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L'orfeo at London's Roundhouse

16 January 2015, London, UK

Gyula Orendt (Orfeo) and Mary Bevan (Euridice) at London's Roundhouse
Gyula Orendt (Orfeo) and Mary Bevan (Euridice) at London's Roundhouse(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)

Report by Robert Thicknesse
Claudio Monteverdi’s first opera is a serious work, though maybe not as earnest as Michael Boyd’s take on it. There were many of the ingredients of a stunning performance here – a performing space combining intimacy and grandeur, a nonpareil group of musicians of the Early Opera Company under Christopher Moulds (deputising for Christian Curnyn, whose long absence is sad and worrying) and some fine singers. But early stages were spoiled by too much gloom and too little focus before something genuine began to emerge.

Michael Boyd, the man who rescued the RSC, had left his opera-directing debut until quite late in the day (two future Garsington shows are booked for his next appearances) and some of the usual rookie’s yips were on display, notably a kind of nervous need to be doing something all the time. Boyd has always been a man for allegorising conflict – often of a religious sort – and presenting it in striking and startling ways; I’m just not sure that Orfeo needs that, or is that complicated. In any event, we were presented with a kind of metaphor of the Gonzaga court at Mantua in 1607, with Orfeo a Monteverdi-figure who loses the support of a jumpy officialdom when he overreaches himself. Led on by an etymological trick, conflating the pastori (shepherds) of Thrace with church pastors enforcing a rigid orthodoxy, Boyd sought to add a layer of human, political story to the myth.

With mixed success. You might argue that there is enough human interest (and metaphor) already in Orpheus’s bereft grief and his confrontation with death in his quest to regain his wife, and in the original drama of the over-emotional Orpheus’s journey to spiritual understanding. Boyd’s religious imagery – starting with a pietà of the dead Orpheus cradled by Eurydice – rather circumscribed the joyousness of the opening scenes, which felt more like a Passion Play being enacted in the industrial cathedral of the Roundhouse. As part of what Boyd called this ‘low-budget community outreach programme’, the young performers of East London Dance, choreographed by Liz Ranken, pulled moves of varying effectiveness including a rather brilliant enactment of the rolling River Styx and some less happy episodes of Year 10-type gymnastics.

Though I was not convinced by the theatrics, which became generally diffused in this big space, the music was another matter, creating electric bonds between band, singers and the audience who surrounded the arena, exactly as in a huge Greek theatre. Discreet amplification (I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been told) meant that every note and word could be heard. Christopher Moulds led a serious and rather stately reading of the score, with a lot of really lovely continuo – lutes, guitar and harp – and the austere beauty of sackbuts and cornets echoing round the vast hall.

The Transylvanian baritone Gyula Orendt (Orfeo) took a while to settle down, but when he did his slight accent (singing Don Paterson’s surprisingly good, poetic translation) added to the pathos of a performance that grew into something very special, with a rapt quality to the prayer-like incantation ‘Possente spirto’ and a hushed, caressing velvet sadness as he eulogised the dead Euridice in ‘Tu bella fosti’. Mary Bevan as Euridice was her usual poised, focused self; she brings extraordinary dignity and truth to everything she sings. Susan Bickley made a magnetic Messenger, delivering her bad news with exactly the right degree of stunned pathos. Callum Thorpe, a really promising, proper basso cantante, was the resonant Pluto, and Anthony Gregory and Christopher Lowrey stood out among the other singers.

A slightly effortful circus trick led to the striking final tableau: Orpheus, suspended mid-air, reached hopelessly down to dead, earthbound Euridice. It was a beautiful and touching image but like much of the evening, evidence of a sort of temperamental mismatch between the opera and the director.

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Canadian Opera Company announces major new commission

16 January 2015, Toronto, Canada

Above and below: composer Ana Sokolović and librettist Michel Marc Bouchard
Above and below: composer Ana Sokolović and librettist Michel Marc Bouchard

Canadian Opera Company has announced the commission of a major new opera by one of Canada’s most important composers, Ana Sokolović. Titled La Reine-Garçon, the libretto is by Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard and based on his play of the same name.

Queen Christina of Sweden ruled the country in the 17th century before causing a scandal by abdicating her throne at the age of 27 and converting to Roman Catholicism. Her story has been the subject of several stage works, novels and films, including the 1933 classic Queen Christina, starring Greta Garbo.

La Reine-Garçon is currently in development and is scheduled to have its world premiere in the COC’s 2019/2020 season.

This will be the fourth opera commission for Serbian-born, Montreal-based Sokolović, and by far her biggest so far after writing three chamber operas for Toronto’s innovative Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, which closed in 2013. ‘As a woman and as an artist,’ she says, ‘I am particularly touched by this story about the Swedish Queen Christina. She was an inspiring woman ahead of her time.’

In 2012, Sokolović won huge critical acclaim for her opera Svadba-Wedding, which will feature in this summer’s Aix-en-Provence Festival in France.

