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Opera Now provides a unique and all-encompassing perspective on the international opera scene through its lively and colourful mix of news, reviews, interviews, travel articles and commentary.

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Latest News

Toby Spence wins RPS Music Award

9 May 2012, London, UK

Toby Spence at the RPS Music Awards
Toby Spence at the RPS Music Awards(Photo: Simon Jay Price)

British tenor Toby Spence has won the singer category at this year’s prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards for his ‘vocal beauty and dramatic maturity’ in a range of operatic and concert repertoire, including the role of Lensky in ENO’s Eugene Onegin.

He was joined on the winners’ podium by director Deborah Warner, whose acclaimed production of Onegin for ENO received the Award for Opera and Music Theatre. A community opera by Spitalfields Festival, We Are Shadows, also topped the Learning and Participation category.

Spence’s victory was particularly poignant since he has recently undergone surgery for thyroid cancer, a fact announced only days before the Awards ceremony in London.

Although Spence is expected to make a full recovery, he had to pull out of ENO’s forthcoming production of Billy Budd in which he was due to have played Captain Vere. (He will be replaced by Kim Begley, last heard at ENO as Walter in the UK premiere of Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger.)


English National Opera 2012/13 season announced

4 May 2012, London, UK

John Graham-Hall as Eschenbach in Britten's 'Death in Venice'
John Graham-Hall as Eschenbach in Britten's 'Death in Venice'(Photo: Brescia e Amisano)

Report by Classical Music

The UK premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, an opera based on the imagined last days of Walt Disney's life, was the headline item at ENO’s recent 2012/13 season launch. High billing was also reserved for the world premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, to a libretto by David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas).

Composer/conductor Ryan Wigglesworth takes up the position of composer-in-residence, the first to hold such a post since Mark-Anthony Turnage. Wigglesworth will also be conducting Calixto Bieito’s Carmen, which is described as a ‘new version’ of the maverick Catalan director’s Liceu production.

In 2013, Verdi's bicentenary will be marked by a new trimmed down production of La traviata with no intervals, by the iconoclastic German director Peter Konwitschny, while Benjamin Britten’s centenary brings a revival of Deborah Warner’s production of Death in Venice, starring John Graham-Hall as Aschenbach.

The season also marks a return to productions led by opera and theatre directors rather than celebrities from other creative fields. Highlights include Yoshi Oïda making his ENO debut with a new production of Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrim’s Progress (an opera last seen at  ENO in 1951); Rupert Goold with a new production of Berg's Wozzeck; choreographer-director Michael Keegan-Dolan presenting ENO's first new Julius Caesar since 1979; David McVicar leading the UK stage premiere of Charpentier’s Medea; and Richard Jones with a revised version of his Paris Opera production of Martinů's Julietta.


Pulitzer Prize for Music goes to Great War opera

27 April 2012, New York, US

'Silent Night' at Minnesota Opera
'Silent Night' at Minnesota Opera(Photo: Michal Daniel)

The Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to Kevin Puts for his opera Silent Night, which received its world premiere at Minnesota Opera last November.

Adapted from the 2005 movie Joyeux Noël, Puts’ opera is set during World War I and depicts an impromptu ceasefire negotiated by Scottish, French and German officers on Christmas Eve 1914. For 24 hours, these opposing forces laid down their arms and shared champagne, chocolate, pictures of their families, a game of soccer, and Christmas mass, and allowed each other to bury their dead.

Described by members of the Pulitzer Prize jury as a ‘stirring opera … displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart’, Silent Night is Puts’ first stage work, though he is already well established as a composer of symphonic music in the US.

The Pulitzer Prize was launched in 1943 but has only been awarded for opera on seven previous occasions, including last year's winner, Madame White Snake by Zhou Long.


COMPETITION | Win a 10-CD set of Sumi Jo's The Erato Recitals

26 April 2012

Opera Now has four copies of this newly released 10-CD compilation from Erato to give away!

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject SUMI 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: 31 May 2012.)

The set brings together 10 albums recorded by Sumi Jo for Erato and Warner Classics in the 1990s, and provides an astonishingly complete retrospective of her career. The voice sounds fresh, flexible, pinpoint in its accuracy but full of colour and never mechanical or soulless. There’s a palpable quest for perfection in this singing that at its best leaves you gasping, ‘How does she do that?’

The range of music on offer is extremely eclectic to say the least – from choral and operatic classics by Handel, Purcell and Mozart (the Queen of the Night is Jo’s signature role) to virtuosic Italian bel canto favourites by Rossini and Bellini and French grand opera rarities by Thomas and Meyerbeer. Johann Strauss II looms large, demonstrating Jo’s lightness of touch, a quality that she brings to songs by Stephen Sondheim and variety Broadway hits. There’s even a pleasurably kitsch Christmas disc thrown into the mix.

Jo delivers equal commitment and professionalism to whatever repertoire she sings, never compromising the voice or resorting to cheap ‘crossover effects’.

Many of these recordings have been unavailable for a number of years, so this is a chance for Sumi Jo’s fans to replenish their collection, and for a new generation of lovers of great singing to experience a superb artist at the height of her powers.

