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Opera journalist and author John Steane dies, aged 83

21 March 2011, London, UK

John Steane (1928-2011)
John Steane (1928-2011)

Opera journalist and author John Steane has died, aged 83.

A regular contributor to Opera Now for more than two decades, Steane was highly respected for his understanding of the human voice coupled with an extensive knowledge of repertoire, recordings and singers.

His journalistic style was erudite yet relaxed, including frequent flashes of humour.

“John had a very rare gift – to be able to bring the qualities of a human voice to life in words,” says Ashutosh Khandekar, Editor of Opera Now. “Singers felt at ease with him because he understood so completely the connection between the singing voice and the soul of the artist. His writings about great performances were not simply pieces of criticism; they were acts of revelation, making you feel as if you had actually been there with him.”

Steane’s numerous books included The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record, 1900-1970 (1974), Voices, Singers and Critics (1992), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: A Career on Record (with Alan Sanders: 1995), the three-volume Singers of the Century (1996-2000) and, most recently, his privately-published memoir based on a series of articles written for Opera Now.

John Steane's final article for Opera Now – about the phenomenon of record collecting and the discovery of a cache of recordings of Francesco Tamagno, the tenor who created the role of Verdi’s Otello – will appear in the our forthcoming Summer issue.

  • John Barry Steane, opera journalist and writer, born 28 April 1928; died 17 March 2011.


Verdi’s Otello at Lithuanian National Opera

18 March 2011, Vilnius, Lithuania

Director Eimuntas Nekrosius
Director Eimuntas Nekrosius

Eimuntas Nekrosius is one of Lithuania’s leading opera directors and an influential figure in the European theatre scene.

Having directed Shakespeare’s Othello several times, he turns his hand to Verdi’s opera, which opens at the Lithuanian National Opera in Vilnius tonight.

”The process of directing Verdi’s Otello has been very difficult. At first I thought it would be easy: of course, the plot is the same, and it’s beautiful to see how Verdi brought out some of the same accents as Shakespeare. But the Shakespearean play didn’t help me at all, since the two pieces are so different."

"Some say it should be easy to direct the opera after doing the drama, but I’m starting to think it’s vice versa. You‘ve walked down one road already, and none of the signposts apply any more. Maybe it would have been better to start off with a clean sheet of paper!"

“I hadn’t listened to the opera all the way through until I was asked to direct it. My first impression: this is the least interesting of all operas that Verdi wrote. Maybe it was because I knew his other operas better. After a while, however, I realised this is his most sublime creative achievement.”

Verdi’s Otello runs at the Lithuanian National Opera on 18, 19 and 20 March followed by performances on 21 April and 5 May. A full review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic will appear in our forthcoming Summer issue.


Riccardo Muti wins US$1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize

18 March 2011, Stockholm, Sweden

Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde at the Bayreuth Festival
Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde at the Bayreuth Festival(Photo: Siegfried Lauterwasser / Bayreuther Festspiele)

Riccardo Muti has won this year’s Birgit Nilsson Prize worth US$1 million – claimed by the organisers to be the biggest prize in classical music.

The 69-year-old Italian conductor and former music director of La Scala was selected by the jury “for his extraordinary contributions in opera and concert, as well as his enormous influence in the music world, both on and off the stage.”

Established by the legendary Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson before her death in 2005, the Prize is awarded every two or three years to an outstanding conductor or singer who is active in the field of opera.

A statement issued by Muti said: "I was deeply touched by the jury's accolade, all the more so given my profound admiration for this unique and extraordinary artist, both as an incomparable musician and as a great interpreter."

Muti will receive the Prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on 13 October.


EMI/Virgin Classics renews exclusive contract with Joyce DiDonato

17 March 2011

Joyce DiDonato
Joyce DiDonato(Photo: Sheila Rock)

EMI/Virgin Classics has announced the renewal of their exclusive recording contract with Joyce DiDonato.

The American mezzo-soprano became an EMI/Virgin Classics exclusive artist in 2007 and has since recorded several critically acclaimed discs for the label including Rossini: Colbran, the Muse, which was selected for the New Yorker’s “pick of the best CDs of 2009”, plus her appearance on DVD as Rosina in the Royal Opera House production of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia.

Commenting on the announcement, Virgin Classics' President, Alain Lanceron, said: “I’m very happy with Joyce’s confidence in EMI/Virgin Classics and that the wonderful adventure we embarked upon some years ago will continue with many other remarkable projects. Since her first recordings with Virgin Classics, Joyce’s fame has grown internationally and we are very proud that she is now one of the most sought after opera singers.”

DiDonato’s next album has been scheduled for release in October 2012.

Watch out for our forthcoming Summer issue of Opera Now, which will include a full-length interview feature with Joyce DiDonato. UK readers click here to order a copy from your nearest newsagent today!


Pub opera beats major UK companies at Oliver Awards 2011

15 March 2011, London, UK

Director Robin Norton-Hale and producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher at Sunday's Olivier Awards in London
Director Robin Norton-Hale and producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher at Sunday's Olivier Awards in London(Photo: Dan Wooler)

The cutting edge pub opera company, OperaUpClose, has won this year’s Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production.

Their version of La bohème at Soho Theatre beat several major UK companies that were also shortlisted for the award, including the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

Speaking about the award-winning production, which was originally created for Kilburn’s 35-seat Cock Tavern Theatre, director Robin Norton-Hale told BBC News:

"It's a genius piece by Puccini, but when you see it in Italian and you've got a soprano in her 40s playing a 20-year-old, it doesn't have the same impact.”

To make the opera easier for people to understand, OperaUpClose relocated the action to modern-day Kilburn and cast young singers as graduates who have just left university and are wondering what to do with their lives.

The show sold out its six-week run at Soho Theatre in July 2010 and returned for another six-week season in January.

“We've proved that opera can be artistically and commercially successful,” said Norton-Hale.

An Outstanding Achievement in Opera award also went to the German baritone, Christian Gerhaher, for his performance as Wolfram in Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House.

OperaUpClose's production of La bohème will run in rep at London's Little Opera House between 21 March and 29 May. Click here for more details.


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