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News round-up – 27 October 2010

27 October 2010

Phillippe Augin
Phillippe Augin

Josep Pons
Josep Pons(Photo: Antoni Bofill)

“Exceptional conductor” becomes Washington National Opera music director

Philippe Augin has been appointed as the music director of Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Centre Opera Orchestra, effective immediately. The 59-year-old French conductor made his company debut in November 2009 and is reported as saying that “From the moment I stepped onto the podium, I felt a special rapport with the talented musicians of the Orchestra.” WNO General Director Plácido Domingo welcomed Augin’s appointment, describing him as an “exceptional conductor and an excellent choice”.

Josep Pons to take up position in 2012-13

Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu has appointed a Catalan conductor as the company’s new music director. Josep Pons will assume his duties in 2012-13, replacing Michael Boder, who is now entering his third season. Pons’ appointment is designed to strengthen the company’s Catalan credentials and will run until 2017, with the option to renew by mutual agreement until 2019.

Funding given to meet “exceptional one-off costs”

Cork Opera House, which received an interest-free loan of €1 million last year, has been granted an additional €250,000 by Cork City Council to meet “exceptional one-off costs” being faced by the company. The move has prompted some councillors to raise concerns about the level of public funding being given to the House, which recently came under scrutiny when fraud squad detectives were called in to investigate the alleged misappropriation of funds totalling €63,000. The funds have since been recovered.

New Artistic Director appointed

Buxton Festival in England has appointed a new Artistic Director – British conductor, Stephen Barlow – who will hold the reigns for an initial period of three years, from 2012 to 2014. Barlow replaces outgoing director, Andrew Greenwood, whose programme for July 2011 features five productions, including Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan, Handel’s Saul and Thomas’ Mignon.

Berlin’s Schiller Theatre to house company until 2013

The Staatsoper Unter den Linden has temporarily relocated to Berlin’s Schiller Theatre, making way for extensive renovations to the company’s regular home, Unter den Linden. The Schiller Theatre itself has recently been restored at a cost of €20 million to make it suitable as a venue for opera.

Free Open House – 6 November 2011

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) is offering a free day of fun activities for families and opera fans at the city’s Shubert Theatre on 6 November 2010. Featuring performances, backstage tours and musical activities for all ages, the day also includes the final of BLO’s Aria Contest for Teens.

Peter Mark’s longstanding contract will not be renewed when it ends in 2012

Peter Mark, who has held the position of Artistic Director with Virginia Opera since 1975, will move on from the company when his contract ends on 31 May 2012. The board’s decision was announced earlier this month by founding president, Edythe Harrison.


German opera director Joachim Herz dies, aged 86 

20 October 2010

Joachim Herz
Joachim Herz(Photo: Helga Wallmüller)

Opera Now correspondent, Della Couling, reports:

The great German opera director Joachim Herz died in Leipzig on 18 October, aged 86.

Born in Dresden in 1924, Herz was drafted into the German army during the final stages of World War II. With the end of hostilities Herz found his hometown now in the Russian zone, and in spite of the difficulties this imposed, forged a brilliant career in what became the German Democratic Republic.

After music studies in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin, Herz made his debut as a director in Dresden in 1950.

He then embarked on a peripatetic career that was followed by permanent posts as director of the Leipzig Opera from 1976, director of the Komische Oper Berlin from 1981, and director of the Dresden opera from 1981, where he directed Der Freischütz for the opening of the restored Semperoper in 1985. After 1991 he worked freelance again, all over the world, and also lectured widely.

Herz is considered one of the greatest influences on opera production in the second half of the twentieth century, and although influenced by Walter Felsenstein (whom he followed to the Komische Oper), Herz was very much his own man. His Wagner productions in particular have proved ground-breaking, although his enormous contribution to revolutionary post-war changes in opera production has not always been acknowledged.

The January/February 2011 issue of Opera Now will include a full assessment by Della Couling of Joachim Herz’s legacy.


