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René Pape withdraws from Die Walküre at La Scala

2 November 2010, Milan, Italy

René Pape
René Pape(Photo: Mathias Bothor / DG)

René Pape has pulled out of his scheduled debut as Wotan in Guy Cassiers’ new production of Die Walküre at La Scala.

The German bass said that he needed "to take a break from rehearsals and performances."

He will be replaced by the Ukranian bass, Vitalij Kowaljow, who sang the role of Wotan in Achim Freyer’s recent critically acclaimed Ring Cycle at LA Opera.

Kowaljow will appear in all seven performances of Die Walküre at La Scala between 7 December 2010 and 2 January 2011.

Reviewing La Scala’s Das Rheingold in the current issue of Opera Now, Amanda Holloway sensed Pape’s discomfort as Wotan:

“In most productions Pape commands the stage effortlessly with his height, powerful build and ringing bass. But he hardly made an impact here: wearing a forgettable grey suit, he clutched his wooden staff awkwardly and was often obscured by the other characters.”


Cape Town Opera defies call to boycott Israel tour

1 November 2010, Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town Opera's 'Porgy and Bess'
Cape Town Opera's 'Porgy and Bess'

Cape Town Opera has rejected a call by the Nobel Prize Winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to boycott their forthcoming tour to Israel.

Tutu publicly urged the company to call off fourteen performances of Porgy and Bess in Tel Aviv this month, describing it as “unconscionable” to perform an opera that presents a “universal message of non-discrimination…in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity.”

Cape Town Opera's managing director, Michael Williams, defended the decision to proceed with the tour, saying that the company was "reluctant to adopt the essentially political position of disengagement from cultural ties with Israel or with Palestine".

A spokesman for the Israeli government also told the BBC that boycotts were not the way forward: "Cultural relations sending messages of peace and co-operation - that's the only way to promote peace."

He added: "There are no discriminatory laws in Israel, there are no racial issues in Israel - we have Arabs in the government."

Porgy and Bess opens at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on 12 November and runs until 27 November.


Arts Council England announces cuts of 6.9% in 2011-12

29 October 2010, London, UK

Arts Council England (ACE) has announced cuts of 6.9% to all 850 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) in 2011-12.

This follows the Government’s decision to reduce ACE’s budget by 29.6% (£459 million) over four years.

Ministers are insisting that the necessary savings should be made by slashing ACE’s own costs by 50% whilst passing on cuts of no more than 15% to RFOs.

The biggest casualties will therefore be non-frontline organisations such as Arts & Business (A&B) and Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE), whose funding will halve. ACE’s fund for other artistic work – including cross border touring – is also expected to fall by 64% next year.

Although this may be relatively good news for RFO’s in the short term, deeper cuts will follow in 2012, with all organisations expected to reapply for funding under a new ACE framework being launched next week.

At least 100 RFOs could lose their funding completely according to ACE chief executive, Alan Davey.

In the meantime, two leading opera companies have already highlighted some outcomes of the first round of cuts on opera provision across the UK:

The Royal Opera House has shelved its proposed £100 million satellite company in Manchester – ROHM.

Scottish Opera fears that the success of its national touring programme may be hampered by cuts to the Cross Border Touring Fund, which supported a very successful Scottish Opera residency in Belfast last year.


Hungarian State Opera loses chief conductor, Ádám Fischer

29 October 2010, Budapest, Hungary

Ádám Fischer
Ádám Fischer(Photo: Lukas Beck)

Lajos Vass
Lajos Vass

The chief conductor of the Hungarian National Opera, Ádám Fischer, has decided to step down.

Fischer’s decision comes just days after the Opera's general director, Lajos Vass, was fired over financial irregularities. A government audit of the company is reported to have uncovered deficits totalling more than one billion forint (3.6 million euros, five million dollars).

“The Minister of Culture has now appointed a special commissioner who acts in the Opera House with full powers,” says Opera Now correspondent, Brendan Carroll. “In addition, the Minister had very recently instructed Lajos Vass to appoint a new general music director – who is to be György Rath – only then to get rid of Vass himself. As yet, there is no new general director to replace Vass.”

These developments follow Vass’s decision in June not to renew the contract of the Opera’s former artistic director, Balázs Kovalik, credited with attempting to strike a new creative path for the company, but not always popular with critics.

The Hungarian weekly Heti Válasz had suggested that “what is really behind Lajos Vass not extending Kovalik's contract is no more than an attempt to save his own job” – a reflection of Vass’s unpopularity in his role at the Opera.

Moreover, says Carroll, “the appointment of Vass was purely political as he had no knowledge of music or opera. The jokes about him were rife and one wonders what he and Fischer ever talked about.”

Fischer will conduct four more concerts this season under his current contract before stepping down. However, the special commissioner appointed by the ministry has indicated a desire to continue working with Fischer, and is reported as saying "We will count on his work in the future as well.”


Carmen Elektra at the Cambridge Museum of Zoology

28 October 2010, Cambridge, UK

Combining short operas with DJ sets, film projections and light installations at informal venues, Carmen Elektra was launched earlier this year with its production of Seven Deadly Sins.

The fledgling company’s next event will take place on 29 October 2010 amidst the glass cabinets and animal skeletons of the Cambridge Museum of Zoology.

“Thrusting opera into the 21st-century realm of horror movies, total theatre and ‘gore‐porn’”, this macabre setting will play host to the world premiere of Bonesong by Joe Snape and Kate Whitley, and Hans Gruber’s rarely staged Frankenstein!.

Bonesong – scored for a 10‐piece chamber ensemble plus live electronics – explores a vulture’s insatiable love for a young girl, through desire, seduction, betrayal and suffering. Carmen Elektra's unique production features spine‐tingling 4‐channel sound diffusion, electronic samples sourced from the dismantling of a dead cow, and a gasping, muttering children’s chorus hidden amongst the audience.

Director Thom Andrewes’ staging of Frankenstein! promises to be no less unsettling, transporting the audience to the hideout of a psychopathic killer – with shocking consequences.

Friday 29th October, 8.00pm, The University Museum of Zoology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ. Suggested ticket donation of £3 on the door. Suitable for ages 15+.


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