martin randall 2015

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Glyndebourne appoints Sebastian Schwarz as general director

17 November 2015

Sebastian Schwarz
Sebastian Schwarz

Glyndebourne has appointed Sebastian F. Schwarz as general director. He will take up the new role in May 2016, becoming the opera company’s seventh general director.

Schwarz is currently deputy artistic director of Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, artistic director and co-founder of the Pietro Antonio Cesti International Voice Competition for Baroque Opera, and CEO and artistic director of the Vienna Chamber Opera (incorporated into Theater an der Wien in 2012).

He has previously worked as an assistant to the opera director at Staatsoper Hamburg, a language coach at Teatro La Fenice, an artists’ manager in Milan and Venice, and a member of the company management team at Wexford Festival Opera.

Schwarz said: ‘Glyndebourne stands for excellence in performance and it provides an unmistakably English way of experiencing some of the world’s best opera. It is with the greatest joy that I follow the call to this superb company to continue to share my passion and enthusiasm for this most complete of all performing art forms.’

Gus Christie, executive chairman of Glyndebourne, said: ‘Sebastian’s pedigree and background will bring a fresh perspective to Glyndebourne and I am confident that he will build on our rich and varied operatic history.’

Glyndebourne music director Robin Ticciati said: ‘I am extremely excited about what Sebastian Schwarz will bring to the future of Glyndebourne, especially his own personal artistic vision and his inspiring approach to what he believes opera can be in the 21st century.’

Schwarz succeeds David Pickard, the new director of the BBC Proms.


ACE grants ENO extra year of funding

16 November 2015

ENO chairman Dr Harry Brünjes
ENO chairman Dr Harry Brünjes

Arts Council England (ACE) is to extend funding for English National Opera (ENO) until 2018. The opera house will receive an extra £12.38m while remaining under special monitoring arrangements.

ACE noted that ENO had made good progress in improving its operations, but still has further work to do to ensure its future sustainability.

The funding body announced that ENO would not be admitted into its national portfolio of organisations for 2015-18 in February 2015, following a period of instability in which the company's chairman and executive director left within weeks of one another.

The decision to award an extra year of funding follows the company's recent appointments of Dr Harry Brünjes as chairman and Cressida Pollock as chief executive.

Although ENO remains without an artistic director (after the departure of John Berry in July 2015), the company's recent work has received a positive reaction. Its production of The Pirates of Penzance broke UK box office records, and it received two Olivier awards at the 2015 ceremony: director Richard Jones received the ‘outstanding achievement in opera’ award, while his production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg was deemed ‘best new opera production’.

The company has also revealed plans to open up the Coliseum's foyer. The space will host a wine bar and cafe, which the company hopes will encourage more people to enter the building.

The ACE's statement reads:

'The Arts Council believes that the ENO is fully committed to achieving positive and sustainable changes to its operating model. A CEO has been appointed until 2018 to lead the company through substantial operational changes and the organisation has made good progress in restructuring the financial and operational management of the company. Progress has also been made in strengthening the organisation’s governance and leadership structure – a permanent chair has now been recruited and board membership is being refreshed.

'Given the progress made so far, the Arts Council has confirmed an additional year (2017-18) of funding for ENO of £12.38m. The funding will provide the organisation further time to implement the necessary changes to ensure that it has a sustainable and resilient business model capable over the long term of producing and presenting excellent opera to large audiences.'

ENO chairman Dr Harry Brünjes said of the news: 'We are very happy that Arts Council England have confirmed our third year of funding. We continue to work closely together to ensure the continued financial stability of ENO.

'We are working hard to meet the long-term challenge to ensure that ENO is able to continue to produce artistic work of the highest quality whilst remaining financially stable. We are very happy to have the continued support of ACE as we tackle these challenges over the months and years ahead.'

English National Opera

Strike at La Scala

13 November 2015

La Scala, Milan
La Scala, Milan

A technicians' strike on 12 November forced La Scala to cancel the first night of Kenneth MacMillan's Manon.

A statement on the house's website reads:

'We are extremely sorry to announce that despite all efforts the ballet L’histoire de Manon cannot be performed tonight because of the absence of the stage technicians.

