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Festival Orchestra kicks off the season with a Baroque opera at Müpa Budapest


Festival Orchestra kicks off the season with a Baroque opera at Müpa Budapest

Monteverdi’s opera, The Coronation of Poppea (L'incoronazione di Poppea), will kick off the Festival Orchestra’s new season on September 9 at Müpa Budapest. The ensemble will offer Hungarian audiences just three performances of the opera, a joint production with the host institution, before taking it to Geneva and Vicenza next.

Following the critically acclaimed success in 2019 of L’Orfeo, Iván Fischer is once again directing a Monteverdi piece: on September 9, the Festival Orchestra, joined by international stars, will use period instruments at the premiere of the composer’s final musical drama, telling the story of Nero and Poppea. The Coronation of Poppea, with only three performances in the Hungarian capital, in collaboration with Müpa Budapest, will feature the most sought-after soloists of early music, joining the ensemble from all corners of the world from Scotland to Trinidad. Co-directing the piece is Marco Gandini, who for years worked in a similar capacity alongside Franco Zeffirelli. Although there is just one conductor listed in the program, Iván Fischer maintains he will be joined on stage by an invisible conductor. “Amor proves that he directs the world. Freud would nod in agreement,” he says. It is this approach, with love in its focus, that characterizes the performance. The title role will be performed by Jeanine De Bique, a star of some of the most prominent opera stages and concert halls of the Americas and Europe. The role of Nerone will be performed by Arad-born countertenor Valer Sabadus, who won the Handel Prize in 2020. In a Guardian review, he was hailed as having “ravishing control and finely honed technique”. A countertenor noted for his sparkling and articulate song, Reginald Mobley will appear in the role of Ottone; soprano Núria Rial - recognized as a “Young Artist of the Year” and awarded for the “Best Opera Recording” - will sing Drusilla; with bass Gianluca Buratto - who has previously worked on Monteverdi operas with Sir John Eliot Gardiner - will play Seneca. Additionally, the audience will also meet such returning artists as Stuart Patterson, seen earlier in the BFO’s Falstaff, and mezzosoprano Luciana Mancini, who according to Bachtrack was the highlight of the L’Orfeo production. The set was designed by Andrea Tocchio, with costumes by Anna Biagiotti and lighting by Tamás Bányai.

Not only is The Coronation of Poppea one of the finest examples of Venetian opera, but according to Fischer’s master, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, it is one of the most significant creations in opera literatures, on par with the masterpieces of Mozart and Verdi. It is the greatest work of Monteverdi in every sense of the word, and also the first opera to derive its plot from a historical subject. Adapting the true story of the emperor who murdered his mother and wife – from depicting suicide on stage to the consummation of guilty love – was certainly a brave endeavor. The composer also had a say in the libretto; he wrote the music paying assiduous attention to every detail. Monteverdi was the greatest innovator of musical tools used for expressing the meaning of the text, so it is not surprising that the opera presents with embarrassing openness the grief of saying farewell to one’s home and life or, for that matter, the sounds of lust until eventually the antihero and antiheroine unite in one of the most beautiful and also bizarre duets of the history of music. This attraction and the two persons involved – lust overcoming wisdom, the two seemingly dissimilar characters finding each other – stirred Iván Fischer’s curiosity. “A strange little pair”, he says, asking: “Or maybe this whole thing is not real?”

Monteverdi’s final piece for the stage premiered when the master was 75 years old, debuting in Venice during the carnival season beginning in late December 1642. This will be the Festival Orchestra’s first performance of the work.

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Iván Fischer: Musings on the love between Poppea and Nero

Monteverdi must have enjoyed perusing Sigmund Freud’s writings. He quotes from them, in fact, while also sharing a knowing wink with Dante:

L'amore che move il sol e l'altre stelle.

(How could Amor express something while the subconscious is in charge?)

Eroticism overcomes the wisdom of Seneca, the virtue of Ottavia and the mocking inaugural song of the consuls and tribunes.

Nero: a murderer and a poet; a bisexual or queer tyrant; who ultimately kills Poppea when he kicks her in the stomach while she is pregnant. A supremacist.

Poppea, the renowned beauty, would bathe in milk to soften her skin. Her soul must also have been soft, if we are to believe Josephus Flavius: she helped those belonging to the minority, including for instance the Jews suffering under the yoke of Rome. A modern, young woman of color. A high-society lady, a prostitute and a real climber. A member of the new generation, who thinks different thoughts.

How could the two of them fall in love? An odd little couple. Or maybe this whole thing is not real?

Ambivalent? Perhaps - but Amor proves that he directs the world. Freud would nod in agreement.

