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Soprano Jennifer Vyvyan's personal archive goes online

5 October 2010, London, UK

Jennifer Vyvyan
Jennifer Vyvyan

When Jennifer Vyvyan died in 1974, aged only 49, she was one of leading British singers of her time. Since then, her achievements have been half-forgotten. But new light has been thrown on them by a hidden cache of memorabilia, unearthed and archived by Opera Now correspondent, Michael White, and now forming the basis for a substantial website.

A member of the English Opera Group from its earliest days, Vyvyan was one of Britten's favourite voices – for which he wrote the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, Tytania in Midsummer Night's Dream, Lady Rich in Gloriana, Mrs Julian in Owen Wingrave, and other roles. But she was also significant to the music of composers like Poulenc, Milhaud, Berkeley, Bliss and Malcolm Williamson. And she was a leading figure in the revival of baroque repertory: a celebrated interpreter of Purcell, Rameau, Bach and Handel who starred in landmark 1950s/60s reappraisals of the Handel operas at Sadlers Wells, Covent Garden and elsewhere.

Born into a landed family with an ancient seat not unlike that of the fictional Wingraves, she led a complicated and tempestuous life that echoed several of her Britten roles. And when she died – the result of a chronic bronchial illness she'd gone to extreme lengths to keep secret throughout her career – she left behind a small son and a distraught husband who packed her possessions into boxes and put them in a loft in Hampstead. Where they remained, largely undisturbed, for the next 36 years.

Last Christmas, her son asked Michael White to look through them. And what emerged was a treasure-trove of letters, diaries, contracts, photos, concert programmes and BBC recordings that White has turned into a website which not only celebrates Vyvyan's life but explores its significance in the wider context of English singing.

The website was launched last week at a Wigmore Hall reception in London, attended by surviving singers and other colleagues from the operatic world of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

On 9 October 2010, Michael White will be talking about Vyvyan and Britten prior to the opening of a new production of The Turn of the Screw at Opera North in Leeds.

 

News round-up – 4 October 2010

4 October 2010

Mark Elder at the Gramophone Awards
Mark Elder at the Gramophone Awards(Photo: Mark Harrison)

Stephen D. Rountree
Stephen D. Rountree(Photo: Gary Leonard)

László Polgár
László Polgár

GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2010
Opera award goes to Mark Elder and The Hallé

Mark Elder has won the Opera category in this year’s Gramophone Awards for his recording of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with The Hallé. The 53-year-old British conductor also took home the Concerto Award. Other winners announced at last Friday’s ceremony in London included the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato, who topped the Recital category with her disc of Rossini arias, Colbran, the Muse, and Italian conductor, Antonio Pappano, whose new Verdi Requiem recording earnt him the Choral Award.

LA OPERA LEADERSHIP TEAM ANNOUNCED
Stephen D. Rountree becomes new CEO

Plácido Domingo has announced senior management changes at LA Opera, including the promotion of Stephen D. Rountree to the position of Chief Executive Officer.  Rountree will be succeeded in his former role as Chief Operating Officer by the company’s Vice President of Artistic Planning, Christopher Koelsch. This reshuffle follows the renewal of Domingo’s contract as general director of LA Opera through 2013. Domingo is currently singing the role of Pablo Neruda in the company’s world premiere production of Daniel Catán’s, Il Postino.

OBITUARY – LÁSZLÓ POLGÁR
Hungarian operatic bass dies, aged 63

László Polgár has died in Switzerland, aged 63. The Hungarian singer, who had been the principal bass with Zurich Opera since 1991, was best known for his portrayal of Duke Bluebeard in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle – a role that he recorded for Deutsche Grammophon in 1998, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

OPERA COMPOSER’S LEGAL APPEAL IS REJECTED
European Court of Human Rights bid will not be considered

The European Court of Human Rights has declined a bid by English composer, Keith Burstein, who claims that his rights were violated during an attempt to sue London’s Evening Standard for defamation. Burstein’s opera, Manifest Destiny, was criticised by the newspaper for portraying suicide bombers as heroic. He now faces bankruptcy after losing the earlier case, for which he says he was unfairly denied a jury trial.

CAMPAIGN TO SAVE FORMER OPERA HOUSE IN NORTHWEST ENGLAND
Cumbria’s Workington Opera House faces commercial redevelopment

A campaign has been launched to save Workington Opera House in Cumbria, northwest England. The 2,000-seat venue, which opened in 1888, was last used as a bingo hall that closed down ten years ago. The local authority has provisionally approved plans to turn the site into shops and flats, but a spokesperson for the UK Theatres Trust, which is backing the campaign, said: "There is strong local support for the revival of the opera house. Demand for theatrical facilities in Workington also currently outstrips supply.”

