The Gramophone Awards 2018 – regarded as the ‘Oscars of classical music’ – reflected the robust health of the classical recording industry and the huge wealth of performing talent.
The prestigious Recording of the Year was bestowed upon the winner of this year’s Opera category, John Nelson’s recording of Berlioz’s Les Troyens on the Erato label. Praised for its stellar international cast – featuring Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres and Marie-Nicole Lemieux - Gramophone stated this recording represented ‘a thrilling new benchmark for this epic opera’.
James Jolly, Gramophone’s Editor-in-Chief, said at the Awards: ‘Classical music is a sector that has been performing well in the UK when compared with other kinds of music. In the first six months of this year classical CDs, downloads and streaming have all outperformed the market. Classical streams were up by 45 per cent against total market growth of 37 per cent. Let’s hope that this evening’s focus on classical music plays its part in producing more figures like that.’
At the sixth International Opera Awards ceremony at London's Coliseum last night, Warner Classics' 4CD Berlioz extravaganza Les Troyens was named Recording of the Year (Complete Opera).
Conductor John Nelson, a veteran pioneer of this epic work, said in a statement: 'It is with enormous gratitude that I accept this award on behalf of the extraordinary musicians who surrounded me. This is truly a stunning achievement by French artists interpreting the greatest French opera. Vive la France and Vive Berlioz!'
Hailed the opera event of the year, this critically acclaimed Les Troyens was recorded last year in Strasbourg with a cast of more than 250 singers and instrumentalists led by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Dido, contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandra and heroic tenor Michael Spyres as Aeneas. It is already widely acknowledged as the benchmark recording for this Mount Everest of French opera.
See all the winners of the International Opera Awards here.
The BBC Music Magazine Awards took place today in a ceremony at Kings Place in London.
In the Opera category, the winner is Berlioz's Les Troyens: the milestone 4CD opera recording on Warner Classics with an all-star cast headed by Joyce DiDonato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Michael Spyres and Marianne Crebassa, with the Orchestre Philharmonic de Strasbourg and maestro John Nelson.
The Chamber Music Album of the Year award went to the critically-acclaimed Debussy Chamber Music album on Erato, featuring pianist Bertrand Chamayou, violinist Renaud Capuçon, cellist Edgar Moreau, Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Gérard Caussé (viola) and Marie-Pierre Langlamet (harp). Bertrand Chamayou accepted the trophy on behalf of his colleagues, and played Clair de lune solo at the ceremony to celebrate the Debussy centenary year.
Congratulations to all this year's winners, who can be found in the May issue of BBC Music Magazine.
The shortlists for the 13th annual BBC Music Magazine Awards, the only classical music awards in which the main categories are voted for by the public, have been announced. A jury of expert critics selected this year’s 21 nominees across seven categories from over 200 longlisted recordings reviewed in 2017 by BBC Music Magazine, the world’s best-selling classical music monthly. The public vote is now open at the magazine’s website.
The many distinguished and varied nominees include, in the Opera category, the epic recording of Les Troyens, hailed the new reference recording and topping many Best of 2017 lists including The New York Times, The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune, thanks to its impressive orchestral and choral forces and an all-star cast headed by Joyce DiDonato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Michael Spyres and Marianne Crebassa.
'[Conductor John] Nelson drives the drama with unforced tempos but ample theatrical vitality. Spyres...sings with lyrical grace and spirit...Joyce DiDonato sings Dido with characteristic security and expressiveness,' opined BBC Music Magazine in its five-star review.
Flying the French flag in the Chamber category is the sensational team featuring Renaud Capuçon (violin), Edgar Moreau (cello), Emmanuel Pahud (flute) and Bertrand Chamayou (piano) in these mercurial Debussy sonatas - charming one moment, sensual the next. The French critics called the six players a 'supergroup', while BBC Music Magazine noted that 'a sense of joy in collegial music-making pervades these performances. Unlike many, violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Bertrand Chamayou and their colleagues do not avoid the vein of sensual passion that glows beneath Debussy's perfectionism...Perhaps the finest all is the beautiful balance of elegiac tone that thins out of the Sonata for Flute Viola and Harp.'
The Concerto category also features French harpsichord firebrand Jean Rondeau on the album Dynastie, with intensely intimate, energised performances of concertos by Bach and sons. 'His spirited and eloquently ornamented playing serves the music of JS Bach and three of his sons uncommonly well,' declared BBC Music Magazine.
There are seven categories open to the public vote: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber and Instrumental. Audio excerpts are available on the voting site, and all UK voters will be entered into a draw to win copies of the nominations.
