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Opera Now provides a unique and all-encompassing perspective on the international opera scene through its lively and colourful mix of news, reviews, interviews, travel articles and commentary.

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Helikon Opera remembers Tikhon Khrennikov

11 February 2013, Moscow, Russia

Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), who chaired the USSR’s Union of Composers for over 40 years
Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), who chaired the USSR’s Union of Composers for over 40 years

Moscow’s Helikon Opera is planning a special series of concerts to mark the birth centenary of Tikhon Khrennikov, who ran the USSR’s Union of Composers from 1948 until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
 
For Dmitry Bertman, the artistic director of Helikon Opera, one of the most important aspects of Khrennikov’s legacy was his relationship with Dmitry Shostakovich, whose memoir Testimony casts Khrennikov in a negative light.

In 2000, however, Khrennikov attended the Helikon’s production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and told Bertman: ‘I have seen and heard Shostakovich’s opera for the first time; not a single other production ever gave me this feeling’.

Bertman’s production was the first original version of Lady Macbeth to be staged in Russia since its 1934 world premiere, which led to the denunciation of the composer by Stalin. Shostakovich subsequently revised his score, bringing it closer to the dogmas of socialist realism under the new title Katerina Izmaylova, and this version is still more commonly staged in Russia.

As a composer, Khrennikov’s main works were written between 1930 and 1970, including several operas. The Helikon’s forthcoming programme will present scenes from Khrennikov’s Into the Storm, Mother and Frol Skobeyev, plus fragments of his children’s operas and operettas, popular songs and incidental music for Much Ado about Nothing and Sheridan’s The Duenna.

Performances at the Helikon Opera in Moscow run from 10 to 14 April

 

UK opera companies rally to retain orchestras

28 January 2013, Leeds, UK

Opera North music director Richard Farnes
Opera North music director Richard Farnes(Photo: Bill Cooper)

Report by Keith Clarke

Fears that the opera orchestra could be an endangered species were raised at this year’s annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras, held in Leeds 23-25 January.

In a session chaired by Opera Now editor Ashutosh Khandekar, the challenges facing opera orchestras were outlined by Richard Farnes and Richard Mantle, music director and general director of Opera North, and Henry Little, chairman of the National Opera Co-ordinating Committee.

Little, who spent ten years as head of opera at Arts Council England, said: ‘Across the country, the whole network of opera ensembles is largely quite unacknowledged, yet it is a top-quality musical force that really drives the success of the companies.’ There had been calls to disband opera orchestras, with existing concert orchestras deployed instead. Little said he had ‘spent ages in darkened rooms drawing up models and looking at schedules … and in every case it just wasn’t practical.’

Aside from the logistics, the ensemble nature of an opera orchestra could not be overlooked, said Richard Farnes: ‘Opera companies are called opera companies for a very good reason. It’s an ensemble of people with a multitude of different crafts who are all coming together with a common aim to create a three-dimensional piece of work musically and thematically on the stage. The intrinsic quality of what you get from an ensemble is completely different.’

Arts Council England is currently reconsidering its provision of opera in England. Richard Mantle seemed unoptimistic about the outcome. ‘There is a staggering lack of understanding among our funders about the very particular nature of opera. It’s all about costs. The Arts Council is absolutely terrified of the relative costs of an opera company or a large-scale lyric company, the big employers. They see something like 39% of their grant going to nine companies and they really can’t cope with that.’

 

ROH announces contemporary opera series

25 January 2013, London, UK

ROH director of opera Kasper Holten
ROH director of opera Kasper Holten(Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

London’s Royal Opera House has announced plans to present more than 15 new operas between 2013 and 2020, including four commissions for the main stage in 2020.

The move follows criticism that despite receiving more public funds than any other arts organisation in the UK, the Royal Opera has veered towards safe programming over recent seasons. It is the first major programming announcement to emerge under the leadership of Kasper Holten, who became ROH director of opera in autumn 2011.

