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.

Candide, a Comedic Operetta That Satirizes Optimism

 

Candide pic
Candide
Image: hollywoodreporter.com

A native of Belgium with roots in France and an accomplished vocal coach, conductor, and pianist, Kristof Van Grysperre has led Angels Vocal Art as artistic director and conductor since 2015. Most recently, Kristof Van Grysperre conducted the company’s production of Candide.

Playwright Lillian Hellman worked alongside American composer Leonard Bernstein to bring Voltaire’s famous novella Candide to life on the stage. Initially, Hellman intended for the adaptation to be a play with only background music, but Bernstein suggested they write the show in the form of a comic operetta. Candide made its debut in 1956 but later underwent several revisions. Today, productions of the show use not Hellman’s original libretto, but content from a commissioned text by Hugh Wheeler.

Told across two acts, Candide follows the story of its eponymous character, a resident of the country Westphalia and nephew to Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck. Though he is in love with the Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde, the Baron will not allow them to be together because Candide is an illegitimate member of the family. After the Baron exiles Candide for becoming engaged to his daughter, the story takes a satirical look at the ideas of happiness and optimism. Among other travails, Candide must endure the Spanish Inquisition, shipwreck, the loss of his fortune, and separation from Cunegonde. Bernstein sets the plot against such classic pieces as “Glitter and Be Gay” and “The Best of All Possible Worlds.”

Anya17, The First Opera About Human Trafficking

 

Anya17 pic
Anya17
Image: anya17.co.uk

A native of Belgium with roots in France, Kristof Van Grysperre is a conductor, vocal coach, and pianist living in California. In addition to his work conducting operas such as The Consul (Long Beach Opera, Chicago Opera Theater) and Fallujah (New York City Opera), Kristof Van Grysperre serves as the artistic director of Angels Vocal Art, which recently produced an opera called Anya17.

Angels Vocal Art is an organization that stages new and older works of opera in order to work with emerging artists to promote the art form in the community through excellent performances. Anya17 was composed by Adam Gorb with a libretto by Ben Kaye. The opera was written to help raise awareness of the issue of sex trafficking across the world and is the first opera to tackle this difficult subject.

The opera, which premiered in Liverpool in 2012, has been performed all over the world. The story, which is based on extensive research into the topic, follows four young women from Eastern Europe who are sold into sexual slavery and must find a way to survive. The opera has won the Best Stage or Film Production Media Award from the Human Trafficking Foundation and was nominated for the prestigious Classical Music Award from the UK’s Royal Philharmonic Society.