The Philadelphia Orchestra has appointed Nathalie Stutzmann as principal guest conductor for three years, beginning in the 2021–22 season. As principal guest conductor, Stutzmann will spend multiple weeks each season in Philadelphia leading programs ranging from subscription and Family Concerts to special projects, community initiatives, and more. She will also serve as a key member of the creative planning process.
Nathalie said “It is a privilege and an honor to become the principal guest conductor of the iconic Philadelphia Orchestra—outstanding music-making, heartfelt playing, and emotional moments inhabit my soul every time I think about those marvelous musicians,” said Stutzmann. “I have always felt close to Yannick Nézet-Séguin and I am thrilled that through this new role I have the opportunity to work under the same roof. The teamwork off stage is just as important to the success of a partnership with an orchestra as what happens on stage, and I am also very much looking forward to the teamwork with Matías Tarnopolsky, Vice President of Artistic Planning Jeremy Rothman, and the whole management team. In these deeply uncertain and stressful times of pandemic, the strength of our partnerships is more important than ever, and it is so exciting to embark on this next stage of our relationship as we navigate these tricky times together. I look forward to spending more time in Philadelphia with my new American family, and we cannot wait to share more wonderful music with you.”
Nathalie Stutzmann is in her third season as chief conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony in Norway, and from 2017 to 2020 was principal guest conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony of Ireland. She studied conducting with the legendary Finnish teacher Jorma Panula and was mentored by Seiji Ozawa and Simon Rattle. Stutzmann continues to keep a few projects as a singer each season, primarily recitals and performances with her own ensemble. In January 2019 she was admitted into the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, at the rank of Chevalier. She is also Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite and Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
Stutzmann is an exclusive recording artist of Warner Classics/Erato, as both singer and conductor. Her forthcoming album ‘Contralto’ will be released on 15 January 2021, and shines a light on the deep-voiced female singers of the Baroque era, who were often placed in the shadow by the extravagant presence and talents of castrato singers like Farinelli, Senesino, Carestini and Caffarelli. Today, the contralto voice has become a relatively rare phenomenon, and star countertenors and mezzo-sopranos take the lion’s share of the lower-pitched roles in the operas of Handel, Vivaldi and their contemporaries.
“We shouldn’t forget that the great opera composers of the early 18th century saw the female contralto as the equal of the male castrato,” explains Stutzmann. “The two voices were interchangeable. A male character written for the contralto voice could be allocated to a castrato or a woman – though I’m sorry to say that a woman would only get the work when a castrato wasn’t available! Essentially, even the most brilliant female singers of the era, though they had their admirers, did not enjoy the same kind of reputation as the castrati, who were idolised by high society.”
The French contralto – who here both sings and conducts Orfeo 55, the ensemble she founded a decade ago – has placed a feminist agenda on the album. “It pays homage to the contralto singers of the Baroque era, women who were overshadowed by men. This reminds us once more that women are so often expected to take second place. We still have work to achieve a form of equality.” The particular singers that Stutzmann has chosen to honour are Anna Marchesini, Vitoria Costi, Lucia Fachinelli, Giuditta Starhemberg and, especially, Vittoria Tesi, who was born in 1700 in Florence and whose career reached its peak in the 1720s and 30s. She took the title role in two operas by Nicolà Porpora that are represented on the album, Semiramide riconosciuta, composed for Naples, and Statira, composed for Venice.
Stutzmann feels that composers like Porpora, Bononcini, Caldara and Gasparini deserve to be remembered, even if their operas are now much rarer than those of Handel (represented on the album with arias from Tamerlano, Rinaldo, Arminio and Sosarme) and Vivaldi (Tito Manlio, Il Farnace and Bajazet). She describes the four Italian composers’ music as “very fine, and especially well written for the voice,” adding that “It’s worth remembering that Antonio Caldara [born in 1670] was considered the greatest musician of his time. He exercised an influence both on J.S. Bach and on the young Handel during the period he spent in Italy in the early 1700s.”
The album also makes a case for the contralto voice itself. Stutzmann, who first established her reputation in her early twenties, suspects that singing teachers often identify young contraltos as young mezzo-sopranos and ‘stretch’ their voices to tackle the higher repertoire. “We should remember that the voice that most closely resembles the sound of a castrato is not the countertenor – which is produced using a falsetto technique – but the contralto, which is a natural voice. As interest had grown in Baroque music in recent decades, contraltos have once again been relegated to the background, while the countertenors have achieved stardom. One reason for this might be that stage directors find it easier to cast them in productions of operas built around roles for castrato singers – a contralto would have to dress up as a man. When these operas were written, though, contraltos and castrati were in competition for the male roles – but contraltos also took on less starry duties as a mother, wife, nurse or old woman, or perhaps as an adolescent boy.”