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Tate deputy appointed new boss at London's Royal Opera

19 March 2013, London, UK [Updated 8 April 2013]

Alex Beard, new chief executive of the Royal Opera House
Alex Beard, new chief executive of the Royal Opera House

Alex Beard, Deputy Director of Tate, has been named as the new Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, following the departure of Sir Tony Hall, who is now in his new post of director general of the BBC. 

Since 1994, Beard has been an integral part of the Tate Galleries’ management team, starting as finance director and moving into resource management and business development progressively over eight years before being appointed Tate's deputy director under Sir Nicholas Serota's leadership. 

Beard, aged 49, brings a rare mix of financial and cultural acumen to his new role at the Opera House. Before joining Tate, he was head of business assessment at the Arts Council, responsible for assessing the performance of the organisations in receipt of long-term funding. He is a trustee of Glyndebourne Productions and Global Giving UK, giving him solid insights into the commercial opera scene as well as the charitable and philanthropic arena.

Beard’s business development experience, fundraising skills and Arts Council links will be especially valuable at a time when the Royal Opera House’s annual grant has been cut by more than 6 per cent to £26m, which still represents the highest level of public subsidy in the cultural sector.

Sir Tony Hall’s management style was essentially expansive in nature, geared at exploiting the Royal Opera House brand by developing product lines, international partnerships and promoting new media initiatives. He was, however, generally ‘hands-off’ in his engagement with the Opera House’s core artistic activities. Alex Beard’s appointment, meanwhile, promises to bring the management focus at the ROH back to core business development and funding stability, along with a more acute critical eye on the quality and integrity of programming presented across the Royal Opera House’s stages.

Beard recently received a CBE for his services to the arts, and his chief executive post at the Royal Opera House brings a remuneration package of £250,000 per annum.


Meanwhile, the Royal Opera House has announced its plans for the 2013 /14 season, which looks to be its strongest, artistically speaking, in some time. There will be seven new productions featuring international casts and some of Europe’s foremost conductors and stage directors. A new staging of Wagner’s Parsifal by Stephen Langridge and the ROH premiere of Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes, directed by Norwegian Stefan Herheim, round off celebrations of both composers’ bicentenaries this year. Next year’s Richard Strauss anniversary is being marked with a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten from German director Claus Guth.

The season launches in September with Puccini's Turandot, featuring the laser-bright singing of American soprano Lise Lindstrom, who takes the title role. Berg’s Wozzeck returns with Simon Keenlyside and Karita Mattila. Kasper Holten, the ROH’s director of opera, stages a new Don Giovanni with Nicola Luisotti in the pit. David McVicar's camp yet classy Faust returns to the ROH stage with an extraordinary cast of superstars including Anna Netrebko, Bryn Terfel, Joseph Calleja and Simon Keenlyside. Robert Carsen’s Dialogues des Carmélites unites Sir Simon Rattle in the pit with his wife Magdalena Kožená on stage.

The ROH’s music director Antonio Pappano used the occasion of the new season launch to deliver a swipe at singers who cancel performances – a perennial problem in recent years. ‘It happens more and more,’ said the maestro. ‘There’s something about this generation of singers, that they are weaker in their bodies or they just don’t care. I don't know what it is, but it's something that is very frustrating for me personally.’ Ironically, Pappano made his remarks just a few weeks after he himself had had to cancel his scheduled ROH run conducting Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur after an attack of tendonitis. The affliction, he said, was the result of a stressful workload at the end of last year.


Sky Arts Awards 2013 announced

13 March 2013, London, UK

Nicholas Sharratt in the award-winning 'Ghost Patrol'
Nicholas Sharratt in the award-winning 'Ghost Patrol'(Photo: Clive Barda)

Music Theatre Wales and Scottish Opera have won the Opera category in this year’s South Bank Show Sky Arts Awards for their co-production of Ghost Patrol, which received its world premiere at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.
Written by Scottish composer Stuart MacRae, with a libretto by crime novelist Louise Welsh, the opera explores what happens when civilian life comes into contact with the corrosive effects of war. Its setting is a modern day bar where two soldiers and a woman come together while trying to escape their past.

The opera beat off strong competition to win the Award, including the Royal Opera’s production of Les troyens and Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are at the Barbican.

