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Renée Fleming leads San Francisco Opera's Lucrezia Borgia

27 September 2011, San Francisco, US

Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia)
Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia)(Photo: Cory Weaver)

Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) and Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini)
Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) and Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini)(Photo: Cory Weaver)

Review by Jason Victor Serinus

On September 23, soprano Renée Fleming returned to San Francisco Opera, where she first debuted in 1991 as Countess Almaviva, to sing the lead role in seven performances of Lucrezia Borgia. It was the company premiere of Donizetti’s underperformed bel canto gem, and Fleming’s first performance in the War Memorial Opera House in 10 years.

Surrounded by sterling principals, Fleming looked wonderful in the John Pascoe production that premiered at Washington National Opera in 2008. She also sang quite well. Her Act III finale may have lacked some of the highflying flights heard on her 1999 recording of the finale, but her commitment, admirable trill, vocal beauty, and occasional high notes did much to compensate for singing that lacked the tonal brilliance and inner tension of a true bel canto coloratura.

To her credit, Fleming did cap Act I with a high D-flat, and died after a credible high E-flat. Yet her zip through the Prologue’s 'Com’é bello', though far less swoony than with Eve Queler in New York in 2000, seemed designed to protect her from direct comparisons with Montserrat Caballé, who more or less owned the aria after her last-minute debut as Lucrezia at Carnegie Hall in 1965 catapulted her to international stardom.

By contrast, tenor Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini) constantly riveted attention with truly glorious singing. Both were vital throughout. Fabiano’s energetic portrayal tempered masculine thrust with sweetness, and the diminutive DeShong sang like a vocal giant. Her 'Brindisi' was a showstopper.

Fabiano and DeShong played up Pascoe’s positing of Gennaro and Orsini as male lovers by engaging in a prolonged deep throat kiss at the end of their Act III duet. Another clearly homoerotic touch was Fabiano’s shiny gold costume. A cross between something out of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, its jacket increasingly parted to reveal more of Fabiano’s tantalizing torso as Gennaro’s suffering increased.

Bass Vitaliz Kowaljow (Duke Alfonso) was not far behind these two in the vocal department. Although his voice bordered on monotone when he first took to the stage, his authoritative singing grew in colour and stature as the evening progressed. Baritone Igor Vieira (Gubetta) and bevy of Adler Fellows, most notably tenor Daniel Montenegro (Rustighello), sang well in smaller roles.

Riccardo Frizza drove all but the final act like a train conductor determined to reach every stop on time; the second act lacked any sense of breathing space, and singers occasionally lagged behind. Thankfully, he slowed down considerably for Fleming’s finale, allowing the soprano all the space and rhythmic freedom she wished.

San Francisco Opera's production of Lucrezia Borgia runs until 11 October 2011.

 

Royal Opera House launches 2011/12 cinema season

24 September 2011, London, UK

Angela Gheoghiu as Tosca
Angela Gheoghiu as Tosca(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

London’s Royal Opera House has launched its first dedicated season of opera and ballet screenings under the new brand Royal Opera House Cinema.

Seven operas and three ballets will be broadcast to more than 700 cinemas in 22 countries worldwide between September 2011 and May 2012.

Angela Gheorghiu stars in the first three productions, taking the title roles in Adriana Lecouvreur and Tosca, and playing Marguerite in Faust.

Other season highlights include Richard Jones’s new production of Puccini’s Il Trittico, a live screening of Rigoletto starring Vittorio Grigolo as the Duke, and a 3D version of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Royal Opera House chief executive Tony Hall said: "This is part of opening up the glories of the opera house to as many people as we can."

 

The Opera Group appoints new artistic director

23 September 2011, London, UK

Frederic Wake-Walker
Frederic Wake-Walker

The Opera Group has appointed Frederic Wake-Walker as the company's new artistic director. He will succeed TOG co-founder, John Fulljames, who recently became associate director of opera at the Royal Opera House.

Wake-Walker himself is the founder and artistic director of Mahogany Opera, which presents site-specific opera productions within the UK. He will take on his new duties at The Opera Group over a period of months, allowing him to fulfil some existing commitments to Mahogany Opera.

Recognised as one the UK's most original emerging opera directors, Wake-Walker’s work with Mahogany Opera has emphasised stylisation and movement whilst exploring innovative ways of presenting opera. At Glyndebourne, his production credits include Stravinsky's Renard and Mavra, Julian Philips' Followers and a tour of The Magic Flute.

Claudia Pendred, Chair of The Opera Group’s board, said: "We are delighted to have secured the services of such a talented young artistic director. Frederic Wake-Walker’s track record, together with his specialist interest in contemporary opera, will mean that The Opera Group can continue to build on its reputation for producing high quality, new and exciting opera.”
 
The Opera Group was founded in 1997 and has specialised in creating productions of new operas with contemporary resonance, as well as for bringing classic music theatre works back to life – such as Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, which won the Evening Standard Best Musical Award in 2008. Forthcoming projects include new operas by Edward Rushton, David Bruce and Olga Neuwirth, as well as unusual site-specific events and an Incubator programme to develop future operas.

 

First NI Opera competition winner announced

15 September 2011, Glenarm, Northern Ireland

Prizewinner Ben McAteer
Prizewinner Ben McAteer(Photo: Brian Morrison)

Baritone Ben McAteer has won this year’s inaugural NI Opera Festival of Voice competition at Glenarm, Northern Ireland.

His prize includes a concert appearance alongside Dame Kiri Te Kanawa during this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

Jury member Kathryn Harries, director of the National Opera Studio, told Opera Now: “There was no difficulty in choosing Ben as the winner, not just because he has a wonderful voice, but also because he sings with a positive and mature approach. His intention is always very clear, and he is able to translate that maturity into his sound.”

The 23-year-old McAteer, who is studying at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, also recently won the 2011 Les Azuriales Ozone Young Artists’ Competition.

Ben McAteer can be heard in concert with Kiri Te Kanawa at Belfast’s Ulster Hall on 30 October 2011. Visit www.belfastfestival.com for details.

 

Robin Ticciati named as new Glyndebourne music director

14 September 2011, Lewes, UK

Robin Ticciati
Robin Ticciati(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Robin Ticciati has been named as the next music director of Glyndebourne Festival.

He will succeed Vladimir Jurowski in January 2014, becoming the seventh music director in the company’s 77-year history.

Ticciati, who directed Glyndebourne on Tour from 2007 to 2009, said that “I have a big smile on my face because Glyndebourne is a very special place to me. The company is doing amazing things in making opera more accessible. If there's one thing I want to do in my time there, it's to find more ways of bringing opera to people under 30. It changed my whole life, and I want to share it."

Glyndebourne’s general director, David Pickard, said that Ticciati would continue the company’s "long tradition of artistic excellence and innovation".

The 29-year-old British-born conductor is also the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Bamberger Symphoniker. He recently conducted Le nozze di Figaro at Salzburg Festival and will make his Metropolitan Opera debut in December with Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.

 


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