Jeanine De Bique (Poppea), the soprano from Trinidad who has been described as a “revelation” and “breathtaking from beginning to end” (NDC, Netherlands), calls attention to herself with her “dramatic presence and versatility” (Washington Post, United States), with a voice that is “full of fire and cream” ( She debuted to great critical acclaim in 2017 at the Salzburg Festival, in the role of Annius in the new version of The Mercy of Titus directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Teodor Currentzis. The piece was later featured on the program of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. She also performed at the BBC Proms alongside the Chineke! Orchestra, with works by Handel. She has gone on to further international successes since. She appeared in the San Francisco Opera playing the role of Susanne in The Marriage of Figaro; at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ted Huffman and conducted by Donald Runnicles; at the Opéra de Lille in the title role of Handel’s Rodelinda, under the direction of Emmanuelle Haïm (the DVD recording of the performance, released by Erato, was awarded the Opus Klassik prize in 2020); and at the Opéra national du Rhin as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Returning to the Dutch National Opera, she sang Aida at the world premiere of Michael Hamel’s opera entitled Caruso in Cuba.

Jeanine De Bique is also sought after as a concert singer. Her most recent performances include Brahms’s German Requiem, with Raphaël Pichon at the La Seine Musicale in Paris; Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Toulouse National Orchestra and Tugan Sokhiev in Toulouse and at the Philharmonie de Paris; Handel arias and Mozart’s Requiem with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer at the Hollywood Bowl and the Lincoln Center in New York; Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Teodor Currentzis in Milan, Saint Petersburg, Munich and Budapest; the role of Iphis in Handel’s oratory entitled Jephtha with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Richard Egar at the BBC Proms; Messiah with the Atlanta Symphony, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; New Year’s Eve concerts with the Berlin German Symphony Orchestra; and Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop at the Ravinia Festival. In the 2020-2021 season, she returned to the Theater Sankt Gallen as Cleopatra in Julius Caesar; she sang Bess of Porgy and Bess in the Theater an der Wien; performed the role of La Folie in Rameau’s opera entitled Platea, under the critically acclaimed direction of Robert Carsen with William Christie conducting; she played Maria Rainer in The Sound of Music at the Houston Grand Opera; and Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. At the Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, she performed alongside Les Arts Florissants in a concert-like performance of Platea.

Jeanine De Bique has worked with conductors such as the late Lorin Maazel, Marco Armiliato, Adam Fischer, Kristjan Jaervi, Peter Schneider, Kevin John Edusei, Michael Boder, and orchestras such as the Munich and the New York Philharmonic, and the MDR Symphony Orchestra. She has performed at the Teatro dell’Opera in Roma, the Sankt Gallen Theater, the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen, the Theater Basel and the Cincinnati Opera, and has performed solo concerts at the Ruovesi and the Ravinia Festivals. She has worked as a member of the Staatsoper in Vienna.

She obtained her masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music. She is a recipient of awards such as first place at the Music Competition of the Young Concert Artists, Inc., the Arleen Auger Prize of the International Vocal Competition Hertogenbosch and third place at the Viotti International Musical Competition. She has been recognized in New York at the Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition; was a finalist and academic scholarship recipient of the 2011 auditions of the Metropolitan Opera National Council; and was recipient of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation academic scholarship. The Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO has appointed her a Youth Ambassador for Peace.

Valer Sabadus (Nerone), with his crystal clear, androgynous voice, is today considered one of the world’s leading countertenors. He kicked off the 2015-2016 season in the role of Nerone (Nero) in Monteverdi’s opera The Coronation of Poppea - his debut proved remarkable both in terms of the role as well as on the stage of the Theater an der Wien. In 2016, at the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, he sang the role of Teseo again, and just as in 2015, received rave reviews. Highlights of the 2016-2017 season included the premieres of two Cavalli operas: Eliogabalo (in the role of Giuliano) at the Paris Opera, a revamped version of which was also staged in Amsterdam (in the fall of 2017), and Giasone (title role) in Geneva. Major projects of the 2017-2018 season included the new premiere of Jephta (in the role of the Angel) at the Paris Opera, and the revamped version of Giasone.

Valer Sabadus regularly performs together with such first-rate early music ensembles as the Concerto Köln, the Accademia Bizantina, the Basel Chamber Orchestra, the Munich Hofkapelle, the L’Arpeggiata and the Il Pomo d’Oro. He has released a number of recordings, including “Caldara”, produced in the fall of 2015 with the Nuovo Aspetto ensemble. His solo album “Le belle immagini”, on which he performs arias by C. W. Gluck, was awarded the ECHO Klassik prize in 2015. His most recent recording is “Duetti Sacri”, with Nuria Rial and the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

His international career started in 2012 with Leonardo Vinci’s opera Artaserse, performing to critical acclaim as Samira at the opera houses of Nancy, Lausanne and Cologne, the Theater an der Wien, the Champs-Elysées Theater, the Versailles Royal Opera and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The performance was released on CD and DVD, and was awarded several prizes. The same year, his solo album “Hasse Reloaded” was awarded the German Record Critics’ Award (OehmsClassics). He also received important international praise for his performance as Menelao in Francesco Cavalli’s rediscovered opera, Elena, at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Another milestone in his career was his outstanding debut in the role of Xerxes in Handel’s opera of the same name, on the stage of the German Opera on the Rhein, directed by Stefan Herheim.

