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15 November 2010

Shirley Verrett
Shirley Verrett(Photo: James Heffernan)

Christoph Schingensief
Christoph Schingensief(Photo: Klaus Haag)

American soprano known as ‘the Black Callas’

Shirley Verrett has died at her home in Michigan, aged 79. The American opera star, who enjoyed a worldwide reputation for her vocal prowess and electrifying performances, was known in Italy as ‘La Nera Callas’ (the Black Callas) – an epithet awarded for her triumphant portrayal of Verdi’s Lady Macbeth at La Scala in 1975. Not all critics applauded Verrett’s move into the soprano repertory, however, regarding her as better suited to the mezzo-soprano roles with which she had begun her career, such as Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saëns’ Delilah. Verrett herself admitted inconsistencies in her singing, but continued to take on major soprano roles such as Norma, Tosca and Aida, winning adulation from audiences at The Met and other leading international houses. In her later years, Verrett suffered from bronchial allergies caused by fungal spores and performed only rarely. From 1996 she served as a Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan and in 1999 was named as the University’s James Earl Jones Distinguished Professor.

Inspirational singing teacher dies, aged 93

Vera Rózsa lived and taught in London for nearly half a century, coaching a generation of young singers as well as established figures who sought her advice and support. She died last month, aged 93, but will be remembered through the ongoing success of her many former students, including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Anne Sofie von Otter and Karita Mattila. Rózsa herself was also a distinguished mezzo-soprano, though was forced to give up singing in the 1970s due to breathing difficulties that she later turned to her advantage: "If anyone has trouble with breathing,” she explained, “as a singer, I know what to do." She moved to Britain from Hungary in 1954 and was appointed an OBE in 1989.

  • Vera Rózsa, born 16 May 1917; died 15 October 2010

Provocative German director dies of cancer, aged 49

German director Christoph Schlingensief has died of lung cancer, aged 49. Known for his provocative stagings that tackled historical taboos such as the legacy of Nazism, Schlingensief directed an acclaimed production of Parsifal at the 2004 Bayreuth Festival. He was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and subsequently set up an “opera village” in the West African country of Burkina Faso. His last project, Via Intolleranza II, was rehearsed in Burkina Faso and premiered at this year's Kunstenfestivaldesart in Hamburg.

  • Christoph Schlingensief, born 24 October 1960; died 21 August 2010


News round-up – 12 November 2010

12 November 2010

Baritone, Simon Keenlyside
Baritone, Simon Keenlyside(Photo: Uwe Arens)

Funding granted for one more season

Ireland’s Opera Theatre Company (OTC) has been granted public funding for an eleven-venue tour of Don Pasquale in 2011. This decision ensures the continuity of opera touring in Ireland during the development of a new national company to replace OTC. The new company – Irish National Opera – was due to be launched next year, but is now not expected to present its first production until 2012.

British baritone Simon Keenlyside

Simon Keenlyside has been named Vocalist of the Year by the US publication, Musical America. The 51-year-old British baritone will receive his award during a ceremony at Carnegie Hall on 13 December 2010. From 12 November he can also be heard performing as the Marquis of Posa in a revival of Don Pasquale at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Highest ticket sales ever ensure 6.2% increase in revenue

The Canadian Opera Company (COC) has announced a surplus of C$21,000 in 2009-10, following the highest ticket sales in the company’s history. Attendance levels of over 97% for COC’s seven productions last season also ensured a 6.2% increase in box office revenues, which totalled C$13.4 million.

Allan Naplan to take the helm in March 2011

Allan Naplan is to join Minnesota Opera as the company’s new President and General Director, effective 1 March 2011. An accomplished arts administrator, professional opera singer, radio producer/host, and award-winning composer, Naplan was formerly the general director of Madison Opera. He will replace Kevin Smith, who has led Minnesota Opera for 30 years.

