Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are going for diversity this week, with a program featuring the music of Mozart and Bruckner – three arias from Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaïde and Bruckner’s Symphony No 7. The guest soloist is soprano Nadine Sierra, who makes her SF Symphony debut.
Mozart composed the work that would become known as Zaïde during 1779 and 1780, in the knowledge that the emperor, Joseph II, was keen to establish a German opera company in Vienna, where most of the operas performed at the time were Italian. Mozart wrote 16 musical movements for this singspiel (a combination of words and music), but before he could complete it, he broke off to attend to the production of his new opera Idomeneo in Munich.
The finale to Zaïde was never written, because Mozart decided that it wasn’t suitable for Vienna after all. As he wrote to his father in April 1781: “….. here they prefer comedies”. The incomplete Zaïde was eventually published by its librettist, Johann Andreas Schachtner, during the 1830s, and the first performance is thought to have taken place on January 27, 1866, in Frankfurt.
The three arias to be performed by Nadine Sierra are the Introduction, Ruhe sanft mein holdes Leben, and Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen, of which only Ruhe sanft has previously been performed in San Francisco.
Nadine Sierra is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music and an alumnus of SF Opera’s Merola Opera Program where she sang Adina in L’elisir d’amore. She made her debut with San Francisco Opera in 2011, creating the roles of Juliet and Barbara in the world premier performance of Heart of a Soldier. Ms Sierra has recently appeared with Boston Lyric Opera as Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for Palm Beach Opera as Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice, as Gilda in Rigoletto with Florida Grand Opera, and she has made her debut in recital at Carnegie Hall.
Amongst the awards which Nadine Sierra has won are the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (2009) and the George London Competition (2010). She achieved second place in the Mirjam Helin International Vocal Competition in 2009, first place in the Gerda Lissner International Competition in 2010, and – in the same year – first place in the Loren Zachary Competition.
The final work on the program, Bruckner’s Symphony No 7, is the best loved of his nine symphonies. Dedicated to Ludwig II of Bavaria, it was written between 1881and 1883, and premiered on December 30, 1884, in a performance in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Nikisch.
The symphony is a melodic work, embracing a range of emotions from the sombre to the joyful, with the Adagio – a memorial to his idol, Wagner – considered by many to be the greatest piece that Bruckner wrote. It was immediately and warmly received during Bruckner’s lifetime – somewhat unusually, since his work was viewed as having been a bit ahead of its time. As SF Symphony program annotator, the late Michael Steinberg, put it, “Once he began his real life as a composer, he found he was offering the world music it did not know what to do with”. Mr Steinberg quotes the conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, as saying: “Bruckner did not work for the present. In his art he thought only of eternity and he created for eternity. In this way he became the most misunderstood of the great musicians. . . . “
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart and Bruckner at Davies Symphony Hall from February 28 to Saturday, March 2. For more details, and information on tickets, please visit the SF Symphony website.