The winners of the Awards will be announced at a ceremony on 5 April at Kings Place, London. In addition to the public awards, there are four jury awards: Premiere Recording, Newcomer of the Year, DVD of the Year and Recording of the Year.
See all the nominees and have your say now!
Strasbourg, April 15 and 17, 2017: The full forces of the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, three choirs and sixteen hand-picked soloists unite under the baton of veteran Berlioz specialist John Nelson for two five-hour concerts of the epic opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), in what Forum Opéra has already declared “the music event of the year” and “The Troyens of the century”. Erato had the honour of recording this French operatic milestone for release on the label in November 2017.
Some 239 musicians were present on and around the stage in surround sound formation in Strasbourg’s state-of-the-art Salle Érasme at the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès. American conductor John Nelson – who made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1974 replacing an indisposed Rafael Kubelik in Les Troyens, has championed this grand opera for more than 40 years and has performed it more than any other conductor. Now, at last, the indefatigable maestro is at the helm of a predominantly French cast of rising stars and established artists, showcasing the finest singers of the French opera firmament, including mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa, baritone Stéphane Degout, bass Nicolas Courjal and tenors Stanislas de Barbeyrac and Cyrille Dubois.
Headlining this formidable Who’s Who, in the three principal roles, were American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Michael Spyres (Didon and Énée), and French-Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux as the doomed prophetess Cassandre.
Alain Lanceron, president of Warner Classics & Erato, said: “Recording Berlioz’s Les Troyens is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This monumental work, long considered unplayable, requires exceptional forces on all fronts: orchestra, choirs and numerous soloists, three of which take on the most demanding roles in French opera. The triumph of the concerts in Strasbourg promises a reference recording that will set a new landmark in the discography.
“It was with great emotion that we at Erato witnessed pioneering Berlioz conductor John Nelson at the podium of a transcendent Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the combined choirs of the Opéra National du Rhin, the Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the Badischer Staatsopernchor. The all-star cast led by Joyce DiDonato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Michael Spyres – all three in major role debuts – was surrounded by the crème de la crème of unique talents in the French school of opera: a stellar line-up that has already entered the annals of history! We are grateful to all the musicians and the recording team for their commitment to this unforgettable adventure.”
Joyce DiDonato added: “It has been a gift to return to making music with John Nelson, in particular on this momentous occasion of his return to the epic journey of Les Troyens. I cannot imagine creating the role of Didon with a more heartfelt, masterful baton in the lead. It has been an absolute highlight of my musical life, and I am honoured to have been a part of this incredible team of orchestra, chorus and superlative soloists. This is a recording I will treasure – for the music-making and for the beautiful souvenirs of these days in Strasbourg.”
“To sing with Joyce, Michael and this dream cast was and a gift and a true pleasure. We were involved in this incredible music with all our hearts because we admire John Nelson’s vision so much. I hope I served Berlioz well!” enthused Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
“I have had the enormous privilege of recording what I consider to be the greatest French opera, with a predominately French cast, which has never been done before in all the recordings to date," said John Nelson. "The cast is the best ever assembled for this opera and the orchestra is ideal, with a marvelous combination of German discipline and French élan and beauty of sound. For a conductor it doesn't get better than this! We hope this will be a recording that will last for the ages.”
Erato has recorded Berlioz’s complete Les Troyens in Strasbourg for release in November 2017.
Full cast (in order of appearance):
Richard Rittelmann Soldier (act I), Greek captain (act II)
Marie-Nicole Lemieux Cassandre
Stéphane Degout Chorèbe
Michael Spyres Enée
Marianne Crebassa Ascagne
Philippe Sly Panthée
Stanislas de Barbeyrac Hélènus, Hylas
Bertrand Grunenwald Priam
Agnieszka Sławińska Hécube
Jean Teitgen Ombre d’Hector, Mercure
Joyce DiDonato Didon
Hanna Hipp Anna
Cyrille Dubois Iopas
Nicolas Courjal Narbal
Jérôme Varnier Sentinel I
Frédéric Caton Sentinelle II
Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin
Chœur philharmonique de Strasbourg
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
John Nelson conductor
One of today’s leading contraltos, Marie-Nicole Lemieux is in demand on the opera stage, as soloist with the world’s finest orchestras, in recital and in the recording studio. The French-Canadian singer is as renowned for the richness and agility of her voice as for her warmth and exuberance, on stage and off.
