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News round-up – 26 November 2010

26 November 2010

LA Opera Music Director, James Conlon
LA Opera Music Director, James Conlon(Photo: Mark Lyons)

Conductor renews contract until 2013

Conductor James Conlon has extended his contract as Music Director of LA Opera until 2013. He will continue to work alongside Plácido Domingo, who also recently renewed his contract as the company’s general director. Conlon has conducted 23 productions since joining LA Opera in 2006.  "Under his baton our wonderful orchestra has never sounded better,” said Domingo, welcoming the news.

Task force called in to sort out company’s woes

Opera Cleveland is facing an uncertain future due to funding difficulties and has called in a task force to save the company. Executive director, William Cole, recently told that "We've just not been able to get in front of the tsunami of reduced funds” which has been building since 2006, when Opera Cleveland was created from a merger of Cleveland Opera and Cleveland Lyric Opera. No further performances will take place until a new strategy is in place.

Community opera to launch Essex-based venture on 6 December

A new £8.3 million production workshop owned by the Royal Opera House will open next month with a special performance by local volunteers. The 19-metre high building at Purfleet in Essex is capable of housing full-size stage sets for ROH productions as well as hosting education projects and local-community events. UK culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has agreed to attend the opening on 6 December.

Creative Wales Awards 2010

The Music Director and co-founder of Music Theatre Wales, Michael Rafferty, is one of 18 arts practitioners who recently received a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales.  Rafferty will use his award to research the latest developments in the European new music scene, expand his concert repertoire and hone his conducting technique.

Robin Thompson to hold the reins while a new director is sought

Virginia Opera (VO) has appointed Robin Thompson as an interim artistic advisor following the recent departure of VO’s long-time artistic and music director, Peter Mark. Thompson was most recently the producing artistic director at the New York City Opera. He says he will “offer a sense of stability to the casting and season planning process" during the search for a new artistic director to succeed Mark.

Tenor named Person of the Year at awards ceremony in Las Vegas

Plácido Domingo, speaking at this year’s Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, said he was filled him with "happiness and emotion" at being named Person of the Year. The 69-year-old tenor added: "It gives me such happiness to keep on singing and living days like this."


ROH announces 5-night residency for Rufus Wainwright

25 November 2010, London, UK

Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright(Photo: Matthias Clamer)

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has been invited to take up a 5-night residency at London’s Royal Opera House from 18 to 23 July 2011.

He is the first popular artist ever to be given this opportunity, though one-off celebrity events have been presented by ROH in the past.

Titled ‘House of Rufus – 5 Nights of Velvet, Glamour and Guilt’, the residency will include two performances of Wainwright’s Judy Garland tribute show, Rufus Does Judy!, originally given at the London Palladium in 2007, and a concert performance of his debut opera, Prima Donna. All three nights will feature the Britten Sinfonia under conductor, Stephen Oremus.

Solo performances by Wainwright plus appearances by his sister, Martha Wainwright, and father, Loudon Wainwright III, are also planned.

“We’re very excited about having Rufus and the Wainwright family here in July next year,” said Deborah Bull, ROH's Creative Director. “Our stage is now renowned the world over as a place where a wide range of singers tell stories and engage the emotions through the power of the human voice. ‘House of Rufus’ will continue this tradition whilst extending the diversity of the artists and the musical genres we offer.”


Boston Lyric Opera hosts aria contest for teens

25 November 2010, Boston, US

BLO Aria Contest participants
BLO Aria Contest participants(Photo: Boston Lyric Opera)

Boston Lyric Opera’s “Free Open House” weekend of activities for families and opera lovers recently culminated in the city’s second annual Aria Contest for teens.

Six young singers performed arias by Mozart and Bizet at Boston’s Schubert Theatre, including a doo-wop trio arrangement of ‘Voi che sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro. This same aria was also performed by the contest’s 16-year-old winner, Tal Heller (pictured, far right), who received a cash prize of US$1,000.