Design by architect Robin Snell takes its cue from Japanese traditions

Garsington Opera has begun work on a pavilion for the company’s new home at Wormsley Estate in Buckinghamshire.  Lifted above the ground to give an appearance of ‘floating’ over the landscape, architect Robin Snell’s design will use sliding screens, extended platforms, verandas and bridges inspired by Japanese traditions.

Up to 20 staff redundancies planned in restructuring

Sydney Opera House recently announced plans to save AU$2 million through restructuring initiatives that will include the loss of up to 20 jobs by the end of the year. Two senior management team members – the head of performing arts and commercial and operations director – have already been replaced by a new executive producer, charged with the task of creating more in-house productions.

Baritone honoured by the US Library of Congress

American baritone, Thomas Hampson, has been awarded a Living Legend medal by the US Library of Congress. He was the 101st recipient of the medal, awarded since 2000 to individuals who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage.

Elaine Kidd moves to new role from London’s Royal Opera House

Elaine Kidd joined Scottish Opera last week as Director of Opera Planning, succeeding Jenny Slack, who is retiring after 24 years with the company. Elaine was formerly the head of staff directors at London’s Royal Opera House.


Can the Royal Opera’s top salaries be justified?

8 November 2010, London, UK

Antonio Pappano
Antonio Pappano(Photo: Laurie Lewis)

Opera Now correspondent, Michael White, asks whether London’s Royal Opera House is justified in paying huge annual salaries to music director, Antonio Pappano, and chief executive, Tony Hall.

No one likes to have his pay-packet discussed in public. So it must have been embarrassing for Covent Garden's chief executive Tony Hall and music director Tony Pappano when they found themselves sucked into a very public (and  aggressive) debate about the acceptability of high salaries in a cash-strapped arts world.

It started with politician Don Foster digging through the Royal Opera House accounts and revealing (to anyone who hadn't done the digging for himself) that Hall earns the tidy sum of £390,000 a year while Pappano makes an even tidier £630,000. And the question then became, how could they justify these amounts?

The standard answer to such a question is market forces. But then you have to agree which market. For Pappano, as an internationally active figure, global standards apply; and you can safely say that whatever he earns at the Garden, he could earn more elsewhere. For Hall, the indicators are more local. And since the director of the Tate earns £180K and the director of the National Theatre £165K, he does seem to be doing well. If he was working in commerce it would be different. But he's not. He's in the subsidised arts.

There is, though, another factor: judgement by results. Have Hall and Pappano given the value to merit their salaries? In Pappano's case there's no denying his achievement at the House over the past eight years. Musical standards are high. Things work. With Hall it's more equivocal. There's been a lot of technological initiative to transmit productions beyond the walls of the ROH, but not much to make the performances themselves more accessible. And whatever his competence as an administrator, he won't go down in history as a dynamic one.

In the current climate of swingeing budgetary reductions – accompanied by much bad feeling – it would probably be politic if both Hall and Pappano did the decent thing and took voluntary pay cuts. Better this than risk looking like cats fattened on public subsidy.


UK government criticises top salaries at the Royal Opera House

8 November 2010, London, UK

ROH chief executive, Tony Hall
ROH chief executive, Tony Hall

The UK government has criticised salaries being paid to senior management and artistic staff at London’s Royal Opera House – the country’s most heavily subsidised cultural institution.

An analysis of the institution’s annual report to the UK Charities Commission shows two top salary bands totalling over £1.2 million per year.

Although the top earners are not named, they have been identified as music director Antonio Pappano (£630,000) and chief executive, Tony Hall (£390,000).

By comparison, Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the four Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and Cornwall, receives £180,000, while Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director the National Theatre in London, earns £165,000.

Commenting on the Royal Opera House report, the Liberal Democrat arts spokesman and MP, Don Foster, said:

“People will be shocked at the salaries of these two people. In today’s climate of cuts in the arts and people agreeing themselves to drops in salaries, I think the Opera House board should take another look.”

The Royal Opera House currently receives over £28 million per year as one of Arts Council England’s 850 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs), however from 2012 a new application process will replace the RFO system “with decisions made on the basis of strategic priorities.”


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.”


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