martin randall 2015

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Strike at La Scala

13 November 2015

La Scala, Milan
La Scala, Milan

A technicians' strike on 12 November forced La Scala to cancel the first night of Kenneth MacMillan's Manon.

A statement on the house's website reads:

'We are extremely sorry to announce that despite all efforts the ballet L’histoire de Manon cannot be performed tonight because of the absence of the stage technicians.

'As the strike was declared unilaterally by the CGIL union, while all the other unions – UIL, FIALS and CISL – were ready to work, we were hoping that a sufficient number of technicians would be present tonight in order to put on the ballet floor, which is absolutely necessary to perform the show and assure a safe performance for the artists. These simple conditions were not granted.'

A period of recession has prompted the Italian government to establish austerity measures, reducing funding for the arts and prompting demonstrations across Italy.

The SLC-CGIL union said in a statement: 'This battle is not only about the stage technicians, who have been understaffed for months. It is up to everyone to oppose the company philosophy of doing more with fewer resources.'

Opera Now editor Ashutosh Khandekar said: 'These sort of strikes are par for the course in Italian opera houses, where big opening nights are regarded as political events as much as artistic ones - especially in major theatres such as La Scala where people with money and influence go to be seen. As a result, the strikers are aware that their actions will gain attention in the media and serve to embarrass the establishment. 

'Of all Italy's opera houses, La Scala has been relatively stable in recent years since its status as one of the nation's main cultural flagship and its international 'brand value' have enabled it to attract private investment to make up for deep government cuts to the arts. 

'The current strike seems to indicate that even the highest echelons of culture are not immune to Italy's austerity programme. Moreover, the strikers are  taking strategic advantage of a relatively new administrative regime led by general director Alexander Pereira who has just completed his first season at La Scala, but whose position has been dogged by uncertainty and controversy.'

La Scala

Nominations open for the International Opera Awards 2016

9 November 2015

Nominations are now open for the International Opera Awards 2016, which will recognise and reward the operatic highlights of 2015.

Prizes will be awarded for the below categories:

  • Accessibility
  • Conductor
  • CD (complete opera)
  • CD (operatic recital)
  • Chorus
  • Designer
  • Director
  • DVD
  • Female singer
  • Festival
  • Lifetime achievement
  • Male singer
  • Newcomer
  • New production
  • Philanthropist
  • Rediscovered work
  • World premiere
  • Young singer
Nominations can be submitted here and multiple submissions are acceptable.

The 2016 awards will take place on 22 May.

Vote: 2016 Internatioanl Opera Awards 2016

Happy Birthday to Bryn Terfel!

9 November 2015

© Neil Bennet

To celebrate the bass-baritone's 50th birthday, we've re-released an article from our March 2015 issue.

Having won accolades for his portrayals of some of opera’s most weighty and challenging roles, Bryn Terfel is now determined to let his hair down as his 50th birthday looms. Amanda Holloway finds the great Welsh baritone in a distinctly racy mood.

As he approaches his 50th birthday this year, Bryn Terfel can look back over an extraordinary career of triumphs. His forties have been the years of Wotan, Hans Sachs, Dutchman and Scarpia – huge, meaty roles that demand the strength and stamina of a young man, but the wisdom and gravitas of an experienced singer.

He’s typically modest about his achievement, though. ‘I suppose I’m building up a repertoire,’ he says. ‘If you have a great conductor and a great director, you’ll get there. As an artist, I’ve trusted everybody I’ve worked with. I’m a committed artist and I give everything on the stage, good or bad.’ And when Terfel is good, he’s very, very good. I’d heard his Dutchman in Covent Garden the evening before we met, and even after all these years of punishing Wagner roles, he sounded fresh and full of vigour, delivering those long, anguished monologues and floated pianissimi without once losing the beauty of tone he had always been known for.

Now the Dutchman is over, Bryn can pack away Wagner for the rest of the year and concentrate on living a little. First he’s sharpening his barber’s knife as Sweeney Todd at ENO, with his old mate Emma Thompson, and in the 1960’s musical hit Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park Opera in Hampshire.

