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Opera Now reviews Steffani's Niobe at Covent Garden

24 September 2010, London, UK

Véronique Gens as Niobe
Véronique Gens as Niobe(Photo: Bill Cooper / Royal Opera House)

Robert Thicknesse reports on the opening night of Niobe, Regina di Tebe at London's Royal Opera House.

Anyone who wants to know what happened to opera between Cavalli and Handel should rush to Covent Garden where it seems from a gappy first-night crowd that they can’t give away tickets to Agostino Steffani’s Niobe, composed for Munich in 1688. (There are reduced-price tickets on offer on travelzoo.com.) 

Steffani takes the tragic story of the Theban queen who has to witness her children being massacred by the gods and adds Venetian carnival-comedy to the mix. The production, from Schwetzingen, though saddled with provincial German humour, is unrecognisably better than ROH’s own attempts at early opera, and conductor Thomas Hengelbrock’s Balthasar Neumann Ensemble is a band that can really play this music.

Steffani’s idiom is much more extravagant than Handel’s (who learned and borrowed plenty from him), with wonderful rhythmic, harmonic and formal freedom; it dances along for its three hours (cut from four-plus in Germany) with beautifully inventive orchestration and a plethora of confusing subplots, which director Lukas Hemleb deals with by chucking the entire kitchen at the show.

The fun is punctuated by heart-stopping moments where the awful story reasserts its grip, and there is some fine singing from Véronique Gens, Jacek Laszczkowski and Iestyn Davies.

Niobe runs until 3 October 2010.

 

Join the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards Opera Panel

24 September 2010, London, UK

An opportunity to join the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards Opera Panel is currently being offered to members of the public.

Two places are available for applicants aged 18 and above who have a passion for opera, a keen critical sensibility, and live within easy reach of London.

Successful applicants will each receive free tickets for around 20 productions during 2011, together with a much sought-after invitation to attend the 2012 Olivier Awards Ceremony at a five-star hotel in London.

Click here for further details and to apply now. (Deadline 26 November 2010.)

Held annually since 1974, the Laurence Olivier Awards are amongst the highest accolades in London theatre.

The 2010 Award recipients for opera included Nina Stemme, who won ‘Outstanding Achievement in Opera’ for her performance in the Royal Opera House’s ‘Best New Opera Production’, Tristan und Isolde.

 

'Little Opera House' launched at London pub theatre

24 September 2010, London, UK

Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Adam Spreadbury-Maher

The King’s Head Theatre & Pub in Islington, north London, is to become the city’s first new opera house for 40 years, offering intimate productions of reimagined classics, contemporary operas and musicals for just £15 per ticket whilst giving young singers the chance to appear in major roles.

Dubbed ‘London’s Little Opera House’, this bold initiative is the brainchild of Australian producer-director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who recently took over as Artistic Director of the theatre.

High profile Patrons for the project include actress Joanna Lumley, playwright Tom Stoppard and veteran opera and theatre director, Jonathan Miller.

Describing the huge expenditure normally associated with producing opera as “immoral”, Miller endorsed Spreadbury-Maher’s vision for presenting “opera in a setting where it is not all about people luxuriating in displays of their wealth.” He told The Observer: “In doing operas on a very intimate scale, in front of an audience of a hundred at the most, you renovate them.”

Echoing Miller’s view, Spreadbury-Maher said: “Opera has died and we need to perform CPR on it.  At worst, it can be almost like going to a wedding, with everyone sitting still. Audiences need a kick in the guts, or at least a thump on the heart. Otherwise they should just stay at home and listen to a CD.”

He added: “There is a massive everyman audience out there and we have got to take [opera] to them."

London’s Little Opera House opens on 6 October with Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Spreadbury-Maher. Other plans for 2011 include productions of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and two new operas by playwright, Mark Ravenhill.

 

Chinese soprano wins 48th Concours de Chant Toulouse

23 September 2010, Toulouse, France

Competition winners Yuan-Ming Song and Gevorg Grigoryan
Competition winners Yuan-Ming Song and Gevorg Grigoryan(Photo: Patrice Nin)

Chinese soprano, Yuan-Ming Song, has won the 48th Concours International de Chant Toulouse with a performance of ‘Toi qui sus le néant’ from Verdi’s Don Carlos.

Song was one of ten young performers selected to participate in this year’s public final at Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole, accompanied by the Orchestre National du Capitole under British conductor, Graeme Jenkins.

No first prize was awarded in the Male Voice category, but Russian bass Gevorg Grigoryan came second, followed in third place by baritone, Inhui Kim, from South Korea.

Sopranos dominated the Female Voice category, with Portugal's Eduarda Melo and Anna Kasyan from Georgia in second and third places after Song.

