The mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard makes her role debut as Blanche de la Force in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Dialogues of the Carmelites, May 4-11. Francis Poulenc’s opera, the gripping story of a convent of nuns caught up in the tumult of the French Revolution, returns to the MET for three performances in John Dexter’s landmark staging, led by conductor Louis Langrée.
Ms. Leonard, recently won the prestigious Richard Tucker Award, has also just made her debut on Sesame Street. She takes time from rehearsals at the MET to speak with T+L.
Tell us about your appearances in Sesame Street. Since it is filmed in New York, I suppose it didn’t involve travel.
It actually involved a bit of travel. Last summer, I was in Glyndebourne, the opera festival in England, when the MET called to say that Sesame Street was planning a segment called People in Your Neighborhood, with Murray the Monster and Ovejita, the bilingual lamb character who speaks Spanish, and asked if I would interested in appearing on the program. I said I would be there in a heartbeat, even if I were on the moon! On a Thursday morning, I went to rehearsal at Glyndebourne, got on a plane that night from London, flew to New York and made it home around one in the morning. The next day, I got up and ran errands like any New Yorker, then went to the MET, put on my costume as Rosina from Barber of Seville, and to the shoot with the Muppets. We finished around 7 pm. I rushed to the airport, made my plane, and was back in rehearsal in Englandby the following afternoon.
Throughout the United States, the holidays is the season for the Nutcracker ballet. T+L spoke with Mikko Nissinen, the Finnish artistic director of the Boston Ballet and its new–and spectacular–production.
Q: Is this your first production of the Nutcracker in Boston?
A: No, when I came to Boston, I inherited an extravaganza that had contributions from seven choreographers! There is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. So I started to narrow down the production. I staged the first act, the second act, the Land of Sweets, was by another choreographer. For our new Nutcracker, I have staged the entire ballet, both acts.
T+L spoke with Gloria Guevara, Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, in the closing days of the administration of Felipe Calderón, in whose cabinet she served, and days before the end of the cycle of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of a new era.
Q: Mexico is the number one international destination for U.S. travelers. In fact, it has grown by record numbers in 2011 and is on track to exceed these figures in 2012. To what do you attribute the growth?
A: Yes, in 2011, we had a record number of international visitors, 23.4 million. Of these, 10.1 flew into Mexico, and of those 5.7 were from the United States. First, I would have to say that the increase is due to an increased interest and appreciation in Mexico, that is, in the richness of the destination: the natural landscape, from Baja California to the Yucatán, our beaches and colonial cities, history, arts and culture, cuisine, and, of course, the hospitality of our people. But the growth in tourism also is a result of the creation, and for the first time, of an overall tourism business plan.
Q: Tell us about the plan.
A: President Calderón dedicated one full year, 2011, to tourism, to building the foundation of an integrated tourism plan and strategy, involving federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector and enterprise. This overall plan was unprecedented, involved major investment, increased budgets for infrastructure–several billion dollars alone spent on airports, railroads, and highways in the past five years–to marketing. We diversified our product, developing various segments, including multi-faceted cultural and adventure and eco-tourism programs, in addition to the ever popular sun and beach segment. And a part of our strategy also involved diversifying our outreach to foreign nationalities.
Q: From which countries come the largest number of your visitors?
A: First, the United States, then Canada, which has grown significantly, the UK, Spain, and Argentina. However, in a close sixth place is Brazil. And some months, Brazil moves into fifth place. Overall, we have visitors from more than 130 countries. And notably an increase by more than 87 percent so far this year compared to last from Russia. There is a direct flight from Moscow to Cancún but Russian tourists travel everywhere from the Copper Canyon in the state of Chihuahua in the north of the country, where I encountered a group, to Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast, and Mexico City, of course. Also, the Russians spend on average $1,000 per person per day, which is very high.
Q: Are there new destinations on the horizon?
A: Yes. As you know, Cancún, was the initiative of Fonatur, one of the arms of the ministry of tourism. Prior to its development, nothing existed there. We have developed others, notably Los Cabos and Huatulco. All are known as fully-integrated centers. The new development is Playa Espiritú on Mexico's Pacific coast, approximately 80 kilometers south of Mazatlán. The plan would be for it ultimately to be twice the size of Cancún in terms of hotel rooms, with approximately 44,000. It would include a marina and golf. We are in the process of building the infrastructure and we are including all the experience we have gained from the other developments so that Espiritú is 100% sustainable.
