Leyla Gencer Voice Competition

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ISM performers and composers 2015

Latest News

Operatic music spanning 400 years at the Proms 2015

24 April 2015

Starry Last Night: Jonas Kaufmann
Starry Last Night: Jonas Kaufmann

This year’s BBC Proms programme  features relatively little opera, but what there is covers the gamut of operatic history, from Monteverdi to Sondheim.

Among the highlights of the 2015 season is the Albert Hall debut of Grange Park Opera with Fiddler on the Roof, another Proms first, starring Bryn Terfel in the lead role of Tevye,  with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell.

There is also the regular festival visit of Glyndebourne which brings a semi-staged version of its new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail conducted by Robin Ticciati.

Scrolling back the start of operatic history, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloist perform Monteverdi’s Orfeo under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. 

The stars are out on the Last Night of the Proms: tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Danielle de Niese do the honours, in a programme that is inevitably strong on romance, including music by Puccini, Lehar and Copeland.

 In other opera-related concerts, Alice Coote performs a Late Night Prom which explores Handel and ‘travesty’ – the gender-bending aspects of the composer’s operatic roles.

 Meanwhile, there’s the return of a proms favourite – Verdi’s Requiem, featuring the chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Donald Runnicles. And in a lighter mode at Cadogan Hall, Siân Philips, Kitty Whately and Jamie Parker celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday with a ‘Sondheim Cabaret’

Click here for BBC Proms programme

London's Royal Opera House announces new season

20 April 2015

New role: Joyce DiDonato sings Charlotte
New role: Joyce DiDonato sings Charlotte

The Royal Opera House has announced its programme for its 2015/16 season, which includes eight new commissions and a number of singers and directors making their debut at the house.

Introducing the new season, the ROH's director of opera, Kasper Holten, set out a programme that balances popular classics on the main stage beside a raft of new and experimental work in venues across London: ‘We have gone for a really varied roster of new productions and popular revivals, includingCarmen, Tosca and La Traviata to fill the huge appetite for the classics shown by our new audiences.' Holten added, however, that the ROH would stilll be a centre for innovation: 'It’s important in these times to continue artistic risk-taking.'

The season features 11 new productions, including stagings by Katie Mitchell, Richard Jones and Graham Vick, while major European figures including David Bösch and Mariame Clément are among the four directors new to the ROH.

Two important works make their Royal Opera House debut during the season:  Chabrier’s charming comic fantasy L’étoile and Enescu’s searing, monumental  Oedipe, which continues a strand of 20th century opera established last season with works by Weill and Szymanowski.

Other ROH debutants include the Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, currently music director at the Turin Opera, who will conduct a new production of Il Trovatore. Meanwhile, Bryn Terfel, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez all make role debuts during the season. Terfel takes the lead role in Richard Jones’ new production of Boris Godunov; DiDonato takes a step out of the bel canto repertore to sing the dark, poignant role of Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther; and Flórez also ventures into new territory taking the title tenor role in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, co-directed by the choreographer Hofesh Shechter.

The exploration of the Orpheus myth at the ROH, which began with Monteverdi’s Orfeo at Camden’s Roundhouse in January 2015, will also feature a Linbury Studio Theatre production of the Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus, which portrays imaginary events in Django Reinhardt’s life, featuring opera, jazz and French chanson. The ROH will also be returning to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Christian Curnyn and the Orchestra of Early Opera Company will perform Luigi Rossi’s Orpheus, with Mary Bevan singing the title role in a staging by Keith Warner.

The new commissions include Morgen und Abend, by the Austrian ‘spectralist’ composer, Georg Friedrich Haas, following the life story of a man from birth to death (introduced by a 28-minute monologue); an operatic adaptation by Philip Venables of Sarah Kane’s harrowing 1999 play 4.48 Psychosis; and Mark Simpson’s Pleasure, whose central character Val is the cleaner in the toilets of a gay club.

Meanwhile, operas by Donnacha Dennehy, Mark Simpson and Iain Bell appear in London for the first time. Bell’s In Parenthesis is a new commission to mark Welsh National Opera’s 70th anniversary, and will be directed by David Pountney.

 

The redevelopment of the Linbury Theatre, expected to last two years, will commence in January 2016. The project will improve the acoustics and comfort of the venue, while maintaining its flexibility. While the Linbury is under rennovation, two productions will take place at the Lyric Hammersmith, while Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnestwill be performed at the Barbican Centre before moving to New York.

