Opera Now's Montblanc competition winner
9 October 2013
Opera Now readers were invited to write a short account of an experience of opera that has made a lasting and inspirational impression on them. Opera Now’s judges were struck by Chris Berentson’s atmospheric account of how Puccini’s La bohème continues to influence his life and career. Mr Berentson wins our prize of a beautiful, precision-made Montblanc Meisterstück LeGrand Ball Point pen.
Winter Garret by Chris Berentson
The snap of dry twigs beneath our feet and the smell of eucalyptus: it was the wintery late-night prelude of a fellow student tenor and I approaching my flat. Inside, it was considerably warmer, especially once the whisky was found, and the promised favourite recording of all time featuring Robert Merrill, Victoria De Los Angeles and our idol, the incomparable Jussi Björling, was on the CD player. With the opening salvo of double-basses and trombones crashing through the speakers in mono, my mind went back four years to my first experience of the piece that was to change my life.
It was 1999, and I had stepped off the plane in Sydney from my native New Zealand, to find a job and learn to be a singer. I took lodgings in a backpackers’ hostel near the beach and worked in a department store unloading boxes. Ten minutes’ walk away was my singing teacher’s studio and after some days of singing on the beach, she gave me her keys so I could practise after work.
In the warm dusk one evening, having finished my scales and arias (and resisting the call of the watering-holes of my workmates), I wandered up the steps of the Sydney Opera House with the magnificent harbour glistening below; I stood under her sails to find a spur-of-the moment ticket for La bohème.
What struck most in the theatre that evening was the directness of the music, its endless striving to reconcile art and life, and the tragic story of ordinary people attempting the extraordinary. In that cold student garret, Puccini summed up all the real experiences of being a young artist: poetry, painting, wine, laughter, love, song. Of course, straight away you realise that this is a romantic account; being poor, ill-clothed and sick is a terrible existence. Yet as the young, impoverished poet Rodolfo sings, ‘E come vivo? Vivo!’ (How do I live? I live!), anything seems possible. Such was the singer’s conviction that night, I knew that I had finally found what I had to do with my life. His words still resound in my ears.
Chris Berentson is a New Zealand-based tenor who has performed a wide variety of roles in opera and oratorio.
Final curtain falls on New York City Opera
1 October 2013, New York, US
NYCO's general director George Steel(Photo: René Perez)
New York City Opera has announced it is to close and file for bankruptcy in its 70th anniversary year, after failing to find the US$7m (£4.3m) needed to deliver its planned season for the year ahead.
The decision to cease operating was taken when an emergency appeal for a total of $20m (£12.3m) to continue the 2013/14 season and plan for future years produced just one-tenth of its target by the end of September.
In an email to subscribers, artistic director and general manager George Steel said: ‘New York City Opera did not achieve the goal of its emergency appeal, and the board and management will begin the necessary financial and operational steps to wind down the company.’
The company’s demise follows a long series of setbacks, including a substantial loss of revenue in 2008-09 during the refurbishment of the David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater), where the company had been resident since 1966. This arrangement ended in 2011, when a review of NYCO’s business model concluded that the company should move out of its Lincoln Center home altogether.
This decision worked in the short term, allowing NYCO to continue producing some critically acclaimed work as an itinerant troupe; yet without a permanent home the company’s number of performances fell drastically, resulting in a loss of ticket revenue. Combined with a sharp fall in investment income from the company’s endowment (down from US$3m per year at its peak to less than US$200,000 today), reliance on fundraising became greater than ever.
Early in September, in a last-ditch attempt to save the company from immediate closure, an online crowd-sourcing campaign was launched to raise $1m, but only brought in just over $300,000.
Founded in 1943 to provide ‘cultural entertainment at popular prices’, New York City Opera had staged 29 world premieres and 62 US and New York premieres by the end of its 2012/13 season. The company’s ethos of making opera affordable to the city’s residents had earned it the nickname ‘The People’s Opera’.
Julius Rudel, 92, the maestro who helped to build and lead NYCO in its heyday, told the New York Times, ‘I would not have thought in my wildest dreams that I would outlive the opera company.’ He added: ‘I think it’s a real operatic tragedy.’
