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Il Divo

Christmas 2014

Latest News

Welsh National Opera launches 70th anniversary season including Sweeney Todd

6 October 2014, Cardiff, UK

David Birrell and Don Gallagher in Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
David Birrell and Don Gallagher in Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester(Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Report by Keith Clarke

Welsh National Opera is marking its 70th year with the world premiere of two new commissions, five new productions, two works ‘new to WNO’ and a classic revival. The 2015-16 programme sees a continuation of the company’s themed season strategy as well as its bel canto series and a Royal Opera House residency.

The theme for the autumn 2015 season (11 September-29 November 2015) is ‘Music and Madness’, with a new production of Bellini’s I Puritani, Scottish Opera’s World War Two-set production of Handel’s Orlando, and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in the company’s first co-production with Wales Millennium Centre and West Yorkshire Playhouse in association with Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. It is the first time that WNO and its Wales Millennium Centre home have worked together as co-producers and there will be an extra pre-Christmas run of the production at WMC following WNO’s autumn tour.

In spring 2016 (13 February 2015-9 April 2016) there is a Figaro trilogy with the theme ‘Figaro here, Figaro there’, featuring new productions of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro and the world premiere of Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce, with libretto by David Pountney. Introducing the new work at Wales Millennium Centre on 3 October, Elena Langer said Cherubino had become sleazy and was now sung by a countertenor.

There is a more serious offering in the summer 2016 season (13 May-1 July 2016) with the world premiere of In Parenthesis (An Artist’s Vision of the Somme), a World War One commemorative piece by Iain Bell based on a poem by David Jones. It will be performed in Cardiff, Birmingham and at the Royal Opera House as part of the company’s residency in London, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016.

The 70th anniversary season will conclude with a revival of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, the first production ever staged by WNO in Cardiff on 15 April 1946.

Launching the season before the opening night of Rossini’s Moses in Egypt, chief executive and artistic director David Pountney said: ‘We are proud of the fact that despite tightening financial circumstances we have been able to offer a rich and stimulating programme featuring a major bel canto opera, a musical and two world premieres. WNO remains committed to offering a balanced programme celebrating the great traditions of our genre, as well as bringing in innovation and renewal.’

Commenting on the ‘Music and Madness’ season, he added: ‘It’s madness to do opera in the current circumstances … every arts organisation is on a campaign for survival hereon in. If you have a voice, please use it.’

Report originally published by Classical Music


Rome Opera sacks its chorus and orchestra

3 October 2014, Rome, Italy

Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma(Photo © Lalupa / it.wikipedia)

Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti(Photo © Chris Lee)

The board of Rome Opera House has taken the unprecedented step of sacking its entire choir and orchestra, throwing a huge question mark over the future activities of what was once a jewel in Italy’s cultural crown.

The move is the latest blow in an unhappy year for Rome Opera, which has seen a number of productions scuppered by industrial unrest and a series of strikes which led to performances at the renowned ancient Roman Caracalla Baths given with piano accompaniment. 

In September, 73-year-old Italian maestro Riccardo Muti declared that he was withdrawing his services from Rome as an ‘Honorary Lifetime Music Director’, pulling out of productions of Aida in November and Le nozze di Figaro next May.

In 2011, Muti made a very public condemnation of the Berlusconi government’s draconian cuts to cultural funding in Italy during a mid-performance speech at the Rome Opera. Since then however, his work in Rome has been undermined by the theatre’s powerful unions. He was especially incensed when a production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut by his daughter Chiara had to be cancelled due to threats of industrial action. Muti issued a statement on quitting, saying that labour issues, mismanagement and financial constraints in Rome had deprived him of the ‘serene conditions’ he needed to work effectively.

The Rome Opera House’s general manager Carlo Fuortes says that the current move of sacking the entire house ensemble is the only way to ensure the long term survival of the company. He hinted that the work of the orchestra and chorus would be outsourced to players and singers on flexible contracts and to visiting ensembles. Several major European companies, including the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam and the Teatro Real in Madrid use this model.  Critics, however, say that it will deprive Rome of the very resources that give the opera house its sense of identity and raison d’être.

Meanwhile, Rome’s Mayor Ignazio Marino pointed out that the opera had made a loss of €12.9m last year and the strikes over the summer had added further losses of €300,000. In all, 182 of Rome Opera’s 460-strong workforce will be sacked, with savings estimated at €3.4m.


