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Rolando Villazón nominated for two Classical BRIT Awards

12 April 2011, London, UK

Rolando Villazón
Rolando Villazón(Photo: Felix Broede / DG)

Tenor Rolando Villazón and conductor Antonio Pappano have each been nominated for two of this year's Classical BRIT Awards.

Both artists are on the shortlist for best male artist, which also includes a posthumous nomination for the conductor, Sir Charles Mackerras.

Villazón’s second nomination is for best album of the year and Pappano has been shortlisted for the critics’ award.

The best female artist category features no opera singers for the first time in the Awards’ 12-year history.

Tickets are now on sale for the Awards ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 12 May.


Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards shortlist announced

11 April 2011, London, UK

The Royal Philharmonic Society has announced this year’s Music Awards shortlist, with 38 nominations across 13 categories.

The Opera and Music Theatre category includes productions by The Royal Opera and Welsh National Opera, plus Prokofiev’s monumental War and Peace in last year’s co-production by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Scottish Opera and the Rachmaninov State Conservatoire of Rostov-on-Don in Russia.

Opera also dominates this year’s Audience Development category, with community and education projects by The Royal Opera House and English National Opera both shortlisted.

Soprano and tenor voices are notably absent from the Singer category, which comprises two English artists – mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and bass Brindley Sherrat – alongside the German baritone, Christian Gerhaher.

John Gilhooly, Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society, said: “The RPS Music Awards are decided by independent panels consisting of leading members of the music industry. This year they have put their fingers on the country’s musical pulse and found a rich vein of talent and invention.”

Winners will be announced at the RPS Music Awards ceremony at London's Dorchester Hotel on Tuesday 10 May. A special Performance on 3 programme devoted to the RPS Music Awards will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 15 May, 2-4pm.


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."


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