Knowing that Bryn is booked up by international opera houses at least five or six years in advance, I wondered how the enterprising Wasfi Kani, founder on Grange Park and Pimlico Opera, had managed to sign him up for her intimate country-house venue.

‘It’s simple: I’m a huge fan of Wasfi and the work she does putting on opera in prisons,’ he explains. ‘I went to see her production of West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison and it was a most shocking two hours, sitting watching two rival gangs of inmates. I was so impressed that she could pull off something like that.’

Terfel had a couple of concert recitals at Grange Park, and Kani kept him in her sights until the right project came along. ‘I was singing in Tosca at Covent Garden, and I had just been killed with Gheorghiu’s dagger at the end of the second act. Wasfi came round to my dressing room and said, “I know what I want to do, and I’ve just got to get the rights to do it”. I was still dishevelled and dazed, but when she said Fiddler on the Roof, I said, “I know it, I love it and I’ve watched the film every Christmas since I was a child.” When I thought about it in Grange Park, I knew it would be perfect. It’s a tiny theatre and it will be almost like a Lieder recital. The audience will be drawn into it. They’re going to love it!’

There’s a small matter of dialogue to be learned: ‘I’ve already earmarked my vocal coach for that.’ Also the fact that Tevye is on stage almost the entire time ‘Yes…even better!'

Of course Terfel is a natural showman, and Fiddler will be the perfect opportunity for him to show off his comedic skills, his warmth and, to a lesser extent, his amazing bass-baritone voice. He’s tickled to be adding Tevye to his list of roles, even though he’s not the most obvious choice for a Jewish milkman (as the Jewish Chronicle pointed out). ‘I’ve played a chief of police who was abusing his power. I’ve played gods, I’ve played demons… and now I’m playing a big-hearted milkman, who has troubles with his five daughters. In fact it’s similar to the problems Wotan has with his daughters – just another family story!’ He’ll have to summon up that paternal twinkle once again, even though his own family consists of three teenage boys and no troublesome girls determined to thwart their father’s marriage plans for them.

With the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell, direction and design by Antony McDonald and the brilliant Lucy Carter on lighting, it should be a spectacular evening, with hummable hits such as ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker’, ‘Sunrise, sunset’. And Bryn has a few ideas of his own for ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, the most famous song in the show. ‘It might be a little bit different – who knows?’ Fiddler on the Roof, set in a small Jewish community in pre-revolutionary Russia, is hardly a knockabout comedy, given the pogroms and exile that face the villagers at the end. 

On the other hand, it’s not as grim as the story of the Demon Barber. The 14 performances of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at English National Opera that precede Terfel’s summer at Grange Park will take every ounce of snarling malice that he can summon. When he sang it last year at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, it was the first time a contemporary composer had even given him notes. ‘Every time Sondheim saw me he said, “Darker, Bryn, darker." I thought,  is that all you’ve got to say to me?’ Nevertheless, Terfel took his words to hand: one New York critic described his portrayal as ‘a mountain of seething rage […] whose embodiment of pure evil is bone-chilling’.

Terfel says working with Emma Thompson has been one of the highlights of the last decade. ‘I have nothing but superlatives for this amazing artist. I saw her singing with the New York Phil for the first time at the sitzprobe – she had never sung with a symphony orchestra before and she was as excited as a child with a Christmas present.

'We spent a week rehearsing in West Hampstead, putting in long hours and very hard work, but we wanted to solidify what we were going to do in New York. I enjoyed it so much and it gave me a strong impetus for rehearsing again.’

It wasn’t all deadly serious, though, especially when they got to Emma’s immortal line, ‘Popping pussies into pies.’ Terfel had an instinct that it was going to be a success, and he invited three or four attendants to come to New York. ‘John Berry, general director of English National Opera, was the only one who came. So now we have 14 shows at ENO as part of my 50th year celebrations. Brilliant!’

