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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.”


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.


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