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Fabio Luisi named music director designate of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

11 February 2016

Fabio Luisi has been named music director designate of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

He will launch his tenure as music director in April 2018 for an initial period of five years.

The new position has been created specially for Luisi, who will lead at least three full operatic productions and numerous symphonic concerts at the Opera di Firenze and annual Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival each season, as well as collaborating with intendant Francesco Bianchi on a new touring initiative.

Luisi is currently principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, general music director of the Zurich Opera and principal conductor designate of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Previous positions include principal conductor of l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (1997 -2002), chief conductor of Staatskapelle Dresden and Semeroper, Dresden (2007-2010) and chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (2005-2013).

He said of his appointment: 'Florence has the potential as a city to became a major center for classical music, opera productions, symphonic productions, and this potential has increased exponentially with the creation of the new theater a couple of years ago.

'I will work with the artistic administration of this institution to make Opera Firenze and Maggio Musicale become again what they were in the past: one of the most important musical institutions in Europe and in the world.'

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is currently led by Zubin Mehta, who has been principal conductor for the last three decades and will become principal conductor emeritus.

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

ENO chorus to be balloted over industrial action

8 February 2016

Equity is to ballot the chorus of English National Opera over industrial action.

The chorus members are facing a 25% cut to their salaries and the loss of four jobs, but Equity's head of live performance Hilary Hadley suggested that a 61% cut is more likely in light of the information provided by ENO.

Hadley also confirmed that ENO management is planning to increase the chorus' hours, remove payment for Sunday working and stop overtime pay. 'There is also a vague proposal that they’ll be able to find the chorus some additional work during the summer months (May-August). However, the existing proposal is that if they do find work it will cut their pay from 75% to 50% of their current salary.'

The 44 choristers are currently paid £32,900 annually. There has been no indication of when cuts to salaries might take place, but redundancies are due to take place in April 2017. However, ENO would like its agreement with Equity in place by the end of March 2016 in order to relay more concrete proposals to the Arts Council.

'We want to make sure that cultural vandalism is not committed while trying to balance the books at the ENO,' said Stephen Spence, assistant general secretary (industrial) of Equity. 'We believe that the proposals that have been put forward are disproportionate, and that they will be critically damaging to the integrity of the opera company.

'We are hopeful that ongoing discussions with the management and the Arts Council will resolve this situation, but the union will not rule anything out. But if we don’t make progress, consideration will be given to a production not proceeding.'

Hadley added: 'We understand that ENO needs to make savings, and we’re absolutely committed to working with them to achieve substantial savings. But what we’re not prepared to do is to cross the line between making some savings and actually destroying the integrity of the opera chorus.

'We do feel that the proposals that are put forward to us, although possibly well meant, are probably going to destroy English National Opera for once and for all.’

A petition launched by Equity calling for these proposals to be scrapped had nearly 1,000 signatures at the time of writing.

An anonymous member of the chorus said: 'Living in London on our current wages is a stretch, and I’m concerned that living on 75% is going to be impossible. We are already working six days a week, sometimes seven, with spread out hours and lots of travelling. If we have to move further out, it will make it a nightmare, if not impossible, to do the job.

'Most of us here have dedicated our lives to singing, to performing, and certainly to this company, but a lot of people will find it unsustainable to have such a pay cut. A job like this is the stuff of dreams for a musician, but since the Arts Council cuts were handed down it’s been a very sad decline in my prospects as a musician, as a performer, and as an artist. I think a lot of us have thought about the other options. That’s not a situation I wanted to be in - this was meant to be a permanent, full time job.

'You can see the sadness among the chorus. Every day I see a different person in tears because everyone is so frightened of what this means for their livelihood and for the future of the arts in this country.

'If management were to ask us, we have plenty of ideas about what we could do in the months when we’re outside the Coliseum. We need to be doing more outreach and smaller projects… We are all very able and would be willing and honoured to give more to increase the output of the company. We feel that’s the best step rather than cutting back and doing less of the same.

'To have to strike would be deeply upsetting. It’s not something we want to do, and it would be the most depressing, devastating thing. The people we care about most are the members of the audience. We want to be performing and we want to give them all we can.

'Our other worry is that it’s bad enough that it’s happening to us, but there are so many people training so hard with the vision of maybe one day being lucky enough to perform at ENO. We feel we’ve reached a pinnacle here, and if that’s no longer a viable option what will they have to work for? What will it do to the future of opera and classical music generally?

'If you take away the chorus and the pay, people will leave and the company will fragment. This is not the end, but we’re concerned that if these proposals go through that this will be the beginning of the end.'

In a statement released earlier today, CEO Cressida Pollock wrote: 'It is not our intention to further casualise the workforce at ENO. We remain committed to retaining a permanent chorus, orchestra and backstage team.

'Whilst we remain committed to our permanent ensembles, we also recognise that we have to make significant cost savings in order for ENO to be a more sustainable organisation in the long-term. We are working towards a solution with the ENO chorus which would see them maintained as a permanent ensemble but with a greater degree of flexibility in their contracts, which reflects the economic reality of ENO’s situation.'