Sumi Jo: The Erato Recitals
Warner Classics/Erato
2564 66637-3

Sarasota Opera's 2012 Winter Festival

26 April 2012, Florida, US

Regal decorum: Kara Shay Thomson as Vanessa
Regal decorum: Kara Shay Thomson as Vanessa

Fredrika Brillembourg's seductive, sexy Carmen
Fredrika Brillembourg's seductive, sexy Carmen

Kathleen Kim as Lucia di Lammermoor
Kathleen Kim as Lucia di Lammermoor

Report by Karyl Charna Lynn
Photography by Rod Millington

Sarasota Opera’s 2012 Winter Festival offered three new productions (Vanessa, Carmen, Otello), one revival (Lucia di Lammermoor), a rousing 30th anniversary gala concert, and a lunchtime recital by the stars of the future.

The Festival’s opera highlight was Vanessa by Samuel Barber, part of the company's new American Classic series. A stinging commentary on love, sacrifice, youth, time, and aging, it unfolded amidst evocative scenery that visually recreated the country abode of three generations of aristocratic ladies in the early 1900s. Evoking an atmosphere of quiet desperation in which these ladies lived, the lyrically modern score reflected their quais-schizophrenic mood swings from overwhelming sadness to ecstatic happiness, while painting a melodic picture of the haunting mysteriousness of the piece.

Kara Shay Thomson embodied Vanessa with her regal decorum and impressive instrument, tuned to perfection. Audry Babcock made a dramatically effective and musically expressive Erika, whose heartfelt, finely nuanced singing conveyed the pain and desperation caused by Anatol's seduction and abandonment of her. Scott Piper, whose own nature is so different from the slimy charisma needed to make Anatol wholly convincing, compensated with admirable singing. In the pit, maestro David Neely drew powerful and involved playing from the orchestra.

Although Vanessa is sometimes viewed as a dated, kitschy soap-opera (a teenage girl waiting 20 years for her married lover to return, shutting herself off from the outside world by refusing visitors and covering all the mirrors, only to have the same fate befall her niece), it deals with universal themes that touch us all, and incorporates a modern twist - the older woman marrying a much younger man.

The Carmen performed was its opéra comique version: a gripping interpretation of the high price and destructive power of love that took place amidst visually striking, realistic recreations of the opera’s locations. Spoken dialogue added emotional heft and poignancy to the colorful and lively production.

Fredrika Brillembourg made a seductive, sexy Carmen, though appeared disingenuous. Antonio Nagore was acceptable as Don José, but lacked the requisite melodic edge to his voice, having a harsh intonation. Danielle Walker possessed the most authentic voice for her role as Micaela, with a bright sound, radiating innocence and purity. Carlos Monzón's weak voice belied his role as the heroic bullfighter Escamillo. It was maestro Victor DeRenzi drawing bright, crisp, clarion sounds from the orchestra and the outstanding children’s chorus that saved this Carmen.

Given DeRenzi’s steadfast belief in presenting the most historically accurate versions of every score he conducts, it was surprising that both of Raimondo’s arias were cut from the Festivals's otherwise engrossing production of Lucia di Lammermoor. So too was the Wolf Crag scene. Meanwhile, Kathleen Kim in the title role replaced the original mad scene cadenza with an invention of her own (re-written with the help of conductor Anthony Barrese to 'fit her voice comfortably'). Unfortunately, this 'comfortable' version sounded like cadenzas for beginners, lacking the thrilling fireworks and vocal acrobatics that has excited audiences and made the mad scene a trademark for great coloratura sopranos. Kim was, on the other hand, a dramatically engaging actress, exquisitely detailing Lucia’s descent into madness. Joshua Kohl as Edgardo sang with an expressive and plaintive quality, making you feel his anger and anguish. Lee Poulis was a villainous and forceful Enrico. Aside from the occasional lack of coordination between pit and stage, Anthony Barrese kept good rhythm, pacing and tension, involving the audience in this ill-fated love affair.

As part of Sarasota Opera's ongoing Verdi Cycle, the staging of Otello had to wait until after the opera house renovation, which included enlarging the orchestra pit to accommodate all the musicians required for Verdi’s 'grander' scores. It was worth the wait. DeRenzi wasted no time in establishing a dynamic and forceful orchestral sound filled with dramatic tension. Stephanie Sundine deftly directed the interaction between the characters set amidst Renaissance splendour. Due to the indisposition of Rafael Dávila, Mathew Edwardsen undertook the title role. His Otello was respectable, but lacked the commanding presence and emotional heft the role demands. Maria D’Amato was ideal as Desdemona. The voice flowed gently, like a summer breeze, as she gently floated her notes above the mayhem. Sean Anderson made a diabolical Iago.

The Festival concluded with a concert of opera favorites, conducted with precision by DeRenzi and admirably assayed by the company’s principal singers. Showing the depth and breadth of the Sarasota Opera beyond its usual repertoire, the programme included 'Casta diva' from Norma, Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the Prologue from Mefistofele, which was so enthusiastically received that it had to be repeated in its entirety.


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