BLO Artistic Director Esther Nelson welcomed all the participants on stage and the event was introduced and adjudicated by a panel of local celebrities.


Funding cuts hit BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition

24 November 2010, Cardiff, Wales

The BBC has announced funding cuts to one of its most prestigious international classical music awards, Cardiff Singer of the World.

From next year, the number of participants invited to take part in the biannual competition will be reduced from 25 to 20.

The number of competition rounds will also drop from five to four without any reduction in the price of season tickets.

Season ticket holders will instead be allowed to attend the final of the Song Prize, which runs alongside the competition.

A BBC Wakes spokesperson said that these decisions had been taken “due to challenging financial circumstances”, adding that “ticket prices for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World have been frozen for the past eight years, and next year's season ticket includes the Song Prize Final for the first time.”

The Song Prize was formerly funded by city lawyer, Ian Rosenblatt, but his support ended in 2009.

Patron Dame Joan Sutherland also recently passed away, leaving the competition temporarily without a figurehead.

Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 will take place at venues across the city between 12 and 19 June.

Winner of the Welsh Singers Competition 2010, tenor John Pierce, has automatically been selected to represent his home country.


Final curtain for Opera Ireland with Puccini's Tosca

23 November 2010, Dublin, Ireland

Orla Boylan (Tosca) and Marcelo Puente (Cavaradossi)
Orla Boylan (Tosca) and Marcelo Puente (Cavaradossi)(Photo: Opera Ireland)

Review by Robert Thicknesse

Opera Ireland’s (OI) last ever performance was on the night when the announcement finally came that the country was requesting a reputed €90 billion bailout from the IMF and ECB. This, of course, puts the demise of the 69-year-old company in some perspective, but it is nonetheless a medium-seized tragedy amid the greater one, more so since the impetus to replace the company with a proper national outfit seems to be weakening with every passing instant. One piece of good news is that Opera Theatre Company (OTC), the small-scale touring group which was originally supposed to be wound up at the same time as OI, is benefiting from a sort of rolling reprieve which may, in time, see it grow to provide main-scale opera as well: this would surely be the best solution.

It is also the end, of course, of Dieter Kaegi’s 13-year stint as artistic director, a reign which has been marked by imagination, cussedness and an admirable determination to avoid the obvious. Kaegi introduced ten works to the company’s repertoire, cast a lot of Irish singers, and brought a bit of rigorous Swiss Regietheater to the Dublin bourgeoisie with his own productions. In recent years, relationships were established with various European houses for the sake of co-production and similar arrangements, and the final Tosca was produced in association with Theater Lubeck.

In fact Jakob Peters-Messer’s staging was fairly trad, except for a modern setting, a box for the Attavanti chapel, a somewhat industrial last act set and a spurious metatheatrical crowd scene thrown in for Cavaradossi’s execution and Tosca’s putative leap. This could all have been fine with a bit more meat in the direction itself, but the characters were apparently doing not much thinking and more walking around in a daze. Amarilli Nizza alternated as Tosca with Orla Boylan; I saw the former, who has the glamour for the part but a pretty broad vibrato somewhat compromising what is a good-sized and attractive voice.

We got equally small amounts of interest from Marcelo Puente’s Cavaradossi, though he too sang well without ever seeming entirely secure. Dimitri Platanias brought some uncomplicated bullishness to Scarpia. What in fact made the evening memorable was the orchestral performance, a staggeringly romantic reading by conductor Gianluca Martinenghi which made ‘Vissi d’arte’ sound something like the intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana; but the speciality was an extraordinary degree of intimacy in the music, the string-quartettish nature of Puccini’s writing apparent when the textures slimmed down, and some really expressive playing that brought out the essentially human angle of this ghastly story.

So, goodbye Opera Ireland and goodbye to the sweet, if perennially boiling, Gaiety Theatre with its undulating balconies like fairground waltzers. It’s been a pleasure visiting the opera in Dublin these ten years or so, and I look forward to coming back for OTC’s next show, Don Pasquale, touring from February.


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