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International vocal competition results round-up

12 September 2013

Russian soprano Aida Garifullina and Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li
Russian soprano Aida Garifullina and Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li© Photo Ennevi

Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition takes place in a different country each year. In 2013 it was Verona’s turn, coinciding not only with Verdi’s birth bicentenary but also the centenary of the city’s summer opera festival, with Domingo at the helm for the celebrations.

The joint first prize winners of Operalia 2013 are Russian soprano Aida Garifullina and Chinese bass-baritone Ao Li. Each took home US$30,000 in prize money, and will receive future opportunities to perform worldwide through recommendations made personally by Domingo.

Oslo’s Queen Sonja International Music Competition has also been won by a Russian soprano. Kristina Mkhitaryan, who is a graduate of Moscow’s Galina Vishnevskaya Theatre Studio and the Russian Gnesin Academy of Music, came out top in a field of 211 singers from 47 countries. The competition’s international jury, chaired by Sophie de Lint of Zurich Opera, included singers Dame Felicity Palmer, Carol Vaness and Wolfgang Holzmair, plus key industry figures from the UK and Scandinavia.

The first-prize in this year’s Les Azuriales Young Singers’ Competition was awarded last month to the American-Korean countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim. Kim impressed the judges with a unique voice that is vibrant and resonant throughout its countertenor range. With his striking stage presence and an especially beautiful, well-controlled high register, Kim has been earmarked for a big career on the international opera stage. Aged just 24, Kim was born in Chicago and is currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Now in its third year, NI Opera’s Festival of Voice is held in the charming village of Glenarm on the Northern Irish coast. The Festival includes a competition for Irish singers, presented by BBC Radio 3’s Sean Rafferty. The winner of this year’s competition has been named as Sinéad O’Kelly, a Belfast-born soprano who is currently studying at London’s Royal College of Music. Her winning programme featured arias and songs by Donizetti, Bizet, Monteverdi, Fauré and Barber.


British bass Richard Angas dies aged 71

22 August 2013

Richard Angas as the Mikado at English National Opera
Richard Angas as the Mikado at English National Opera(Photo: Bill Rafferty)

The British operatic bass Richard Angas has died, aged 71. Angas, who was preparing the role of Swallow for Opera North’s production of Peter Grimes in Leeds, collapsed during a rehearsal. He was taken to hospital but died shortly afterwards.

Opera North’s general director Richard Mantle posted a personal message about Angas on the company’s website: ‘We are incredibly sad to lose such an esteemed and admired performer, and so suddenly. Richard was a giant of the opera world in every possible way, a performer of great character and charisma, generous hearted and an incredible friend to all who knew and worked with him. He will be sorely missed.’

A versatile and much sought-after performer, Angas’ towering physique (he was 6ft 7in tall) lent him an exceptional stage presence. He worked extensively in Britain and Germany, and was a principal bass with English National Opera for 15 years. Most recently, he played the title role in Sir Jonathan Miller’s ENO production of The Mikado (a role he first performed with the company in 1986), and earlier this year appeared in productions of Welsh National Opera’s Lulu, Wagner Dream and The Cunning Little Vixen.

Angas’ commitment to performing contemporary works also saw him participate in the world premieres of Hans Werner Henze’s We Come to the River at Covent Garden in 1976, Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus at ENO in 1989, and the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream at the Barbican under Martyn Brabbins in 2012.

‘I owe a great deal to Richard Angas,’ Sir Jonathan Miller told BBC News. ‘Apart from the fact that he was one of the great performers in a long-lasting production of The Mikado, he was one of the most convivial professional companions whose company I enjoyed for many, many years.’

ENO music director Edward Gardner praised Angas’ ‘magnificent voice, warmth and strength of character’.

  • Richard Angas, operatic bass, born 18 April 1942; died 20 August 2013

Minnesota Concert Opera mounts the MINI-RING

14 August 2013, Minneapolis, US

Jane Eaglen will sing Brünnhilde in Minnesota Concert Opera’s 'MINI-RING'
Jane Eaglen will sing Brünnhilde in Minnesota Concert Opera’s 'MINI-RING'(Photo: Nicola Majocchi)

Wagner’s birth bicentenary in 2013 has prompted a proliferation of Ring cycles around the world, running the gamut from full stagings to concert performances. The UK’s recent Longborough Festival production, which squeezed the complete tetralogy into a 500-seat theatre, showed that even a slimmed-down version of Wagner’s epic score can still pack a punch. In Minnesota this month, audiences will be treated to a yet further reduced concert version of the ‘Ring in one Evening’ that promises some equally exceptional music-making.

The cast for these performances by Minnesota Concert Opera is the real draw, including soprano Jane Eaglen, one of the world’s leading exponents of the role of Brünnhilde, and Jay Hunter Morris, the tenor who was thrust into the international limelight two years ago, when he stepped in at the eleventh hour to sing Siegfried at the Met and earned a standing ovation from the audience.

MCO’s MINI-RING is the brain-child of the American tenor Dennis Petersen, who brought Eaglen as well as many of the other soloists on board. ‘Dennis called around to his colleagues and friends, starting with British soprano Jane Eaglen,’ says the company’s artistic director, Stanford Felix. ‘Jane agreed on the spot, and when Dennis spoke to others with whom Jane had performed – including Richard Paul Fink, Jay Hunter Morris, Kevin Langan, Sally Wolf, and Luretta Bybee – they all came on board as well, excited to perform with Jane and to present this work in concert format.’

