martin randall 2015

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BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2015 finalists announced

24 February 2015, Cardiff, UK

The American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton wins Cardiff Singer of the World 2013
The American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton wins Cardiff Singer of the World 2013(Photo: Brian Tarr)

Twenty of the world’s most promising opera singers will compete in this year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, to be held in the Welsh capital from 14 to 21 June 2015.

The finalists were chosen from almost 350 applicants worldwide and hail from 15 different countries – including three singers each from the USA and South Korea, and two from Belarus. At 24 years old, the Welsh soprano Céline Forrest will be this year's youngest participant.

David Jackson, artistic director of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, said: 'We've searched the world to find this brilliant crop of talent. These 20 were selected from almost 350 hopefuls, who were all wonderful singers – and each of them deserves a great future. To every singer, accompanist and venue that helped us in our search, a heartfelt thank you.'

Now in its 32nd year, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is known throughout the classical music world as one of the most important showcases for opera and concert singers at the outset of their careers. Past prize-winners have included Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Bryn Terfel and Anja Harteros. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is patron of the eight day competition.

Opera producer Jeremy Caulton, a member of this year's selection jury, described how the finalists were chosen: 'What we were looking for,' he explained, 'is that indefinable something which makes one sit up and pay attention in a different sort of way. Many small characteristics and technicalities combine to create this "difference" but, however hard you try, it is well-nigh impossible to find a single word or phrase to do it justice. "Charisma" is perhaps useful, but even this is only part of the story.'

The finalists can be heard performing their own programmes of operatic and concert works at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, from 14 to 21 June 2015, accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under their principal conductor Thomas Søndergård and the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera conducted by Martyn Brabbins. The international jury panel for the main prize includes Soile Isokoski, Claron McFadden and Dennis O’Neill, chaired by WNO's David Pountney.

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is a pivotal part of the Classical Voices Season in the BBC’s Year of Song and Dance, and will be broadcast extensively on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3, along with BBC Two Wales, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, S4C and online at

This year's finalists:

Country / Name / Voice /Age
Belarus / Marina Pinchuk / Mezzo-soprano / 32
Belarus / Nadine Koutcher / Soprano / 32
Canada / Aviva Fortunata  / Soprano / 27
France / Anaïs Constans  / Soprano / 26
Germany / Sebastian Pilgrim / Bass / 30
Italy / Roberto Lorenzi / Bass-baritone / 25
Malta / Nico Darmanin / Tenor / 30
Mongolia / Amartuvshin Enkhbat / Baritone / 29
Norway / Ingeborg Gillebo / Mezzo-soprano / 32
Switzerland / Regula Mühlemann / Soprano / 29
South Africa / Kelebogile Besong / Soprano / 28
South Korea / Insu Hwang / Bass-baritone / 32
South Korea / Jaeyoon Jung / Tenor / 31
South Korea / Jongmin Park / Bass / 28
Turkey / Ilker Arcayürek / Tenor / 30
Ukraine / Oleksiy Palchykov / Tenor / 29
USA / J’nai Bridges / Mezzo-soprano / 28
USA / Lauren Michelle / Soprano / 32
USA / Ryan Speedo Green / Bass-baritone / 29
Wales / Céline Forrest / Soprano / 24

Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice at Scottish Opera

23 February 2015, Glasgow, UK

Caitlin Hulcup (Orfeo) and Lucy Hall (Euridice) at Scottish Opera
Caitlin Hulcup (Orfeo) and Lucy Hall (Euridice) at Scottish Opera(Photo: K K Dundas)

Review by Neil Jones

The overture to Gluck’s great reforming opera starts at a brisk pace, but in this performance conductor Kenneth Montgomery rattled through the first few bars as though the Furies themselves were following hard on his heels. Thereafter we were treated to a wonderful demonstration of musicianship that created as good a sound as you could hope to get on modern instruments playing music written for instruments of the 18th century.

Orfeo was cast as a trouser role with Caitlin Hulcup more than credible in a white three-piece suit, her mezzo tone combining beauty with the necessary subtle masculine overtones. Lucy Hall made an appropriately ephemeral Eurydice, though showed true spirit after being restored to life as she desperately tried to fathom Orfeo’s apparent lack of attention.

The evening’s stand-out vocal performance was given by Ana Quintans, who brought a honeyed voice rich in depth and power to the role of the goddess Amore. Her costume, too, in this largely monochromatic production featuring 1950s designs, was a striking pink, and she had deliberately been cast to bear an uncanny likeness to the fifties film icon Grace Kelly. The action took place in and around a large rotating cube of transparent engraved plastic, open on one side. Both set and costumes were designed by Johan Engels, who, sadly, died suddenly after completion of the design work but before the performances.