In February 2015, the Arts Council dropped ENO from its national portfolio of organisations for 2015-18, but in November announced that it would extend funding until 2018 while placing the company under special monitoring arrangements.

Leading opera figures protest plans for a 'part-time' ENO

8 February 2016

A change.org petition is asking the board of English National Opera 'to reconsider its plans to turn the company into a part-time organisation'.

The petition states: 'We believe the artistic standards that the widest public deserve can only be achieved by a combination of the talent and experience of people working together consistently and frequently.

'ENO cannot afford to lose those who have guaranteed the achievements of the company over many years, and the Board must seek alternative solutions to balancing the current budget.

'The current proposals reveal a lack of understanding of the quality audiences expect, and of how that quality is achieved.

'We call on the Board to think more innovatively and positively in addressing its current financial shortfall so as to build an environment in which ENO can continue to grow and flourish.'

A number of high-profile figures from the opera world have signed the petition. Soprano Sarah Connolly commented: 'I'm signing because you cannot rip the heart out of an already wounded company and expect it to somehow provide successful productions where everyone knows what to do. You can't ask department heads to give orders to strangers or vice versa. Cressida you have to stop this splintering now and focus on cohesiveness, clever production planning, persuading some Arts Council members, who seem reluctant, to help ENO. In the words of Richard Armstrong, "What I find shocking is when people say you can't have the resources but still expect you to deliver the same quality of work. Without that quality, why have it?"'

Stuart Skelton wrote: 'I do not believe you make the audience more engaged with ENO and its productions by reducing the chorus contracts. If poor decisions over time have been made that have led to this, why is it that the only group in the company who are utterly blameless for the bad decisions are the only ones to be punished?'

Susan Bullock's comment reads: 'So much damage has been done to this wonderful company in recent years, and it is now time for it to stop. Wake up ENO Board before it is too late and fight for the company you are supposed to represent. Do not allow the heart to be ripped out of it by administrators who have no clue about opera. You can't expect high quality performances from a broken company, nor do you deserve them if you persist in making these cuts.'

Another petition has been started by Equity, which calls for ENO management to reach an agreement with Equity to keep a full-time, world-class Chorus and to reverse the decision to reduce their salary to 75% and cut jobs.

Erato signs Marianne Crebassa

3 February 2016

Marianne Crebassa
Marianne CrebassaLuc Jennepin

French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa has signed an exclusive recording contract with Erato.

Her repertory encompasses Handel, Gluck, Berlioz, Debussy and Offenbach, but she has won particular acclaim for her Mozart. She sang Cecilio in the Salzburg Festival's 2013 Lucio Silla and Cherubino in the Staatsoper Berlin's 2015 Le nozze di Figaro, and also appeared in a production based on Mozart's oratorio Davide penitente for the 2015 Salzburg Mozart week.

She is well known for performing trouser roles, including Cecilio, Cherubino, Ramiro (La finta giardiniera) and male characters from French grand operas by Chabrier, Gounod, Massenet and Offenbach.

Crebassa made her operatic debut in the Opéra de Montpellier's production of Schumann's Manfred in 2008, and joined Paris Opéra's young artist programme, the Atelier Lyrique, on a two-year contract in 2010. She has since performed in concert halls and opera houses across the world, with highlights including a performance at the opening gala of the Paris Philharmonie and singing the title role in Marc-André's Charlotte Salomon.

Future engagements include Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna, Amsterdam and Milan, Romeo et Juliette in Chicago, La clemenza di Tito with the Opéra di Paris, and the title role of Fantasio with the Opéra-Comique.

Alain Lanceron, president of Warner Classics and Erato, said: 'Since her first appearances in concert and on stage, Marianne Crebassa has captivated the international music scene thanks to the exceptional quality of her vocal timbre and her innate musicality. We are delighted to welcome this jewel into the Erato family and look forward to a stellar future with her.'

Crebassa will release her debut album with the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg and Marc Minkowski in November 2016. Speaking of the recording, she said: 'This album is close to my heart - it feels like a natural continuation of the personal and artistic connections I've made since my debut at the Salzburg Festival. This great musical city and the Mozarteum have supported me unfailingly from the beginning, as well as Marc Minkowski, with whom I have shared the stage many times.'

Marianne Crebassa

ENO Chorus expecting 25% pay cut

3 February 2016

The union Equity has confirmed that the English National Opera Chorus has been told to expect a 25% cut in pay and the loss of at least four jobs.

The Chorus is preparing for industrial action to try and prevent this. According to Equity, they also fear that these actions 'could push ENO into terminal decline'.

The news follows rumours that ENO would dispose of its chorus altogether and that they would be out of work from May until August.

Responding to reports that the company would cut chorus members' contracts by 25%, a spokesperson for ENO said last month: 'We have to be able to operate with significantly reduced funding. As a consequence, we need to look at developing a more flexible way of working while maintaining our artistic integrity. We are unable to comment on specific arrangements, as we are currently in the early stages of negotiations with unions.'

More information will follow next week.


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