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The Queens of Spades at English National Opera

8 June 2015, London, UK

Review by Robert Thicknesse

After the company’s recent excitements, Edward Gardner’s last show as music director of English National Opera reaffirms that it is really he who has dragged the company back to the forefront of European opera.

Gardner has wrested many iffy shows into compelling musical shape, and turned so many good ones into something stunning. This last was somewhere in the middle: a highly enjoyable and sometimes excellent David Alden production that occasionally lost focus and seriousness became in Gardner’s hands a runaway train of brilliant, inexorable musical momentum and screw-tightening tension.

The staging got a mixed reaction. Though one tends to disparage the cry-babies who want silly literalism and pretty dresses, Alden did rather go to town with his raid on the old tropes’ home of Regietheater. Nevertheless, for all the time-travel, expressionist lighting, interior film-shows, furry animal phantasmagoria, slo-mo tranny nannies and the rest, the show remained vividly alive: basically, it worked.

The Queen of Spades is a psychodrama with rubbishy aspects – Pushkin’s original, although heavily reworked, is itself a semi-jest – and it was good to see it in a frame to highlight many of its surprising, modern qualities.

The effect centred around really strong performances, and much credit to Alden for his direction of the singers: there was a hypnotic focus to all. Peter Hoare, stepping in quite late in the day for Peter Bronder, used all his character-tenor technique to make a compelling, slow-burn Hermann, and was quite equal to the culminating hysteria of the music. Giselle Allen is all heart, and this unstable Lisa was a fearless, fervid, raw performance, while remaining properly lyrical. Gregory Dahl and Nicholas Pallesen heightened the creepy atmosphere with a subtly skewed Tomsky and Yeletsky; Katie Bird’s cameo Masha was really well sung; and Catherine Young almost stole the show as a regulation traumatised, serially drunk and abused Pauline – bringing some point and much diversion to a cipherish character. Best of all was Felicity Palmer’s eerie countess, her bedroom scene touching and haunting in the horror of age as her Parisian youth possessed her mind in music coming from very far away.

The glossiest laurels, though, must go to the incomparable Gardner, a chorus on amazing form and an orchestra more intensely beautiful, tonally subtle, utterly shaped and concentrated than I’ve heard in this opera since some of the great old recordings. Nice one, Ed. ENO – and we – will miss you very much.

New Opera Platform offers free access to opera

8 May 2015, Madrid, Spain

A consortium of 15 major opera houses across Europe has launched a new online initiative that allows audiences to experience opera across various digital platforms for free, both live and on demand. 

The Opera Platform, launched at Opera Europa’s May conference in Madrid this week (7-9 May), offers highlights from European productions, documentary footage and access to archival materials. A complete opera will be broadcast each month from one of the 15 partner theatres. The Platform, says Opera Europa, is designed to appeal equally to those who already love opera and to those who may be tempted to try it for the first time.

The new initiative was launched with a live relay of  a production of Verdi’s La traviata from the Teatro Real in Madrid. Future broadcasts include Szymanowski’s Krol Roger from the Royal Opera House (16 May) and Sibelius’s Kullervo from Finnish National Opera (23 May). Each opera will be available to view online, via The Opera Platform, for a period of six months after the live relay.

The Opera Platform aims to make opera more accessible. Complete performances will be subtitled in at least six languages, while content will include video, text, photographs, music, historical information and interviews.

Although Opera Europa sees its investment in online resources as an important aspect of the development of opera in the future, the organisation stated that ‘the launch of the Opera Europa Digital Platform in no way compromises our fervent belief that opera is best experienced live in the theatre.’

A partnership between Opera Europa, ARTE TV and 15 European theatres, the platform is supported by the European Council’s Creative Europe programme and the European Broadcasting Union. The Opera Platform partners in the free live relay scheme are: Vienna State Opera; La Monnaie/De Munt, Brussels; Finnish National Opera, Helsinki; Festival d’Aix-en-Provence; Opéra national de Lyon; Komische Oper Berlin; Staatstheater Stuttgart; Teatro Regio di Torino; Latvian National Opera, Riga; Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam; Den Norske Opera, Oslo; Teatr Wielki/Polish National Opera, Warsaw; Teatro Real Madrid; Royal Opera House, London; and Welsh National Opera.

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.


Plácido Domingo to be guest editor of Opera Now July/August

6 May 2015, London, UK

We are delighted to announce that the wonderful Plácido Domingo will be guest editor of the July/August issue of Opera Now. We celebrate the extraordinary life of a colossus on the world stage whose illustrious career has spanned five decades, drawing millions of fans to opera from all corners of the globe.

Exclusive cover interview
Domingo talks about the highlights of his long, influential career, remembering the people and events that have meant most to him along the way, and sharing his thoughts about opera’s future and the challenges that lie ahead for a new generation of young talent.

