Marcella Sembrich was one of the great sopranos of her age. After her sensational debut in 1883 at the Metropolitan Opera, she established a career that made her a celebrity throughout the world. She also became one of the great teachers and headed the vocal departments of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York City.
Each summer, she brought students to her vocal studio on the shores of Lake George, which now houses the Marcella Sembrich Opera Museum. This year, as part of the 150th anniversary of her birth, a summer series of concerts and lectures will celebrate “The Year of Sembrich.” Programs will include works by composers she either knew personally or whose arias she sang — she took walks with Brahms and discussed the fine points of vocal production with Puccini.
A Frederic Chopin Festival will be held from July 23 to 27. “It’s an apt time,” said Richard Wargo, the museum’s artistic director and opera composer. “Sembrich was born 10 years after Chopin’s death. She was very particular to end her solo recitals with his ‘A Maiden’s Wish’, in which she sang and played piano. Because he was her compatriot, we thought him a likely composer to celebrate.” Both she and Chopin were Polish.
Pianist Simon Mulligan will set the tone of the season at his recital on Saturday, July 12, with a program that includes Liszt’s “Reminiscences of Lucia”, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor and his “Raindrop” Prelude and Mulligan’s own transcription of Offenbach’s Barcarolle from “The Tales of Hoffman.” He’ll also play Czerny’s set of variations on a theme by Rodie, a Beethoven sonata, an Impromptu by Schubert, Balakirev’s “Ismaley Fantasy” and his own arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
‘The Year of Sembrich’
WHERE: Marcella Sembrich Opera Museum, 4800 Lake Shore Drive, Bolton Landing
WHEN: Simon Mulligan recital at 7:30 p.m. July 12; “A Festival of Chopin” from July 23 to 27; Sembrich Heritage Week from Aug. 3 to 9; other events also in August (see end of story).
HOW MUCH: Prices vary
MORE INFO: 644-2431, 644-0939 or www.operamuseum.com
What will make the evening memorable for Mulligan is the recital’s location.
“I’m keen to play in historical venues and this piano [which is the one Sembrich used] is perfect for salon music,” Mulligan said.
The recital is one of many Mulligan is doing this season after spending several seasons as violinist Joshua Bell’s accompanist. He’s also touring with his jazz quartet.
“Jazz is a happy sideline,” he said. “We’ve played from Shanghai to Barbados, but I prefer the classical side.”
Mulligan has always mixed the two styles, he said. Growing up in London, he learned Bach but listened to his father’s jazz records. His father, Geoff, often played in British dance bands and once toured with the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s band when he wasn’t working as a film cameraman. Simon even made it into one of his dad’s films as a baby during the filming of “The Message” (1976) in Morocco with Anthony Quinn, who taught him how to walk, Mulligan said laughing.
As a teen, Mulligan had a jazz group and did summer jazz workshops, but at 19 he was good enough as a classical pianist to debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A month later, he made his first recording under the direction of violinist/conductor Yehudi Menuhin. Now in his 30s, Mulligan says there should be no clear division between jazz and classical music.
“Classical music was the pop music of its day,” he said. “We need to blur the boundaries.”
His two next discs (Sony Masterworks) reflect that view: one is Beethoven sonatas; the other is with his jazz quartet.
The Chopin Festival (July 23 to 27) begins at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday with Ruth Albert Spencer’s talk on the liaison between the writer George Sand and Chopin. Pianist Christopher Johnson will also play.
“It’s the scholarly approach as opposed to the Hollywood fanfare of the film ‘Impromptu,’ ” Wargo said.
The 1991 movie will be shown at no charge that night at 7:30 p.m. in the Bolton Town Hall.
On Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, pianist Diana Fanning will play several solo Chopin works and with cellist Dieuke Davydov will play Chopin’s Cello Sonata and his Polonaise Brilliante. Johnson returns at 7:30 p.m. Friday with narrator Lindsay Gates, who will give a dramatic reading about Chopin’s affair with the singer Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale.
