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Picasso inspires new Dublin Carmen

6 November 2012, Dublin, Ireland

Irish soprano Celine Byrne
Irish soprano Celine Byrne

International Leisure and Arts, Ireland's foremost producer of international ballet, have announced their move into opera with a new production of Carmen by the Moscow State Opera – coming to Dublin in March 2013.

Directed by George Isaakian, who recently won Russia’s prestigious ‘Golden Mask’ award for the third time, the production will also be the first opera ever presented in cooperation with the Picasso Foundation. ‘The set designs will incorporate some of Picasso's paintings, dedicated to Spain and the bullfight, and for the first time Carmen will be visualised through Picasso's masterpieces,’ explained Simon Walton of ILA.
A further treat for Dublin audiences will be the opportunity to hear Ireland's leading soprano Celine Byrne in the role of Michaela, alongside star soloists from some of Moscow’s top opera theatres. 

Carmen opens at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on 13 March 2013. Visit for further details and bookings.


Hans Werner Henze dies aged 86

5 November 2012

Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)
Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)(Photo courtesy of Music Sales)

The composer Hans Werner Henze has died in Dresden, aged 86. A musical giant of the postwar era, Henze was a prolific writer for the stage: he penned more than two dozen operas over a 60-year period, maintaining a regular rate of roughly one opera every two-and-a-half years right up until 2010.

A deeply political thinker who had been heavily shaped by his experiences of Nazi Germany and the Second World War, Henze was an adherent of left-wing ideologies throughout his life. This informed his choice of texts and subjects for the stage, as well as his decision to leave postwar Germany for Italy shortly after the success of Boulevard Solitude in 1952 – a reworking of the Manon Lescaut story that remains one of his most popular operas. Other modern classics to emerge from this early phase of Henze’s career include two works with English libretti by W H Auden and Chester Kallmann: Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and The Bassarids (1966), the latter a widely admired exploration of the conflict between human rationality and unbridled passion that unfolds in a single act lasting two hours.

Despite these successes, however, Henze increasingly felt his own musical and political path diverging from the ideologies that dominated avant-garde European culture. He became an isolated voice after openly associating with the student riots of 1968, making two visits to Cuba and experimenting with other theatrical forms, such as his musical La Cubana (1973).

From the mid-1970s onwards, Henze began a new and important creative association with the English playwright Edward Bond, which led to several commissions for Covent Garden including We Come to the River (1976), Orpheus (1979), and The English Cat (1983, revised 1990). Henze’s return to writing opera in German was also spurred by a new creative relationship, this time with the poet Hans-Ulrich Treichel, his librettist for Das Verratene Meer (The Ocean Betrayed, 1990) and Venus und Adonis (1997).

The composer announced in 2003 that L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe would be his last opera, but over the next seven years felt moved to write two further works including a ‘concert opera’ inspired by the Greek myth of Phaedra. In a curious echo of Britten’s late cantata, its transcendental but inconclusive ending offers an old man’s valedictory perspective on the nature of existence: ‘We are all born naked. We press towards mortality and dance…’


Sir Thomas Allen’s new Magic Flute opens in Glasgow

22 October 2012, Glasgow, Scotland

Pamina (Laura Mitchell) cowers at the feet of the Queen of the Night (Mari Moriya)
Pamina (Laura Mitchell) cowers at the feet of the Queen of the Night (Mari Moriya)(Photo: KK Dundas)

Review by Neil Jones

In this new Scottish Opera production of The Magic Flute directed by Sir Thomas Allen, Sarastro’s temple and his followers had a decidedly Industrial Revolution feel, complete with smoke, leather- and helmet-clad workers, and supervisors and managers in frock coats and top hats.

Simon Higlett’s curving set of wheeled metal spiral staircases and balconies was as busy as it was intriguing. Rolling back and forth throughout the opera to reveal sliding doors at the rear, it was from here that the first monster and later the Queen of the Night emerged, spectacularly costumed in an illuminated dress and enormous black cloak.

The Queen’s singing, delivered by the diminutive Japanese soprano Mari Moriya, was no less spectacular. Moriya’s effortless top F in ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was the very least of her simply electrifying performance.

Indeed, with one exception, the singing of the leading protagonists was very strong. Nicky Spence was a believable Tamino, Laura Mitchell demonstrated a convincing fragility as Pamina whilst Claire Watkins, Rachel Hynes and Louise Collett were suitably gruesome as First, Second and Third Lady respectively.

