgins The Monstrous Child.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons sings Berlioz with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Marta Fontanals-Simmons returns to the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 6 July 2018 for a concert at Maida Vale Studios, singing the mezzo-soprano solos in Berlioz La Captive. Conducted by Pascal Rophé, this studio concert focuses on French-themed repertoire, with a programme also including works by Dutilleux and Liszt.
Fontanals-Simmons joined the Orchestra earlier this season singing Alasdair Nicholson Shadows on the Wall – Five Hauntings under the baton of Ben Gernon, receiving praise from the Financial Times for her “warm, mezzo lyrical quality” (December 2017).
Fontanals-Simmons has enjoyed a varied close to the 2017/18 season, performing the role of Second Lady in Garsington Opera’s production of Mozart Die Zauberflöte alongside concert engagements at Queen Elizabeth Hall and Cadogan Hall. The opening of the 2018/19 season sees her perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and for Rye Arts Festival, in addition to solo recitals at venues around the UK.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons returns to Garsington in new production of Die Zauberflöte
Marta Fontanals-Simmons returns to Garsington Opera on 31 May 2018 for Netia Jones’s new production of Mozart Die Zauberflöte. Singing Second Lady, Fontanals-Simmons joins a cast including Louise Alder as Pamina and Benjamin Hulett as Tamino.
Fontanals-Simmons made an acclaimed debut at Garsington last season singing Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro:
“The laurels must go to… Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Cherubino, possessed of a voice with highly individual character matched by natural dramatic instincts which, quite simply, made you forget she was acting”
Opera Now, September 2017
This summer’s Die Zauberflöte runs throughout the summer with the final performance on 24 July.
Marta Fontanals-Simmons joins Intermusica for worldwide management
We are delighted to announce that mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons has joined Intermusica for worldwide management.
Highlights this season for British-Catalan mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons include her debut at the Teatro Real, Madrid as Jennie Hildebrand in Weill Street Scene, Zweite Dame Die Zauberflöte for Garsington Opera and Alasdair Nicolson Shadows on the Wall – Five Hauntings at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ben Gernon. Future engagements include a return to Glyndebourne Festival Opera and to the Teatro Real, and her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and for Monte Carlo Opera.
Recent highlights for Fontanals-Simmons include Cherubino Le nozze di Figaro for Garsington Opera which gained the following praise from critics:
“The laurels must go to Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Cherubino, possessed of a voice with highly individual character matched by natural dramatic instincts which, quite simply, made you forget she was acting”
Opera Now, September 2017
“Marta Fontanals-Simmons proved a master (mistress) of fresh-voiced enthusiasm and cross-dressing faux-awkwardness.”
Opera Today, June 2017
On the concert platform, recent highlights include Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music with Sakari Oramo at the Last Night of the Proms, Mendelssohn Elijah with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Birmingham Symphony Hall, Ravel L’Enfant et les Sortilèges with Stéphane Denève and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, and Mozart Requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A passionate recitalist, Fontanals-Simmons has performed at the Wigmore Hall, St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and St James's Church, Piccadilly.
Watch her perform Schumann Widmung here:
Mary Bevan & Marta Fontanals-Simmons make their Teatro Real, Madrid debuts in Weill's Street Scene
On 13 February, Mary Bevan and Marta Fontanals-Simmons make their Teatro Real debuts in John Fulljames’ production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, under the musical direction of Tim Murray.
Bevan sings the role of Rose Maurrant, and Fontanals-Simmons sings Jennie Hildebrand. On 16 February at 20:00 CET, the production will be streamed live online by Mezzo Live HD.
Bevan will next be seen in London singing the title role in the Royal Opera House’s world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new opera Coraline, to be performed at the Barbican Theatre. This season she also appears at the Wigmore Hall, and with the Aurora Orchestra for a performance of Richard Ayres’ In the Alps.
Other highlights this season for Fontanals-Simmons include Zweite Dame Die Zauberflöte for Garsington Opera and Alasdair Nicolson Shadows on the Wall – Five Hauntings at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ben Gernon. Future engagements include a return to Glyndebourne Festival Opera and to the Teatro Real, and her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Monte Carlo Opera.