The abridged version of Wagner’s score being used for MCO’s performances is David Seaman's ‘Ring in one Evening’, originally created for Nuremberg’s Pocket Opera in 1996. As conductor Jonathan Khuner explains: ‘Seaman’s idea was to tell the story straight through and to leave out the repetitive re-narrations, long philosophising and soul-searching, as well as most of the descriptive orchestral introductions and interludes. Thus this compressed version is anything but "highlights". Rather it moves swiftly through the whole narrative of the Ring in two acts, each of which is totally continuous. The result is an evening of great momentum, in a sequence of highly dramatic scenes and moments.’

MCO’s MINI-RING, presented in association with the Wagner Society of the Upper Midwest, will receive two performances on 13 and 15 September at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, Minneapolis.


Opera studies degree to offer vocal skills

12 August 2013, London, UK

Experiencing opera at Rose Bruford
Experiencing opera at Rose Bruford(Photo: Marc Wilson)

The UK's Rose Bruford College will be expanding its Opera Studies degree course through a new partnership with The Associated Studios, offering a practical element for students who wish to study singing. 

Rose Bruford’s unique BA (Hons) in Opera Studies was established in 1997 and is the world’s only distance learning undergraduate programme focusing on opera as a performance art. The Associated Studios, based in Hammersmith, London, was founded in 2007 to offer professional development courses for opera singers, actors and musical theatre performers

Together, Rose Bruford and Associated Studios will offer a practical element for students who wish to develop their vocal skills as part of their Opera Studies degree.  From January 2014 there will be Saturday workshops focusing on vocal technique, performance craft, connexion to text, musical interpretation, character work, style, performance traditions and presentation.

The practical strand is not compulsory. Selected students will have the opportunity to work with some of the most prominent figures in today’s opera scene, including singers such as Sally Burgess, Janis Kelly and Chris Maltman, coaches such as Iain Burnside and Antony Legge, and stage directors including Giles Havergal and James Conway.

For further information contact, or visit


Festival d'opéra de Québec 2013

7 August 2013, Québec, Canada

'Powder Her Face' gets a racy staging at this year's Quebec Opera Festival
'Powder Her Face' gets a racy staging at this year's Quebec Opera Festival

Spectacular yet traditional: Robert LePage's 'Damnation of Faust'
Spectacular yet traditional: Robert LePage's 'Damnation of Faust'(Photos: Louise Leblanc)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn

Although the Quebec Opera Festival is only in its third season, it has already established itself in the North American summer opera circuit with cutting-edge productions and world class execution. This season Gounod’s Damnation of Faust and Adès’ Powder Her Face were on the boards.

Berlioz’ dramatic legend about the consequences of love, passion, and dealing with the devil received a psychologically insightful interpretation by director Robert LePage.  Translating the underlying message of the opera and emotions of the characters into visually striking images with breath-taking video projections that seamlessly fused with the music and action, LePage created a production that was both spectacular yet traditional and conveyed the profound meaning of this tragic tale.

The stage was divided into 24 cubicles equally distributed on four tiers. Screens were lowered in front, where video projections instantly transported the audience to and from various locations. Acrobats and dancers added to the visual richness.  One of the more imaginative sequences depicted soldiers marching off to battle backwards, with their families waving them farewell as they walked backwards in the opposite direction. This dissolved into a scene showing the families eating dinner at home, which in turn morphed smoothly into a library. The soldiers' return home was also magical as they, defying gravity, walked down a vertical path into the laps of their wives. Faust’s decent into the fires of hell riveted but Marguerite’s ascent to heaven (on a metal ladder) felt anticlimactic as women and children in white with clasped hands watched. 
John Relyea’s solid bass and electric athleticism made a credible Méphistophélès, though initially his voice lacked the conniving devilish intonation needed to convey Méphistophélès’ true evil. Gordon Gietz as Faust possessed the requisite French vocal sensuousness and refinement, if not always the vocal heft. Julie Boulianne embodied Marguerite, her love, longing, passion, and despair with total abandon, fiery desperation, and magnificently radiant voice. Giuseppe Grazioli drew admirable playing from the Quebec Symphony Orchestra maintaining the ideal stage-pit balance and tension.
The production demonstrated that infusing 21st century technology in a creative and intelligent manner into a traditional production can revitalize the art form for today’s society without imposing concepts unrelated to the composer’s intent. 
Thomas Adès’ Powder Her Face, based on the true story of the scandalous affairs of the sexually promiscuous wife of the Duke of Argyll first revealed in the British tabloids, deals with debauchery, sex, and infidelity amongst the British aristocracy. Staged in a movie theatre transformed into a cabaret (complete with waiter service), perhaps to soften the vivid depictions of explicit sex, nudity, and bodily functions on stage, the two-act opera had a split personality and a split staging. One side portrayed videotaped activities (usually sexual in nature), while the other played host to live action, also (usually) of a sexual nature. 

The music was a cacophony of sounds as fragmented as the stage action, with sudden spurts of spasmodic rhythm evoking the wild, perverse and vulnerable nature of the duchess. Adès’ vocal lines, mostly a mixture of screaming and talking, mirrored the seductiveness and animalistic desires of sex itself. The only melodies were jazz and tango.
The production’s most controversial aspect was the inclusion of 13 naked men, symbolising the duchess’s past lovers, who roamed around the stage like bored playboys, emerging variously from her bed, bathroom and closet.

The second act was diametrically opposed to the first in atmosphere and tone, as the duchess descended into despair, desperation and madness after being condemned by the judge during her divorce proceedings. The opera, the music, and vocal line all took on a serious, sombre tone.  The entire cast performed admirably.


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