martin randall 2015

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Metropolitan Opera reports falling attendance

30 January 2014, New York, US

Peter Gelb
Peter Gelb(Photo: Dario Acosta)

New York’s Metropolitan Opera has announced that ticket sales figures for its live performances fell to just 79 per cent last year, achieving only 69 per cent of its potential total box office revenue – significantly less than at any other time over the past decade.

Although income from fundraising and cinema screenings increased during the same period, the company has been left with a budget deficit of US$2.8 million for 2012-13.

High ticket prices are thought to be one reason for the shrinking sales: in February last year the Met acknowledged that attendance fell after prices were raised by around 10 percent. Responding to this trend, the average price of a ticket for the current season has been lowered to $156 from $174.
Commenting on the figures, the Met’s general director Peter Gelb said they reflect ‘the challenges that opera companies face in wooing an audience’.

Gelb told the New York Times: ‘We have been, I think, successful in getting younger, newer audiences to come to the Met. But there’s no question that our older audience is ageing, and not attending as frequently as they once did. This is a reality we have to live with, and we’re trying to meet that challenge by keeping our artistic standards as high as possible, introducing new productions and having the greatest singers in the world on our stage.’

Wagner’s Rienzi opens Riga 2014 European Capital of Culture

30 January 2014, Riga, Latvia

Opus in images: Wagner's 'Rienzi' at Latvian National Opera
Opus in images: Wagner's 'Rienzi' at Latvian National Opera(Photo: Kaspars Garda)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn

Wagner composed the overture and first two acts of Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes in Riga, before fleeing to Paris. That connection was the reason the opera, in an abbreviated version, was chosen to open Riga 2014, European Capital of Culture.
Rienzi, based on the real-life Italian Cola di Rienzi, deals with power, revenge, class struggle, and star-crossed lovers – universal and timeless themes. It follows Rienzi’s rise to power as a populist leader against the nobility’s tyranny until he became a tyrant himself, and falls from power as the people and Church turned against him.

This production of Rienzi, condensed to two hours and two acts (from six hours and five acts), was renamed Rienzi, Rise and Fall. The Rape of Lucretia ballet was replaced by a classic snippet from Bayadère, performed to Voldemārs Jansons’ electronic music, and the opera opened with a boys chorus singing (Wagner’s song) Der Tannenbaum to set up the evening’s ‘surprise ending’, when the boys chorus (so corrupted) took up arms and aimed at the audience.

Director Kirsten Dehlholm conceived the opera as an opus in images with a message, suffused with symbolism and dominated by a white horse that traditionally represents Fate in Latvia; a projection of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School was the production’s only ‘scenery’. The characters’ costume and make-up took on a larger role, embodying their psychological states and positions: Rienzi wore ‘Tannenbaum’ green, face blackened with soot of sin; Irene (Rienzi’s sister) wore ‘water’ blue, still haunted by her brother’s drowning death; Adriano (Colonna’s son) wore rose, signifying sentimentality in sacrificing his life trying to save his love Irene; and the Roman noblemen (Paolo Orsini and Stefano Colonna) dressed in yellow, recalling their cunning to keep power. Characters often moved in a stylised manner, and the ever-present chorus walked back and forth in place to add motion to this action-deprived work.

Modelled after French Grand Opera, Rienzi exuded a tone more French than German, recalling Les Huguenots and La Juive, but also numerous sounds from Wagner’s next opera, Der fliegende Holländer. The flowery, occasionally bombastic music, lushly played by the Latvian National Opera Orchestra, was efficiently led by maestro Modestas Pitrenas. The cast, especially Torsten Kerl (Rienzi), Elisabet Strid (Irene), Ursula Hesse (Adriano) executed their roles with aplomb.

Scottish Opera scores a hit with their new Don Pasquale

27 January 2014, Glasgow, UK

Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale
Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale(Photo: K K Dundas)

Review by Neil Jones

If Scottish Opera’s new production of Donizetti’s opera buffa was a cup of Italian coffee it would be a very frothy cappuccino. Smooth, exceptionally tasty and without a hint of bitterness, created lovingly by a trio of top class baristas.

The baristas in question were director Renaud Doucet, designer André Barbe and lighting designer Guy Simard. Opening the visual feast of this production during the overture they produced a largely black and white cartoon-like book projected on the front curtain, complete with turning pages that told a new backstory of Pasquale as a cat-loving but feline allergic hotel owner, desperately searching for a cure with the help of his doctor friend.