Theresienstadt children's opera to tour UK

3 October 2014

Frederic Wake-Walker rehearses the Jubilee Opera cast for 'Brundibár'
Frederic Wake-Walker rehearses the Jubilee Opera cast for 'Brundibár'

The Mahogany Opera Group is teaming up with Suffolk-based Jubilee Opera for a brand new professional production of Brundibár involving school children across the UK.

Written in 1938 by the Jewish-Czech composer Hans Krása, Brundibár tells the story of two poor children who enlist the help of friends and animals to overcome the opera’s eponymous villain, an evil organ-grinder who tries to stop them from singing to buy milk for their sick mother.

Krása was a prisoner of the notorious concentration camp Theresienstadt, where he adapted the opera for children interred alongside him. Together they gave 55 performances of Brundibár between 1943 and 1944. The final performance was staged for a Nazi propaganda film, but as soon as filming finished the entire cast was herded into trucks and sent to Auschwitz. Tragically, most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children and Krása himself.

Mahogany Opera Group artistic director Frederic Wake-Walker will direct the new production of Brundibár with Jubilee Opera. The UK tour opens with two performances at Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, on 8 and 9 November. Up to 50 young people are expected to take part in each tour location – details to be announced in early November.


'Bayreuth Revisited': a fantastic chance to hear Anne Evans and John Tomlinson discuss the Ring

3 October 2014, London, UK

Anne Evans (Brünnhilde) and John Tomlinson (Wotan) in Harry Kupfer's Bayreuth 'Ring'
Anne Evans (Brünnhilde) and John Tomlinson (Wotan) in Harry Kupfer's Bayreuth 'Ring'

Wagner fans should not miss a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with two iconic Wagnerians as they reminiscence about their legendary performances in Bayreuth.

Dame Anne Evans and Sir John Tomlinson appear in ‘Bayreuth Revisited’ organised by the International Opera Awards, of which they are patrons. They will discuss their experience of singing in Bayreuth’s celebrated 1992 Ring cycle, directed by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The conversation will be chaired by Hugh Canning of the Sunday Times.

The evening begins at 6.30pm on Tuesday 4 November at the Royal Society of Chemistry in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. A champagne reception will be followed by a three-course meal and then the discussion, illustrated with excerpts from the Bayreuth Ring DVD.

Tickets cost £150 each and £275 for a couple. To reserve, contact  Sarah Hyman on +44 (0)20 7104 2008 or sarah.hyman@operaawards.org

All funds raised will be donated to The Opera Awards Foundation, supporting young talent from around the world.


Florencia en el Amazonas – Washington National Opera

22 September 2014, Washington, US

Forceful precision: Christina Goerke as Florencia
Forceful precision: Christina Goerke as Florencia(Photo: Scott Suchman)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn

Contemporary opera is Washington National Opera’s forte. Moby-Dick was their best production last season, and now Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas (Florencia in the Amazon), premiered in 1996 in Houston, has set this season off to an auspicious beginning. The production, an adaptation of director Francesca Zambello’s Houston staging, is a visually lush, fantasy recreation of the Amazon jungle. All the action took place on the steamship El Dorado as it travelled towards Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house in Manaus where the legendary singer Florencia was scheduled to perform.

Inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writings, the opera deals with timeless themes: love, relationships, the difficult choices we face and our need to develop a philosophy of life. Marcela Fuentes-Berain’s libretto delved deeper than the music, but the characters weren’t fleshed out beyond stereotypical figures espousing topical truisms. Possibly the magical realism hindered full development. Despite the music’s sumptuousness and Puccini-esque qualities, it never built tension, nor stirred emotion. Most of the music acted as accompaniment for the text, while the smattering of arias and ensemble numbers, though momentarily stirring, failed to make a lasting impression. (There was nothing to hum when one left the theatre.) The frequent orchestral interludes provided the opera’s best music, and were accompanied by agile dancers representing the River and Natives, which was how they were costumed.

Christine Goerke, with her clarion voice, gave Florencia a forceful precision and infinite power. Her notes and intonation were secure, especially in her final aria, ‘Escúchame, Cristóbal, mi voz vuela hacia ti’ (Act III), Catán’s version of a Liebestod when Florencia is transformed into a butterfly to be rejoined with her lost love (a Butterfly Hunter).  Riolobo, who changed characters like chameleons change colors (narrator, river god, crew member, monster-like bird) was competently executed by Norman Garrett, but often drowned out by the orchestra.  Andrea Carroll gave sparkle to Rosalba and Patrick O’Halloran respectably executed Arcadio, the boat captain’s nephew and her love interest. Carolyn Kuan, despite the imbalance between the stage and pit (she often covered the singers) drew opulent sounds from the orchestra.



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