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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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Boston Lyric Opera hosts aria contest for teens

25 November 2010, Boston, US

BLO Aria Contest participants
BLO Aria Contest participants(Photo: Boston Lyric Opera)

Boston Lyric Opera’s “Free Open House” weekend of activities for families and opera lovers recently culminated in the city’s second annual Aria Contest for teens.

Six young singers performed arias by Mozart and Bizet at Boston’s Schubert Theatre, including a doo-wop trio arrangement of ‘Voi che sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro. This same aria was also performed by the contest’s 16-year-old winner, Tal Heller (pictured, far right), who received a cash prize of US$1,000.

BLO Artistic Director Esther Nelson welcomed all the participants on stage and the event was introduced and adjudicated by a panel of local celebrities.

 

Funding cuts hit BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition

24 November 2010, Cardiff, Wales

The BBC has announced funding cuts to one of its most prestigious international classical music awards, Cardiff Singer of the World.

From next year, the number of participants invited to take part in the biannual competition will be reduced from 25 to 20.

The number of competition rounds will also drop from five to four without any reduction in the price of season tickets.

Season ticket holders will instead be allowed to attend the final of the Song Prize, which runs alongside the competition.

A BBC Wakes spokesperson said that these decisions had been taken “due to challenging financial circumstances”, adding that “ticket prices for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World have been frozen for the past eight years, and next year's season ticket includes the Song Prize Final for the first time.”

The Song Prize was formerly funded by city lawyer, Ian Rosenblatt, but his support ended in 2009.

Patron Dame Joan Sutherland also recently passed away, leaving the competition temporarily without a figurehead.

Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 will take place at venues across the city between 12 and 19 June.

Winner of the Welsh Singers Competition 2010, tenor John Pierce, has automatically been selected to represent his home country.

 

Final curtain for Opera Ireland with Puccini's Tosca

23 November 2010, Dublin, Ireland

Orla Boylan (Tosca) and Marcelo Puente (Cavaradossi)
Orla Boylan (Tosca) and Marcelo Puente (Cavaradossi)(Photo: Opera Ireland)

Review by Robert Thicknesse

Opera Ireland’s (OI) last ever performance was on the night when the announcement finally came that the country was requesting a reputed €90 billion bailout from the IMF and ECB. This, of course, puts the demise of the 69-year-old company in some perspective, but it is nonetheless a medium-seized tragedy amid the greater one, more so since the impetus to replace the company with a proper national outfit seems to be weakening with every passing instant. One piece of good news is that Opera Theatre Company (OTC), the small-scale touring group which was originally supposed to be wound up at the same time as OI, is benefiting from a sort of rolling reprieve which may, in time, see it grow to provide main-scale opera as well: this would surely be the best solution.

It is also the end, of course, of Dieter Kaegi’s 13-year stint as artistic director, a reign which has been marked by imagination, cussedness and an admirable determination to avoid the obvious. Kaegi introduced ten works to the company’s repertoire, cast a lot of Irish singers, and brought a bit of rigorous Swiss Regietheater to the Dublin bourgeoisie with his own productions. In recent years, relationships were established with various European houses for the sake of co-production and similar arrangements, and the final Tosca was produced in association with Theater Lubeck.

In fact Jakob Peters-Messer’s staging was fairly trad, except for a modern setting, a box for the Attavanti chapel, a somewhat industrial last act set and a spurious metatheatrical crowd scene thrown in for Cavaradossi’s execution and Tosca’s putative leap. This could all have been fine with a bit more meat in the direction itself, but the characters were apparently doing not much thinking and more walking around in a daze. Amarilli Nizza alternated as Tosca with Orla Boylan; I saw the former, who has the glamour for the part but a pretty broad vibrato somewhat compromising what is a good-sized and attractive voice.