Regime change at Madrid's Teatro Real
26 September 2013, Madrid, Spain
Gerard Mortier (above) will stay on as an artistic advisor to his successor Joan Matabosch (below)
(Photos: Javier del Real)
Madrid’s Teatro Real has announced the immediate appointment of Joan Matabosch as the company’s new artistic director, ousting Gerard Mortier three years before his current contract was due to expire.
The decision followed hot on the heels of a row sparked by the Belgian-born Mortier, who suggested in a published interview that no Spaniard would be good enough to succeed him. He further warned that if the government imposed a candidate of whom he disapproved, he wouldn't see out his term.
Mortier, 69, told El País: ‘The government wants a Spaniard. That's no problem for me, so long as they're a good candidate. The important thing is not their nationality, but their quality … [but] I don't see any good candidates in Spain … this country has a number of extraordinary museum directors. But it's not the same in opera. There is no tradition here.’
Mortier took charge of Madrid’s opera house in 2010 after resigning early from his previous post at the New York City Opera. Known for shaking things up wherever he goes, his artistic agenda in Madrid has been characteristically bold, including staging Messiaen’s Saint François d'Assise and commissioning world premieres such as Glass’s The Perfect Amercian and (coming up in January) Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain.
Matabosch, who has held the post of artistic director at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu since 1997, said his goal at the Teatro Real would be ‘not to copy literally what Mortier has done, but it will be a project of continuity rather than trying to do the opposite and undermine the extraordinary legacy that he has left in Madrid.’
Matabosch will combine his existing role in Barcelona with his new role in Madrid for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Mortier has been named as an artistic advisor to the Teatro Real, though the exact nature of his future involvement with the company remains unclear – a situation further complicated by the recent revelation that he is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Win a copy of 'The Verdi Edition' from Opus Arte
23 September 2013
Win a copy of ‘The Verdi Edition’ from Opus Arte: 12 complete operas on 17 DVDs!
Celebrating the work of Italy’s greatest musical dramatist, this new box set features some of today’s finest Verdi singers in productions from London, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Madrid and Barcelona. Casting highlights include Renée Fleming as Violetta, José Cura as Otello, Byrn Terfel as Falstaff and Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra.
To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject ‘VERDI EDITION’ to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a postcard to Rhinegold Competitions, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QZ. Please include your full name, address and a contact telephone number. (Deadline for entries: 1 November 2013.)
Handel's Acis and Galatea gets exotic treatment in Bhutan
23 September 2013, Thimpu, Bhutan
Traditional Bhutanese dancers get their first taste of Handel(Photo: Aaron Carpene)
Report by Robert Turnbull
Ever protective of its cultural heritage, the South Asian kingdom of Bhutan is famously wary of the influence of Westerners and their wanton ways. That includes tourists, the number of which never exceeds 20,000 annually.
Yet when the Italian stage-director Stefano Vizioli and his Australian harpsichordist partner Aaron Carpene proposed taking Handel’s Acis and Galatea to the Royal Textile Academy in Bhutan’s capital, Thimpu, the Bhutanese prime minister and his cabinet were quick to approve. The project is officially a collaboration with the University of Texas at El Paso, which has long had links with Bhutan.
In this highly unusual ‘co-production’, set in early 20th-century Bhutan, four Western soloists, 14 chorus members and a 16-piece Baroque orchestra will be joined by nine Bhutanese dancers, singers and musicians. Local instruments include the Bhutanese dulcimer (yanchen), powerful Tibetan horns (dungchen) and drums (nga).
As project creator and the opera’s conductor, Carpene’s aim is to recreate the atmosphere of the Bhutanese tsechu, or 5-day religious festivals usually performed in the courtyards of monasteries.
‘The dancers’ presence underlines specific dramatic moments, celebrating happiness and nature,’ he explains. Meanwhile, the opera’s principal characters will take on Bhutanese identities, such as Polythemus, here portrayed as ‘a wrathful deity’.
Carpene stresses the project’s appropriateness for a Buddhist society: ‘Pastoral themes and celebration of metamorphosis resonate deeply with the most transformative spiritual experiences represented in classical Western as well as Eastern philosophical traditions.’ Acis’s death, for example, will accompany a traditional Bhutanese cremation dance as well as a mourning song.
Acis and Galatea receives its premiere in Thimpu on 12 October 2013. The production will be repeated at El Paso Opera in October 2014.
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