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Schumann’s oratorio Paradise and the Peri stands apart from the usual oratorio repertoire because of its secular subject matter that was so typical of the German composer. Its beautiful melodies and loftiness of expression are definitely worthy of attention, and especially when performed by wonderful soloists and an excellent choir.
Das Paradies und die Peri, Op. 50, oratorio (100')
Christiane Karg soprano
Johanna Wallroth soprano
Patrizia Nolz mezzosoprano, alto
Andrew Staples tenor
Ashley Riches baritone, bass
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster
Daniel Harding conductor
The oratorio Paradise and the Peri was Schumann’s ticket to a place in the company of the greatest composers. Its success was so enormous that it catapulted him overnight from the status of a provincial composer to that of an international star. More than just a critical success, the work was so loved by the public that it got more than 50 performances in the first years after its premiere. About it, Schumann said he had wanted to write an oratorio “not for the choir, but for happy people.” And upon hearing it, Richard Wagner respectfully complemented Schumann: “Not only do I know this beautiful poem; it has even passed through my musical thoughts. But I never found the form that would let me transform it into the language of music. I am therefore sincerely glad that you have found that form.”
Christiane Karg was born in Feuchtwangen, Bavaria. She studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum with Heiner Hopfner and Wolfgang Holzmair, where she was awarded the Lilli Lehmann Medal, and at the Music Conservatory in Verona. In 2009 she was named Young Performer of the Year by Opernwelt magazine. She has twice been awarded the prestigious Echo Klassik prize: in 2010 for her debut Lied CD Verwandlung – Lieder eines Jahres, accompanied by Burkhard Kehring and in 2016 for her disc of concert arias Scene! with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo. Her latest disc Parfume is a collection of French songs recorded with David Afkham and the Bamberger Symphoniker.
She was a member of the International Opera Studio at the Hamburg State Opera before joining the ensemble of the Frankfurt Opera in 2008 where her roles included Susanna, Musetta, Pamina, Servilia, Zdenka and the title role of La Calisto. She returned to Frankfurt in 2013 to sing Mélisande to great critical acclaim in Claus Guth’s new production of Pelleas et Mélisande and in 2015 to sing Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier).
In 2006 she made an auspicious debut at the Salzburg Festival and has returned to sing Amor (Orfeo ed Euridice) with Riccardo Muti and Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She is a regular guest at the Theater an der Wien where she has sung Ismene (Mitridate), Telaire (Castor and Pollux) and Hero (Beatrice et Benedict). At the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich she has sung Ighino (Palestrina), Pamina and Blanche (Les Dialogues des Carmelites). At the Komische Oper Berlin she has sung Musetta (La Boheme) and Norina (Don Pasquale) and at the Opera de Lille, Anne Trulove (The Rakes Progress). At the Dresden Semperoper she has sung Sophie with Christian Thielemann. In 2015 she made her house debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, singing Pamina; in 2016 she made her house debut at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, singing Sophie and her U.S operatic debut singing Susana at the Lyric Opera, Chicago; she returned to the Lyric Opera in the 2016/17 season for Pamina (Die Zauberflöte).
Andrew Staples sang as a chorister in St Paul’s Cathedral before winning a Choral Scholarship to King’s College Cambridge, where he gained a degree in Music.
He made his Royal Opera House debut as Jacquino (Fidelio), returning for Flamand (Capriccio), Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Artabenes (Arne’s Artaxerxes) and Narraboth (Salome), and sang Belfiore (La Finta Giardiniera) for the National Theatre, Prague (a role he repeated in the same production for La Monnaie in Brussels) and Don Ottavio for the Salzburger Festspiele. He has also sung Narraboth for the Hamburgische Staatsoper.
He will sing Kudrjas and Luzio (Das Liebesverbot) for both the Royal Opera House and the Teatro Real in Madrid, Froh (Das Rheingold) for the Royal Opera House and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, and Tamino in Chicago. In concert he appears with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Daniel Harding, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov, the London Symphony Orchestra and sir Simon Rattle, and returns to the Philadelphia Orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir is the most important and oldest professional mixed choir in the Czech Republic. During its long history, there has been a succession of the most important Czech choirmasters at its helm; since 2007, the chief choirmaster has been Lukáš Vasilek, and the second choirmaster is currently Lukáš Kozubík.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir performs mainly the oratorio and cantata repertoire in collaboration with the world most famous orchestras (the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker, among others) led by such illustrious conductors as Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Fabio Luisi, Semyon Bychkov, Jiří Bělohlávek, and Jakub Hrůša. It also performs in opera as an ensemble-in-residence at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.
The choir is realising several projects of its own. Since 2011 it has been presenting an independent series of choral concerts in Prague, with its programming focused mainly on challenging, lesser-known works of the choral repertoire. Music education for young people is an integral part of the choir’s activities, with a Choral Academy for vocal students and a series of educational concerts for younger children.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. Since 2007 he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. Most of his artistic activity with the choir involves rehearsing and performing a cappella repertoire along with preparing the choir to perform in large-scale cantata, oratorio, and opera projects in collaboration with world-famous conductors and orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic etc.).
Besides his work with the Prague Philharmonic Choir, he also engages in other performing activities mainly in cooperation with the Martinů Voices, which he founded in 2010. He is credited as a conductor or choirmaster on a large number of Prague Philharmonic Choir recordings made for important international labels (Decca Classics, Supraphon). In recent years, he has been devoting himself systematically to recording the choral music of Bohuslav Martinů. His recordings have won exceptional acclaim abroad, earning honours including awards from the prestigious journals Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and Diapason.