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London's Royal Opera House announces new season

20 April 2015

New role: Joyce DiDonato sings Charlotte
New role: Joyce DiDonato sings Charlotte

The Royal Opera House has announced its programme for its 2015/16 season, which includes eight new commissions and a number of singers and directors making their debut at the house.

Introducing the new season, the ROH's director of opera, Kasper Holten, set out a programme that balances popular classics on the main stage beside a raft of new and experimental work in venues across London: ‘We have gone for a really varied roster of new productions and popular revivals, including Carmen, Tosca and La traviata to fill the huge appetite for the classics shown by our new audiences.' Holten added, however, that the ROH would stilll be a centre for innovation: 'It’s important in these times to continue artistic risk-taking.'

The season features 11 new productions, including stagings by Katie Mitchell, Richard Jones and Graham Vick, while major European figures including David Bösch and Mariame Clément are among the four directors new to the ROH.

Two important works make their Royal Opera House debut during the season:  Chabrier’s charming comic fantasy L’étoile and Enescu’s searing, monumental  Oedipe, which continues a strand of 20th century opera established last season with works by Weill and Szymanowski.

Other ROH debutants include the Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, currently music director at the Turin Opera, who will conduct a new production of Il Trovatore. Meanwhile, Bryn Terfel, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez all make role debuts during the season. Terfel takes the lead role in Richard Jones’ new production of Boris Godunov; DiDonato takes a step out of the bel canto repertore to sing the dark, poignant role of Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther; and Flórez also ventures into new territory taking the title tenor role in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, co-directed by the choreographer Hofesh Shechter.

The exploration of the Orpheus myth at the ROH, which began with Monteverdi’s Orfeo at Camden’s Roundhouse in January 2015, will also feature a Linbury Studio Theatre production of the Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus, which portrays imaginary events in Django Reinhardt’s life, featuring opera, jazz and French chanson. The ROH will also be returning to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Christian Curnyn and the Orchestra of Early Opera Company will perform Luigi Rossi’s Orpheus, with Mary Bevan singing the title role in a staging by Keith Warner.

The new commissions include Morgen und Abend, by the Austrian ‘spectralist’ composer, Georg Friedrich Haas, following the life story of a man from birth to death (introduced by a 28-minute monologue); an operatic adaptation by Philip Venables of Sarah Kane’s harrowing 1999 play 4.48 Psychosis; and Mark Simpson’s Pleasure, whose central character Val is the cleaner in the toilets of a gay club.

Meanwhile, operas by Donnacha Dennehy, Mark Simpson and Iain Bell appear in London for the first time. Bell’s In Parenthesis is a new commission to mark Welsh National Opera’s 70th anniversary, and will be directed by David Pountney.

The redevelopment of the Linbury Theatre, expected to last two years, will commence in January 2016. The project will improve the acoustics and comfort of the venue, while maintaining its flexibility. While the Linbury is under rennovation, two productions will take place at the Lyric Hammersmith, while Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnestwill be performed at the Barbican Centre before moving to New York.

The 2015/16 season will also see the company’s first international tour in five years, as it presents Kasper Holten’s Don Giovanni, Phyllida Lloyd’s Macbeth, and a concert programme of Mozart in Tokyo and Osaka.

Rhinegold Charity Fund 2015/16 recipients announced

8 April 2015, London, UK

Report from Early Music Today

Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) and Live Music Now have been named joint recipients of 2015/16’s Rhinegold Charity Fund, offering £10,000 of advertising across Rhinegold’s classical music and education publications, websites and services.

Rhinegold Charity Fund chairman Stephen Turvey said: ‘We have chosen YCAT and Live Music Now because, although significantly different in their focus, we passionately believe in the work of both charities. We also felt that their thoughtful and detailed applications clearly demonstrated a strategic and organisational maturity that would fully make use of the support offered by the fund.’

Both recipients spoke of the impact they hoped the charity fund would have on their organisations: YCAT’s chief executive Alasdair Tait said: ‘The impact and profile the fund provides will directly benefit our exceptional young artists at a crucial point in their career, whilst introducing YCAT’s unique work to a wider, international audience.’ Ian Stoutzker, founder chairman of Live Music Now, added: ‘We hope that working with Rhinegold will give us the opportunity to publicly celebrate our wonderful musicians, and encourage more people to become involved in this important and ground-breaking work.’