Richard Burchard was brilliant as Papageno with Ruth Jenkins delightful in her all-too-short appearances as Papagena. Jonathan Best was commanding as Sarastro although he struggled to meet the demands of the lower notes in Mozart’s score.

The real star of the show though was the extraordinarily witty translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey. 

ON TOUR Aberdeen, His Majesty's Theatre: 1, 3 Nov; Inverness, Eden Court Theatre: 7, 10 Nov; Edinburgh, Festival Theatre: 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 Nov; Belfast, Grand Opera House: 29 Nov, 1 Dec 

WNO announces 'British Firsts' series

15 October 2012, London, UK

Philanthropist and composer Gordon Getty
Philanthropist and composer Gordon Getty(Photo: Emily Polar)

Welsh National Opera has announced a new series of contemporary operas over the next five years, all of which will be performed in the UK for the first time. The British Firsts series, which has been made possible by a gift of US$2 million from the Getty family, will include a staging of Gordon Getty’s Usher House directed by WNO’s general director David Pountney.

This decision to stage Getty’s opera has been questioned by critics, who suggest that WNO’s main motivation could be financial rather than artistic. On the contrary, says Pountney, ‘the whole thing started the other way round, when conductor Larry Foster rang me up and said “come and hear this work, it's a really special work”.’

The series will also include the UK staged premiere of Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey and Robert Orledge’s completed version of Debussy’s unfinished one-act opera The Fall of the House of Usher, which will be presented in an Edgar Allan Poe double bill with Getty’s Usher House.


Donizetti's Anna Bolena at Washington National Opera

28 September 2012, Washington, US

Sondra Radvanovsky (left) and Sonia Ganassi in WNO's 'Anna Bolena'
Sondra Radvanovsky (left) and Sonia Ganassi in WNO's 'Anna Bolena'(Photo: Scott Suchman)

Review by Karyl Charna Lynn
Themes for director-conceived opera productions come in cycles.  We went through the Nazi themes, the pantomime-ending-during-the-overture-idea, and now it’s the play-within-a play conceit.

Last summer director Robert Lepage set Ades’ The Tempest on La Scala’s stage (Opera Now, October 2012), as did director Thaddeus Strassberger for his Nabucco at Washington National Opera (Opera Now, September 2012). In this new production, also at WNO, director Stephen Lawless has placed Anna Bolena on the stage of London’s Globe Theatre, conceiving the work as an operatic historical drama, with a pantomime of the history of Henry VIII’s first three wives taking place during the overture. The Globe’s curved wooden balconies acted as a backdrop to the action, from whence the courtiers and chorus observed, spied, and commented on the happenings on the ‘stage’ below. Lawless’s unified concept seamlessly integrated with Donizetti’s opera. 

The finely nuanced character portrayals etched with their compelling conflicts and contrasting emotions brought the opera to life as it unfolded amidst a set of wooden paneled walls. These twisted and turned to delineate the opera’s different locations, their varied formations creating the atmosphere of the scene, often claustrophobic. Antonello Allemandi’s initial lifeless conducting and soggy tempos resulted in unmoving climatic moments, which combined with lack of stage-pit balance allowed the orchestra to drown out the artists, even when singing at full throttle. But once this problem was corrected, one became immersed in the sheer splendour of the singing, and the power of the performance.

Sondra Radvanovsky’s Ann Boleyn was exemplary, with a voice pure and clarion, nailing thrilling high notes with power to spare, and with believable heartfelt acting imbued with regal airs. Her intensity in the dramatic moments was scorching. Although Sonia Ganassi’s Jane Seymour was not as impressive, she was still effective, singing with precision and feeling. She rose to the occasion in her duet with Radvanovsky when she reveals to Anna that she is Henry VIII’s mistress, one of opera’s highpoints. Oren Gradus portrayed Henry VIII alternately as a mild Don Giovanni, and as a husband, hurt in the realization that his wife married him not for love but to be queen. Vocally his voice lacked colour and nuance, until near the end, when he rose to the occasion as a majestic king. Shalva Mukeria assayed Lord Richard Percy with luscious sound, hitting all his high notes with beautiful lyricism. His passion and fervour for Anna was palpable.

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