Operalia – The World Opera Competition
Founded by Domingo in 1993, this has become one of the most important and prestigious singing competitions in the world.  We preview this year’s event at the Royal Opera House in London this July.

Plácido Domingo and his Divas
What is it like to sing opposite Domingo?  We ask high-flying female leads including Nina Stemme, Ana María Martínez, Joyce DiDonato, Quanqun Yu, Sonya Yoncheva, Angel Blue and Julia Novikova.

At home in LA with Domingo
We visit Los Angeles Opera, which Domingo has run since 2003, building it up into the fourth largest opera company in the US.

On the road with Plácido 
Domingo is an inveterate world traveller and his motto is ‘If I rest, I rust’. He takes us on a tour of the destinations that he loves visiting and the opera houses that remain special to him.

The Art of Zarzuela
Spanish operetta was where it all began for Domingo – his parents were famous Zarzuela singers, and Domingo still speaks with passion about the art.

OPERA NOW'S JULY/AUGUST ISSUE WILL BE AVAILABLE AS A DIGITAL EDITION AND TO ORDER ONLINE FROM 23 JUNE 2015 AND AVAILABLE IN SELECTED NEWSAGENTS FROM 27 JUNE 2015

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.


International Opera Awards announces 2015 winners

27 April 2015, London, UK

Barrie Kosky: 'We are immensely privileged to do what we do.'
Barrie Kosky: 'We are immensely privileged to do what we do.'(Photo: Jan Windszus)

The winners of the International Opera Awards 2015 were announced last night in a glittering ceremony at the Savoy Theatre hosted by Richard E. Grant.

Anja Harteros and Christian Gerhaher won accolades for best female and best male singer. The young singer award went to Justina Gringyte, who will make her role debut as Carmen at ENO in May 2015, while the newcomer prize went to stage director Lotte de Beer. Berlin's Komische Oper won the coveted company of the year category, sponsored by Rhinegold's Opera Now. Artistic director Barrie Kosky said: 'We are immensely privileged to do what we do, and I remind my wonderful team at the Komische Oper of this every day.'

After winning two Oliviers earlier this month, Richard Jones continued his success as he picked up the director's award. Speight Jenkins, former general director of Seattle Opera, won the lifetime achievement award and Semyon Bychkov was named best conductor.

British companies fared well: the chorus award went to Welsh National Opera and Birmingham Opera Company's Khovanskygate was named production of the year. The Royal Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten topped a strong line-up of Richard Strauss anniversary stagings, awarded in memory of the eminent critic and Strauss biographer Michael Kennedy, and presented by his widow Joyce Kennedy.

Although speeches from winners were not encouraged, two prominent figures made notable comments: David Pountney, accepting the best festival award for Brengenz, pointed out that 'a little town of 28,000 people attracts over 200,000 people and brings €160m (£115m)' into the local economy every year. Meanwhile, Graham Vick, artistic director of Birmingham Opera Company, said 'our average audience is under 40 and Khovanskygate had 200 volunteer participants whose average age was 28 – and 50 per cent of them were black or of mixed ethnicity.' He added: 'If we're talking about the future, that's what we need to talk about.'

Live performances came from readers' award winner Aleksandra Kurzak and young singer of the year Justina Gringyte, with Lawrence Brownlee and Carolyn Sampson also performing. The evening raised money for the Opera Awards Foundation, which supports artists and opera professionals early in their careers.

See the full list of winners here: www.operaawards.org/Winners2015.aspx

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.


Operatic music spanning 400 years at the Proms 2015

24 April 2015

Starry Last Night: Jonas Kaufmann
Starry Last Night: Jonas Kaufmann

This year’s BBC Proms programme  features relatively little opera, but what there is covers the gamut of operatic history, from Monteverdi to Sondheim.

Among the highlights of the 2015 season is the Albert Hall debut of Grange Park Opera with Fiddler on the Roof, another Proms first, starring Bryn Terfel in the lead role of Tevye,  with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell.

There is also the regular festival visit of Glyndebourne which brings a semi-staged version of its new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail conducted by Robin Ticciati.

Scrolling back the start of operatic history, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloist perform Monteverdi’s Orfeo under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. 

The stars are out on the Last Night of the Proms: tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Danielle de Niese do the honours, in a programme that is inevitably strong on romance, including music by Puccini, Lehar and Copeland.

 In other opera-related concerts, Alice Coote performs a Late Night Prom which explores Handel and ‘travesty’ – the gender-bending aspects of the composer’s operatic roles.

 Meanwhile, there’s the return of a proms favourite – Verdi’s Requiem, featuring the chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Donald Runnicles. And in a lighter mode at Cadogan Hall, Siân Philips, Kitty Whately and Jamie Parker celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday with a ‘Sondheim Cabaret’

Click here for BBC Proms programme


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