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London's Opera Holland Park 2010

27 May 2010, London, UK

Michael Volpe
Michael Volpe

Commentary by Opera Holland Park General Manager, Michael Volpe

“Opera is a buzz word at the moment, and the media in the UK have jumped on the bandwagon with enthusiasm: the BBC have a special focus on opera through the summer, (though anyone who saw rival channel ITV’s attempt to get into the classical music groove could have easily thought it had all been dreamt up during a particularly unfocused session down the pub). Meanwhile, there are productions opening in droves in the first week of June across the UK as the summer season gets under way.

“Here at Opera Holland Park, in one of Central London’s finest stretches of green, unspoilt nature, we find ourselves pitching headlong into another season with trepidation, unbounded enthusiasm and, as is ever more frequently the case, nerves of steel.

“Our final two shows would be a challenge to the biggest companies in the world: Francesca da Rimini certainly fulfils the stereotype of the giovane scuola opera by having a cast of thousands – and all of them with a line to sing. Not that our two season openers (Pelléas et Mélisande and Carmen) can be described as a walk in the park either.

“Meanwhile, we don’t often do revivals but Oliver Fuchs' production of Fidelio was a massive success in 2003, and the time seems absolutely right to unleash it on the London audience again.

“All in all, we’ve got a particularly brilliant season in prospect, with a huge variety of work and a strong thread joining the first and final productions.

“And just in case you’re worried about what all this might do to your holiday spending money, we are tossing £10 seats tickets around like confetti  as well as offering free seats to people who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to come to an opera. Speaking of which, our new INSPIRE Project, bringing awareness to new audiences, is in overdrive at present; we do all of this and still find time to plan the 2012 Season.

“I’m looking forward to so many aspects of the 2010 Season which, after so long in this job, can only be a good sign. I still love being in our space as well – OHP’s theatre one of the most beautiful structures in the capital in my humble opinion.”

The July/August issue of Opera Now will include a preview of Francesca da Rimini, featuring an interview with conductor, Philip Thomas.

 

Royal Danish Opera appoints new artistic director

24 May 2010

Keith Warner
Keith Warner(Photo: Caspar Balslev)

British director Keith Warner has been appointed as the new artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera, succeeding Kasper Holton, who has held the post since 1999.

Warner’s tenure will begin in August 2011, but he will start work immediately as a consultant to advise the company on repertoire decisions for future seasons.
 
Described as an “artistic beacon” by Erik Jacobson, Director of the Royal Danish Theatre, Warner was unanimously selected by the hiring committee from a list of 47 candidates.  He has previously directed Don Giovanni (2006) and Wozzeck (2008) for the Royal Danish Opera.

Opera Now Contributing Editor, Tom Sutcliffe, who has worked with Warner on several past productions believes that “this appointment reflects genuine confidence in Keith’s knowledge of the whole repertoire and his supreme professionalism. But also there is no question that many of his productions are simply first rate – that he is a modern director who has interesting things to say about the operas he's staging, but also who wants those operas to come alive in their own terms not to be changed into something they never expected to be and often cannot be.”

The Chairman of the Board of Royal Danish Opera, Lars Pallesen, certainly hopes that Warner’s appointment will help “to establish the company in the international elite”, but, says Sutcliffe, “Copenhagen is not going to change radically” under Warner’s leadership: “It is constrained by the fact that it is a national company setting the tone in a small nation of around 5 million people. The casting and the company are being subsidised by the Danish taxpayer to be identifiably Danish.”

On the other hand, Sutcliffe concedes that “having a Brit as artistic director (for the second time – Elaine Padmore was also there from 1993-9) is a gesture towards the international in standards and aspirations that does not undermine the company’s Danishness to any great extent.” 

Pointing to the fact that Warner is one of the only British directors to have worked successfully in Bayreuth whilst also being “a believer in the popularisation of opera”, Sutcliffe says that his approach is characterized by some “very special qualities”: he is a “generous collaborator” with “considerable judgment and competence about casting”, plus “the sort of man who does work for almost no money when he believes in the cause. And above all he is fun to be with.”

 

Magic tricks - Rossini's Armida at The Met

19 May 2010, New York, USA

Renée Fleming as Armida
Renée Fleming as Armida(Photo: Ken Howard)

Report by Heidi Waleson

Rossini’s Armida, the Metropolitan Opera’s final new production of the Season and a company premiere, was mounted for its star soprano, Renée Fleming. The tale of a sorceress who ensnares a Crusader, Rinaldo, and turns him from his proper military path, the conquest of Jerusalem, Armida is a showcase for singers: six tenors surround the soprano, in a tour de force role that Rossini wrote for Isabella Colbran, and a lot of very florid, high-wire vocalism is required from everyone. It would probably work better in a smaller house, where these ever-escalating pyrotechnics would be more immediate for the audience.  Fleming can sing the notes, and she sounded lovely in the lyrical passages, but her voice didn’t display the kind of incisive edge and fiery precision that makes this repertoire truly exciting. Nor is she terribly believable as a villain. She was clearly having a fine time wielding her magic wand and bending tenors to her will, but even in her final rage aria, it all seemed to be happening in the spirit of fun.

The six excellent Rossini tenors included Lawrence Brownlee as the bewitched Rinaldo, whose elegant lyricism blended well with Fleming’s, José Manuel Zapata, who displayed a big, ringing sound as Gernando, a jealous knight killed off by Rinaldo in Act I (he and Brownlee also had an enjoyable vocal battle, complete with dueling high notes), and John Osborn, imposing as Goffredo, the head Crusader.

