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Latest News

Angela Gheorgiu withdraws from The Met's new Faust

10 March 2011, New York, US

Angela Gheorghiu
Angela Gheorghiu(Photo: Hennessey)

Angela Gheorghiu has withdrawn from next season’s production of Gounod’s Faust at the Metropolitan Opera.

The 45-year-old Romanian soprano is said to have been prompted by “artistic reasons”, according to an official statement issued by the company last week.

Co-produced with English National Opera, Faust opened last September to mixed reviews in the UK media, with the broad critical consensus going against director Des McAnuff’s decision to cast Faust as a nuclear scientist in the inter-war years.

Picking up on this negative reaction to McAnuff’s production, Opera Now Contributing Editor, Robert Thicknesse, suggests that “maybe Gheorghiu has a point, given the fatuous nature of the show? Would you appear in Des McAnuff’s pointless and misguided production, with its pretences at reaching for the most clichéd of modern ‘Faustian pacts’ (the nuclear thing), if you didn’t really have to? I know I wouldn’t.”

Questioning the current ENO policy of inviting directors with little or no experience of opera to take the helm of the company’s shows, Thicknesse continues:

“Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of one more baleful consequence of Artistic Director John Berry’s pursuit of inexperienced newcomers to direct his shows: when these shows go on to other houses, as most do in these days of joint production, singers will have been forewarned of their lack of quality and will pull out in droves.”

Another consequence of this approach, says Thicknesse, is “effectively to introduce a block on the careers of young UK directors, for whom ENO was a natural stepping stone between the country houses, Holland Park, ETO and a career in the mainstream. With ENO productions now reserved for plumbers, macramé artists and burlesque dancers to direct, our young directors have only one national outlet in Opera North – and despite that company’s excellent intentions and efforts it shouldn’t really have to carry the burden of absolutely everybody’s careers.”

 

Pagliacci at London's Little Opera House, Islington

10 March 2011, London, UK

Paul Featherstone as Canio
Paul Featherstone as Canio(Photo: Julie Osman)

Report by Robert Thicknesse

London’s Little Opera House opened at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington last October, but has already established itself as a serious regular venue with shows just about every night generating decent audiences in its tiny auditorium.
 
This is certainly pub opera, with attendant variables of musical, vocal and thespian quality, but it’s something the company OperaUpClose makes a virtue of with forays into the bar out front during most of the shows: often the highlight, as with the terrible sisters barging their way through the Friday night boozers as they desperately hunt down Ramiro in Rossini’s Cinderella.

The latest show is Pagliacci, and a more vivid and immediate version would be hard to imagine than Anna Gregory’s blood-and-thunder production, this time done with a tad more musical sophistication as a clarinet and cello join the pub joanna.

Next up: Monteverdi’s Poppea (from 5 April) in a new production by Mark Ravenhill, which should generate some sweaty intimacy in this claustrophobic space. Listen out for Alex Silverman’s jazz-inspired re-orchestration and a specially commissioned ‘intervention’ aria by Michael Nyman.

Pagliacci will run in rep until 31 May alongside 9 performances of Poppea between 5 April and 19 May.

 

 

Classical music journalist Lynne Walker dies, aged 54

22 February 2011, London, UK

Lynne Walker
Lynne Walker

Music critic, reviewer and writer Lynne Walker, has died after a battle with cancer. A regular reviewer for Opera Now, Lynne was a much-valued contributor, reviewing productions from Opera North, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Glyndeburne and Buxton festivals.

Lynne’s professional career began as a press and marketing officer working for the Scottish National Orchestra (now the RSNO) and in 1987, she became marketing director at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. In 1982, Walker began to make inroads into a career as a freelance journalist, writing both reviews and features for BBC Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope, the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman.

By 1991, Lynne had established herself as a much sought after journalist, writing largely for papers in the north of England and Scotland. From her Cheshire home, Lynne set up her own editing consultancy, Edgewise. Working alongside her husband and music critic Gerald Larner she regular wrote and commissioned programme notes for venues nationwide, including the Wigmore Hall and the Barbican.

