May 05, 2021
The gold standard: Highlights of Sir Andrew Davis's magnificent tenure at Lyric
Sir Andrew Davis’s two decades as Lyric’s music director have been a true voyage of discovery for him, as well as for our audiences. He’s introduced us to one glorious work after another, while also enabling us to revisit familiar works with fresh ears. Collectively, Sir Andrew’s performances at Lyric represent one of the greatest achievements in the history of the company.
The cornerstone of Sir Andrew’s association with Lyric has always been Mozart. He debuted at Lyric in 1987 with The Marriage of Figaro, which he’s returned to twice since then. He’s done all the other major Mozart operas as well, from Idomeneo and The Abduction from the Seraglio to Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, La clemenza di Tito, and The Magic Flute. It’s always a joy to experience the grace, musicality, and sheer humanity that Sir Andrew brings to Mozart.
Although he’d conducted Rossini operas in other major houses, Sir Andrew hadn’t been heard in Rossini at Lyric until he took on La Cenerentola in 2015/16. He was so exhilarated by that experience that he returned to Rossini four seasons later with Lyric’s new production of The Barber of Seville.
Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner weren’t especially prominent in Sir Andrew’s operatic conducting before his Lyric tenure began. He’s covered that ground in a big way since then, with acclaimed performances of five Verdi operas; five Puccini operas (he reveled especially in the composer’s thrilling orchestration for La fanciulla del West in 2010/11; and Turandot in 2006/07 and 2017/18); and all the Wagner masterpieces. His Wagner performances have been revelatory — above all, his first complete Ring cycle (2005) and Parsifal (2001/02 and 2013/14). The COVID pandemic, alas, deprived us of the chance to hear Sir Andrew’s new thoughts on the full new production of the Ring in the three cycles planned for the spring of 2020, although we did thrill to his interpretations of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried in the previous three seasons.
Two of Sir Andrew’s favorite composers are Richard Strauss and Alban Berg, whose music he has championed throughout his career. Whether in the intimate Strauss (Capriccio, Ariadne auf Naxos) or the more large-scale pieces (Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Die Frau ohne Schatten), he’s established and maintained a true gold standard for our audience in that repertoire. He’s also given Lyric some of the most musically brilliant and emotionally devastating performances within recent memory with the new productions of Berg’s Lulu (2008/09) and Wozzeck (2015/16).
One of the greatest discoveries for the Lyric audience has been Sir Andrew’s wonderful affinity for French repertoire. His first excursion in those operas at Lyric was Thaïs (2002/03), starring Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, which turned Sir Andrew overnight into a devotee of Massenet. The Massenet operas have brought Lyric audiences Sir Andrew’s memorable collaborations with other great artists, including Matthew Polenzani in Werther (2012/13) and Ferruccio Furlanetto in Don Quichotte (2016/17). One of the most captivating Lyric premieres of recent years was another Massenet opera, Cendrillon (2018/19), cconducted by Sir Adnrew in Laurent Pelly’s enchanting production. Among Sir Andrew’s other credits in French opera, four must be mentioned: a definitive interpretation of Gounod’s Faust (2008/09); and the long-awaited company premieres of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (2006/07) and also of Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust (2009/10) and Les Troyens (2016/17).
Sir Andrew has greatly illuminated Slavic repertoire at Lyric. He adores Janáček; his conducting of Lyric’s first Jenůfa in four decades (2000/01) was as devastating as it was exhilarating in the company premiere of The Cunning Little Vixen (2004/05). His collaboration with Ana María Martínez, Brandon Jovanovich, and Sir David McVicar created one of the greatest of all Lyric productions in the company’s first performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka (2013/14). Sir Andrew’s enthusiasm for Russian repertoire led the company to present Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades to inaugurate his tenure as music director (2000/01), and he returned thrillingly to that work in the 2019/20 Season. He also probed deeply into Eugene Onegin, in which the glorious pairing of Dina Kuznetsova and the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky (2007/08) left audiences shattered in the opera’s finale. And certainly Lyric audiences will never forget Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (2011/12), for which Sir Andrew conducted the mighty Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role.
As an internationally celebrated interpreter of his native repertoire, Sir Andrew has relished any opportunity to present British operas at Lyric. He thrilled audiences leading the new production of Britten’s Billy Budd (2001/02), and it was especially meaningful to him to collaborate with his longtime colleague from Glyndebourne, Sir Peter Hall, in a new production of Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage (2005/06). In a wonderful change of pace for Sir Andrew, he brought Gilbert and Sullivan back to our stage, conducting delectable new productions of The Pirates of Penzance (2003/04) and The Mikado (2009/10). The Merry Widow — not a British work, of course, but sung in English translation, with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson captivating one and all — was another delightful chance to enjoy again the lighter side of his conducting.
It was a momentous occasion for Sir Andrew when, after 15 years as music director, he led his first world premiere at Lyric, Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz’s much-acclaimed Bel Canto (2015/16). This formidable, powerfully dramatic work profited immeasurably in its development from the invaluable advice and suggestions that Sir Andrew was able to offer López and Cruz in the creation of their first opera.
All of us at Lyric are immensely grateful to Sir Andrew Davis for his 20 years as our musical guide and inspiration. We’re so looking forward to welcoming him back to the Lyric podium in future seasons. Bravissimo, Sir Andrew!