Angels Vocal Art Celebrates Verdi’s Varied Oeuvre

 Angels Vocal Art pic
Angels Vocal Art
Image: angelsvocalart.org

A Belgian-born and California-based conductor, vocal coach, and pianist, Kristof Van Grysperre concluded a five-year run as resident conductor at the Long Beach Opera in 2018. He currently serves as artistic director of Angels Vocal Art in Pasadena. Over the course of his multifaceted career, Kristof Van Grysperre has focused extensively on the works of the 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi, notably conducting a “Gran Gala di Verdi” for Angels Vocal Art.

Verdi, born in 1813 in the Italian duchy of Parma, was active throughout the second half of the 19th century. His early opera Nabucco, based on the Bible story of King Nebuchadnezzar, made him famous after despair over previous musical failure and the tragic deaths of his wife and young children. In the early days of the united Italian state, the slaves’ chorus “Va, pensiero” took its place as a sort of popular national anthem.

After the success of Nabucco, Verdi went on to compose masterpieces such as the magnificent Egyptian-themed Aida; La Traviata, about the loves of a fascinating courtesan; Rigoletto and Il Trovatore; and numerous others.

The Verdi Chorus performed at the Angels Vocal Art event, accompanied by a full orchestra under Van Grysperre’s direction. The evening’s program included a variety of ensemble pieces and arias, notably “Libiamo,” the lively popular drinking song from La Traviata, the chorus from Nabucco, and pieces drawn from Don Carlo, Rigoletto, and the composer’s operas based on the works of William Shakespeare.

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La Traviata – Giuseppe Verdi’s Groundbreaking Opera about a Courtesan

La Traviata pic
La Traviata
Image: metopera.org

A native of Belgium with roots in France and a Southern California classical musical sphere, Kristof Van Grysperre guides Angels Vocal Art as artistic director. Over the years, Kristof Van Grysperre has conducted numerous acclaimed operas and he tackled Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in 2015.

One of the definitive works of the 19th century Italian composer, La Traviata was controversial at the time of its debut for its humanistic portrayal of the courtesan Violetta. This theme presented itself at a time when Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi, a renowned soprano, were engaged in a scandalous unmarried relationship. After taking in a theatrical performance of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux camelias with his romantic partner, he decided that this story would be the basis of his next work.

The narrative, fictionalized from Dumas’ own affair with a high profile courtesan who died at the age of 23, resonated with Verdi. Reflecting the freshness of the story, he decided to pair music that was strikingly contemporary in its use of polka and waltz styles. An immediate success despite critical approbation, La Traviata endures in large part because of the way in which Verdi delved into the substance of a woman who many disparaged and found something in her that many could identify with.

Golden-Voiced Postwar Opera Tenor Carlo Bergonzi

As a maestro and the artistic director of Angels Vocal Art in Pasadena, California, Kristof Van Grysperre guides an organization that broadens opera awareness and provides training to the next generation of singers. Kristof Van Grysperre’s institution has its roots in master classes presented in Pasadena in 2006 by operatic tenor Carlo Bergonzi. His efforts led to the development of additional master classes in China and vocal competitions spanning 30 cities.

Bergonzi is recognized as one of the luminaries of postwar opera, and he was particularly known for his interpretations of opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. Rich in dramatic intensity, Bergonzi’s performances were imbued with originality in tone and phrasing, as well as deep traditions. Living for much of his life in the village of Busseto, where Verdi had also lived, he brought an authenticity to his performances that was unmatched.

Having spent part of World War II in a German prison camp, Bergonzi began his career as a baritone and sang in a variety of operatic roles before discovering his higher register in 1950 while warming up for a role in Madama Butterfly. Following three months of intensive voice practice, Bergonzi took on a number of Verdi tenor roles in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death. From that time on, he gained increasing acclaim for a golden voice that imparted a timeless elegance to every composition he sang. By the time he passed away in 2014 at age 90, Carlo Bergonzi represented a golden era of Italian opera.

A Look Ahead to Long Beach Opera’s 2019 Performances

Since 2015, Kristof Van Grysperre, a native of Belgium with roots in France, has served as artistic director for Angels Vocal Art, a Southern California-based organization that develops emerging talent through music education and performance. Kristof Van Grysperre previously served as resident conductor for Long Beach Opera.

Long Beach Opera (LBO) has announced the dates and venues for its 2019 performances, which will examine justice and injustice through three productions. The 2019 season will kick off with The Black Cat, an opera that brings an Edgar Allen Poe novella to life using drama and music combining the work of J.S. Bach and English songwriter David Sylvian. The Black Cat will be staged January 19 and 20 at Long Beach’s Beverly O’Neill Theater.

LBO’s 2019 season will continue in April with a production of Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony, which is based on a Franz Kafka short story of the same name. The opera will be performed in collaboration with CALREP Long Beach at CSULB Studio Theater. There will be a total of eight show dates during the last week of April and the first week of May.

To wrap up the season, LBO will present the world premiere of The Central Park Five, an opera that examines a true case of legal injustice from the 1980s. Featuring music by Anthony Davis and a libretto by Richard Wesley, the opera will be staged June 15, 22, and 23 at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, California. More information about LBO’s 2019 performances is available at http://www.longbeachopera.org.