We got equally small amounts of interest from Marcelo Puente’s Cavaradossi, though he too sang well without ever seeming entirely secure. Dimitri Platanias brought some uncomplicated bullishness to Scarpia. What in fact made the evening memorable was the orchestral performance, a staggeringly romantic reading by conductor Gianluca Martinenghi which made ‘Vissi d’arte’ sound something like the intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana; but the speciality was an extraordinary degree of intimacy in the music, the string-quartettish nature of Puccini’s writing apparent when the textures slimmed down, and some really expressive playing that brought out the essentially human angle of this ghastly story.

So, goodbye Opera Ireland and goodbye to the sweet, if perennially boiling, Gaiety Theatre with its undulating balconies like fairground waltzers. It’s been a pleasure visiting the opera in Dublin these ten years or so, and I look forward to coming back for OTC’s next show, Don Pasquale, touring from February.

 

American baritone wins Stella Maris Vocal Competition

22 November 2010, London, UK

Prizewinners John Chest and Daniela Mack on board the MS Europa
Prizewinners John Chest and Daniela Mack on board the MS Europa(Photo: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises)

American baritone, John Chest, has won the second annual Stella Maris International Vocal Competition.

He also received the audience prize worth €15,000 and the opportunity to make a test recording with Deutsche Grammophon.

Joining Chest on the prizewinners’ platform was mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, who was awarded a guest engagement at Washington National Opera as well as a concert performance at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland

All eight participants were nominated by leading international opera houses in Europe and North America.

Chest is currently a member of the Opera Studio at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera, while Mack was a former Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera and now appears regularly with the company.

The Competition took place on board the MS Europa during a cruise from Istanbul to Aqaba. Opera Now correspondent, Yehuda Shapiro, was on board to cover events as they unfolded via his special Stella Maris Vocal Competition blog.

Next year’s Stella Maris International Vocal Competition will take place on a cruise around the British Isles between 5 and 20 July 2011.

 

Preview - Alexander Raskatov's A Dog’s Heart at the ENO

17 November 2010, London, UK

'A Dog's Heart' at De Nederlandse Opera
'A Dog's Heart' at De Nederlandse Opera(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Alexander Raskatov's A Dog's Heart opens at English National Opera on Saturday 20 November. Opera Now correspondent, Jordi Kooiman, reports on the recent world premiere of this Anglo-Dutch co-production.

Alexander Raskatov’s first opera, A Dog´s Heart, received an enthusiastic reception at its world premiere last June, given in Amsterdam by De Nederlandse Opera.

The restless, exuberant music turned out to be a perfect springboard for Simon McBurney, artistic director of the Complicite theatre company. McBurney’s ingenious, comical staging captured the spirit of Russian satire at its best.

Raskatov (born 1953) has a penchant for writing music vocal scores, but until now has never written an opera. For his debut in the medium, he chose a work based on the famous novel, Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце), by Mikhail Bulgakov.

The work tells the story of a mongrel named Sharik, given a human form by Professor Filipp Filippovich. Sjarkov turns out to have a rather cruel and intractable character and as time passes, the situation gets out of hand and the professor changes him back into a dog.

Bulgakov used his novel to criticise the Soviet system, and this satire resonates in Raskatov´s music. His vocal writing is exuberant, sometimes to the point of absurdity in Sharik´s ‘barking’ way of singing, and in the high, hysterical screaming of Zina the maids.  The lyrics are humorous yet remain sharp. None of it is really serious – but then again, it is.

In the meantime, the orchestra evokes the rapidly shifting atmosphere of the work. The humour and pace of the story are enhanced by its constantly changing musical themes. Amid all the flamboyant colour there is a serious undertone to be heard in the nationalistic music that references the Soviet era.

The only weakness is to be found in the childish way in which the Sharik is portrayed in his human form. Rastov’s high falsetto writing makes Sharik come across like a stubborn toddler rather than a cruel anthropoid dog.

Simon McBurney’s brilliant staging was largely responsible for the world premiere’s success. The actor/writer/director tells the story straightforwardly, yet with so much action-packed inventiveness (helped by Blind Summit Theatre’s superb puppetry) that it constantly keeps you fascinated.

Seven performances of A Dog's Heart will take place at English National Opera between 20 November and 4 December 2010.

 


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