Sir Charles Mackerras remembered
27 July 2010, London, UK
Sir Charles Mackerras(Photo: Felicity Palmer)
Gavin Plumley is British a musicologist and journalist. He is the editor of a website dedicated to the life and work of Leos Janáček and has broadcast and written widely about the composer.
Opera Now: How significant was Sir Charles Mackerras' contribution to establishing the status of Janáček’s operas within the mainstream repertoire of opera houses worldwide?
Gavin Plumley: Sir Charles's training in post-Second World War Prague gave him an invaluable connection with many of the musicians who had grown up with Janáček's music. Later, in Britain, he was able to advocate the scores to an entirely new audience. Although the more stubborn elements of taste sometimes got in his way, Sir Charles's determination ultimately won through. His highly idiomatic approach, both in performances of Janáček and all other repertoire, allowed us to hear the music in the best light. Combined with the English-language scholarship of John Tyrrell (with whom Mackerras worked on editions of the scores) and the Welsh National Opera/Scottish Opera cycle of the operas in the late 70s/early 80s, his fervent discipleship really was the key to establishing Janáček in the international repertoire.
ON: Sir Charles was a conductor who excelled in performances of symphonic music as well as opera. What qualities as an artist helped him to interpret these different kinds of repertoire so convincingly?
GP: I think it was very simple: Sir Charles never wanted to impress his own aesthetic onto a composer's work. Moreover, he was a bright and analytical man who just brought out the music's nascent qualities. His performances of Der Rosenkavalier, for instance, went back to the piece's roots. What can be a rather lugubrious work was truly a comedy in his hands – it sparkled.
ON: Which of Sir Charles' Janáček opera recordings stands out most for you, and why?
GP: They are all benchmark recordings. I am very fond of the second Supraphon recording of Káťa Kabanová, which balances the more caustic elements of Janáček's sound world with the underlying Romanticism in the score. But the thrillingly paced Jenůfa with the Vienna Philharmonic is unbeatable.
ON: Apart from his extraordinary legacy of Janáček recordings, how else do you think Sir Charles will be remembered?
GP: At the end of a dress rehearsal for Martinů’s The Greek Passion at Covent Garden, Sir Charles should have been on stage taking his curtain call with the cast. Instead he was at the back of the pit correcting the trombone parts. He clearly had better things to do than just bask in the glory. It's a cliché to say “it was all about the music", but for a man who contributed so much musicologically and in performance, it feels like a good truism.
Clonter Opera Theatre presents Rossini's La cenerentola
26 July 2010, Cheshire, UK
Review by Antonia Couling
This particular production of La Cenerentola served well as a means of showcasing the young talent taking part, but little more.
Director Michael McCaffery was at pains to explain how he was trying to reveal the bare theatrical roots of the opera and investigate the darker side of the story, but didn’t actually manage to pull off either of these concepts on stage, so that the production was merely robbed of all vitality.
The lack of invention extended to the set by Elroy Ashmore – a simple flat with classical period doorframes cut into it, plus a few pieces of furniture that were laboriously pulled on and off stage by stagehands between scenes – as well as the costumes (also Ashmore), which were classical in period with Turkish outfits for the ball. Cinderella wore a slightly smudged white dress – extremely practical for house-cleaning – so there was no contrast when she changed into another white, albeit slightly sparkly dress for the ball. David L Sadler’s lighting was a little more inventive if not always successful, although it did add some depth to the set.
The singers were more successful. Both sisters came Rossini-ready and presented a united vocal force: French soprano Eva Ganizate (Clorinda) displayed tight runs and a confident vocal line, while Máire Flavin (Tisbe) applied admirable clarity and accuracy.
Úna McMahon might have brought a lighter touch to the role of Angelina, though her voice is arguably more suited to Verdi than Rossini. She also needed to inject more smile into her Italian, which was dramatically demonstrated during the final scene, where she did actually smile whilst handing out forgiveness all round. We were then witness to a rather fabulous instrument.
Matthew Stiff’s Don Magnifico was perfectly suited to this typically Rossinian patriarch role. He had vocal presence and comedic sensitivity and could carve out a good career for himself. Marcus Farnsworth as Dandini was delightfully relaxed on stage and camped up his role wonderfully. His runs were a tad messy, but on the other hand, he had a particularly pleasing lower register. The most theatrically satisfying scene of the night was the one between Dandini and Magnifico.
Thomas Herford didn’t quite rise to the demands of Don Ramiro. He has a good, Italianate leggiero instrument, but is not in control of it. In ‘Si, ritrovarla, io giuro’ he was doing so much wrong that could be corrected – the jaw constricted, the chest tight – especially as he produced one rather fine top C.
The experience of professional baritone Paul Carey Jones showed, with a strongly characterised and vocally pleasing Alidoro. And a highlight of the evening was the tight ensemble singing at the Act I climax. The performers were clearly well schooled under musical director Clive Timms, who also had the 12-piece Clonter Sinfonia bouncing along merrily with plenty of pep and cohesion, despite the odd lack of tuning in the violins.
Anthony Rolfe Johnson dies, aged 69
26 July 2010, London, UK
Anthony Rolfe Johnson
British tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson has died, aged 69, following a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
Johnson came to music relatively late in life, starting out as a farmer before deciding to change direction. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he was recognised as one of the leading English tenors of his generation, performing and recording prolifically before illness forced him to stop.
