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Opéra de Marseille presents Massenet’s Le Cid

22 June 2011, Marseille, France

Roberto Alagna as Rodrigue
Roberto Alagna as Rodrigue

Review by Francis Carlin

You cannot help liking Roberto Alagna despite his irritating stage antics. The voice is superb and his famous diction is still enjoying insolent good health, but he cannot resist beaming like a schoolboy overjoyed at winning a race.

This rare staging of Massenet’s Le Cid (1885) was a perfect example of his performance style. Filmed by no less than two TV channels and relayed direct on a giant screen to a crowd of 8,000 people in front of the town hall (a first in Marseilles), the event was an open invitation to Alagna to sing to the cameras. And so he did, arms outstretched and a radiant Star Academy expression on his face. It may have done the trick on the giant screen but it looked cheap in the theatre itself.

This inability to get inside a character and put himself entirely at the service of a work has always been Alagna’s weakness. He could have been today’s Georges Thill but seeks popularity, not artistic integrity. So although his exquisite phrasing massaged our ears and Rodrigue’s famous number ‘Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père’ brought the show to a standstill as the audience clamoured for an encore, it always felt like an Alagna TV special and not an operatic version of Corneille’s play.

Charles Roubaud’s production seemed to have given his star a free rein, preferring to hide behind Emmanuelle Favre’s superb arts deco sets, an agreeable if somewhat meaningless update to 1920s Spain. Apart from Béatrice Uria-Monzon’s proud but horribly squally Chimène, the rest of the cast featured as inert props for Alagna, standing stiffly to attention. Franco Pomponi is too young to sing the king, but did so with sturdy voice and impressive French pronunciation. Francesco Ellero d’Artegna’s Don Diègue was in contrast worn and tuneless.

After a noisy start, Jacques Lacombe’s conducting managed to elicit some nuance but was clearly having difficulty keeping up with Alagna’s whims. Not a great night for a neglected Massenet work, but at least Alagna’s personal triumph put the arts minister in his place. The locals had choked over their bouillabaisse when he suggested their opera house was no good and should merge with Avignon, a criticism incidentally not supported by any firsthand experience. But there he was, sitting in a box next to the city’s mayor as the ovations went on and on. Something tells me Marseilles will be safe for the time being.


ENO concert to pay tribute to Sir Charles Mackerras

21 June 2011, London, UK

Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Charles Mackerras(Photo: Felicity Palmer)

(Photo: Z Chrapek)

On 26 June, a special tribute concert by English National Opera will celebrate the life and work of Sir Charles Mackerras, who passed away last year.

Described as one of the great polymath conductors of the 20th century, Mackerras enjoyed an international career spanning six decades and held the post of music director at ENO from 1970-77.

The programme for Sunday’s concert has been put together with the Mackerras family, and highlights repertoire championed by Sir Charles during his lifetime.

Sir John Tomlinson, Dame Felicity Palmer, Lesley Garrett and numerous other stars will perform with the company’s orchestra and chorus under three ENO music directors past and present – Sir Mark Elder, Paul Daniel and Edward Gardner.

Speaking to Opera Now about this special event, Mark Elder paid tribute to Mackerras’ “unique sense of style and wonderful ability to know how to make different composers sound different. He was an unforgettable pioneer in the music of Handel, Mozart and, above all, Janáček, but also adored conducting Verdi, Richard Strauss and Gilbert & Sullivan. Sunday's programme reflects all this and more.”

Elder himself became the music director at ENO in 1979, just two years after Mackerras' tenure ended. Describing the orchestra that he inherited from his distinguished predecessor, Elder says:

“It must be remembered that when Sir Charles joined ENO, he was the captain of a very new ship. Previously, when the company was resident at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, there were actually two orchestras – one for the venue and the other for touring. It was a very difficult task to bring these musicians together and combine them in one big orchestra, whilst also getting them used to the much larger acoustic of the Coliseum. But Sir Charles achieved this with great energy and professionalism, and led the company through some really extraordinary performances.”

ENO’s concert in honour of Sir Charles Mackerras take places on Sunday 26 June 2011 at 7pm. All proceeds will go to the ENO Benevolent Fund.


Moldavian soprano wins BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011

20 June 2011, Cardiff, Wales

Valentina Naforniţă
Valentina Naforniţă(Photo: Brian Tarr)

This year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World has been won by Valentina Naforniţă, a 24-year-old soprano from Moldavia.

Naforniţă performed a programme of arias by Donizetti, Dvořak and Gounod that not only garnered praise from the jury, but also saw her take home the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize.

She was presented with her awards by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who recently became the competition’s new Patron.

Commenting on her success, Naforniţă said: “I am so happy; I feel I’m in heaven right now. It is everything to me.”

Naforniţă was the youngest of five singers to reach Sunday’s televised final at St David’s Hall, Cardiff. Her fellow finalists were Meeta Raval from England, Olesya Petrova from Russia, Hye Jung Lee from South Korea and Andrei Bondarenko from Ukraine.

The jury was chaired by former chief executive and artistic director of Welsh National Opera, John Fisher, and included mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, tenor Dennis O’Neill, and baritone Håkan Hagegård.

“I'm delighted that we had such an expert jury for the competition”, said Dame Kiri. “They are all world famous, but also hugely dedicated to the nurturing of young talent.”

The next BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition will run from 16 to 23 June 2013.


Third annual Benvenuto Franci Opera Competition announced

15 June 2011, Pienza, Italy

The dates for this year’s Benvenuto Franci Opera Competition have been announced in Pienza, Tuscany.

Running from 13 to 15 October 2011, two days of elimination rounds will culminate in a free gala concert by all finalists at the town’s historic Church of San Francesco.

The 2011 competition is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

Members of the jury, led by President Adua Veroni, include Giovanni Pacor, Director of the Teatro dell Opera di Genova, Christiano Sandri, casting director of the Teatro Maggio Musicale in Florence, conductor Carlo Franci and baritone Renato Bruson.

Applications from singers born after 31 December 1974 can be made online via the website (Closing deadline: 10 October).

Prizes worth a total of €6,500 will be awarded to the top three competition winners, along with concerts and auditions offered by the competition’s partners.

More than 100 applicants from 16 countries took part in 2010.


Met tour of Japan goes ahead, minus top stars

13 June 2011, Tokyo, Japan

Joseph Calleja
Joseph Calleja(Photo: Decca / Mitch Jenkins)

The Metropolitan Opera is currently touring Japan minus two of its top stars, who pulled out at the last minute.

Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja both said that they were concerned about radiation levels at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, where debris is still being removed following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuring tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March.

Netrebko was due to play Mimi in La bohème, but has been replaced by Barbara Frittoli, whose own role as Elisabeth in Don Carlos was filled at the eleventh hour by Marina Poplavskaya.

Marcelo Álvarez, Rolando Villazón and Alexey Dolgov have each flown in to cover Calleja’s scheduled appearances as Rodolfo in La bohème and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor.

The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, told The New York Times: “It was not easy for us to get this news at the last second.” But, he said: “We’re used to dealing with cancellations at the Met. It’s the nature of the beast.”

The Met's tour of Japan continues until 19 June 2011.


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