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Latest News

ENO chair’s resignation reveals boardroom rift

26 January 2015, London, UK

John Berry: 'the problem rather than the solution' for ENO?
John Berry: 'the problem rather than the solution' for ENO?(Photo © ENO)

The resignation of Martyn Rose as chairman of English National Opera will come as no surprise to those who have observed the growing personal animosity between him and John Berry, ENO’s artistic director.

The reasons for Rose’s resignation, after just two years as chairman, were detailed in a frank letter to the ENO’s president, Sir Vernon Ellis, reportedly sent in December and subsequently leaked to the press. In the letter, Rose pulls no punches over Berry’s role in ENO’s current woes, accusing him of being responsible for losses of £10m. In the letter’s coup de grâce, he warns that he regards Berry as the ‘problem, not the solution’ to safeguarding ENO’s future at a time when the company has to look afresh at its business model, following a drastic 29 per cent reduction in the company’s annual Arts Council grant, which now stands at £12.4m.

ENO’s board has stood behind Berry, and the company has issued a statement that it does not recognise the losses quoted in Rose’s letter, adding that ENO is ‘on course to present a balanced budget’ in the current financial year. This however, has been achieved with the help of one-off transitional funding of £7.6m from Arts Council England (ACE), and with the axing of its production of Orfeo at Bristol Old Vic this season.

ACE, meanwhile, was emphatic that the decision to cut ENO’s grant was not influenced by its chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette who was Rose’s predecessor at ENO until 2012. An ACE spokesperson said, ‘Sir Peter was not able to discuss or be part of the ENO decisions because of his former role at ENO.’

Rose will stand down as chairman on 15 February. ENO board member Harry Brunjes has been appointed interim chairman until a successor can be found.

Read our full interview with John Berry in Opera Now's March issue

Top management arrested at Opera Valencia

23 January 2015, Valencia, Spain

Helga Schmidt
Helga Schmidt(Photo © Palau de les Arts)

Following the sudden arrest of general director Helga Schmidt, the sweeping changes among the top brass of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia have been swift and dramatic. Spain’s third most important opera house, after Madrid and Barcelona, saw Schmidt taken into custody at the end of last week, after police launched an investigation into financial irregularities at the theatre.

The 73-year-old arts doyenne has now been released on bail, but has been relieved of her duties at the Palau de les Arts. Meanwhile, the American-born stage director Davide Livermore has today been appointed general director in Schmidt’s stead, promoted from his role as head of the Palau’s young artist studio, the Centro de Perfeccionamiento Plácido Domingo.

Schmidt is a hugely influential figure in the opera world, having held major arts posts in Vienna, Amsterdam and London, where she was the youngest ever artistic director of London’s Royal Opera House during the 1970s. Her wide-ranging influence in the opera world was a pivotal factor in establishing the Palau as a serious international player when the venue opened in 2005. The kudos that came from Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic designs for the new theatre was boosted by the arrival of luminaries such as Plácido Domingo, Zubin Mehta and the late Lorin Maazel.

In truth, Schmidt’s tenure in Valencia has rarely been free from controversy. Her detractors have painted her as an overindulgent spendthrift, demanding ruinously excessive budgets for the Palau at the expense of Valencia’s other arts organisations; her supporters, meanwhile, say that it is through her efforts that Valencia has been able to establish itself as one of Spain’s principal cultural destinations, and that she is the scapegoat of a chaotic local government which is trying to cover its own record of mismanagement.

Also arrested as part of the police investigation is Ernesto Moreno, who was the Palau’s manager from 2007 to 2011. Both he and Schmidt will now be the subject of an ongoing investigation into charges made by a former employee of the Palau regarding contractual irregularities and misappropriation of funds.

Canadian Opera Company announces major new commission

16 January 2015, Toronto, Canada

Above and below: composer Ana Sokolović and librettist Michel Marc Bouchard
Above and below: composer Ana Sokolović and librettist Michel Marc Bouchard

Canadian Opera Company has announced the commission of a major new opera by one of Canada’s most important composers, Ana Sokolović. Titled La Reine-Garçon, the libretto is by Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard and based on his play of the same name.

