Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson makes her Met Opera debut
From the orchestra pits of the Royal Opera House and the Opéra de Paris to the podiums of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Orchester symphonique de Montréal, the CV of renowned Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson spans the continents and musical genres.
But there was one notable entry missing from Wilson’s resume for decades — until this week.
The flautist-turned-conductor makes her long-awaited, and some might say incredibly late, debut at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday in the September 29-October 21 revival of “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.”
It is particularly fitting, Wilson said, that she is making her Met debut with this opera, one of her favorites in the classical repertoire.
“I feel empowered by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. There is so much humanity, so many contrasts and all aspects of life are part of it,” she said in a recent interview with the Star. “I feel charged by this and am so thrilled to bring this opera to life with one of the greatest opera companies in the world.”
Shostakovich’s expressionist opera, created in 1934 and based on the short story “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov, follows a 19th-century woman in a small Russian town who is driven to murder after falling in love with the one of her husband workers.
The opera was poorly received by the Communist Party, which published its infamous op-ed titled “Muddle Instead of Music”, effectively banning the work and leaving its composer to live in terror for months afterwards.
Even after opera resurfaced in the second half of the 20th century, it was rarely performed. This Met Opera production, originally conceived by English opera director Graham Vick, has only been revived twice since its premiere in 1994.
“This production inspires me because it’s so dramatic and powerful in every moment,” Wilson said. “It’s fresh, modern and very clever.
That it took Wilson so long to make his debut conducting the Met Opera Orchestra can perhaps be attributed to the fact that her husband, Peter Gelb, has been the company’s general manager for 16 years.
The couple have been wary of Wilson’s appearance at the Met for fear of poor optics, even though a given season’s lineup of conductors is handled by the music director and fellow Canadian, Yannick Nézet- Séguin, and not by Gelb.
“I was very careful not to seem to show favoritism towards Keri-Lynn, so I leaned back, unfairly towards her, I guess, to get her away from that. But she certainly deserves that start,” said said Gelb “Obviously it feels different to me than any other conductor’s debut since we’ve been married, so I’m personally very proud and excited for her.”
Although “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” marks Wilson’s official debut with the venerable opera company, she has worked with the organization before. Wilson’s opening night on Thursday comes just weeks after she wrapped her tour of Europe and the United States with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, an initiative Wilson conceived after Russia invaded Ukraine. and supported by both the Met Opera and the Polish National Opera.
Wilson, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, home to the most concentrated Ukrainian population in Canada, is of part Ukrainian descent and has always been passionate about her Slavic roots.
“My Ukrainian background was very strong,” Wilson said, recalling how she learned Ukrainian dancing as a child and often spent Orthodox Christmas and Easter with her great-grandmother, who spoke no English.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, made up of recent refugees and Ukrainian musicians working abroad, has been a galvanizing force wherever it has toured – whether at the BBC Proms or the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC – and a testament to how Ukrainian art, music and culture can endure despite war.
Wilson still receives texts of gratitude and is sometimes stopped in the street by passers-by, who thank her for having created the orchestra. But she feels uncomfortable accepting these messages of thanks. “It was the least I could do to help fight,” she said.
“I haven’t digested it all yet because it was an emotional journey,” she continued. “You know, there was never a dry eye in the room after we played our encore, which was this beautiful heartbreaking arrangement of the Ukrainian national anthem.
“It was more than a concert; it was really a statement.
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