La Reine-Garçon is Canadian Opera Company’s sixth commission for its main stage. On announcing this latest new opera, the company’s general director Alexander Neff said: ‘The subject of Christine of Sweden is one of Shakespearean proportion with universal relevance. I think it will make a fantastic opera, especially in the hands of Ana and Michel Marc.’

Subscribe to Opera Now as a print or digital edition now for more news, features and information. Single issues are also available in print and digital from just £2.49.

Russian State Opera brings Verdi's Rigoletto to the UK

15 January 2015

Next month sees the Russian State Opera on tour in the UK with Verdi’s Rigoletto, visiting 25 towns and cities up and down the country between Sunday 8 February and Saturday 7 March. The production by company artistic director Boris Lagoda will be accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra under Azat Maksutov.

‘Opera has been able to take advantage of the high-tech revolution in home entertainment, television and cinema, however, nothing can replace the pleasure of attending a live performance, which is why we are dedicated to presenting full new productions in regional theatres across the UK’, said Russian State Opera producer Alexej Ignatow.

The company is also planning a UK tour of Verdi’s La traviata in September-October 2015.

For further details and to book tickets visit


Feb 8 Scarborough, The Spa
Feb 9 Lincoln, Theatre Royal
Feb 10 Yeovil, Octagon Theatre
Feb 11 Basildon, Towngate Theatre
Feb 12 Wakefield, Theatre Royal
Feb 13 Cheltenham, Everyman Theatre
Feb 15 York, Barbican
Feb 16 Newcastle,Tyne Theatre and Opera House 
Feb 17 Darlington, Civic Theatre
Feb 18 Dorking Halls
Feb 19 Hastings, White Rock Theatre
Feb 20 London, Cadogan Hall
Feb 21 Peterborough, The Cresset Theatre
Feb 22 Stevenage, Gordon Craig Theatre
Feb 24 Harrogate, Royal Hall
Feb 25 Chesterfield, Pomegranate Theatre
Feb 26 Stafford, Gatehouse Theatre
Feb 27 Carlisle, Sands Centre
Feb 28 Halifax, Victoria Theatre
Mar 1 Clacton, Princes Theatre
Mar 3 Swindon, Wyvern Theatre
Mar 4 Stockport, The Plaza
Mar 5 Blackburn, King George’s Hall
Mar 6 Shrewsbury, Theatre Severn
Mar 7 Tunbridge Wells, Assembly Hall

International Opera Awards announce 2015 finalists

14 January 2015, London, UK

Michael Spyres as Benvenuto Cellini at ENO
Michael Spyres as Benvenuto Cellini at ENO(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

The International Opera Awards have announced the shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Awards, which take place at the Savoy Theatre and Hotel in London on 26 April.

Awards will be presented in 19 categories, ranging from ‘Accessibility’ and ‘Newcomer’ to ‘Rediscovered Work’ and ‘World Premiere’, along with a range of standard categories that celebrate leading talent across the industry, from singers and conductors to directors and designers. Recordings are recognised in three awards for CDs and DVDs. Winners are selected by the jury in a secret ballot for each category.

Top international names feature prominently among the finalists, including German baritone Christian Gerhaher and American bel canto tenor Michael Spyres, both competing for ‘Male Singer’. Among a new generation of stars in the ‘Female Singer’ list are two especially striking artists: Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili and Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva.

This year’s ‘Opera Company’ Award is sponsored by Opera Now magazine. Finalists include English National Opera (strongly represented in several categories), both of Belgium’s national opera companies, and major companies in Germany, Russia and Austria.

The Awards, founded by UK businessman and opera aficionado Harry Hyman, are now in their third year, with major sponsorship from Sanlam Private Investments. This year’s event has a new format, with a ceremony featuring live performances at the Savoy Theatre followed by a gala dinner at the Savoy Hotel. Funds raised from the event will go to the International Opera Awards Foundation which supports emerging talent from all spheres of operatic life.

  • For a full list of this year’s finalists in the International Opera Awards, click here
  • To book tickets click here

Opera Now’s May issue will include a special focus on this year’s Awards.

For your chance to win two tickets to the glittering International Opera Awards ceremony in London’s Savoy Theatre on 26 April, see our Reader Competition in the forthcoming February 2015 issue of Opera Now.

Garsington Opera receives major grant from Arts Council England

7 January 2015

Holiday-makers in Skegness enjoy a free screening by Garsington Opera
Holiday-makers in Skegness enjoy a free screening by Garsington Opera

Garsington Opera has received a £750,000 grant from Arts Council England, in partnership with East Lindsey District Council, to roll out its Opera for All programme, delivering free public screenings of its productions around Britain integrated with educational and outreach work around each event. The project, initially for three years, will be delivered through members of the Coastal Communities Alliance (CCA), which has identified areas of low engagement with the arts where opera is difficult to access.

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