'As the strike was declared unilaterally by the CGIL union, while all the other unions – UIL, FIALS and CISL – were ready to work, we were hoping that a sufficient number of technicians would be present tonight in order to put on the ballet floor, which is absolutely necessary to perform the show and assure a safe performance for the artists. These simple conditions were not granted.'

A period of recession has prompted the Italian government to establish austerity measures, reducing funding for the arts and prompting demonstrations across Italy.

The SLC-CGIL union said in a statement: 'This battle is not only about the stage technicians, who have been understaffed for months. It is up to everyone to oppose the company philosophy of doing more with fewer resources.'

Opera Now editor Ashutosh Khandekar said: 'These sort of strikes are par for the course in Italian opera houses, where big opening nights are regarded as political events as much as artistic ones - especially in major theatres such as La Scala where people with money and influence go to be seen. As a result, the strikers are aware that their actions will gain attention in the media and serve to embarrass the establishment. 

'Of all Italy's opera houses, La Scala has been relatively stable in recent years since its status as one of the nation's main cultural flagship and its international 'brand value' have enabled it to attract private investment to make up for deep government cuts to the arts. 

'The current strike seems to indicate that even the highest echelons of culture are not immune to Italy's austerity programme. Moreover, the strikers are  taking strategic advantage of a relatively new administrative regime led by general director Alexander Pereira who has just completed his first season at La Scala, but whose position has been dogged by uncertainty and controversy.'

La Scala

Nominations open for the International Opera Awards 2016

9 November 2015

Nominations are now open for the International Opera Awards 2016, which will recognise and reward the operatic highlights of 2015.

Prizes will be awarded for the below categories:

  • Accessibility
  • Conductor
  • CD (complete opera)
  • CD (operatic recital)
  • Chorus
  • Designer
  • Director
  • DVD
  • Female singer
  • Festival
  • Lifetime achievement
  • Male singer
  • Newcomer
  • New production
  • Philanthropist
  • Rediscovered work
  • World premiere
  • Young singer
Nominations can be submitted here and multiple submissions are acceptable.

The 2016 awards will take place on 22 May.

Vote: 2016 Internatioanl Opera Awards 2016

Happy Birthday to Bryn Terfel!

9 November 2015

© Neil Bennet

To celebrate the bass-baritone's 50th birthday, we've re-released an article from our March 2015 issue.

Having won accolades for his portrayals of some of opera’s most weighty and challenging roles, Bryn Terfel is now determined to let his hair down as his 50th birthday looms. Amanda Holloway finds the great Welsh baritone in a distinctly racy mood.

As he approaches his 50th birthday this year, Bryn Terfel can look back over an extraordinary career of triumphs. His forties have been the years of Wotan, Hans Sachs, Dutchman and Scarpia – huge, meaty roles that demand the strength and stamina of a young man, but the wisdom and gravitas of an experienced singer.

He’s typically modest about his achievement, though. ‘I suppose I’m building up a repertoire,’ he says. ‘If you have a great conductor and a great director, you’ll get there. As an artist, I’ve trusted everybody I’ve worked with. I’m a committed artist and I give everything on the stage, good or bad.’ And when Terfel is good, he’s very, very good. I’d heard his Dutchman in Covent Garden the evening before we met, and even after all these years of punishing Wagner roles, he sounded fresh and full of vigour, delivering those long, anguished monologues and floated pianissimi without once losing the beauty of tone he had always been known for.

Now the Dutchman is over, Bryn can pack away Wagner for the rest of the year and concentrate on living a little. First he’s sharpening his barber’s knife as Sweeney Todd at ENO, with his old mate Emma Thompson, and in the 1960’s musical hit Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park Opera in Hampshire.

Knowing that Bryn is booked up by international opera houses at least five or six years in advance, I wondered how the enterprising Wasfi Kani, founder on Grange Park and Pimlico Opera, had managed to sign him up for her intimate country-house venue.

‘It’s simple: I’m a huge fan of Wasfi and the work she does putting on opera in prisons,’ he explains. ‘I went to see her production of West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison and it was a most shocking two hours, sitting watching two rival gangs of inmates. I was so impressed that she could pull off something like that.’