In the 2018-2019 season, he was first a guest of the Köthen Bach Festival, which was followed by performances with the Concerto Cologne and the Arpeggiata in Cologne, Hamburg, Kassel, Luzern etc. He returned to Düsseldorf in 2019 in the role of Xerxes. He was invited to Japan to perform his show “Caro Gemello” there with the Concerto Cologne. The first series of the “Empfindsamkeit” concerts, performed together with the Academy for Early Music Berlin, was met with great critical acclaim. Valer Sabadus gave his first aria and solo performances in Australia. He has been invited to perform his program “Closer to Heaven,” with the SPARK ensemble, at some of the most prestigious festivals and concert halls of Europe.

Reginald Mobley (Ottone), particularly noted for his “shimmering voice, a voice which also allows lucid and pure levels” (BachTrack), is a sought-after countertenor truly at home in Baroque, classical and modern repertoires.

A resident of the United States, he already has a highly productive artistic career behind him. In March 2020, he became the first-ever program consultant of the Handel and Haydn Society, after years of heading the ensemble during the Every Voice series of community concerts. Mobley is a regular guest of the Cantata Collective, Musica Angelica, Agave Baroque, the Charlotte Bach Akademie, Seraphic Fire, Quodlibet, Pacific Music Works, the Bach Collegium of San Diego, the San Francisco Early Music Society, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Notable events from the recent past include concerts and recordings with ensembles such as the Opera Lafayette, the Miller Theater (Columbia University), the Blue Heron (Boston), the Chatham Baroque (Pittsburgh) and the Washington Bach Consort. The majority of the recordings are available online.

His European career is similarly taking off: for five years, he has been touring the United Kingdom with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists; he has performed with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music; and in June 2022 he will debut alongside the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, he was a guest of OH! (Orkiestra Historycsna) in Poland; he has performed with the Vienna Academy Orchestra in Austria (Musikverein); he gave a solo performance featuring spirituals at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris; and has toured with the Freiburger Barockorchester with Kristian Bezuidenhout conducting, the Balthasar Neumann Choir & Ensemble, and the Stuttgart Bach Academy. In December 2021, he will sing the Messiah with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In April 2022, he will embark on a tour of Australia with the Bach Akademie Australia.

His recordings have earned him significant critical acclaim and several Grammy Awards. Most recently, critics raved about his recording A Lad’s Love, produced together with Brian Giebler; released by BRIDGE 9542, the recording was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best classical vocal album. He appears together with the Monteverdi Choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner on several recordings, including one of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Magnificat. His own projects include Peace in Our Time, released by Vgo Recordings, produced in collaboration with Agave Baroque, one of his regular partners. His American Originals, also recorded with Agave Baroque, celebrating the works of composers of color, will be released soon.

Núria Rial (Drusilla) completed her studies in voice and piano in her birthplace of Catalonia, and at the Basel Academy of Music studied in Kurt Widmer’s class. In 2003, in recognition of her exceptional musical performance, she was awarded the “Preis der Helvetia Patria Jeunesse Stiftung” prize of the Pro Europa Foundation. She has performed at all major European musical festivals and has worked with composers such as Iván Fischer, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Paul Goodwin, Trevor Pinnock, Howard Griffiths, Gustav Leonhardt, René Jacobs, Thomas Hengelbrock, Laurence Cummings, Neville Marriner and Teodor Currentzis. Orchestras which have accompanied her include noted ensembles such as the Concerto Köln, The English Concert, the Basel Chamber Orchestra, Collegium 1704, Il Giardino Armonico, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Elbipolis Barockorchester, La Cetra of Basel, L’Arpeggiata and Festival Lucerne Strings. She has taken the stage with a number of important opera productions at several of the most prominent European opera houses: at the La Monnaie opera house in Brussels in Cavalli’s work entitled Eliogabalo (in the role of Eritea), conducted by René Jacobs; at the Berlin State Opera in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (as Euridiké) conducted also by René Jacobs; at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, led by Giovanni Antonini; and at the Carlo Felice Theater in Genova in Mozart’s The Magic Flute (as Pamina).