Ghost Patrol and Huw Watkins’ In the Locked Room, which toured the UK as a double bill last autumn, have also been nominated for an Olivier Award in the Outstanding Achievement in Opera category. This year’s Olivier Awards ceremony will take place at the Royal Opera House on 28 April.


Soprano Edita Gruberová wins Karajan Music Prize 2013

7 March 2013, Baden-Baden, Germany

Edita Gruberová
Edita Gruberová(Photo: Andreas Klingenberg)

The Slovakian soprano Edita Gruberová has been named as the recipient of this year’s Herbert von Karajan Music Prize. The Prize, worth €50,000, is presented annually by the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. 

Announcing the award, Festspielehaus general director Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser said: ‘To this day, Edita Gruberová remains the undisputed "Queen of Bel Canto". No coloratura is too difficult for her, she prepares painstakingly for major roles, and she is so careful with her voice that she should be a role model for all singers.’

Edita Gruberová will acknowledge her award with a special performance of Lieder and opera arias at the Festspielehaus Baden-Baden on 29 November 2013.


Helikon Opera remembers Tikhon Khrennikov

11 February 2013, Moscow, Russia

Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), who chaired the USSR’s Union of Composers for over 40 years
Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), who chaired the USSR’s Union of Composers for over 40 years

Moscow’s Helikon Opera is planning a special series of concerts to mark the birth centenary of Tikhon Khrennikov, who ran the USSR’s Union of Composers from 1948 until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
For Dmitry Bertman, the artistic director of Helikon Opera, one of the most important aspects of Khrennikov’s legacy was his relationship with Dmitry Shostakovich, whose memoir Testimony casts Khrennikov in a negative light.

In 2000, however, Khrennikov attended the Helikon’s production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and told Bertman: ‘I have seen and heard Shostakovich’s opera for the first time; not a single other production ever gave me this feeling’.

Bertman’s production was the first original version of Lady Macbeth to be staged in Russia since its 1934 world premiere, which led to the denunciation of the composer by Stalin. Shostakovich subsequently revised his score, bringing it closer to the dogmas of socialist realism under the new title Katerina Izmaylova, and this version is still more commonly staged in Russia.

As a composer, Khrennikov’s main works were written between 1930 and 1970, including several operas. The Helikon’s forthcoming programme will present scenes from Khrennikov’s Into the Storm, Mother and Frol Skobeyev, plus fragments of his children’s operas and operettas, popular songs and incidental music for Much Ado about Nothing and Sheridan’s The Duenna.

Performances at the Helikon Opera in Moscow run from 10 to 14 April


UK opera companies rally to retain orchestras

28 January 2013, Leeds, UK

Opera North music director Richard Farnes
Opera North music director Richard Farnes(Photo: Bill Cooper)

Report by Keith Clarke

Fears that the opera orchestra could be an endangered species were raised at this year’s annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras, held in Leeds 23-25 January.

In a session chaired by Opera Now editor Ashutosh Khandekar, the challenges facing opera orchestras were outlined by Richard Farnes and Richard Mantle, music director and general director of Opera North, and Henry Little, chairman of the National Opera Co-ordinating Committee.

Little, who spent ten years as head of opera at Arts Council England, said: ‘Across the country, the whole network of opera ensembles is largely quite unacknowledged, yet it is a top-quality musical force that really drives the success of the companies.’ There had been calls to disband opera orchestras, with existing concert orchestras deployed instead. Little said he had ‘spent ages in darkened rooms drawing up models and looking at schedules … and in every case it just wasn’t practical.’

Aside from the logistics, the ensemble nature of an opera orchestra could not be overlooked, said Richard Farnes: ‘Opera companies are called opera companies for a very good reason. It’s an ensemble of people with a multitude of different crafts who are all coming together with a common aim to create a three-dimensional piece of work musically and thematically on the stage. The intrinsic quality of what you get from an ensemble is completely different.’

Arts Council England is currently reconsidering its provision of opera in England. Richard Mantle seemed unoptimistic about the outcome. ‘There is a staggering lack of understanding among our funders about the very particular nature of opera. It’s all about costs. The Arts Council is absolutely terrified of the relative costs of an opera company or a large-scale lyric company, the big employers. They see something like 39% of their grant going to nine companies and they really can’t cope with that.’


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