Queen Christina of Sweden ruled the country in the 17th century before causing a scandal by abdicating her throne at the age of 27 and converting to Roman Catholicism. Her story has been the subject of several stage works, novels and films, including the 1933 classic Queen Christina, starring Greta Garbo.

La Reine-Garçon is currently in development and is scheduled to have its world premiere in the COC’s 2019/2020 season.

This will be the fourth opera commission for Serbian-born, Montreal-based Sokolović, and by far her biggest so far after writing three chamber operas for Toronto’s innovative Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, which closed in 2013. ‘As a woman and as an artist,’ she says, ‘I am particularly touched by this story about the Swedish Queen Christina. She was an inspiring woman ahead of her time.’

In 2012, Sokolović won huge critical acclaim for her opera Svadba-Wedding, which will feature in this summer’s Aix-en-Provence Festival in France.

La Reine-Garçon is Canadian Opera Company’s sixth commission for its main stage. On announcing this latest new opera, the company’s general director Alexander Neff said: ‘The subject of Christine of Sweden is one of Shakespearean proportion with universal relevance. I think it will make a fantastic opera, especially in the hands of Ana and Michel Marc.’

Subscribe to Opera Now as a print or digital edition now for more news, features and information. Single issues are also available in print and digital from just £2.49.

International Opera Awards announce 2015 finalists

14 January 2015, London, UK

Michael Spyres as Benvenuto Cellini at ENO
Michael Spyres as Benvenuto Cellini at ENO(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

The International Opera Awards have announced the shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Awards, which take place at the Savoy Theatre and Hotel in London on 26 April.

Awards will be presented in 19 categories, ranging from ‘Accessibility’ and ‘Newcomer’ to ‘Rediscovered Work’ and ‘World Premiere’, along with a range of standard categories that celebrate leading talent across the industry, from singers and conductors to directors and designers. Recordings are recognised in three awards for CDs and DVDs. Winners are selected by the jury in a secret ballot for each category.

Top international names feature prominently among the finalists, including German baritone Christian Gerhaher and American bel canto tenor Michael Spyres, both competing for ‘Male Singer’. Among a new generation of stars in the ‘Female Singer’ list are two especially striking artists: Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili and Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva.

This year’s ‘Opera Company’ Award is sponsored by Opera Now magazine. Finalists include English National Opera (strongly represented in several categories), both of Belgium’s national opera companies, and major companies in Germany, Russia and Austria.

The Awards, founded by UK businessman and opera aficionado Harry Hyman, are now in their third year, with major sponsorship from Sanlam Private Investments. This year’s event has a new format, with a ceremony featuring live performances at the Savoy Theatre followed by a gala dinner at the Savoy Hotel. Funds raised from the event will go to the International Opera Awards Foundation which supports emerging talent from all spheres of operatic life.

  • For a full list of this year’s finalists in the International Opera Awards, click here
  • To book tickets click here

Opera Now’s May issue will include a special focus on this year’s Awards.

For your chance to win two tickets to the glittering International Opera Awards ceremony in London’s Savoy Theatre on 26 April, see our Reader Competition in the forthcoming February 2015 issue of Opera Now.

Garsington Opera receives major grant from Arts Council England

7 January 2015

Holiday-makers in Skegness enjoy a free screening by Garsington Opera
Holiday-makers in Skegness enjoy a free screening by Garsington Opera

Garsington Opera has received a £750,000 grant from Arts Council England, in partnership with East Lindsey District Council, to roll out its Opera for All programme, delivering free public screenings of its productions around Britain integrated with educational and outreach work around each event. The project, initially for three years, will be delivered through members of the Coastal Communities Alliance (CCA), which has identified areas of low engagement with the arts where opera is difficult to access.

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