Global opera-in-cinema listings launched online

20 October 2010, London, UK

The UK-based classical music listings website, Backtrack.com, has announced a partnership with DVD label Opus Arte and Emerging Pictures, North America’s largest all-digital Specialty Film and Alternate Content theatre network.
The new partnership will enable Bachtrack.com visitors to search forthcoming screenings of opera and ballet in their area.

Through daily feeds provided by Opus Arte and Emerging Pictures, Bachtrack.com will receive information about what operas and ballets are being screened when and where across the globe, ensuring that all listings are constantly kept up to date. In addition, Bachtrack.com has set up a live alert system so that visitors can set up and receive email alerts as and when a cinema of their choice schedules a performance matching any of those requested by the visitor.

Opus Arte's Head of Marketing, Jeff Coventry, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Bachtrack on their new alerts service. Opera and ballet has never been as accessible as it is today, and anything which helps audiences to find out what’s happening locally is a great step forward.”

This is the second partnership that Bachtrack.com has established, having teamed up with the Metropolitan Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic earlier this year.


Northern Ireland Opera launches its inaugural season

18 October 2010, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Oliver Mears, NI Opera’s new artistic director
Oliver Mears, NI Opera’s new artistic director

With the appointment of its first artistic director, Oliver Mears, Northern Ireland Opera has announced the newly created company’s inaugural season.

NI Opera was established in January by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) following recommendations in a report commissioned by the funding body in 2008 to examine opera provision in the region.

Its findings prompted the withdrawal of Arts Council funding from the summer season Castleward Opera company in its 25th anniversary year, and the Opera Fringe Festival, which had been operating in Downpatrick since 2003, resulting in the controversial closure of both ventures.

Northern Ireland Opera has been allocated funds of £374,000 by ACNI for its first year of operations.

Currently artistic director of Second Movement Opera, a cutting-edge young company working in the UK, Mears was appointed in June and has pledged to support the development of a national cultural resource: "This will be a company with a genuinely Northern Ireland-wide reach and one which, moreover, will make a determined effort to discover the finest young talent from Northern Ireland, as well as performing in some of its iconic spaces and locations."

The company will make its debut in December with a Christmas concert featuring Camerata Ireland and young Northern Irish singers. Its first full staging will be a site-specific production of Tosca at different locations around Derry’s historic fortified walls in March 2011. A ‘Summer of Song’ festival, a co-production with Scottish Opera touring throughout Northern Ireland and a staging of Hansel and Gretel in Belfast's Grand Opera House will also form part of the company’s 2011 programme.


Oboist loses Welsh National Opera unfair dismissal claim

18 October 2010, Cardiff, Wales

Conductor, Carlo Rizzi
Conductor, Carlo Rizzi(Photo: Welsh National Opera)

An oboist who played with Welsh National Opera (WNO) for 34 years has lost his claim of unfair dismissal against the company at an employment tribunal in Cardiff.

Murray ‘Sandy’ Johnston, aged 61, claimed that he was "persistently abused" for several years by WNO’s music director, Carlo Rizzi, before being sacked by the company in 2008.

Johnston’s lawyer, Nick Smith, claimed that other members of the orchestra had also written letters complaining about Rizzi's behaviour. "The language of these letters was very, very strong,” said Smith. “They accuse Mr Rizzi of intimidation and harassment, of even making one woman ill."

But Jason French-Williams, defending WNO, told tribunal judges that Johnston was dismissed because of legitimate concerns about the standard of his playing, which threatened to damage the “world-level” reputation of the company.

Prior to his dismissal, Johnston was monitored for nearly four years and underwent a capability test procedure that included successfully reauditioning for his own job.

Commenting last week in The Guardian, UK Musicians' Union representative Bill Kerr said: "It is quite unusual for someone to go through the capability test procedure and even more unusual for them to pass it. If you are not up to the job then you are spotted pretty quickly. I don't think a principal oboe player playing poorly could hide for three or four minutes.”

Since his dismissal, Johnston has gone on to play with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and other well-regarded ensembles.

Carlo Rizzi, who held the post of music director at Welsh National Opera from 1992 to 2001 and again from 2004 to 2007, did not give evidence at Johnston’s tribunal.


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