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Cristina Zavalloni highlights opening weekend of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Versatile Italian soprano Cristian Zavalloni sings cabaret and 1920s songs during the opening weekend of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Barbara Rigon photograph

Versatile Italian soprano Cristian Zavalloni sings cabaret and 1920s songs during the opening weekend of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Barbara Rigon photograph

The top floor of the Shalin Liu Performance Center was built for Cristina Zavalloni. 

Nobody knew it back in 2010, when Rockport Music’s new home was opened. But when late-night cabaret upstairs in the oceanfront concert hall became a highlight of the annual Rockport Chamber Music Festival, the Italian soprano had a future home.

Not that Zavalloni only sings cabaret. She specializes in the avant-garde, with a European flavor that segues smoothly from small dark bars to concert halls. She’s perfect for the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, since she brings that entire range to the first weekend of the five-week series.

At the June 14 opening night, Zavalloni joins the Parker and Vera quartets, pianist Steven Prutsman and violinist Blake Pouliot for a Roaring ’20s exploration. That program includes Ravel, Milhaud (the ballet score “La création du monde”), and Prutsman’s own soundtrack to Buster Keaton’s silent classic “College” (with the film). Zavalloni sings three songs—“Second Hand Rose,” “Stardust,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ”—on that program.

But late Saturday evening—RCMF’s cabarets begin at 10:00 p.m—Zavalloni sings a much different mix. “It’s the core of a program that I’ve had in repertoire for years,” she says.“It’s a Berlin type cabaret, from the ’20s and ’30s. You think of Kurt Weill—he was the greatest of the bunch. But also Schoenberg—the earlier, cabaret lieder cycle. It’s very interesting—not the ‘Pierrot’ Schoenberg”—which Zavalloni has frequently performed as well—“but a very young Schoenberg.”

Zavalloni is well-known for singing the works of Louis Andriessen. The music of the Dutch composer, who just turned 80, is not heard nearly enough in the states. But his idiosyncratic and experimental compositions have had a profound effect on contemporary sound, and Zavalloni has played a big part in interpreting them. 

Andriessen and Zavalloni have worked together for decades—“she’s his muse,” says RCMF’s artistic director Barry Shiffman. “When Andriessen first heard me in 1993,” Zavalloni says, “he said, ‘Tonight was your devilish side. I’m curious if there is an angelic side.’ I’m not sure there is one, but I was happy that someone was trying to find it.” 

She has had many songs written expressly for her, and taken leads in several of Andriessen’s operas and dramatic settings. Among those, his “Anaïs Nin,” written in 2010 and set for singer, ensemble and film, was the original reason Shiffman wanted Zavalloni to come to Rockport. “Barry wanted me to sing ‘Anaïs Nin,’ this year,” she says, “but it didn’t work out. Maybe next year.”

The Parker Quartet returns on Saturday’s main-stage concert for music of Brahms and Mozart, and Irish pianist Barry Douglas makes his RCMF debut on Sunday, with Mussorgsky’s sweeping “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Clarinetist Anthony McGill and cellist Ani Aznavoorian also perform on both programs. 

The Rockport Chamber Music Festival runs through July 14. For tickets and information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com.

3030330 on main bar 

HED—RCMF 019 Summer Schedule at a Glance

By Keith Powers

Week One

Friday, June 14, 8:00 p.m.

Parker Quartet; Blake Pouliot, violin; Stephen Prutsman, piano; Vera Quartet; Cristina Zavalloni, soprano

Roaring 20s wasn’t just about can-can and Zelda. Ravel was Roaring 20s. And Buster Keaton. And tons of jazz songs. An original score (by pianist Stephen Prutsman) performed with Vera Quartet to Keaton’s film “College” highlights opening night program.

Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.

Parker Quartet; Anthony McGill, clarinet; Barry Shiffman, viola; Ani Aznavoorian, cello

Grammy Award–winning Parker Quartet anchors program that includes Mozart’s clarinet quintet and the Brahms string sextet.


Saturday, June 15, 10:00 p.m.

Cristina Zavalloni, soprano; Stephen Prutsman, piano; Blake Pouliot, violin

Sensational Zavalloni highlights the opening of this summer’s late-night cabarets. Songs by Weill, Eisler, others.


Sunday, June 16, 5:00 p.m.

Barry Douglas, piano

Ani Aznavoorian, cello; Anthony McGill, clarinet

Douglas performs Mussorgsky’s grand “Pictures at an Exhibition”; selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons,” Brahms A minor clarinet trio.

Philippe Graffin discovers a lost Ysaÿe, then performs it. Week two at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Artist director Robert Walsh talks about 2019 Gloucester Stage Company's season.