Two more fine tenors, Kobie van Rensburg and Barry Banks, turned up in Act III as knights determined to rescue Rinaldo from Armida; they sang a show-stopping trio with him. Yeghishe Manucharyan had a brief but impressive appearance in Act I as Eustazio, Goffredo’s brother. The lower-voiced villains were bass Peter Volpe as Idraote, Armida’s uncle and bass-baritone Keith Miller even danced a bit as Astarotte, the leader of her demon followers. Riccardo Frizza’s conducting was regrettably pedestrian, but there was some fine solo playing from the pit.

Much of the plot, such as it is, revolves around Armida’s magic, but director Mary Zimmerman’s production was low on enchantment. Designer Richard Hudson created a classical semicircular wall with doors, dressed up with a few extras touches, such as a field of poppies and some gigantic birds and insects, and Brian MacDevitt supplied some lighting changes to suggest the Crusaders’ camp or the pleasure palace that Armida conjures up for her captive. The knights stood around in red Crusader gear and armor, and much of the character interaction was symbolic rather than real.

Indeed, the production tone was slightly satirical throughout. Some of the most effective moments were pure fun, such as Armida’s lizard-like dancing and singing demons, with horns, scales and long skinny tails. The Met chorus proved wonderfully game here, participating in the snaky choreography by Graciela Daniele. Opera ballets are usually either a snooze or an embarrassment, but Daniele and associate choreographer Daniel Pelzig worked wonders, and the lengthy Act II ballet, in the pleasure palace, was a witty re-enactment of Armida’s conquest of Rinaldo, complete with lissome maidens and leaping lizards in tutus. If only the opera’s dramatic moments – and Fleming’s singing – had been as lively.

 

Ireland's Lismore Music Festival 2010

11 May 2010, Report by Robert Thicknesse

Lismore Castle, County Waterford, Ireland
Lismore Castle, County Waterford, Ireland

Lismore Music Festival 2010 presents Bizet's 'Carmen'
Lismore Music Festival 2010 presents Bizet's 'Carmen'

As Irish opera approaches (perhaps) another renaissance with the establishment of national companies in both the Republic and Ulster, another newcomer braves the Irish summer at Lismore, in county Waterford.

The short Lismore Music Festival, which if all goes well will become an annual event, kicks off this year with what promises to be a Carmen quite individual enough to pique the interest.

Directed by Dieter Kaegi, the stern Regietheater artistic director of Opera Ireland, it stars Fiona Murphy and takes place to an accompaniment devised by guitarist Redmond O’Toole along the lines of an Astor Piazzola piece: 8-string guitar, accordion, violin, bass and percussion.

The hispanic theme continues with tapas and paella before the show and, one hopes, plenty of Cava during it. Not to mention an outbreak of Iberian weather (though the publicity happily admits that ‘Every effort has been made to weatherproof the venue for the performance including a roof.’)

Lismore castle, inland from the lovely seaside town of Youghal, is the home of the son of the Duke of Devonshire and is one of Ireland’s prettiest, set in the countryside of west Waterford usually by-passed by those on their way westwards to Cork and beyond.

The opera takes place in the transformed stables – another reminder of Castleward Opera in Northern Ireland, which would not be a bad model for Lismore. Castleward seems to have been extinguished by the Northern Irish Arts Council on the grounds of its perceived exclusivity; in fact it was always a jolly and most unsnobbish place. Let’s hope Lismore can take up the mantle. This year’s festival includes two performances of Bizet's Carmen on 5 and 6 June plus a concert of French music in St Carthage’s Cathedral on 6 June.

 

Philip Langridge Bursary Fund announced

11 May 2010

Philip Langridge
Philip Langridge(Photo: Richard Davies)

Philip Langridge as Alonso, King of Naples, in the Royal Opera production of Thomas Ades' The Tempest
Philip Langridge as Alonso, King of Naples, in the Royal Opera production of Thomas Ades' The Tempest(Photo: Clive Barda)

A new bursary in memory of the late tenor Philip Langridge has been created by Co-Opera Co., a London-based training company for young opera professionals.

As a principal spokesman and supporter of the company, Philip Langridge was one of the first artists to join students in the company’s rehearsal rooms, offering workshops for young opera singers.

“Co-Opera Co has been very fortunate that Philip Langridge, whose communication masterclasses were very much in demand, was one of the tutors for their ensemble weekend workshop earlier this year,” said a statement by the company. “His versatility, sublime interpretation of complex characters, striking stage presence, worldwide career and distinctive voice made him an outstanding role model for young singers.”

In recognition of Langridge’s passion for teaching young singers at the start of their professional careers, the fund has now been established in his name.

The Philip Langridge Bursary Fund will help by providing financial help, initially for Co-Opera Co. projects and eventually to assist the company’s associate members with other career-related funding. The bursary will also enable Co-Opera Co. to give loans and discretionary grants to singers, repetiteurs and conductors.

To launch this initiative and raise money for the find, Co-Opera Co. is hosting a gala concert at the London Oratory School on 30 May. The evening will feature performances by more than 20 artists associated with the company, including Yvonne Howard and Sarah Connolly, plus a promise auction offering singing lessons by some of the artists taking part.

 


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