Terfel had a couple of concert recitals at Grange Park, and Kani kept him in her sights until the right project came along. ‘I was singing in Tosca at Covent Garden, and I had just been killed with Gheorghiu’s dagger at the end of the second act. Wasfi came round to my dressing room and said, “I know what I want to do, and I’ve just got to get the rights to do it”. I was still dishevelled and dazed, but when she said Fiddler on the Roof, I said, “I know it, I love it and I’ve watched the film every Christmas since I was a child.” When I thought about it in Grange Park, I knew it would be perfect. It’s a tiny theatre and it will be almost like a Lieder recital. The audience will be drawn into it. They’re going to love it!’

There’s a small matter of dialogue to be learned: ‘I’ve already earmarked my vocal coach for that.’ Also the fact that Tevye is on stage almost the entire time ‘Yes…even better!'

Of course Terfel is a natural showman, and Fiddler will be the perfect opportunity for him to show off his comedic skills, his warmth and, to a lesser extent, his amazing bass-baritone voice. He’s tickled to be adding Tevye to his list of roles, even though he’s not the most obvious choice for a Jewish milkman (as the Jewish Chronicle pointed out). ‘I’ve played a chief of police who was abusing his power. I’ve played gods, I’ve played demons… and now I’m playing a big-hearted milkman, who has troubles with his five daughters. In fact it’s similar to the problems Wotan has with his daughters – just another family story!’ He’ll have to summon up that paternal twinkle once again, even though his own family consists of three teenage boys and no troublesome girls determined to thwart their father’s marriage plans for them.

With the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell, direction and design by Antony McDonald and the brilliant Lucy Carter on lighting, it should be a spectacular evening, with hummable hits such as ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker’, ‘Sunrise, sunset’. And Bryn has a few ideas of his own for ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, the most famous song in the show. ‘It might be a little bit different – who knows?’ Fiddler on the Roof, set in a small Jewish community in pre-revolutionary Russia, is hardly a knockabout comedy, given the pogroms and exile that face the villagers at the end. 

On the other hand, it’s not as grim as the story of the Demon Barber. The 14 performances of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at English National Opera that precede Terfel’s summer at Grange Park will take every ounce of snarling malice that he can summon. When he sang it last year at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, it was the first time a contemporary composer had even given him notes. ‘Every time Sondheim saw me he said, “Darker, Bryn, darker." I thought,  is that all you’ve got to say to me?’ Nevertheless, Terfel took his words to hand: one New York critic described his portrayal as ‘a mountain of seething rage […] whose embodiment of pure evil is bone-chilling’.

Terfel says working with Emma Thompson has been one of the highlights of the last decade. ‘I have nothing but superlatives for this amazing artist. I saw her singing with the New York Phil for the first time at the sitzprobe – she had never sung with a symphony orchestra before and she was as excited as a child with a Christmas present.

'We spent a week rehearsing in West Hampstead, putting in long hours and very hard work, but we wanted to solidify what we were going to do in New York. I enjoyed it so much and it gave me a strong impetus for rehearsing again.’

It wasn’t all deadly serious, though, especially when they got to Emma’s immortal line, ‘Popping pussies into pies.’ Terfel had an instinct that it was going to be a success, and he invited three or four attendants to come to New York. ‘John Berry, general director of English National Opera, was the only one who came. So now we have 14 shows at ENO as part of my 50th year celebrations. Brilliant!’

On 20 October, three weeks before his actual birthday, Bryn is hosting a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of his foundation for the support of young singers, launched in 2008. Always a generous, clubbable musician, he’ll be gathering friends and colleagues from many musical traditions – a little like his ‘Brynfest’ at the Faenol Festival and at London’s Southbank. The programme is still being finalised, but it’s going to reflect his 25 years of singing, everything from Wagner to Rodgers and Hammerstein. ‘But also it might include choirs, folk groups, rock stars, and instrumentalists. It’s gonna be fun, isn’t it?’ When he turns 50 in November, he’ll be between performances of Tosca in Monaco. Does he have any plans for the special day? He gives a big grin, like a 10-year-old. ‘Maybe I’ll hire a very fast car and drive around Monte Carlo!’

A 6ft 4in Welsh Wotan hurtling round the hairpins to the strains of The Ride of the Valkries – now that I’d pay to see. 

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