The 2015/16 season will also see the company’s first international tour in five years, as it presents Kasper Holten’s Don Giovanni, Phyllida Lloyd’s Macbeth, and a concert programme of Mozart in Tokyo and Osaka.

Rhinegold Charity Fund 2015/16 recipients announced

8 April 2015, London, UK

Report from Early Music Today

Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) and Live Music Now have been named joint recipients of 2015/16’s Rhinegold Charity Fund, offering £10,000 of advertising across Rhinegold’s classical music and education publications, websites and services.

Rhinegold Charity Fund chairman Stephen Turvey said: ‘We have chosen YCAT and Live Music Now because, although significantly different in their focus, we passionately believe in the work of both charities. We also felt that their thoughtful and detailed applications clearly demonstrated a strategic and organisational maturity that would fully make use of the support offered by the fund.’

Both recipients spoke of the impact they hoped the charity fund would have on their organisations: YCAT’s chief executive Alasdair Tait said: ‘The impact and profile the fund provides will directly benefit our exceptional young artists at a crucial point in their career, whilst introducing YCAT’s unique work to a wider, international audience.’ Ian Stoutzker, founder chairman of Live Music Now, added: ‘We hope that working with Rhinegold will give us the opportunity to publicly celebrate our wonderful musicians, and encourage more people to become involved in this important and ground-breaking work.’

Entries for the 2016/17 Charity Fund will open in autumn 2015. The fund is open to all charities within the music industry. Full details will be available from www.rhinegold.co.uk/fund.


ENO appoints McKinsey’s Cressida Pollock as interim chief executive

9 March 2015, London, UK

Report by Alex Stevens

English National Opera has appointed Cressida Pollock as interim chief executive. Pollock will join from management consultant McKinsey, which has been working with ENO in recent months, on 24 March.

Pollock will lead the organisation as it goes through the process of appointing a permanent chief executive and board chairman. ENO confirmed that she had resigned from McKinsey to take up the role, rather than working on a secondment or similar arrangement.

‘From her time at McKinsey she brings great experience in advising and helping businesses and other organisations to tackle their biggest challenges and raise their levels of performance,’ said a statement.

Last month it was announced that ENO had not been admitted into Arts Council England’s three-year National Portfolio funding programme, because ACE had ‘continuing concerns’ about the robustness of ENO’s governance and business model.

Pollock's appointment was made by a panel of board members led by acting chair Harry Brünjes, ‘alongside’ ACE’s London area director, Joyce Wilson.

Brünjes said in a statement: ‘No one has a better understanding of the work that needs to be done in order to be re-admitted to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio this November. Cressida will be working closely with myself, Glyn Barker (our chair of finance), John Berry, and the senior team over the coming months as ENO adapts to an operating model which will rely less on public subsidy, whilst still maintaining the highest level of artistic excellence.’

Pollock said: ‘I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play this role at one of the UK’s leading arts institutions. I am greatly looking forward to working closely with the board, John and the senior management team during what is a critical time for ENO.’

On Sunday (8 March), the Financial Times published a letter signed by 33 opera and festival directors stating that they were ‘alarmed by the recent questions that have arisen regarding English National Opera and its talented artistic director, John Berry, since they are certainly not deserved’.

The letter defended Berry’s record and highlighted the success of ENO co-productions under his tenure as artistic director (‘this season alone, 18 ENO co-productions will have been seen in 17 different opera houses in eight countries’). This way of working, it said, had ‘wisely saved [ENO] millions of pounds in shared production expenses in recent years, while at the same time making it one of the UK’s greatest cultural ambassadors’.

‘Rather than being criticised, Berry and his company should be applauded for their indefatigable efforts to keep our art form fresh. We stand together in support of him and his notable achievements.’

The letter’s signatories included Pierre Audi, director of Dutch National Opera; Bernard Foccroulle, director of the Aix-en-Provence Festival; Peter Gelb, general manager of New York Metropolitan Opera; Valery Gergiev, artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre; and Dominique Meyer, director of Vienna State Opera.

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.

Preview – Don Giovanni at sea

6 March 2015, Bergen, Norway

Oliver Mears: 'Fundamentally, there is a tension in the opera between sexuality and sexual repression.'
Oliver Mears: 'Fundamentally, there is a tension in the opera between sexuality and sexual repression.'

