Farewell and Laments
By Jessica Ullian
Throughout his career, renowned opera singer Simon Estes has often used the music of Richard Wagner as a means of introduction. The bass-baritone made history with the composer’s Fliegende Holländer in 1978, when he became the first African-American man to sing at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival in Germany. Then in 1982, he partnered with Wagner again, performing in Tannhäuser in his debut with New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Now, Wagner will serve as Estes’ introduction to Boston University. In his first Boston performance as a College of Fine Arts associate professor of music, Estes will perform excerpts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle with the BU Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall on Monday, November 22.
The concert, which also features Peter Zazofsky, a CFA associate professor of violin and chamber music, and soprano Janna Baty, marks another significant first for the school of music — the world premiere of Moirologhia, a piece composed by CFA Professor Theodore Antoniou in honor of the late John Daverio (CFA’75,’76, GRS’83), a CFA professor and chairman of the school of music’s musicology department and the CAS and GRS department of music. The concert is the culmination of a series of performances honoring Daverio, who died in 2003; Moirologhia was commissioned by President Emeritus John Silber, who will have a speaking role in the piece. The Boston University Symphonic Chorus will also perform, and CFA Professors David Hoose and Ann Howard Jones will conduct.
“We’ve got a number of different occasions to celebrate,” says André de Quadros, director of the school of music. “The entire construction of the program is built upon John Daverio, but also built around the powerful strengths and resources of the school.”
Estes, who has played more than 100 roles in his 40-year career, is best known in America for his lead role in the Metropolitan’s 1985 production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but is widely considered one of the opera world’s preeminent Wagner singers. Internationally, he has performed with every major opera company in the world, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, and L’Opéra de Paris. Estes previously sang the role of Wotan, King of the Gods, in the Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan in 1986; at the Symphony Hall concert, he will perform “Wotan’s Farewell and Fire Scene” from Die Walkure, the second opera in Wagner’s 15-hour cycle.
His appointment to the CFA faculty, which de Quadros calls “an immense benefit” to the school and its students, was announced in September.
“It was quite extraordinary,” de Quadros says. “Professor Estes is destined to make a considerable impact, not only on the school, not only on the artistic community of Boston. He’s a great humanitarian.”
Moirologhia, or Laments, features Zazofsky on violin and Baty in the soprano solo. The work, which includes folk laments from Albania, Greece, India, Korea, Lithuania, Poland, and other countries, is based on Daverio’s personality — the world music is intended to reflect Daverio’s interest in his international students, and his skill with languages. Antoniou, a conductor and the director of the contemporary music ensemble ALEA III, collected the texts of the laments from his own students and colleagues, who also helped with translation and pronunciation.
“When you set music to a foreign language, you have to know what every word means, so you don’t give important music phrases to words like an article,” Antoniou explains.
The violin solo is also intended to honor Daverio, an accomplished violinist who played with ALEA III as a student, and later frequently performed to benefit music therapy programs at local hospitals.
“It’s definitely a very heavy emotional impact,” Antoniou says of the piece. “This person was a wonderful person, and very close to me.”
The November 22 concert, beginning at 8 p.m., is at Boston’s Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave. Tickets are $35, $20, and $10, and can be purchased by calling Symphony Charge at 617-266-1200.