Anne Manson



Time Out New York / Issue 580: November 9–15, 2006
Raising hell

Anne Manson steers Offenbach with a contemporary hand at Juilliard.

By David Shengold

RISING STAR Widely admired elsewhere, Ann Manson makes her local operatic conducting debut this week

To watch Anne Manson rehearsing Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers (“Orpheus in the Underworld”) with the bright young talents of the Juilliard Opera Center is to witness an energetic, supportive conductor who comes to work utterly prepared. The production, which opens this week at Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater, marks the local operatic debut of a rising podium star who has triumphs in San Francisco, Washington and Geneva in her recent past, not to mention a calendar packed with forthcoming orchestral dates in Europe.

One of only three women to have been appointed music director of a major American orchestra, the Massachusetts-born Manson led the Kansas City Symphony from 1999 to 2003. As a guest conductor, she has appeared with orchestras in Los Angeles, Houston and St. Paul. The first woman ever to conduct the hidebound Vienna Philharmonic, Manson enjoys rewarding relationships with many European orchestras, appreciating in particular the musical atmosphere in Scandinavia. “It’s much more expected in Europe that you’ll be blending an orchestral career with operatic work,” she explains.

In both fields, Manson has helmed contemporary pieces, including the Washington Opera’s 2005 world premiere of Scott Wheeler’s Democracy. She is enthusiastic about the Metropolitan Opera’s plans to workshop newly commissioned chamber operas at Lincoln Center. “One really needs input from the conductor and production team early on in a new piece, to get a creative dialogue flowing,” she says. Another contemporary project looms next summer, when Manson will helm Philip Glass’s Orphée at Glimmerglass Opera.

But for now, it’s Offenbach’s version of the tale at Juilliard. For these performances, Manson’s principal collaborator is the ever-inventive director and designer John Pascoe, whose spiffy contemporary-with-a-twist costume sketches include a Mercury in the guise of a UPS driver. The conductor has fashioned a performing edition based on Offenbach’s 1858 original, but retaining some fine scenes he added for his grander 1874 revision. She adores the tuneful, irreverent piece, concerned with sex foibles among Greek deities. “Offenbach really took not only topical targets—some of which are still very timely—but the whole idea of stuffy classicism in a way which must have been shocking but fun to his audiences,” she explains. “It’s still so funny and fresh. We retained the best aspects of the revision, like the three songs for Cupid, which are wonderful. But some of the later orchestration gets a bit soupy, so we’re using the lighter-textured original.” Let the musical thunderbolts fly and the cancans flow.

Orphée aux Enfers opens at the Juilliard School’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater Wed 15.