In 1848, Chopin was broken in health and spirit after his breakup with Sand and took a trip to England and Scotland, where he met Lind.
“She wanted to marry him, but Chopin felt it was too late,” Wargo said.
The staged narration/concert will have actors and lighting from the Lake George Theater Lab and soprano Megan Westin and mezzo-soprano Gisella Montanez-Case in two Bellini arias. The program will be repeated at 2 p.m. Sunday. Johnson will give a recital at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a program of Bellini, Donizetti and Chopin.
Sembrich Heritage Week will take place in the first week of August with a concert of Polish songs performed by Polish singers (Aug. 3), and more lectures and interludes (Aug. 6, 9).
Also planned are appearances by the Liebesfreud Quartet with Philadelphia Orchestra clarinetist Samuel Caviezel in “Composers Sembrich Knew” (Aug. 17); and soprano Judith Blegen, who was a student of one of Sembrich’s students, with the Luzerne Trio in a program of Kreisler, Liszt, Clara Schumann and Brahms (Aug. 30).
“These multi-media events inform and illuminate in a way that a concert doesn’t do,” Wargo said. “Marcella Sembrich noted the value of summer study and these events translate that view to the current offerings.”
‘The Year of Sembrich’ schedule of events
Events at Sembrich museum, unless otherwise noted.
July 7, 7:30 p.m. — Film, “The Red Shoes” (1948). Free.
July 16 to 18, 2 p.m. — Music Enrichment: “The Fascination of Form,” with professor emeritus Hugh Allen Wilson. Pre–registration requested. Free.
July 18, 10 a.m. — Hansel and Gretel Seagle Colony Children’s Opera, at Bolton School. Free.
July 12, 7:30 p.m. — Recital by pianist Simon Mulligan. $25.
July 23 to 27 — “A Festival of Chopin”
Lecture, “The Liaison of Sand and Chopin,” with Ruth Albert Spencer with Christopher Johnson, piano. 1:30 p.m. July 23. Free.
“Impromptu,” film at Bolton Town Hall. 7:30 p.m. July 23. Free.
Davydov/Fanning, cellist and pianist, at The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls. 7:30 p.m. July 24. $20.
“Chopin and the Nightingale,” dramatic reading and music. 7:30 p.m. July 25 and 2 p.m. July 27. $20.
Christopher Johnson, pianist. 7:30 p.m., July 26. $25.
July 30, 1:30 p.m. — “Remembering Beverly Sills,” video lecture with Bill Maher. $5.
Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m. — “Opera Showstoppers” with soprano Jacqueline Noparstak and tenor Rafal Bartminsiki, at Charles R. Wood Theater, downtown Glens Falls. $20, $15.
Aug. 3 to 9 — Sembrich Heritage Week
“A Concert of Polish Songs and Arias.” 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3. $20.
Polish film, to be announced, at Bolton Town Hall. 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4. Free.
“A Celebration of Polish Culture,” poetry, art and musical interludes presented by Adirondack Community College. 5 p.m. Aug. 6. $10.
Sembrich Symposium, with musicologists Malgorzata Komorowska, Steven Herx & Joseph Herter. Aug. 9. Time TBA. Free.
Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m. — “Bel Canto Songs and Arias” (pre-concert lecture/demonstration at 6:30). $20.
Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m. — Liebesfreud Quartet “Composers Sembrich Knew,” with clarinetist Samuel Caviezel in works by Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Wolf and Brahms. $25.
Aug. 20, 7:30 p.m. — Video Lecture: first public screening of “Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own,” with filmmaker Donald Collup. Free.
Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. — Luzerne Trio “Composers Sembrich Knew,” with guest host soprano Judith Blegen. Works by Kreisler, Liszt, Clara Schumann and Brahms. $25.
Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m. — Film, “La Traviata” (1983) at Bolton Town Hall. Free.