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Pub opera beats major UK companies at Oliver Awards 2011

15 March 2011, London, UK

Director Robin Norton-Hale and producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher at Sunday's Olivier Awards in London
Director Robin Norton-Hale and producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher at Sunday's Olivier Awards in London(Photo: Dan Wooler)

The cutting edge pub opera company, OperaUpClose, has won this year’s Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production.

Their version of La bohème at Soho Theatre beat several major UK companies that were also shortlisted for the award, including the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

Speaking about the award-winning production, which was originally created for Kilburn’s 35-seat Cock Tavern Theatre, director Robin Norton-Hale told BBC News:

"It's a genius piece by Puccini, but when you see it in Italian and you've got a soprano in her 40s playing a 20-year-old, it doesn't have the same impact.”

To make the opera easier for people to understand, OperaUpClose relocated the action to modern-day Kilburn and cast young singers as graduates who have just left university and are wondering what to do with their lives.

The show sold out its six-week run at Soho Theatre in July 2010 and returned for another six-week season in January.

“We've proved that opera can be artistically and commercially successful,” said Norton-Hale.

An Outstanding Achievement in Opera award also went to the German baritone, Christian Gerhaher, for his performance as Wolfram in Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House.

OperaUpClose's production of La bohème will run in rep at London's Little Opera House between 21 March and 29 May. Click here for more details.


Riccardo Muti makes a stand against arts budget cuts in Italy

14 March 2011, Rome, Italy

Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti has led an audience protest against arts budget cuts in Italy during a performance of Nabucco at the capaital’s Teatro dell’Opera.

Echoing Daniel Barenboim’s actions during the opening night of La Scala’s 2010-11 season, the 69-year-old Italian conductor turned and spoke to the audience, urging them to join him in a rendition of Verdi’s famous chorus from Nabucco, ‘Va pensiero’.

“On March 9, 1842, Nabucco debuted as a patriotic opera intended for the unity and identity of Italy,” he declared. “Today, March 12, 2011, I don’t want Nabucco to be the funeral dirge of our culture and music.”

Almost everyone in the audience responded to Muti’s request, joining him in an impassioned rendition of ‘Va pensiero’, which includes the lines “Oh mia patria sì bella e perduta!” (Oh, my country so beautiful and lost!) and “Le memorie nel petto raccendi, ci favella del tempo che fu!” (Rekindle our bosom's memories, and speak to us of times gone by!).

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Muti explained his motivation in more detail:
“I tell the chorus, the orchestra, the technicians to keep up their work, but their salaries don’t even let them pay their bills at the end of the month.”


The 2011 Queen Sonja International Music Competition, Norway

11 March 2011, Oslo, Norway

Queen Sonja of Norway (centre) with 2009 Competition winners Seung Gi Jung and Jacquelyn Wagner
Queen Sonja of Norway (centre) with 2009 Competition winners Seung Gi Jung and Jacquelyn Wagner

The call for applications to take part in this year’s Queen Sonja International Music Competition is now underway.

Talented young singers from around the world are invited to apply before 1 April. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to compete in Oslo, Norway, between 16 and 26 August.

Chaired by Norwegian National Opera Casting Director, Anne Gjevang, the 2011 Competition jury includes singers Ileana Cotrubas, Siegfried Jerusalem and Sir John Tomlinson, plus senior figures from the Théâtre de la Monnaie and New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Winners will be offered cash prizes, opera and concert engagements plus an opportunity to perform live on television.

The Queen Sonja International Music Competition was launched in 1988 and adopted its present form as a biannual vocal competition in 1995.

The 2009 Competition was won by South Korean baritone, Seung Gi Jung, and American soprano, Jacquelyn Wagner.


Agrippina at Boston Lyric Opera

11 March 2011, Boston, US

Caroline Worra as Agrippina
Caroline Worra as Agrippina(Photo: Jeffrey Dunn / BLO)

Agrippina opens tonight at Boston Lyric Opera, starring Caroline Worra as Handel's anti-heroine in a production first staged by Glimmerglass and New York City Opera.

The Grammy-nominated soprano is expected to take on Handel’s portrait of an arch female power-monger and manipulative mother with the same compelling confidence that characterised her performances as Elettra in BLO’s Idomeneo last year.

A specialist of Handel and Mozart as well as C20th and C21st opera, Worra says that she particularly loves less well-known works because “audiences don’t come to the theatre with pre-conceived notions about what they are about to see and hear.”

“Handel opera,” she explains, “is a truly unique experience, as the ornaments are never the same twice. It's like a jazz improvisation, which happens live in the moment for that particular audience on that particular night – anything can happen!”

Agrippina runs from 11–22 March at the Citi Performing Arts Center, Boston.


Angela Gheorgiu withdraws from The Met's new Faust

10 March 2011, New York, US

Angela Gheorghiu
Angela Gheorghiu(Photo: Hennessey)

Angela Gheorghiu has withdrawn from next season’s production of Gounod’s Faust at the Metropolitan Opera.

The 45-year-old Romanian soprano is said to have been prompted by “artistic reasons”, according to an official statement issued by the company last week.

Co-produced with English National Opera, Faust opened last September to mixed reviews in the UK media, with the broad critical consensus going against director Des McAnuff’s decision to cast Faust as a nuclear scientist in the inter-war years.

Picking up on this negative reaction to McAnuff’s production, Opera Now Contributing Editor, Robert Thicknesse, suggests that “maybe Gheorghiu has a point, given the fatuous nature of the show? Would you appear in Des McAnuff’s pointless and misguided production, with its pretences at reaching for the most clichéd of modern ‘Faustian pacts’ (the nuclear thing), if you didn’t really have to? I know I wouldn’t.”

Questioning the current ENO policy of inviting directors with little or no experience of opera to take the helm of the company’s shows, Thicknesse continues:

“Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of one more baleful consequence of Artistic Director John Berry’s pursuit of inexperienced newcomers to direct his shows: when these shows go on to other houses, as most do in these days of joint production, singers will have been forewarned of their lack of quality and will pull out in droves.”

Another consequence of this approach, says Thicknesse, is “effectively to introduce a block on the careers of young UK directors, for whom ENO was a natural stepping stone between the country houses, Holland Park, ETO and a career in the mainstream. With ENO productions now reserved for plumbers, macramé artists and burlesque dancers to direct, our young directors have only one national outlet in Opera North – and despite that company’s excellent intentions and efforts it shouldn’t really have to carry the burden of absolutely everybody’s careers.”


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