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Opera North receives Paul Hamlyn Award worth £500,000

24 June 2013, Leeds, UK

Opera North at Howard Assembly Room in Leeds
Opera North at Howard Assembly Room in Leeds

The UK’s Paul Hamlyn Foundation has awarded Opera North £500,000 to widen audiences, with a particular focus on building sustainable relationships with community partners in their local areas.

The Paul Hamlyn Award will be spread over five years, supporting the development of a tailor-made audience development scheme for the company. Awards of £500,000 each have also been given to arts organisations in Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and Truro.

The Awards celebrate 25 years of arts philanthropy by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Régis Cochefert, who heads the Foundation’s arts division, said: ‘We want to see more people attending shows or concerts on a regular basis, but we recognise how hard it can be for venues to reach some parts of the community.’

 

London Opera Festival in jeopardy

3 June 2013, London, UK

Rostov State Opera's 'Madama Butterfly'
Rostov State Opera's 'Madama Butterfly'

The London Opera Festival looks set for cancellation, with organiser International Opera Productions (IOP) now in liquidation proceedings.

The Festival, planned in association with the Financial Times, is scheduled to take place at the Tower of London between 9 and 13 September, featuring black-tie performances of Madama Butterfly by the Rostov State Opera.

A spokesperson from the Tower of London said: ‘We are disappointed to learn of the liquidation of International Opera Productions. Recent conversations with the company suggested advance ticket sales were being well received.’

The UK’s Event website reported that a total of 600 guests have already booked for the Festival, amounting to revenues of approximately £275,000.

IOP’s chief executive, Christopher Palmer-Jeffries, told Event: ‘This is a very upsetting situation for all concerned. The London Opera Festival concept was extremely well received by potential sponsors and clients in the City. However, owing to the unexpected 'triple-dip' recession, the sales have not been resultant and I was forced to make the difficult decision of appointing liquidators.’

 

Krzysztof Meyer’s Cyberiada receives rare staging in Poznań

28 May 2013, Poznań, Poland

'Cyberiada' at Poznan’s Teatr Wielki
'Cyberiada' at Poznan’s Teatr Wielki(Photo: K Zalewska)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn

Based on short stories by the Polish writer Stanisław Lem, Cyberiada (The Cyberiad) is an allegorical dark comedy with serious overtones, dealing with the evils of totalitarianism, oppression, greed, deception, sexual addiction and the mysteries of life.

Using a story-within-a-story format, the opera fuses the science fiction idea of space travel with a pseudo-Medieval world populated by kings, queens, witches, knights and obedient subjects encased in identical multi-coloured boxes. A fiery red-haired inventor called Trull journeys from planet to planet building machines, which narrate three different allegorical tales symbolized by huge suspended masks.

Conceived as a Theatre of the Absurd by director Ran Arthur Braun and designer Justin Arienti, this precisely-executed production unfolded on a stage dominated by five huge batteries of percussion located on two levels. Each group incorporated 12 different instruments, which in turn produced 60 different types of sounds and noises (noise being as integral a part of the opera as the musical tones). The percussionists were dressed as astronauts and a parade of characters in over-the-top costumes acted with exaggerated and stilted mannerisms, parodying societal roles.

From breath-taking acrobatics, including two red-clad ballerinas pantomiming erotic dreams for King Zipperupus, to the finale in which Trull killed a clone of himself, the opera was simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking. Although composed during the 1960s, the final message touched on 21st century technology: nothing is eternal, not even machines. 

The music included serial, sonoristic and aleatoric techniques, resulting in a work with unconventional sounds and vocal lines almost devoid of melody, harmony or rhythm in the traditional sense. Instead, the action and feelings of the characters were expressed through a unique soundscape combining jazz, repeated chords, sound clusters and grotesque elements. Extensive sections of spoken dialogue were delivered melodically, ranging from rhythmical recitation to story-telling.

The singers, acrobats, dancers, chorus and orchestra of Poznań’s Teatr Wielki under maestro Krzysztof Słowiński did a superb job in keeping the complex elements of the work together, offering a worthwhile and admirable execution of this multi-faceted opera.

 

RPS Award winners announced in London

15 May 2013, London, UK

Sarah Connolly, winner of the 2013 RPS Award for Singer
Sarah Connolly, winner of the 2013 RPS Award for Singer(Photo: Simon Jay Price)

Opera put in a strong showing at this year’s Royal Philharmonic Society Awards in London, with a total of four categories bagged by leading lights from the UK opera sector.

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly took the Award for Singer, with Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest named as best large-scale composition. Three events that formed part of last summer’s Cultural Olympiad were also amongst the winners, including Birmingham Opera Company’s staging of Mittwoch aus Licht by Stockhausen, and the North Lincolnshire community opera Cycle Song about former Olympic cyclist Albert White.

RPS Chairman, John Gilhooly, opened proceedings with a celebratory but also hard-hitting speech, in which he hailed 2012 as ‘an extraordinary year for live classical music in the UK … despite a difficult political and economic climate’.

Referring to the recent call by UK Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller, that arts organisations should ‘hammer home the value of culture to our economy’, Gilhooly said: ‘Making money never has, and never should be, the driving force for great art. Whilst mindful of the absolute need to unite with the government and funders in framing the positive economic arguments for expenditure on the arts, I want to make a direct plea to Maria Miller and the government: please let’s not allow creativity, vision, excellence, enjoyment and culture’s potential to change lives to be lost in the debate, even in times of austerity.’

 

Die Zauberflöte at London’s Royal Opera House

10 May 2013, London, UK

Albina Shagimuratova as Covent Garden's showstopping Queen of the Night
Albina Shagimuratova as Covent Garden's showstopping Queen of the Night(Photo: Mike Hoban)

Review by Luis Dias

As someone visiting the UK from India after a gap of five years, I was struck by the richness of London’s cultural life, especially when it comes to classical music. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is undoubtedly the jewel in this cultural crown.

So it felt especially good to be back there, for a shining performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Lavish productions like these are impossible to come by in India, perhaps understandably so. I was watching the audience reaction and some people were obviously ‘regulars’, but there were also others like me, for whom every moment of the visual spectacle and glorious music were being savoured hungrily, greedily.

Albina Shagimuratova was very convincing as the Queen of the Night, and her showpiece aria ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was perhaps the highlight of the evening, getting several rounds of well-deserved applause. Bass Matthew Rose made a similarly riveting Sarastro, looking and sounding every inch the evil sorcerer/enlightened sovereign. His ‘O Isis und Osiris’ was particularly outstanding.

Simon Keenlyside also stood out as Papageno, not merely for his smooth vocal delivery and gorgeous voice, but for his easy, almost natural command of this ‘strictly-for-the-birds’ role. His Papagena, Susana Gaspar, was vivacious, funny, and their ‘Pa … pa … pa …’ duet crackled with mirth and wit.

Supporting this top-notch cast, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House sounded spectacular under conductor Julia Jones, whose brisk tempi kept energy levels high.

Dr Luis Dias is a musician and writer who recently returned to India after a decade working in the UK. Visit his blog for more details: http://luisdias.wordpress.com

 


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