Lynne Walker, 24 October 1956 to 10 February 2011.

 

World Premiere: Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole at ROH

18 February 2011, London, UK

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna Nicole
Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna NicolePhoto: The Royal Opera / Bill Cooper

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole is a new Royal Opera House commission based on the life of American model and celebrity, Anna Nicole Smith. Opera Now’s Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, attended the world premiere and writes:

“It’s an opera not a documentary” and “we don’t trash her” said the creators of Anna Nicole in a BBC interview shortly before opening night. Neither statement turns out to be true.

Richard Thomas, the man behind Jerry Springer – the Opera, has written a brittle, witty, filthy, libretto that provides a documentary-style account of Anna Nicole’s rise to celebrity.  Microphones and cameras are ever-present capturing every twist and turn of her story

Anna’s low-life Texan family provide a context for the model’s dysfunctional life.  We are invited to laugh at them all – caricatures of white American trash behaving badly, always a-brawling and a-swearing, to the delight of Covent Garden’s comfortably middle-class audience.

In reality, Anna Nicole Smith’s life was examined entirely from the outside, through a prurient media frenzy that created a pedestal for her purely so that it could be knocked down. We know very little about the inner world that lay beyond the boob jobs and the peroxide blond curls. And Anna Nicole the opera doesn’t take us any deeper.

What we do have in Covent Garden’s Anna Nicole is a great show. Director Richard Jones has an flare for bringing style and energy to brash, tacky stories and designer Miriam Buether has translated Jones’s imaginative world into a riot of fluorescent kitsch.

The cast is excellent: Eva-Maria Westbroek socks it to the audience as the game-for-anything Anna. Gerald Finley packs a punch as her opportunist lawyer (a far more convincing sleaze-ball than his Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne last summer).  Alan Oke is clearly having fun prancing around in his gold jumpsuit as the billionaire octogenarian husband, J Howard Marshall. Best of all is Susan Bickley as Anna's mother, raging with foul-mouthed moral indignation at her daughter's behaviour.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s score keeps up with the wise-cracking pace of the libretto while never really finding a musical language of its own. There’s plenty of skilful pastiche (think Kurt Weill, even Stravinsky). A Britten-esque interlude in Act II indicates that there is a bigger musical spirit at work here, but it's barely allowed to develop. The music is, however, delivered with tremendous showmanship by Antonio Pappano and the ROH orchestra and chorus.

In the end though, composer and librettist seem to shy away from what opera does best, which is to connect with the emotional heart of its characters. The death of Anna’s son Daniel marks a real turning point in the emotional temperature of Anna’s story, but Turnage and Thomas don't seem to be able to turn up the heat. This is where a big tune, a soaring, Puccini-esque cry from the heart might have done the trick.  Instead, we just get another superficial glimpse of an sad and pathetic life, caught in the flash of a camera.

Anna Nicole runs at the Royal Opera House until 4 March 2011.

 

Odeon launches Carmen in 3D

17 February 2011, London, UK

Carmen in 3D
Carmen in 3D(Photo: The Royal Opera / Mike Hoban)

The UK cinema group Odeon has announced its first ever 3D opera season, including a film of Carmen that will be screened nationally from 5 March onwards.

Featuring Christine Rice as Carmen and Bryan Hymel as Don José, the ultra-traditional production by American director Francesca Zambello was shot at London’s Royal Opera House last summer.

Speaking about the new technology, a Royal Opera House spokesperson told Opera Now that “the extra visual dimension of 3D puts you in the middle of the action. During filming, the camera goes right up, over, and around the characters on stage, so it creates an effect with much stronger impact and drama than the existing 2D technology.”

Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, attended a preview screening of the new film last month and writes: “I found myself being hurled into the action, totally involved and scrutinising every detail, down to the pores on people’s skin. I’m sure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing what singing on an international opera stage is really like.”

Later this month, Odeon will also screen the world’s first live 3D opera – ENO’s production of Lucrezia Borgia straight from the Coliseum.

 


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