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Theofanidis' Heart of a Soldier premieres in San Francisco

12 September 2011, San Francisco, US

Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla)
Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla)(Photo: Cory Weaver)

Review by Jason Victor Serinus

Heart of a Soldier, a true story of love and heroism that culminates in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center, had its San Francisco Opera world premiere on September 10, less than 12 hours before the tenth anniversary of the air assault on the Twin Towers.

In basing their opera on the book by James B. Stewart and the life stories of Vietnam war hero Rick Rescorla (Thomas Hampson), his army buddy and cherished friend Daniel J. Hill (William Burden), and Rick's late-in-life wife Susan Rescorla (Melody Moore), composer Christopher Theofanidis and librettist by Donna Di Novelli attempt to compact several decades of personal history into a war-torn first act.

Handicapped by a score that soldiers on rather than probing beneath the surface, and a succession of history-compacting episodes that seem at times almost cartoonish in their treatment of complex events, Heart of a Soldier comes into its own in a moving second act. Here, Rick and Susan's mutual discovery of love at first sight brings out the best in Theofanidis, eliciting music of touching simplicity and warmth. The heart opens at last, making Rick's death after heroically leading 2700 people out of the WTC all the more tragic.

Hampson does his best to cope with a part whose low tessitura finds him half-speaking at times, while Burden and Moore (the true heart of the opera) shine in roles ideally suited to their instruments and personae.

Heart of a Soldier runs at San Francisco Opera until 30 September.

Leading tenor in road tragedy

6 September 2011, Catania, Italy

Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra has died at the age of 43 after suffering severe injuries in a scooter accident in Sicily on 27 August.

Doctors believe that Licitra lost control of his vehicle following a cerebral haemorrhage, sustaining further head and chest injuries as he crashed into a wall. He was immediately taken to the Garibaldi Hospital in Catania, but never regained consciousness.

His family has agreed that his organs are to be donated. A statement said ‘he had a gifted voice and he will donate his organs to give the gift of life to people’.

Licitra first gained worldwide fame as a last-minute replacement for Pavarotti in Tosca at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 2002, and in Italy he was dubbed 'the new Pavarotti'. Born in Switzerland in 1968, he studied at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma before making his La Scala debut in 1999.

'Licitra represented the school and tradition of Italian song in his natural relationships to words,' said a spokesperson for La Scala in Milan on learning of the tenor's death. 'A decade of his personal history was interwoven with our theatre.'

 

Northern Ireland Opera launches new vocal competition

31 August 2011, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Festival Crator, Mark Chambers, with pupils from Glenarm's Seaview primary school
Festival Crator, Mark Chambers, with pupils from Glenarm's Seaview primary school(Photo: NI Opera)

Northern Ireland Opera has announced the launch of a new competition for young singers, to be held at Glenarm, County Antrim, from 9 to 11 September. The winner will perform in Ulster with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa during this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

Five finalists from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have been shortlisted: mezzo-sopranos Rachel Kelly, Sarah Richmond and Lynda-Jane Workman, tenor John Porter, and baritone Ben McAteer. They will spend the weekend in workshops with experienced, professional singers, leading up to the grand final on 11th September.

Adjudicators include Kathryn Harries, Head of the UK’s National Opera Studio, and accompanist, Iain Burnside.

The competition is part of NI Opera's inaugural Festival of Voice, which will also feature recitals by Harries and the Irish-born soprano, Ailish Tynan, plus a series of schools workshops in Belfast and Derry.

“Our aim,” says Mark Chambers, Curator of the Festival, “is to identify talent early and provide active opportunities and public exposure to young singers to advance their careers.”

 

UK’s National Audio Show promises high fidelity experience

30 August 2011, Northants, UK

Whittlebury Hall, venue for the National Audio Show ‘11
Whittlebury Hall, venue for the National Audio Show ‘11

The National Audio Show ‘11 will be held at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, 24-26 September. Expected to attract more than 60 exhibitors, this is the show's third year.

Confirmed stand-holders include Yamaha, Audio Italia and Hifi Critic magazine, and organisers say it will be opportunity “to see and hear the pinnacle of audio achievement”.

“When we sit down and listen to our favourite recordings we want our emotions to be stimulated – and the better the sound, the greater the pleasure,” says Roy Bird of organiser, Chester Group. “But how close is it possible to get to the reproduction of a live performance? Just how good can a system be? Have we reached the limits of high quality reproduction?”

“Despite the huge growth in portable audio, this search for the highest technical quality means that hifi systems continue to make a significant contribution to the world of high end audio. The National Audio Show will be a unique opportunity to listen in comfort to systems rarely seen on the high street.”

Opening Times: 24 September, 10am to 6pm; 25 September, 10am to 5pm.
Industry day: 26 September, 10am to 4pm.

 

Winners of Les Azuriales Young Artists' Competition announced

23 August 2011, Cannes, France

Winner Ben McAteer with sponsor Linda Fenwick (CEO, Ozone HR)
Winner Ben McAteer with sponsor Linda Fenwick (CEO, Ozone HR)(Photo: Mark Holford)

Prizewinners Jonathan McGovern, Ben McAteer and Robyn Allegra Parton
Prizewinners Jonathan McGovern, Ben McAteer and Robyn Allegra Parton(Photo: Mark Holford)

The 2011 Les Azuriales Ozone Young Artists’ Competition has been won by baritone Ben McAteer.

He was one of nine young singers who took part in last Sunday’s final, held at the magnificent Bel Époque Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in St Jean Cap Ferrat.

McAteer received a cash prize of €2,500, sponsored by Ozone HR, and a glass sculpture created by two of the UK’s leading glass makers, Sally Fawkes and Richard Jackson.

Awards also went to baritone Jonathan McGovern (best runner-up) and soprano Robyn Allegra Parton (most promising singer under the age of 26).

Jurors for the Competition included Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, who said: “Ben was a clear winner. He has a beautiful tone, mature beyond his 24 years, and he sang Schumann's Belsazar with a keen sense of drama and colour, animating the theatrical twists and turns of the story.”

 “The standard of the competition was very high all round, and the jury had to deliberate long and hard about the placing of the other participants. Jonathan McGovern, winner of the Karaviotis Prize, gave a very polished, confident performance which displayed his ability to charm his audience. Robyn Parton, aged just 24, showed plenty of thoughtful and delicate poise in her aria from Strauss's Rosenkavalier.”

Prior to Sunday’s final, the singers had been in the South of France for a week, taking part in private masterclasses given by mezzo-soprano, Sally Burgess. The course focused on acting and musical interpretation, culminating in a public masterclass in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and two scenes performed during the judges’ deliberations at the end of the Competition.

A number of Les Azuriales prizewinners and finalists have gone on to participate in the Royal Opera House's Jette Parker Young Artist Programme, evidence of the Competition's growing standing in the opera world.

All winners and some of the finalists will appear in a concert in London at the beginning of 2012.

 


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