The main course though was Don Pasquale’s abode, a small, old-fashioned – bordering on seedy – pensione in the 1960’s, complete with a handful of equally dubious and decrepit staff. Barbe’s set design was a masterpiece, akin to looking at the set through a fish-eye lens, the central section more or less normal but the edges curving dramatically and vertiginously towards the vertical.

Initially, the top of the building was hidden by a screen of drying sheets, pillow cases and towels, which were dramatically whipped away just before Ernesto’s arrival in Act I to reveal a rooftop restaurant.

If visually this production was entertaining, it was matched musically and vocally by an orchestra and cast at the top of their game. Scottish Opera’s former music director, Francesco Corti, returned to conduct the Scottish Opera Orchestra, rowing them along with such sparkling energy that there was a danger that they could have overwhelmed the singers had not those singers been well capable of holding their own.

Making his company debut was Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale, delightfully unkempt in vest, scruffy trousers and braces – an Italian parody of Alf Garnet – with a splendid voice that belied his wonderful ‘dirty old man’ characterization.

Also debuting for the company was Aldo Di Toro as Ernesto, at his best in the sadder arias ‘Sogno soave e casto’ and ‘Cercherò lontana terra’ with a lovely clear voice, as beautiful as it was technically adept.

Equally delightful was Nicholas Lester as Doctor Malatesta, perhaps too young to be credible as Pasquale’s ‘friend’, whilst Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson was both vocally and visually gutsy as Norina, making her a strong, delightfully duplicitous character.

Andrew McTaggart completed the solo singing cast as the Notary whilst the afore-mentioned pensione staff included Sandra Haxton as a fag addicted maid, watching the action with a knowing and cynical eye!

With brilliant solo performances and excellent ensemble singing, this was a hugely entertaining and memorable take on this most consistently performed of Donizetti’s operas.

English National Opera names new music director

25 January 2014, London, UK

Mark Wigglesworth
Mark Wigglesworth(Photo: Sim Canetty-Clark)

In September 2015 English National Opera will bid farewell to their current music director Edward Gardner and welcome Mark Wigglesworth as his successor.

Wigglesworth comes to ENO with a wealth of operatic experience, including a year as music director of La Monnaie in Brussels. He is widely respected as an interpreter of Mozart, Wagner, Britten and Shostakovich, though some critics have been quick to point out his lack of experience when it comes to leading companies over a long period of time.

Gardner, by contrast, has been with ENO for nearly eight years, yet he had only held the post of music director at Glyndebourne on Tour for two years when he moved to the Coliseum. During his tenure, the ENO Orchestra has gone from strength to strength and Gardner is on his way to being ranked alongside Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Mark Elder, under whom the company also thrived.

After praising Gardner’s ‘phenomenal’ leadership, ENO artistic director John Berry described the 49-year-old Wigglesworth as ‘one of the most outstanding conductors of his generation’. He added: ‘I know Mark will make his presence felt and will support our mission to make ENO one of the most theatrically dynamic and musically exciting opera houses in the world.’

Win 10 song recital discs from Harmonia Mundi

20 January 2014

This wide-ranging selection of recital discs offers a panorama of 19th- and 20th-century European song traditions performed by some of today’s finest interpreters. Highlights include two volumes from Matthias Goerne’s Schubert Edition (Die schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang), a live recital from Ravinia Festival by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Mark Padmore. French, English, Spanish and Moravian songs complete the collection – see full details below.

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject ‘GOERNE’ to, 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: 28 February 2014.)

  • Britten 'Before life & after'
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Roger Vignoles - piano
  • Canciones españolas
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Anthony Spiri - piano
  • Dvořák Zigeunerlieder, Songs & Duets
    Genia Kühmeier - soprano
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Christoph Berner - piano
  • Eisler Ernste Gesänge
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Ensemble Resonanz
  • Recital at Ravinia
    Lorraine Hunt Lieberson - mezzo-soprano
    Drew Minter - countertenor
    Peter Serkin - piano
  • Schubert Die Winterreise
    Werner Güra - tenor
    Christoph Berner - piano
  • Schubert Schwanengesang
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Christoph Eschenbach - piano
  • Schumann Dichterliebe op.48, Liederkreis op.24
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Kristian Bezuidenhout - fortepiano
  • Victor Hugo en Musique
    Konstantin Wolff - bass-baritone
    Trung Sam - piano

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