July/August issue out now
2 July 2015
We are honoured to welcome Plácido Domingo, one of opera’s most iconic figures, as guest editor of this special edition of Opera Now! Here Domingo gives us a snapshot of the issues that interest him the most in the opera world, from providing opportunities for young talent to celebrating the legacy of his background and using his considerable influence to the good. Leading ladies including Nina Stemme, Ana María Martínez and Angel Blue recount their experiences of performing with the maestro; Domingo offers some personal reflections on how the music of his homeland has provided inspiration throughout his career; and we visit LA Opera, an important springboard for Domingo’s artistic development and vision for the future of the art form. Plus Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri looks forward to a summer singing Mozart and Verdi in Verona; Michael White on coping with performance anxiety; Opera Now’s guide to singing ‘Che gelida manina’ from La bohème; and your chance to WIN tickets to Domingo’s Operalia at the Royal Opera House.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky diagnosed with brain tumour
25 June 2015, Katy Wright
Dmitri Hvorostovsky has cancelled all of his professional engagements until the end of August after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
A statement on the Russian baritone's website reads: 'It is with great regret that Dmitri must cancel all performances from now until the end of August. He has recently been suffering from serious health issues, and a brain tumor has just been diagnosed. Although his voice and vocal condition are normal, his sense of balance has been severely affected. Dmitri will begin treatment this week and remains very optimistic for the future.'
Hvorostovsky, now 52, first came to international attention when he won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989. He has since carved out an international career, winning particular acclaim for his portrayal of the title character in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and Verdi's baritone roles.
Cardiff Singer of the World 2015 winners announced
22 June 2015, Cardiff, UK
Nadine Koutcher from Belarus took this year's first prize at Cardiff(Credit: Brian Tarr)
Report by Simon Rees
Nadine Koutcher, a 32-year-old soprano from Minsk in Belarus, walked off the stage of Cardiff’s St David’s Hall on 21 June as this year’s ultimate victor in the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
This year, 20 singers competed for a number of titles, including the Song Prize (ably won by South Korean bass Jongmin Park) and the Audience Prize (carried off by Mongolian baritone Amartushvin Enkhbat).
The week began with the first two song rounds, held in the beautifully resonant Dora Stoutzker Hall. With only 450 seats, the venue wasn’t large enough to hold everyone who wanted to attend, so some in the audience had to make do with a relay to Cardiff University’s music department. The two official accompanists, Llŷr Williams and Simon Lepper, were joined by several other pianists brought along by individual singers. (One unexpected highpoint of the whole competition was Williams' transcendently dramatic performance of Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’, which left the soloist somewhat outclassed).
Other fine moments in the preliminary song rounds were Nadine Koutcher performing Liszt’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’, a piece requiring exceptional virtuosity; and Jongmin Park singing ‘Danny Boy’, a daring choice brought off by his legato tone, marvellously wide dynamic range, and attention to the beauty of the words.
The main competition consisted of four preliminary rounds, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Thomas Søndergård alternating with the orchestra of Welsh National Opera conducted by Martyn Brabbins. These rounds had been ‘seeded’ by the competition’s artistic director David Jackson so that each round (unlike previous years) would produce a finalist, with a fifth singer to be chosen as a ‘wild card’. Previously it had been possible for one round to produce three finalists or more.
The worthy winner of the first round was Ukrainian tenor Oleksiy Palchykov whose renditions of ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’ and ‘Il mio tesoro’ broke the usual pattern of white-knuckle rides during high, exposed Mozart arias. His tender, sweet-toned performance of Lensky’s aria ‘Kuda, kuda’ from Eugene Onegin had even the most hardened and jaded music industry pundits in tears. Palchykov had a good stage presence as an innocent country lad (fitting for someone who’s biography states that they have collected 61 football scarves) and worked the audience well, driving off prodigious opposition from South Korea's Jongmin Park (who made it back to the final on the wild card) and Germany singer Sebastian Pilgrim’s massive, thundering bass.
The second night belonged wholeheartedly to American soprano Lauren Michelle, a diva in the making with superb stage presence (she made her own dresses in the haute couture mode) and an enthusiastic family group who nearly knocked me flying with their standing ovation. Her main bid for fame was the scena, aria and cabaletta from Act I of La traviata, where I didn’t feel she brought much personality to Violetta. However, she executed all the runs and trills with scientific skill.
