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Opera South presents new commission

15 January 2013

Composer William Godfree
Composer William Godfree

For many opera companies in the UK, community opera in 2013 means Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten, as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations.

However, the enterprising Opera South, is bucking this trend by commissioning a brand new work, written expressly with young people in mind and tailored to the resources of its local community as well as involving schools from neighbouring counties, based on an episode from Arthurian legend.

The Surrey-based company has asked William Godfree to write the opera, entitled Child Roland, which will be premiered in Haslemere in May this year. The opera’s forces are designed to harness as much local talent as possible: ten child soloists will join two adult professional singers, and there is a children’s and adults’ chorus, all accompanied by an ensemble of eight instrumentalists.

The music, explains Godfree, will be eclectic and packed with drama: ‘It’s something of a collage, using some traditional melodies blended with orginial material. Although some of the passages are quite challenging, shall we say, to the ear, the children’s lines tend to be very singable.’

The hour-long work unfolds in two acts that concern the exploits of Roland, son of King Arthur, sent on a quest to rescue his sister Ellen who has been snatched away by the evil King of Elfland.

Child Roland will be directed by Nigel Ramage and designed by John Braithwaite. Performances take place at Haslemere Hall, as part of the Haslemere Festival, on 18 and 19 May.


Verdi's Falstaff at Opéra Berbiguières

1 January 2013, Dordogne, France

Henry Waddington as Falstaff
Henry Waddington as Falstaff

Review by Robert Thicknesse

The idyllic Chateau de Berbiguières, property of an English judge, has been putting on operas since 2000. Emma Rivlin’s staging of Falstaff accomplished a little stroke of genius by freeing us from the legend, re-engineering the hero as a superannuated ex-star actor sluicing down the G&T’s in a boutique Dordogne hotel owned by loadsamoney English vulgarian Ford and family.

So we had a type miles away from your regular Fat Jack: you could do anything to this guy, and he would actually grow on you as he coped with his pratfalls. Porters Bardolph and Pistol provided a constant low-level provocation of the fellow, who remained invincible behind his bluster and vanity.

The stage was a corner of the Chateau courtyard, the windows above coming into play for Nanetta and Fenton’s carry-on as well as for gossipy onlookers. Henry Waddington played the hero with an affecting mix of self-esteem, injured pride and assurance. His terrific characterisation of Falstaff’s monologues, delivered with a sheepish self-awareness, made the awful fellow actually likeable – as of course does his final triumph, which tells us that the best way to combat the world’s cruelties is not to take them seriously.

This was an actual journey, with Falstaff’s ejection from the Ford hotel after being dunked providing a proper dramatic jolt. And all was jaunt and character, from Gareth Morris’s lairy Bardolph to Lilly Papaiannou’s fruity Meg. Laura Woods was a very young Quickly, with bags of attitude and a cultured way with music that is often barked by decrepit altos. Katharina Hagopian was a sparky Alice, Nicholas Darmanin made some nicely Italianate noises as Fenton, and Louise Alder (Nanetta) is a really promising young soubretty soprano. I admired conductor Samuel Hogarth’s sensitive pacing of a score that needs to balance momentum and musical indulgence. This was easily my favourite Falstaff of last year.


Peter Moores Foundation to support eight opera productions in 2013-15

6 December 2012, London, UK

Sir Peter Moores
Sir Peter Moores(Photo: Bill Cooper)

The Peter Moores Foundation has announced plans to support eight productions by UK opera companies between 2013 and 2015 under a scheme called the Swansong Project, which will mark the Foundation’s closure in 2014.

The eight companies, which have all enjoyed a long association with the Foundation, will present repertoire that would otherwise not be possible without this support, including a site-specific production of Musorgky’s Khovanshchina at Birmingham Opera Company, Donizetti’s three Tudor operas (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux) at Welsh National Opera and the UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at London’s Royal Opera House. The other five project partners are English Touring Opera, Opera North, Scottish Opera, English National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Established by Sir Peter Moores in 1964, the Foundation has been a major supporter of opera in Britain over the past 50 years, as well as funding projects in education, health, community work and the visual arts.