Mozart's famous seducer embarks on a cruise ship in Bergen National Opera's new production. British director Oliver Mears will transform the stage of Grieg Hall into a grand 1960s cruise ship with its classy salons and swimming pools. As Mozart´s music weaves its magic, characters slip into corners, collide in passages, deceive and declaim. We breathe the humid cabin-fever of lives at sea…

Your new production places the opera in an unusual setting: how did you get the idea to stage Don Giovanni on a cruise ship?

We wanted to set the production somewhere that was self-contained and labyrinthine, where it could be plausible that characters keep running into each other (as they do in the original libretto), and where the class and status differences so crucial to the original story could retain their importance. The opera is dominated by 'Dons' and 'Donnas' – fundamentally this is an opera about the nobility, and thus, about privilege and money. All this suggested the luxury cruise ship setting, together with the Norwegian context in which we are staging it. The cruise ships of that era, unlike those of today perhaps, also had genuine luxury and style – something people still cherish when they go to the opera, rightly or wrongly.

Your staging also takes us back to the 1960s. What is it about this decade that resonates with the spirit of Don Giovanni?

Fundamentally there is a tension in the opera between sexuality and sexual repression – between a body which is totally at ease with itself (in the figure of Don Giovanni), and people who are suspicious or conflicted about the body and its erotic potential (most of the other characters). There can be few eras where this conflict was as evident or as sharp as the 1960s, where one had a tremendous relaxation in sexual taboos but also a rear-guard effort on the part of conservatism to head this off. That, of course, is what the Commendatore's intervention at the end represents.

The colourful, energetic hedonism of the 1960 and its elevation of animal, male sex symbols is also to be found in the world of Don Giovanni, who lives purely for sensation. In this way, he foreshadows the dedicated materialism of the 1980s and beyond – though it shouldn’t be forgotten that Don Giovanni is also a conflicted figure. On the one hand he is a revolutionary, a rebel, a liberator – someone who challenges the 'Father' as Mozart did his. On the other, he is always a 'Don', a noble and a materialist who uses his status and his cash to achieve his ends and who has no social ideals whatsoever. This makes him a protean figure who is always changing his outfits to serve his own aims. John Lennon said: ‘The only thing that happened in the 1960s was that everyone got dressed up.’

A lot of your productions are strongly site-specific. In what way do your surroundings and setting influence your stagings?

In the era of jet-set co-productions, a sense of place is sometimes hard to find in opera productions. There is a kind of generic airport-meets-art gallery aesthetic which is totally divorced from the context of where its being produced – sometimes necessarily, because it will be performed from, say, Paris to California, so productions simply can't be too specific for risk of alienating one or other audience. I think increasing immediacy, generating resonances and allusions for an audience, can be uniquely engaging and enlivening.

In the case of my Don Giovanni for Bergen, I have emphasised the enormous importance of the sea, of cruise liners, and of the tycoons who own them. In our story, the Commendatore is the owner of a shipping line who has built his own statue in an act of crazy hubris. I was delighted to find out that such people actually exist here in Norway!

What is it with the Don Juan figure – as he appears in Mozart’s opera – that still speaks to us? In what way is he relevant? It's fascinating that the libertine view of love as a game or conquest feels more modern than Wagner’s romantic idealism, although the latter is closer to us in time.

Yes, doubtless we are all more likely to know a Don Giovanni figure than a Tristan, however I think that's only part of the story. What Don Giovanni has is an elemental charisma, an unstoppable energy, a completely self-contained and consistent sense of self that’s utterly amoral. This makes him both dangerous and tremendously attractive. He stares the world in the face without fear, which is admirable, but he also appears to have no limits: he takes materialism and sensuality as far as it can take him, and he has no religion. I think this resonates strongly with contemporary society. Mozart seems to be asking: What is left if one takes this approach to life? How meaningful is it? Without any guiding moral principles and with a sexual instinct that totally governs behaviour to the exclusion of all traditional restraints or scruples, what are the consequences for the self and for others? Mozart implies that the consequences are fascination yes, energy yes, but also a void, annihilation, social and personal atomisation. I think ever since the 1980s this question has become more and more relevant.

Interview by Geir Rege

Oliver Mears' new production of Don Giovanni opens at Bergen National Opera on Saturday 14 March, starring the Dutch baritone Hank Neven as Mozart's celebrated anti-hero.


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