The majority of Núria Rial’s work focuses on Baroque music and theatrical performances. She is, however, also interested in other genres as well. in 2012, for instance, in Golijov’s contemporary opera entitled Ainadamar, she sang the role of Núria at the Royal Theater in Madrid, conducted by Peter Sellars. In 2015, she took the stage as Pamina with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, under the leadership of Iván Fischer. Because chamber music has also had a major impact on Núria Rial, she has performed with ensembles such as Il Pomo d’Oro, Café Zimmermann or the Nash Ensemble. At her solo performances, she sings a line-up of French and Spanish songs, along with some German music.

Núria Rial boasts an impressive discography, with most of the recordings released by prominent labels such as Harmonia Mundi France (The Marriage of Figaro, conducted by René Jacobs, or her recently released record Traces to Anna Magdalena Bach, have both won prizes). Since 2009, she has worked under an exclusive contract with the record label Sony Classical / BMG Masterworks. As a soloist of the Austrian Baroque Company, her record entitled Handel’s 9 German Arias, conducted by Michael Oman, won the prestigious Orphée d’Or prize in 2010. In 2009, she released her CD entitled Haydn Arie per un’amante, in collaboration with the L'Orfeo Barockorchester, under the leadership of Michi Gaigg; the record was awarded the Echo Classical Music Prize. She received her second Echo prize for her role on the CD entitled Teatro d’Amore. In 2010, her CD entitled Via Crucis, produced in collaboration with Christina Pluhar and the L’Arpeggiata orchestra, was awarded the Echo Klassik prize, and in 2012, her Telemann CD, recorded with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, was selected the “Best Opera Aria CD.”

Some of the Chilean-Swedish mezzo soprano Luciana Mancini’s (Ottavia, La Virtù) most recent performances include: the Messener in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer in Vicenza, Budapest and Geneva; Musica/the Messenger/Proserpina in L’Orfeo at the Nationale Reisopera; Xerxes in Handel’s Xerxes at the Bonn Theater; Bach’s Mass in B minor at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg with the Collegium 1704 ensemble and Vaclav Luks; New Year’s Eve concerts with the Oslo Philharmonic; Berio’s Folk Songs with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Zaida in Rossini’s opera The Turk in Italy at the Amsterdam National Opera; Amastre in Handel’s Xerxes at the Theater an der Wien conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi; concerts with the Ensemble Pygmalion and Raphaël Pichon at the La Chaise-Dieu and Sablé Festivals; Handel’s Messiah with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and the Melbourne and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra; Bach’s Matthew Passion with the Residentie Orchestra; Galatea in Handel’s opera entitled Acis and Galatea at the Handel Festival in Halle; and the title role in Piazzola’s work Maria de Buenos Aires.

She has performed with conductors including René Jacobs, Pablo Heras-Casado, Juanjo Mena, Stefan Soltész and Leonardo García Alarcon, including at the Royal Theater in Madrid, the Staatsoper in Berlin, the Opéra Comique in Paris, the Grand Theater of Luxembourg, the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, the Drottningholm Festival, with the Bergeni Philharmonic and at the concert hall of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

Stuart Patterson (Arnalta, Nutrice) is from Perthshire in Scotland, and has completed studies in Glasgow, London, Florence and Paris. He sang as a member of the Glyndebourne Chorus, and after settling in France in 1985, he joined the Group Vocal de France led by John Aldis. With the ensemble, they performed the works of composers such as Berio, Dusapin, Kagel, Ligeti, Webern and Xenakis.

His major opera roles include the following: Monteverdi’s Odysseus; Don Ottavio and Ferrando (Pisa, where he was a member of the company); Pedrillo and Paris in Helena (Opéra-Comique); Sellem (The Rake's Progress) and Father Mignon (The Devils of Loudun) at the Teatro Regio in Turin; Francis Flute and Tom Snout in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyon, Bern); Goro (Berlin State Opera), Schmidt in Werther and Remendado (London Royal Opera), An incroyable in André Chénier and Snout (Geneva); Tapioca in The Star (Bergen); Herod (Taipei); male chorus in The Rape of Lucrecia (Ensemble Proteus); Mime in Siegfried (Lübeck); and Teapot/Mathematics/Tree/Frog in The Child and the Spells; Lacouf/Reporter in The Breasts of Tiresias; Monostatos and First Priest in The Magic Flute; Dr Caius, Sparlich in The Merry Wives of Windsor; and Frick/Prosper in La Vie parisienne (Lausanne).

He performs at concerts regularly, and his repertoire includes pieces such as the cantata Saint Nicolas, The Childhood of Christ and the Saint John Passion.

He is a professor of singing at the Haute École de Musique in Geneva, and director of the Festival Lyrique in Montperreux, which he founded in 2009.