Tonight the Royal Opera House presents the much-anticipated world premiere of George Benjamin’s newest opera Lessons in Love and Violence featuring Barbara Hannigan, one of today’s most compelling performers. 

“Trove Thursday” salutes the Canadian soprano with an eclectic triple bill: Gershwin’s Girl Crazy Suite (with Hannigan conducting as well as singing!); Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine led by Esa-Pekka Salonen; and Walton’s delicious Façade in which her enthusiastic costar is Sir Simon Rattle.

I never hang around stage-doors eager for autographs and selfies partly because I can get tongue-tied when I encounter an artist I admire. But sometimes fate intervenes and one just has to step up to the challenge.

Last October a friend and I were at the New York Film Festival following a screening of Arnaud Desplechin’s (terrible) Ishmael’s Ghosts. Near us in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall, the director’s longtime muse and star of the film Mathieu Almaric was amiably greeting well-wishers. My friend is a fervent Francophile and fan of Almaric’s so when the crowd dissipated she went up to him to tell him how much she admires his work.

While they were speaking I noticed his willowy companion and said, “You’re Barbara Hannigan, yes?”

Perhaps surprised to be recognized amid all the Almaric-love, she brightened and shook my hand and we spoke for a bit. I praised her stunning performance in Benjamin’s Written on Skin a few years ago at Lincoln Center and asked about her then-upcoming Park Avenue Armory recitals. She excitedly told me the Armory had just added a third one due to demand.

She was flying to Rome the next day to rehearse with Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia for the premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s La nuova Euridice secondo Rilke which they all would be touring to Carnegie Hall later in the month. She confided that she was nervous as the piece was quite low despite having worked with Sciarrino before.

As I knew that the film festival had shown a documentary about her directed by Almaric, I asked if she was happy with the results: she shared that they had fallen in love. She was a delight and I was relieved not to have fumbled too badly accosting her.

Unfortunately I missed the Armory recitals but one from earlier in the tour was streamed from Toronto and remains available as an essential document of her thrillingly intense music-making.

Harry Rose was lucky enough to catch the same program in DC and shared his delight here.

Her astounding Lulu in the Krzysztof Warlikowski production from Brussels is happily available on DVD.

2018 has so far proven a banner year for Hannigan: she won a Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album for Crazy Girl Crazy featuring works by Berio, Berg and Gershwin which she both sings and conducts, and last month she was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, the national orchestra of Sweden beginning in the 2019-20 season.

Before then she will lead the group in three concert performances of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in Gothenburg in December. She returns to New York to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra on February 8, 2019.

The Benjamin opera which examines the story of Edward II (Stéphane Degout) and Gaveston (Gyula Orendt)—yes, that story—moves on to Amsterdam after Covent Garden. Without Hannigan, it then travels to Lyon and Hamburg (Philippe Sly replaces Degout in the latter). The work will eventually come to Lyric Opera of Chicago but again without Hannigan I believe.

Today’s three 20th century works show off just a few sides of Hannigan’s versatility. I’ve long been a fan of the Walton which doesn’t require much singing per se but she, Rattle and the Berliners have a rollicking time with Dame Edith Sitwell’s tart texts.

Gershwin: Girl Crazy Suite (arranged by Bill Elliott)

23 August 2016

Barbara Hannigan – soloist and conductor

Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Poulenc: La Voix Humaine

Paris Opéra
6 December 2015

Barbara Hannigan — Elle

Conductor – Esa-Pekka Salonen

Walton: Façade

Philharmonie, Berlin
12 June 2015

Barbara Hannigan & Sir Simon Rattle

Members of the Berlin Philharmonic
Sir Simon Rattle

Each of these Hannigan offerings can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Over 130 previous “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.