‘New work is not and should not be at the periphery of our programme’, said Holten, ‘but right at the core of who we are. And this is something we do, not because we must, but because it is something that we are passionate about’.

Several of the new works will be presented in the Linbury Studio Theatre, but audiences can also look forward to a total of eight main stage productions between 2015 and 2020, including Thomas Adès next large-scale opera, based on Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel, plus scores by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Kaija Saariaho, Jörg Widmann, Luca Francesconi and Goerg Friederich Haas.

The current season features the UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin during March, and the UK stage premiere of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Linbury Studio Theatre during June.

 

ENO’s Medea has all the signs of success

25 January 2013, London, UK

Sarah Connolly as ENO's Medea
Sarah Connolly as ENO's Medea(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

For most big opera companies, Baroque repertoire involves an occasional foray into works by Handel. English National Opera is once again breaking the mould with its exploration of French baroque repertoire from the 17th century, an exceptionally fertile yet relatively untrammelled era, full of grand operatic works that have substance as well as style, packed full of thought-provoking themes.
 
After a theatrically daring and musically exquisite staging of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux, ENO turns to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s masterpiece Medea, premiered in 1693. It’s a coruscating tale of suspicion, infidelity, revenge, murder and shocking infanticide, describing the tragic downfall of the sorceress Medea, mother of Jason (of Golden Fleece fame). The music is masterly and forward-looking in the way it illuminates the inner lives of the opera’s protagonists. Charpentier’s great coup is to treat the chorus and dance sequences as integral to the narrative, rather than as merely diverting ‘set pieces’. Medea’s summoning of demons as she prepares to poison her rival, is a chilling and atmospheric case in point.
 
ENO, meanwhile, has summoned a magical cast for David McVicar’s stylish, cinematic updating of the work to the elegant but emotionally disturbed interwar era of the 20th century. This is a chance to hear two of Britain’s very finest singers in extraordinary taxing but rewarding roles: Sarah Connolly as Medea and Roderick Williams as Orontes. The American tenor Jeffrey Francis makes his ENO debut as Jason, having established his credentials as a fine Baroque and Mozart specialist in several major opera houses in Europe.
 
Christian Curnyn conducts Charpentier’s powerful score, full of incident, with unexpectedly vivid bursts of orchestral colour that bring the drama to life. ENO’s Medea shows every sign of being one of the highlights of the 2012/13 opera season.

ENO's Medea runs from 15 February to 16 March 2013 at the Coliseum, London.

 

ENO halves reserves to pay for £2.2m deficit

16 January 2013, London, UK

Original report by Alex Stevens for Classical Music

English National Opera has filed its accounts for 2011/12, revealing an overall loss of £2.2m. This compares with losses of £55,000 in 2010/11 and £160,000 in 2009/10.

A statement from ENO said that the deficit would be covered by the company’s reserves, which now stand at less than £2.2m – down from more than £4.5m a year ago. A similar trading deficit in 2012/13 would therefore leave the company needing to borrow or requiring external investment in order to balance its books.

The results ‘reflect the cut in Arts Council England funding in 2012 and the impact of a very difficult economic environment on ticket sales, in a period of award-winning work, increased fundraising and strong international partnership contribution’, said a statement.

‘In this challenging financial environment we are also looking at the balance of work that we offer to our audiences and the ticket prices we charge.’

Despite year-on-year ticket sales falling by £1.2m, combined with a significant reduction in the company's grant from ACE (down by £1.3m to £17.2m), operational revenues actually increased by £200,000 in 2011/12.

ENO recently engaged brand agency Capitalize to develop sponsorship and corporate opportunities, including the possibility of selling naming rights to the Coliseum, the company’s home since 1968.

Compared with the Royal Opera House, situated a mile away in Covent Garden, ENO has seen year-on-year growth of 30% in sponsorship and donations, which increased from £2.7m to £3.5m last year, but still lags behind the Opera House, which brought in £18.4m in 2010/11.

Meanwhile, a report in the Guardian has revealed that ACE is conducting a review into the support it provides for opera and ballet.

 


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