Sir Peter said his commitment to opera has been inspired by a desire ‘to make things happen that otherwise would not happen, to enrich the repertory with works that otherwise would not be heard, and wherever possible to ensure that these reach and are accessible to the widest possible audience, whether through tours, broadcasts, education projects, recordings or in the cinema’.

He added: ‘While bringing our curtain down, we want to remind the world at large of the many ways, large and small, in which opera and its enjoyment can be nourished in the UK.  We want our Swansong to encourage other, younger, would-be or active philanthropists and charities to take up the baton.  Spread the word!’


New Thai opera company celebrates Britten centenary

23 November 2012, Bangkok, Thailand

A scene from 18 Monkeys’ recent production 'Demon in Venice'
A scene from 18 Monkeys’ recent production 'Demon in Venice'(Photo: Basil Childers)

A new Thai opera company is gearing up to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s birth centenary with the country’s first ever performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Led by artistic director Stefan Sanchez, the production will provide a platform for talented young Thai opera singers to work with an international creative team, together with dancers from the cutting-edge Thai dance company 18 Monkeys and children from a local home for AIDS orphans. Britten’s original conception of a rural English setting for the opera will be swapped for a forest somewhere in Southeast Asia, where gods and spirits still play a part in daily life.

The performances at Bangkok’s Aksara Theatre run from 28 to 31 March 2013, supported by the British Council.


Lord Hall, Royal Opera House chief exec, appointed BBC director general

22 November 2012, London, UK

Tony Hall: ‘the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis’
Tony Hall: ‘the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis’(Photo: Rob Moore)

Report by Alex Stevens

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House since 2001, has been appointed director general of the BBC. He will take over the role in March.

Hall had become the favourite for the role in recent days, seen as a safe pair of hands with extensive BBC experience but without the links to recent BBC controversies which prevented the promotion of an internal candidate.

In a statement to members of the press he said that it ‘takes a lot to drag me away from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, a place I love hugely, but the reason I am standing before you today is because I care passionately about the BBC'.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said Lord Hall was ‘the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis’.

Hall worked for the BBC for 28 years – as head of news for five of those – and set up BBC Radio 5 Live. As director general he will act as the BBC’s editor-in-chief.

Culture secretary Maria Miller said Hall had ‘a very strong track record in successfully leading iconic organisations.

‘I am pleased the BBC Trust have appointed a new director general. It is important now that Tony Hall gets to grips quickly – to provide the stability and certainty that the BBC needs, and restore public confidence,’ she said.

Simon Robey, chairman of the board of trustees at Covent Garden, said he was 'not surprised' at the appointment. 'The ROH he will leave in March is very different to the one he took over in 2001. We have a world-class senior team, both artistic and non-artistic, led by Antonio Pappano, Kasper Holten and Kevin O'Hare.

'We have a very large and impactful education and community engagement programme and we are now a beacon of best practice in the arts sector. We are financially stable and we have changed the mix of our funding so that our ACE grant (now down from 40% to about 25% of our income) and our philanthropic revenue is broadly in balance.

'Tony deserves credit for all of this and we now face the future, with its inevitable challenges and opportunities, with strong foundations and very broad and loyal support.'

Hall's extensive BBC news experience is in contrast to the tenure of his predecessor, George Entwistle, whose two-month term in the role was tarnished by Newsnight’s broadcasting of a discredited investigation into a paedophile ring.

At the ROH, Hall is credited with rebuilding an organisation which was in a public state of disarray when he joined. His achievements also include the establishment of the Royal Opera's Production Park in Thurrock, Kent, and setting up ROH2, a department devoted to supporting new artists and developing new audiences (though this was recently disbanded following the departure of its head, Deborah Bull). He established the big screen and cinema relays which have vastly increased Covent Garden’s reach in the last decade.

He appointed Kasper Holten as director of opera (who succeeded Elaine Padmore in September 2011) and Kevin O’Hare as director of the Royal Ballet (succeeding Monica Mason in July 2012). Holten said he was 'the most inspirational leader I have ever worked for'.

'He will be sorely missed at the ROH and by me personally, but I am excited for him about this, and I am sure he will do a fantastic job.'

Simon Robey said the Royal Opera House would 'turn immediately to finding a worthy successor. I am confident that this exceptional place will continue to be led by an exceptional person.'

Originally posted by Classical Music


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