Each winner received a cash prize worth between €1,000 and €6,500.

Jury members for the competition included Peter Katona, casting director from London’s Royal Opera House, Christoph Seuferle, director of opera at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, and Lenore Rosenberg, associate artistic administrator for The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The Concours International de Chant Toulouse was founded in 1954 to discover and promote talented young singers. This year’s competition attracted over 130 applications from 31 countries.

Past winners include José Van Dam, Viorica Cortès, Alexandrina Miltcheva, Ludovic Spiess and Leontina Vaduva.

News round-up - 22 September 2010

22 September 2010

Cecilia Bartoli
Cecilia Bartoli(Photo: Simon Fowler / Decca)

Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo

BARTOLI TAKES OVER FROM MUTI AT SALZBURG
Mezzo-soprano to lead Whitsun Festival from 2012

The intendant designate of the Salzburg Festival, Alexander Pereira, has appointed Cecilia Bartoli to the post of artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival with effect from 2012. She takes over from Riccardo Muti, who launched his inaugural season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra earlier this week.

LA OPERA RENEWS CONTRACT WITH DOMINGO
Tenor to stay on as company’s general director

Tenor Plácido Domingo has renewed his contract with Los Angeles Opera and will stay on as the company's general director through 2013. His current contract was due to expire in June 2011. Domingo joined L.A. Opera as artistic director in 2000 and became general director in 2003. He is also the general director of Washington National Opera and has recently been criticised in the media for failing to devote enough time to these roles. Both companies currently face financial difficulties in the wake of the Great Recession.

SCOTTISH OPERA ORCHESTRA TO BECOME PART-TIME
Players vote in favour of the move but warn of an “inevitable decline” in standards

The orchestra of Scottish Opera has voted narrowly in favour of a management proposal to move to part-time contracts. The players will be offered 31 weeks’ work in the 2011-12 financial year and, from April 2012, a minimum of 28 weeks per year. In a statement made by the UK Musicians’ Union, however, they warned that the move would prove damaging and said the artistic standards of the national company will “inevitably decline”. Scottish Opera’s general director, Alex Reedijk, commented: “We welcome the news that the MU and our players have accepted our proposal. This proposal ensures we are best able to protect the company’s artistic standards by keeping the ensemble together.”

MALE SOPRANO MAKES HISTORY AT COVENT GARDEN
Jacek Laszczkowski to perform castrato role in new Baroque production

41-year-old Polish opera singer, Jacek Laszczkowski, will make history tomorrow night as the first male soprano ever to perform at London’s Royal Opera House. Playing a role that was originally written for a castrato, Laszczkowski will perform opposite soprano Véronique Gens in the company's new production of Niobe, Regina de Tebe, by 17th Century Italian composer, Agostino Steffani.

NEW YORK MET TO SCREEN DAS RHEINGOLD IN TIMES SQUARE
2,000 free seats available for opening night screenings on 27 September

The New York Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold will be screened for free via eight giant screens in Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza on 27 September. A total of 4,500 seats are available for the screenings on a first come, first served basis. The production, directed by Robert Lepage, marks the beginning of the Met’s first new Ring cycle in more than 20 years, and will feature the Welsh bass-baritone, Byrn Terfel, in his first US appearances as Wotan.

ORCHESTRA OF OPERA NORTH BECOMES 6TH ‘CLASSIC FM ORCHESTRA’
Leeds-based ensemble announced as station’s “partner in Yorkshire”

The Orchestra of Opera North has been announced as Classic FM’s sixth partner orchestra in the UK. Under the terms of the partnership, the station will feature the orchestra on-air and online as its “partner in Yorkshire”, with frequent airplay for the orchestra's recordings and a long-term commitment to advertising their performances.

US TENOR TO MAKE ROLE DEBUT IN NEW ROSSINI RECORDING
Kenneth Tarver to play title role of Aureliano in Palmira for Opera Rara

The American tenor, Kenneth Tarver, will give his debut in the title role of Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 23 October. The production, conducted by Maurizio Benini, will also be recorded by the label Opera Rara, which specialises in recordings of rare and forgotten opera.

WORLD’S FIRST KLINGON OPERA PREMIERES IN THE NETHERLANDS
u - The Opera by librettist, Marc Okrand

A production performed entirely in the language of Star Trek's fictional warrior race – the Klingons – recently received its world premiere in the Netherlands. Conceived by the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble, based in The Hague, the new work is simply called u, meaning "universe" or "universal". The libretto was written by the creator of the Klingon language, Marc Okrand, who holds a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley and is the author of The Klingon Dictionary.

 


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