It is these rare qualities that have led Erato to sign Lemieux as an exclusive recording artist. Her label debut, due for release early 2017, will be devoted to Rossini, whose music she describes as “a revelation” and for whom the singer has a particular affinity. The recording sessions took place in December 2015 around Lemieux’s Rossini recitals with the orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon and conductor Enrique Mazzola.
“Strangely, with Rossini, you sing twice as much, but you’re half as tired at the end of the performance,” she told Opéra Online. “Rossini, it’s organic, it’s beautifully written, and he understands perfectly the voice.
“It’s an absolute joy to join the Erato team on this new musical adventure,” said Marie-Nicole Lemieux of the signing. “The greatest artists of the past and present have left their mark on the label; their talent and vision have inspired and enchanted generations of music-lovers all over the world. Music is essential to the good of humanity and I hope from the bottom of my heart to share my love for this beautiful, deeply human art form that is singing. And who better than Rossini to celebrate with in all his musical splendor and generosity!”
Alain Lanceron, President, Warner Classics and Erato, added: “Marie-Nicole Lemieux is a unique and indispensable personality in the international opera landscape. I have known her practically since the beginning of her career and we have occasionally had the opportunity to collaborate. Welcoming her into the core roster of the Erato label is, for me, a great source of pride.”
About Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Marie-Nicole Lemieux burst onto the scene in 2000 when she became the first Canadian to win the Queen Fabiola and Lied Prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium. It was the start of an international career that has led her to the world’s most famous stages: La Scala, Covent Garden, l’Opéra National de Paris, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, the Capitole de Toulouse, la Monnaie in Brussels, the Staatsoper in Berlin, Munich and Vienna, Zurich Opera, Theater an der Wien, Teatro Real in Madrid, the Liceu in Barcelona, Salzburg and Glyndebourne festivals, the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Montreal Opera and more.
Her powerful voice, superb sense of melodic line and faultless virtuosity, along with an innate sense of nuance and drama, allows her to master a wide range of roles and repertories. She has been particularly active in Baroque music (Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Ariodante, Solomon, Theodora among others). The evolution of her voice soon allowed her to take on 19th-century grand opéra (Les Troyens, Samson et Dalila) French opera including Pelléas et Mélisande, Rossini (Guillaume Tell, Tancredi, L’Italiana in Algeri) and Verdi (Mrs Quickly in Falstaff, Azucena in Il trovatore, Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera).
Alongside her stage career, Marie-Nicole Lemieux has sung the great symphonic repertoire with prestigious orchestras (including the New York Philarmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France and Orchestre National de France, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Philharmonia, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Smphonique de Montréal, les Violons du Roy, and Orchestre Métropolitain), under the direction of renowned conductors such as: Bernard Haitink, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur, Charles Dutoit, Kent Nagano, Antonio Pappano, Myung-Whun Chung, Ivan Fischer, Mikko Franck, Daniele Gatti, Bernard Labadie, Louis Langrée, John Nelson, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Gianandrea Noseda, Michel Plasson, Michael Schonwandt, Pinchas Steinberg, and Pinchas Zukerman.
She is an acclaimed recital artist with an exceptional vocal palette, nurturing a special talent for French and Russian songs, as well as German lieder. Most recently, she has been heard in Falstaff in London, Vienna, Paris, Milan, and Toronto, Il Trittico (Zia Principessa and Zita) at the Theater an der Wien, L’Italiana in Algeri (Isabella) and Tancredi at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Madama Butterfly (Suzuki) at Barcelona’s Liceu and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Il trovatore (Azucena) alongside Plácido Domingo and Anna Netrebko in Salzburg, and with Roberto Alagna at the Chorégies d'Orange, Samson et Dalila at l’Opéra de Montréal. In concert, she has sung Verdi’s Requiem (Vienna’s Musikverein, London’s Royal Festival Hall, Tonhalle in Zurich and the Philharmonie de Paris) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Orchestre de Radio France. She has also completed an extensive European tour with pianist Roger Vignoles (Venice, Rome, Vienna, Zurich, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid and Bilbao).
Future projects include Il trovatore in Madrid, Falstaff at Covent Garden and the Staatsoper in Vienna, Madama Butterfly in Orange, Enescu’s Œdipe at Covent Garden, Un Ballo in maschera in Zurich, Les Troyens with the Orchestre de Strasbourg, Carmen and Samson et Dalila in concert at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Jephta at the Opéra de Paris, and Pelléas et Mélisande and Falstaff at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux is a Knight of the National Order of Quebec and a member of the Order of Canada and of the Order of the Pléiade. She also has a Doctor Honoris Causa from the Université du Québec in Chicoutimi.