On 20 October, three weeks before his actual birthday, Bryn is hosting a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of his foundation for the support of young singers, launched in 2008. Always a generous, clubbable musician, he’ll be gathering friends and colleagues from many musical traditions – a little like his ‘Brynfest’ at the Faenol Festival and at London’s Southbank. The programme is still being finalised, but it’s going to reflect his 25 years of singing, everything from Wagner to Rodgers and Hammerstein. ‘But also it might include choirs, folk groups, rock stars, and instrumentalists. It’s gonna be fun, isn’t it?’ When he turns 50 in November, he’ll be between performances of Tosca in Monaco. Does he have any plans for the special day? He gives a big grin, like a 10-year-old. ‘Maybe I’ll hire a very fast car and drive around Monte Carlo!’

A 6ft 4in Welsh Wotan hurtling round the hairpins to the strains of The Ride of the Valkries – now that I’d pay to see. 

Original manuscripts to be auctioned for Children in Need

4 November 2015

Sir James MacMillan's donation
Sir James MacMillan's donation

The manuscript of Judith Weir's 'Praise Him with trumpet'
The manuscript of Judith Weir's 'Praise Him with trumpet'

A sketch from Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'Anna Nicole'
A sketch from Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'Anna Nicole'

Sir James MacMillan and Judith Weir are amongst those to donate original handwritten manuscripts to be auctioned in aid of BBC Children in Need.

Music lovers are able to bid for manuscripts and sketches - including a page from Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole and a harmonic sketch from Raymond Yiu's Symphony - on the Radio 3 website.

Eric Whitacre is donating the manuscript of his choral piece Lux Aurumque. He said of the piece: 'I knew that I wanted to try to create something very simple and very beautiful for this text, and as I wrote I waited patiently for the tight harmonies to shimmer and glow in my mind before I transferred them to manuscript paper.'

Sir James MacMillan has donated an original sketch from his tone poem The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, which he describes as 'one of my first works to reach a wide audience.' He added, 'I hope the auction winner will enjoy reading through this melodic line, an obsessive motif which emerges in the music as the mood darkens and the narrative becomes more threatening.'

Master of the Queen's Music Judith Weir said of her donation, the manuscript of her new work Praise Him with trumpet: 'It’s a piece I wrote for the Chapel Royal Choir, Hampton Court to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace. It will receive its first performance on Monday 16 November. It is a loud, energetic piece scored for choir, organ and two trumpets. The pages have a lot of crazy handwriting and coloured pen; maybe the auction winner might like to stick a page or two up on the wall.'

Radio 3 controller Alan Davey said: 'I am delighted Radio 3 is supporting Children in Need and the vital work the charity does for young people across the nation. Contemporary classical music is at the heart of Radio 3 so we’re thrilled and incredibly grateful that some of the greatest composers of our time are generously offering our listeners the rare chance to get hold of a piece of musical history, all in aid of a hugely important cause.'

BBC Children in Need is a charity whose aim is to make a positive change to the lives of disadvantaged children and young people across the UK, ensuring that they have a safe, happy and secure childhood and the chance to reach their potential.  

All of the manuscripts are now available for bids, with the auction ending at midnight on 13 November.

Radio 3

November issue out now!

3 November 2015

With a voice described as “youthful, luminous and direct”, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky talks to Opera Now about the secrets of his growing success; we meet the British companies leading the way in staging new work for young performers; and conductor René Jacobs discusses his fresh approach to recording Mozart’s operas. Plus, this season’s most inviting and adventurous operatic outpourings from the Renaissance and Baroque; the European Network of Opera Academies provides a platform for young opera professionals; Independent Opera marks its 10th anniversary with a provocative UK premiere; Helikon Opera returns to its redeveloped home in a characterful mansion near the Kremlin; the National Opera Studio’s Emily Gottlieb on training the next generation of top talent; Michael White wonders why opera singers can’t act; psychological complexity in Verdi’s Don Carlo; and your chance to WIN Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s new solo album Wait For Me.

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