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Opera Now provides a unique and all-encompassing perspective on the international opera scene through its lively and colourful mix of news, reviews, interviews, travel articles and commentary.

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NI Opera presents Tosca in Londonderry

6 April 2011, Londonderry, UK

Giselle Allen (Tosca) with Jesus Leon (Cavaradossi)
Giselle Allen (Tosca) with Jesus Leon (Cavaradossi)(Photo: NI Opera)

Review by Michael White

Northern Ireland’s new national opera company, NI Opera, has just launched its first major production – an itinerant staging of Tosca by the company's artistic director, Oliver Mears.

Significantly, this didn’t take place in Belfast but in Londonderry, because the company has a mission to be regional rather than metro-centric. Each act was presented in a different venue and the audience, singers and orchestra were marshalled from place to place during the intervals.

Two of the three venues were stunning. Act I happened in Derry's protestant cathedral which, for the purpose, was temporarily transformed into a Roman basilica complete with Marian statuary, wreathed in flowers, and processions of biretta'd clergy, wreathed in incense.

For Act II, Derry's exuberant neo-renaissance Guildhall became Palazzo Farnese. And the only disappointment was that in a walled city with plenty of spectacular possibilities for Tosca's terminal jump, Act III took place in a conventional auditorium with a proscenium stage and enclosed-room set.

The surprise of the show, though, was the standard of singing. For obvious reasons, the company had taken pains to cast a Northern Irish soprano in the title role; and although Giselle Allen had a slightly hard edge to her tone she was tempestuously alive: in every sense a strong vocal personality that projected well and carried conviction.

I wasn't so thrilled by her Cavaradossi, the Mexican Jesus Leon. But Paul Carey Jones made an incisive, sharply observed Scarpia; John Molloy a fulsome Angelotti; and Andrew Rees (who shone recently as the oily breast-enhancement surgeon in Covent Garden's Anna Nicole) delivered another, oddly radiant cameo as Spoletta – a role you sometimes barely notice but done here with striking detail as an eager-to-please subaltern who likes his job too much.

NI Opera's next production will take place in September, when it shares an Orpheus in the Underworld with Scottish Opera. After that comes a Hansel and Gretel of its own in December – which means the company is taking its time to come together. But that's no bad thing. If it can build on the promise of this initial Tosca, it will have something serious to offer Northern Ireland.

Michael White's full review will appear in the Summer issue of Opera Now.


Welsh tenor Robert Tear dies, aged 72

1 April 2011, London, UK

Robert Tear
Robert Tear(Photo: Ben Campbell-White)

The Welsh tenor Robert Tear has died, aged 72.

Described by his agent in London as “a major European and world artist who had a fantastic, varied career,” Tear was much admired by audiences, critics and colleagues alike.

His performances spanned an enormous number of operatic roles and were marked by a charismatic intelligence coupled with formidable technique.

A graduate of Kings College, Cambridge, Tear entered the orbit of Benjamin Britten early in his career and went on to excel in many of the composer’s operatic tenor roles.

His friendship with Britten ended abruptly, however, when he accepted an invitation to sing the role of Dov in the premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden at Covent Garden, rather than taking part in the first performance of Owen Wingrave.

Other British repertoire at which Tear excelled included the music of Purcell, Handel, Elgar and Vaughan Williams, but he was equally in demand as an interpreter of great operatic roles such as Herod in Strauss’s Salome, Shuisky in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and – his favourite role of all – Loge in Wagner’s Das Rheingold

Tear’s enormous discography includes several Britten recordings as well as roles in operas by Berg, Janáček, Mozart, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Wagner.

With the exception of Dr Caius in Falstaff at Covent Garden and a recording of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, however, he sang no Italian opera.

Away from the stage and studio, Tear was a published poet and author of two autobiographical volumes as well as a keen amateur painter and a devotee of Buddhism.

He is survived by his wife, Hilary, plus their two daughters and two grandsons.

  • Robert Tear CBE, tenor, born 8 March 1939; died 29 March 2011


Arts Council England announces National portfolio funding

30 March 2011, London, UK

Arts Council England (ACE) has announced a new National portfolio of funded organisations for the next three years.

This follows the Government’s decision to cut ACE’s budget by 29.6% over four years, dropping from £452m to £350m.

ACE’s initial reaction was to make cuts of 6.9% to all 850 regularly funded organisations within its funding portfolio. Now, more than 200 of these organisations have lost their funding completely, and many others are being faced with a reduction of between 0.7% and 69.9%.

Big opera companies have been relatively badly hit, with 15% cuts applied to The Royal Opera, Opera North and Welsh National Opera. Faring only slightly better, English National Opera, Birmingham Opera Company and British Youth Opera have had their funding cut by 11%.

But the news hasn’t been bad for everyone, with at least 110 organisations being added to ACE’s portfolio for the first time and another 270 receiving increased funding.

English Touring Opera, for example, will receive £1,577,015 in 2012/13, rising to £1,819,244 in 2014/15. This is expected to allow the company to sustain its current level of touring over the coming year, then to increase its programme of activity from 2012 onwards.

Two opera companies are also amongst the list of newly funded organisations: Streetwise Opera, which creates pioneering productions with homeless people across the UK, and the award-winning contemporary opera company, The Opera Group.

"We have received a settlement of around £100,000 per year for the next 3 years,” says Matthew Peacock, Chief Executive of Streetwise Opera. “This isn't as much as we had applied for, but with 1,100 organisations applying hardly anyone new has been given core funding and many were cut. We're having muted celebrations since we have a lot of friends in other arts organisations who haven't been successful."


London’s Royal Opera House appoints new Director of Opera

21 March 2011, London, UK

Kaspar Holten
Kaspar Holten(Photo: Miklos Szabo)

London’s Royal Opera House has announced the appointment of Kasper Holten as the company’s new Director of Opera. He will replace Elaine Padmore when she leaves at the end of the 2010/11 Season.

A native of Copenhagen, the 37-year-old Holten has been Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Opera since 2000, where he successfully led the move into Copenhagen’s new opera house in 2005.

As a director he has staged more than 60 productions of opera, drama, operetta and musical theatre in countries as far-flung as Iceland, Austria and the USA, including a highly acclaimed new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in Copenhagen. He has also recently directed Juan, a modern cinematic version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which will go on general release in Denmark from 7 April, followed by cinemas in the UK and other countries.

Announcing the appointment, Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House said: “I am thrilled that Kasper Holten is to join the senior management team. He has done some fantastic and innovative work as a stage director and at the same time he has confirmed the Royal Danish Opera’s status as a major player in the international opera world.  He joins The Royal Opera after ten years of superb artistic achievement, but also at a time of new economic challenges and further expansion in the digital arena. I look forward to working with him.”

Holten described the appointment as “an incredible opportunity” and emphasised his commitment “to further developing ROH as a leading opera house of the world with exciting productions, broad outreach and a standard of artistic quality second to none.”


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.


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