Q: Traditional Mexico cuisine was recently designated by UNESCO to its list of intangible cultural heritage or cultural treasure. Along with the traditional French gastronomic meal, this citation represented the first time UNESCO considered food. What does this signify?
A: As part of the declaration, we completed a data base and were able to determine that there exist at least 1,500 traditional dishes, which speaks to the diversity of the foods as well as the forms of cooking. Partly as a consequence, we have developed 18 gastronomical routes, which can take the traveler throughout the country, allowing them to try various specialties, learn to cook some of them, and visit cultural sites along the way. Particularly interesting are the cocinas tradicionales of the indigenous people in Michoacán, tied to the Day of the Dead celebrations. The UNESCO designation offers a great opportunity for us to share what we have. There are seven different levels of Mexican cuisine, the most sophisticated and difficult to prepare involves ingredients that are not found outside of the country. Like the notion of terroir and French wine, the ingredients depend on the type of soil—and certain foods and ingredients grow only in Mexico.
Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the New York cultural season—The Tempest by British composer Thomas Adès—blows onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera this week. The work, based on the Shakespeare play about betrayal, retribution, and the redeeming power of love, had its premiere in 2004 at London’s Royal Opera House and garnered for the 32-year-old Adès critical acclaim and popular success. Since then, the contemporary work has made a strong bid for a place in the operatic repertoire, and after productions in Germany and the American premiere by the Santa Fe Opera, The Tempest arrives in New York, in a staging by Robert Lepage.
When American Ballet Theatre revives this week at New York City Center its production of Rodeo, it celebrates the 70th anniversary of a milestone: the first truly American ballet, with an evocative score by Aaron Copland, painterly sets by Oliver Smith, and the groundbreaking choreography of Agnes de Mille. De Mille’s dance combined classical ballet with Broadway and popular styles, including square dance, pantomime (cowboys ride imaginary horses and rope cattle), and an exuberant tap dance solo.
Tap dance in ballet? In this Western love story, where a cowgirl falls in love with a champion roper who dazzles with a tap tour de force—de Mille’s novel use of tap dance was and remains a showstopper. And in a lead up to the ABT’s performances of the landmark Rodeo, ABT dancers, including Craig Salstein, who performs the role of the champion roper, gave tap dance lessons to 100 New York City public school children at South Street Seaport.
One of the cultural highlights in London this spring was the exhibition Lucien Freud: Portraits, which encompassed seven decades of the work of one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and arguably the greatest postwar portraitist. Happily for American travelers, the show, organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Modern Art Museum Fort Worth, opened last month in Texas—its only other venue—and is on view through late October.
Just as most summer music festivals are winding down in the United States and abroad, the Stresa Festival at Lake Maggiore, set on the southern banks of the Italian Alps kicks into high gear. The festival runs a fortnight, August 24-September 8, and although this year marks its 51st season, the Settimane Musicali di Stresa may still be one of the best-kept secrets in the music world. But not for long.
Mostly Mozart, the 46-year-old summer festival at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is in full swing and more vibrant than ever. Significantly, this year’s edition marks the tenth anniversary season of French conductor Louis Langrée as music director who, along with Jane Moss, artistic director, has been responsible for revitalizing Mostly Mozart, in particular, its heartbeat, the festival orchestra. He's credited with raising its playing standards and adding inventive programming that features soloists, both established and debut artists, period instrument bands, and contemporary music ensembles.
Year to year, the mix may include dance, sound installations, film, video. This year, Mostly Mozart takes up the theme of birds, “the originators of song and an inspiration for countless composers,” according to Moss, as a point of departure for a range of programming. Indeed, in the age of twitter, birdsong may never sound as pure. T+L spoke with Louis Langrée earlier in the season during a stopover in New York en route to Paris about Mostly Mozart, a conductor’s role, American audiences, and why the festival remains popular with travelers and New Yorkers alike.
Q: What are your thoughts on your 10th anniversary?
As part of its 75th anniversary season, Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra located in Western Massachusetts, is celebrating in grand and generous style by offering an extraordinary gift to listeners: the Tanglewood festival and the BSO is presenting 75 free digital streams of performances from a storied 75-year history and unique audio archive. One stream is offered each day of the season (through September 2) at Tanglewood.org. The daily gratis performance is available starting at 8 a.m. EST for 24 hours; after the stream has ended, listeners can purchase it as a download. What’s more, you can listen at a desktop computer, through a home music system, or mobile device—all you need is internet access.