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News round-up - 29 July 2010

29 July 2010

Eva Wagner-Pasquier
Eva Wagner-Pasquier(Photo: Picture-Alliance / DPA)

Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo(Photo: Jose Zakany)

BAYREUTH CO-DIRECTOR ADMITTED TO HOSPITAL
Eva Wagner-Pasquier suffering from stress

Eva Wagner-Pasquier, the joint director of Bayreuth Festival, has been admitted to hospital with circulatory problems. This year’s six-week Wagner extravaganza opened during the weekend with a new production of Lohengrin, and Wagner-Pasquier’s symptoms are said to have been caused by stress in the run-up to this event.  The great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner has been joint director of the Festival together with her half-sister, Katharina Wagner, since 1 September 2008.

DOMINGO TO STAR IN TV RIGOLETTO
Production to be filmed on location in Mantua

Plácido Domingo is to play the title role in a televised production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, featuring historically accurate locations in the Italian city of Mantua. Scheduled for broadcasts on 4 and 5 September, this ambitious project will be directed for the BBC and Italy’s RAI Uno by award-winning cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. Following hot on the heels of Domingo’s debut as Simon Boccanegra at London’s Royal Opera House in June, Rigoletto will be the 69-year-old singer’s second major baritone role.

DIRECTOR QUITS THE MET'S BORIS GODUNOV 
“Personal reasons” prompt Peter Stein's decision 

German director, Peter Stein, has withdrawn from the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Boris Godunov “for personal reasons”, said a spokesperson for the company. Stephen Wadsworth has taken over the production, which will receive its premiere on 11 October. All other elements of the production are to remain intact.

HUNGARIAN STATE OPERA ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MOVES ON
Balázs Kovalik’s contract term comes to an end

A power vacuum has been left at the top of the Hungarian State Opera following the departure of the company’s artistic director, Balázs Kovalik. Kovalik’s contract came to an end last month and was not renewed or extended by General Director, Lajos Vass. A statement issued by the state secretary of Hungary’s ministry responsible for culture said that "negotiations are in process with various personalities of the opera world on possible cooperation".

ROYAL PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY APPOINTS NEW CHAIRMAN
Wigmore Hall director, John Gilhooly, elected to top position

The Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) has appointed Wigmore Hall director, John Gilhooly, to succeed outgoing RPS chairman Graham Sheffield. Gilhooly was previously the Society’s honorary secretary and has been part of the RPS council since 2007. The annual RPS Music Awards feature an Opera and Music Theatre Award that went to the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

FINNISH FESTIVAL’S ONLINE COMMUNITY OPERA PROJECT
Savonlinna Opera Festival’s Opera By You 2010 – Free Will

Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland has launched an online community opera project called ‘Opera By You’. Participants are being invited to interact with the project’s core creative team, actively contributing to a new opera that will be premiered in 2012. The theme of ‘Free Will’ has already been selected from over 100 online entries, together with a loose narrative concept involving a team of dead geniuses who return to Earth to improve the lot of mankind – “with unexpected and puzzling results”.

CINCINNATI OPERA 2011 SEASON ANNOUNCED
Three classic operas plus Adams’ A Flowering Tree

Cincinnati Opera has announced details of four productions for its 2011 Season. Highlights include the local premiere of John Adams’ Indian folk tale opera A Flowering Tree, and a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Revivals of Rigoletto and Eugene Onegin complete the line-up, the latter featuring baritone Nathan Gunn in his role and company debut as Onegin.

NEW OPERA PERFORMANCE GRADUATE COURSE LAUNCHES IN WALES
The Royal Welsh College to partner with Welsh National Opera

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff, has launched a new MA in Opera Performance. Starting in September, the course will be delivered in partnership by the Royal Welsh College and Welsh National Opera, offering advanced students access to professional training and performance opportunities. It will be led by Angela Livingstone, the College’s recently appointed Head of Opera, Vocal Studies and Choral Conducting.

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST ALL-ABORIGINAL OPERA
Deborah Cheetham’s Pecan Summer

Pecan Summer, Australia’s first opera for an all-Aboriginal cast, has received a standing ovation at its Melbourne preview. Written by Australian soprano, Deborah Cheetham, it tells the story of thousands of Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents under acts of parliament between 1869 and 1969. A commission for London’s 2012 Olympic Arts Festival, the opera will receive its world premiere in Australia on 9 October.

LONDON’S HANDEL SINGING COMPETITON 2011
Application deadline – 21 January 2011

Next year’s Handel Singing Competition final will take place in London on 7 April 2011 at St George's, Hanover Square. Applicants are invited to apply by 21 January 2011.  Bookings for the 2011 London Handel Festival will also open in January.


Sir Charles Mackerras remembered

27 July 2010, London, UK

Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Charles Mackerras(Photo: Felicity Palmer)

Leos Janáček
Leos Janáček

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
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
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."

 


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