Although this production was based on Gluck’s original 1762 version it did include the full Dance of the Blessed Spirits from the 1774 Paris revision as well as the Dance of the Furies. Not surprisingly, given that the director was Scottish Ballet’s previous artistic director, Ashley Page, the dance sequences and choreography featured a superb, eight-strong team of young dancers. Once or twice, however, the choreographic element overstepped the mark: once when the noise of the dancers’ shoes was too noticeable during a section of instrumental music, and the other when Orfeo, distraught at not being able to tell Eurydice the reason he couldn’t look back at her, span wildly round the stage like a Whirling Dervish.

Overall this was a splendid production that allowed the music and singing to speak for themselves – and where the quality of the playing and singing made it worth listening.

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Police investigation continues at Valencia's Palau de les Arts

20 February 2015, Valencia, Spain

House of cards: Valencia’s Palau de les Arts was led by Helga Schmidt for nearly 10 years
House of cards: Valencia’s Palau de les Arts was led by Helga Schmidt for nearly 10 years(Photo: Tato Baeza)

Authorities in Valencia have come under fire for ignoring accusations regarding contractual irregularities and misappropriation of funds at the Palau de les Arts, the city’s principle opera house, first made by an employee as far back as 2008.

The former employee’s concerns were finally acted upon at the end of January this year, following the sudden arrest of general director Helga Schmidt. The 73-year-old arts doyenne has now been released on bail, but has been relieved of her duties at the Palau de les Arts. Meanwhile, the American-born stage director Davide Livermore has been appointed general director in Schmidt’s stead, promoted from his role as head of the Palau’s young artist studio, the Centre de Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo.

Schmidt is a hugely influential figure in the opera world, having held major arts posts in Vienna, Amsterdam and London, where she was the youngest ever artistic director of London’s Royal Opera House during the 1970s.

In truth, Schmidt’s tenure in Valencia has rarely been free from controversy. Her detractors have painted her as an overindulgent spendthrift, demanding ruinously excessive budgets for the Palau at the expense of Valencia’s other arts organisations; her supporters, meanwhile, say that it is through her efforts that Valencia has been able to establish itself as one of Spain’s principal cultural destinations, and that she is the scapegoat of a chaotic local government which is trying to cover its own record of mismanagement.

Also arrested as part of the police investigation is Ernesto Moreno, who was the Palau’s manager from 2007 to 2011. Both he and Schmidt are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Dallas Opera launches new institute for women conductors

16 February 2015, Dallas, US

The Dallas Opera's principal guest conductor Nicole Paiement
The Dallas Opera's principal guest conductor Nicole Paiement(Photo: Roger Steen)

The Dallas Opera has announced the launch of a new residential programme designed to provide training and career support for talented female conductors, who are vastly under-represented in the opera field. 

Applications are invited from women aged 40 and below with experience in conducting, as well as accomplished singers, opera coaches and accompanists, and instrumentalists with established careers seeking to expand their horizons on the conducting podium.

The first instalment of the programme, The Institute for Women Conductors at the Dallas Opera, will take place from 28 November to 6 December this year, with support from the Richard and Enika Schulze Foundation.

Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny said: ‘This programme will enable more women conductors to add their talents and insights to our collective understanding of this marvellous art form.’

ENO placed under 'special funding arrangements' for two years

12 February 2015, London, UK

A bird’s-eye view of the Coliseum, home of English National Opera
A bird’s-eye view of the Coliseum, home of English National Opera

Arts Council England, the national agency for funding culture, has announced that English National Opera will no longer be part of its funding portfolio for 2015-18. The company will be subject to a special arrangement, whereby a sum of money has been earmarked for ‘transition funding’, made available over two years to help ENO address ACE’s concerns over its ‘governance and business model.

As things stand currently, ENO will receive a £12.38m direct grant from ACE, supplemented by £6.13m over two years to implement substantial changes to the way the company is run.

Though ENO has known since last summer that its subsidy would be cut by almost 30 per cent, this is the first indication that the company may not receive any public funding at all in the long run unless it complies with the ACE’s directives. This refining of the terms of ACE’s funding cuts comes in the wake of the resignations of ENO chairman Martyn Rose and executive director Henriette Götz at the start of this year.

Althea Efunshile, acting chief executive of ACE, said: ‘The Arts Council’s role is to ensure that we get the best value for the taxpayer’s money by investing in well run companies who delight audiences with brilliant work.’

Given that ENO announced it would be posting a trading surplus for last financial year and that it was ‘on course to present a balanced budget’, according to its spokesman, the exact nature of ACE’s concerns over ENO’s business affairs is unclear. What is more, the company’s artistic director, John Berry, has received the backing of the board in spite of the resignation of senior figures in the company.

Additionally, ENO has won a slew of awards for its productions in the recent past and is the only UK company to be nominated in the Company of the Year category at this year’s International Opera Awards in April, together with nominations for World Premiere and New Production awards.

Meanwhile, ENO is working with consultants McKinsey on a business plan that is said to include better commercial use of the Coliseum theatre and structural changes in the accountability of its executive staff.

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