Round 3 went to Enkhbat from Mongolia, whose beauty of tone made up for his absolute lack of facial expression. His aria from Prince Igor showed off his excellent Russian, and his style in Giordano and Verdi was admirably Italianate, with acceptable pronunciation.
The final round was a walkover by Nadine Koutcher from Belarus, whose comic performance of ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’ from The Tales of Hoffmann was the highlight of the rounds, including a wind-up from Martyn Brabbins every time her clockwork mechanism ran down.
At the finals themselves, Enkhbat’s glorious ‘Eri tu’ from Un ballo in maschera rivalled that of Hvorostovsky 25 years ago. Michelle’s ‘Il est doux, il est bon’ from Hérodiade was expressively phrased, while Electra’s aria from Idomeneo was less so. Palchykov returned (rather tired) from Paris where he had been singing Ferrando in Così fan tutte to give a rousing performance of ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ which should keep him in business in the German and Austrian houses. Park sang (to my mind, most beautifully and dramatically of all) from Verdi’s Requiem, The Barber of Seville and La Gioconda.
Nadine Koutcher win was acclaimed with a standing ovation from the audience. Deservedly so, for her ‘Bell Song’ from Lakmé was mesmerisingly sung across three octaves, with perfect intonation and musicianship.
This splendid final was the culmination of an altogether great week for world-class singing in the Welsh capital. Yet again, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World proved to be one of the finest series of concerts around – never mind that it’s supposed to be a competition.
Vancouver Opera to transform into a festival from 2017
19 June 2015, Vancouver, Canada
James Wright: ‘We are being as forward thinking as possible’(Photo: Vancouver Opera)
Vancouver Opera has announced that it will no longer present a full season, but is reinventing itself as an annual spring festival from 2017.
Vancouver Opera (VO) was founded in 1958 and has grown to become Canada’s second biggest opera company. The new format will concentrate three of its four productions over three weeks in late April and early May.
VO general director Jim Wright says that the move has been prompted by concerns over sustainability in the face of diminishing audiences. He said ‘the old model simply wasn’t working and was not getting the numbers we needed’. He added: ‘We are being as forward thinking as possible’.
The new format is expected to deliver substantial savings on marketing, which will be concentrated at one time of year. Job losses are also expected. Overall, the savings should amount to around 10 per cent of operating costs.
Wright says the new Vancouver Opera Festival will showcase innovation, with animated lobby and plaza spaces, pre- and post-performance events, programming for young people and families, workshops and forums, cultural concerts and free events: ‘If we keep up the quality and it's interesting enough … there's no reason why it can't become a destination festival.’
Wright himself will not be staying on to lead the new festival, but is retiring at the end of the 2015-16 season after 17 years at the helm of the company.
Jonathan Kent receives CBE in Queen’s Birthday Honours
15 June 2015, London, UK
Jonathan Kent on setLucie Goodayle © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2010
Report by Katy Wright
Opera and musical director Jonathan Kent has received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for 2015 for services to music and theatre.
Kent made his debut as an opera director with the Santa Fe Opera’s 2003 production of Janáček’s Katya Kabanova. His first British production was a dramatisation of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time for English National Opera, and he made his Royal Opera House debut in 2006 with Puccini’s Tosca. His other credits include Hippolyte et Aricie, Don Giovanni, The Fairy Queen and The Turn of the Screw (Glyndebourne Festival); The Flying Dutchman (English National Opera); Katya Kabanova, Adès’s The Tempest and Le nozze di Figaro (Santa Fe); and Die Frau ohne Schatten and Elektra (Mariinsky Theatre).
Kent describes himself as ‘a theatre director who does opera’. His most recent production of Manon Lescaut for the Royal Opera House (2014) was dismissed as ‘obstructive and pretentious’ by Telegraph critic Rupert Christiansen, while Andrew Clements of the Guardian questioned the purpose of updating it to the modern day.
Other musicians to be recognised include composers James MacMillan and Karl Jenkins, who both received knighthoods; Sir Neville Marriner, who was made a Companion of Honour; choral conductor Simon Halsey, who also received a CBE; clarinettist and conductor Michael Collins, who became MBE.
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