 

World Premiere - Daniel Catán's Il Postino at LA Opera

1 October 2010, Los Angeles, USA

Plácido Domingo (Pablo Neruda) and Charles Castronovo (Mario Ruoppolo)
Plácido Domingo (Pablo Neruda) and Charles Castronovo (Mario Ruoppolo)(Photo: Robert Millard)

Opera Now correspondent, Josef Woodard, reports on the world premiere of  Daniel Catán's Il Postino at LA Opera:

Although composer Daniel Catán studied with Milton Babbitt and has been known to tilt towards a brutal kind of Modernism in his writing, he keeps his cool in his new opera, Il Postino, which is currently receiving its world premiere run at Los Angeles Opera.

Apart from brief rough encounters, to illustrate a Neruda poem, say, or violent political rallies in Chile and Italy, echoes of Debussy and John Adams’ suspended luminosity drift through Catán’s delicately lovely score. The music is lucidly delivered by the orchestra under Los Angeles Master Chorale director Grant Gershon’s command.

The cast made a genial ensemble, with a dynamic Charles Castronovo in the title role. As the poet Pablo Neruda (a national hero in Chile), Plácido Domingo comported himself with proper graciousness and eloquence, even if the sung poetry occasionally strained the natural beauty of the texts.

In the end, Il Postino is a pleasant enough summer's repast. It wafts over the senses without demanding much of you, bringing with it a well-turned, harmless and musically pretty diversion. You hardly know what didn’t hit you, but are inclined to leave with a calm grin of satisfaction.

The November/December 2010 issue of Opera Now will feature Josef Woodard's full review of the world premiere of Il Postino.

 

Domingo to leave Washington National Opera in June 2011

29 September 2010, Washington DC, USA

Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo(Photo: Bart Everly)

Plácido Domingo has decided not to renew his contract as general director of Washington National Opera (WNO) when it expires in June 2011.

The 69-year-old Spanish tenor has been WNO’s artistic director since 1996 and general director since 2003.

Under his leadership, the company is widely recognised as having risen from the ranks of good regional companies to being a world-class organisation.

However, this growth has come at a high cost, and over recent months Domingo has been criticised in the media for spreading himself too thinly between WNO and Los Angeles Opera, where he has just renewed his contract as general director for another two years.

His decision not to renew with WNO comes at a time when the company is rumoured to be exploring a merger with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in order to ease its debt burden of US$11 million.

Domingo’s official statement to WNO’s Board of Trustees, issued by the company’s press office, said:

“For the last 14 seasons, I have had the great pleasure of leading Washington National Opera. It has been a long and fruitful collaboration, and although I will continue to help the company artistically in any way possible, the current season will be my last as General Director. I am proud of what WNO has achieved and want to thank everyone—the Board, staff and especially our audiences—for their love and support.”

Paying tribute to Domingo in what appears to have been an amicable split, WNO’s President, Kenneth R. Feinberg, stated:

“We appreciate all that Plácido Domingo has done for our great company. He will be missed, but all good things must come to an end. Plácido’s association with WNO was essential to the company’s artistic development and helped it to gain recognition nationally and internationally. While today’s news may mark the end of the formal marriage, we are looking forward to artistic collaborations in the future.”

Domingo is scheduled to sing the role of Oreste in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride as well as conducting Madama Butterfly and Don Pasquale during WNO’s 2010-11 Season.

 

American opera and theatre lighting designer wins UK award

28 September 2010, London, UK

Bryan Raven receiving the opera Award on behalf of Mimi Jordan Sherin
Bryan Raven receiving the opera Award on behalf of Mimi Jordan Sherin(Photo: Knight of Illumination Awards)

American lighting designer, Mimi Jordan Sherin, has won the opera category in this year’s Knight of Illumination Awards, which celebrate the best lighting designs in the UK theatre, touring and TV sectors.
 
Selected for her work on the recent Royal Opera production of Prokofiev’s The Gambler, Sherin was one of ten designers who received Awards.

Peter Mumford (who created designs for the ENO production of Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers at the Young Vic) and Olaf Winter (for Wagner’s Tristan at the Royal Opera House) were also shortlisted in the opera category.

The theatre Awards jury included Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, and was chaired by the award-winning British lighting designer, Paule Constable (pictured left).

Each category winner received a replica of a sword that would have been carried by medieval knights in Europe.

The Knight of Illumination Awards is organized by the Society of Television Lighting and Design (STLD), the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) and Clay Paky to provide public recognition for outstanding achievements in lighting design by UK-based lighting designers.

 


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