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In Manchester, sweet nothings from Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars takes on Michelangelo Sonnets at the Manchester International Festival

By Anna Picard   July 2013















The director Peter Sellars will be staging “Michelangelo Sonnets” by Shostakovich at the Manchester International Festival. Above, a tent at the MIF (Wikipedia)

Michelangelo Sonnets by Shostakovich
Manchester International Festival, 4th, 5th and 7th July

Glance at the listings for Manchester International Festival (MIF) and you might assume that the Michelangelo Sonnets staged by Peter Sellars in the Albert Memorial Hall are those set to music by Benjamin Britten. Wrong. While the rest of Britain celebrates the centenary of its most successful composer, MIF is exploring Shostakovich’s enigmatic 1974 setting of Michelangelo’s poems in a performance piece for the distinguished African-American bass-baritone Eric Owens and organist Cameron Carpenter that includes Bach’s solo cantata “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.”

Both works are meditations on mortality: the Bach a portrait of physical torment and spiritual release; the Shostakovich an essay on the moral responsibility of an artist and a tribute to the austere beauty of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov and the translucent cadences of Mahler’s symphony Das Lied von der Erde. Famous for his operatic collaborations with composer John Adams, Sellars’s most intimate work is his most powerful. After the success of his 2004 staging of Bach’s “Ich habe genug” with the late, great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, music-lovers will not want to miss this.

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