A student of Richard Lewis and Peter Pears, Johnson’s career included all of the major operatic roles and song cycles written by Britten for Pears. He was also active as a teacher at the Britten-Pears School in Suffolk, and went on to be appointed as the director of the School in 1990.
Johnson’s approach to vocal colouring and articulation, coupled with his own enormous emotional range, made him a natural successor to Pears. In particular, Johnson was a formidable interpreter of the role of Aschenbach from Britten’s Death in Venice, which he first performed in the 1983 co-production by Scottish Opera and Geneva Opera, then later at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Other operatic roles in which Johnson excelled included the Evangelist from Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions, Debussy’s Pelléas and Mozart’s Idomeneo. He became the tenor of choice for several recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir John Eliot Gardiner and was a founder-member of Graham Johnson’s Songmakers’ Almanac.
Anthony Rolfe Johnson was appointed a CBE in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Waiting for Godot - The Opera, by Pierre Boulez?
22 July 2010
Pierre Boulez(Photo: Universal Edition)
Pierre Boulez, the composer who once famously quipped that “The most elegant way of solving the opera problem would be to blow up the opera houses”, is rumoured to be writing his first opera.
French critic, Renaud Machart, reported in Le Monde that “according to our sources” Boulez is writing an opera based on Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, with its world premiere “planned for La Scala in Milan in 2015.”
Responding to Opera Now via email, however, a spokesperson for Boulez’s publisher, Universal Edition, said: “We cannot confirm the rumour that Pierre Boulez is planning to write an opera based on Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Maestro Boulez has many plans and it is too early to say which he will decide to realise."
News round-up - 16 July 2010
16 July 2010
Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona
LICEU CHORUS MOUNTS PUBLIC PROTEST
Redundancies prompt plans for strikes
The chorus of the Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona has mounted a public protest in the city’s historic Las Ramblas quarter to denounce proposed job losses and salary cuts. 72 singers took part in the performance of Verdi’s chorus of Hebrew slaves from Nabucco (‘Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate’), watched by a crowd of onlookers and television cameras. The protest followed a 5% salary cut in June and the announcement that 10% of the theatre’s 400 workers are soon to be made redundant. A spokesperson for the chorus said that if no agreement is reached, they will strike on 23 July to disrupt the premiere of the zarzuela Dona Francisca.
OPERA AMERICA ELECTS NEW BOARD MEMBERS
Anthony Freud re-elected as chairman
Opera America, the US national service organisation for opera, has elected seven new board members. They were appointed during the recent Opera America conference in Los Angeles. Chairman, Anthony Freud, has also been re-elected to serve another two-year term. The new members include Gregory Carpenter, general director of Opera Colorado, David B Devan, executive director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Andreas Mitisek, artistic and general director of Long Beach Opera, and composer, Jake Heggie, whose Moby-Dick recently received rave reviews at its Dallas Opera world premiere.
OPUS ARTE OPERA PRODUCTS TO BE SCREENED IN CINEMAS
Partnership with Emerging Pictures announced
Opus Arte, the UK arts production and distribution company, has announced a partnership with Emerging Pictures that will bring productions from London’s Royal Opera House into US cinemas. Emerging Pictures is America’s largest all-digital network of independent cinemas and already screens opera productions from the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.
INTERNATIONAL VOCAL COMPETITION ’S-HERTOGENBOSCH
17-16 September 2010 – The Netherlands
The 48th biannual International Vocal Competition ’s-Hertogenbosch will take place this year from 17 to 26 September. Featuring jury members Edith Wiens, Dunja Vejzovic and Sergej Leiferkus, the ten days are expected to attract over 180 young, talented singers performing opera, oratorio and Lied. Cash prizes worth a total of €45,000 are on offer, together with engagements with De Nederlandse Opera, Opera Zuid and I Romantici. Applications are still open, and overseas candidates are being invited to apply via YouTube for the first time in the history of the competition.
PLÁCIDO DOMINGO TO TACKLE HIS SECOND BARITONE ROLE
Rigoletto in Beijing – 2 August 2010
Plácido Domingo will make his debut as Rigoletto on 2 August, leading a concert performance in Beijing with five singers from the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. This is the second baritone role to be tackled by Domingo, who received mixed reviews for his recent portrayal of Simon Boccanegra at London’s Royal Opera House.
DOMINGO’S FOOTBALL FEVER
Spanish tenor celebrates his country’s World Cup victory
Plácido Domingo flew to Johannesburg on a night off from Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House to watch Spain win their first ever World Cup final. The 68-year-old Spanish tenor, who recently recovered from cancer surgery, joined his country’s team for their post-match celebrations before flying back to London. He appeared two nights later in a performance that was screened live in nine UK cities.
KATHERINE JENKINS TO STAR IN BBC SCI-FI SHOW
Mezzo-soprano to appear in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special
The pop-classical Welsh mezzo-soprano, Katherine Jenkins, is to appear in this year’s Christmas special episode of the long-running BBC science fiction drama, Doctor Who. In a statement to the press, Jenkins said: ''I heard the news that I got the role on my 30th birthday and it was the best birthday present ever.''
THINK BEFORE YOU TWEET
Welsh tenor caught out by technology
Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, the voice of UK advertising campaign GoCompare, was recently caught out by his own public posts on Twitter. Citing illness as the official reason, he withdrew from a concert of works by Beethoven, only for it to be revealed that two days earlier he had posted the tweet: "Bloody Beethoven – learning music is hardly ever fun."
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