Entries for the 2016/17 Charity Fund will open in autumn 2015. The fund is open to all charities within the music industry. Full details will be available from www.rhinegold.co.uk/fund.

ENO announces plans to open up Coliseum foyer

8 April 2015, London, UK

Architects Robin Snell and Partners have been appointed to design a more open and inviting foyer at the London Coliseum in ENO’s efforts to increase traffic through its doors and bring in new revenue.

The £1.2m required for the first stage of the project is being funded by the Benugo group, which operates cafes and restaurants in the British Museum, V&A, Natural History Museum and elsewhere, and which already runs ENO’s American Bar Restaurant.

Building work on the Grade II* Frank Matcham designed theatre is set to begin in early 2016, pending a consultation process with Westminster City Council, English Heritage and the Theatres Trust.

Robin Snell was the project architect for Glyndebourne’s opera house as part of Michael Hopkins & Partners, and under his own name has been responsible for Garsington Opera’s pavilion at Wormsley as well as the overhaul of the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol.

Stated aims of this first phase are to open up the foyer ‘to provide uninterrupted views from the street’ and will include a wine bar and café open all day. Robin Snell said: ‘Our design strategy will be to open up the ground floor foyer to the street, bringing the inside outside; re-form the elegant Edwardian foyer rooms, which have become lost; restore the Roman mosaic floors to their original splendour; re-light the exterior and interior spaces and position contemporary objects and furniture within – all with the aim of bringing theatrical sparkle to the place.’

The launch of this initiative follows ENO’s appointment of former management consultant Cressida Pollock as interim CEO to sort out the company’s ongoing crisis, which has already seen two high-profile resignations this year (chairman Martyn Rose and executive director Henriette Götz). ENO was also recently removed from Arts Council England’s funding portfolio and put under ‘special funding arrangements’ for two years due to concerns over its ‘governance and business model’.

Meanwhile, the company continues to receive recognition for its productions, winning both the opera awards at this year’s Oliviers as well as being shortlisted in the opera and music theatre category for the 2015 Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Awards.

Weill's Mahagonny gets a provocative new staging at Covent Garden

11 March 2015, London, UK

Jimmy get your gun: Kurt Streit as Weill’s hapless hero
Jimmy get your gun: Kurt Streit as Weill’s hapless hero(Photo: Clive Barda)

Review by Owen Mortimer

Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny is both a period piece steeped in the decadence of the interwar years and a prophetic satire that touches on themes of greed, poverty and freedom still topical today. John Fulljames offered us a raucous and colourful staging of this edgy work that only the most conservative opera lover could fail to enjoy.

Es Devlin’s sets played a big part in the evening’s success, their extraordinary detail matched by wit and sheer rumbustiousness. Fulljames’ handling of the chorus was no less virtuosic, each scene seguing smoothly to the next regardless of the huge forces involved.

The casting of key roles was similarly sumptuous, with Anne Sofie von Otter making her first appearance at Covent Garden in more than 10 years as the fugitive turned bordello madame Leocadia Begbick, Kurt Streit as Weill’s hapless hero Jimmy McIntyre and Christine Rice as his lover Jenny. Willard White (Trinity Moses), Peter Hoare (Fatty) and Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Jack O’Brien) completed the starry line-up. 

Begbick presides over the downward spiralling trajectory of the city she founds, so it’s a role that requires a big personality. Otter proved ideal, even if vocally she may be past her prime. She struts confidently back and forth across the stage sporting a shock of bright pink hair, leaving no-one in any doubt about who’s the boss.

Streit’s tone is not the most beautiful, but as Jimmy McIntyre this contributed to the bawdiness of his character. Streit’s powerful performance equalled Otter’s, though perhaps missed something of Jimmy’s complexity as he grows in his feelings of repulsion towards the degradation around him. Similarly, Christie Rice’s Jenny emphasised the moral degeneration of her personality at the expense of her simplicity, offering us too few moments of respite from the opera's relentless hedonism. The ROH Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth handled Weill’s moment-to-moment shifts in style and colour with great skill, though didn’t quite capture the bite and swagger that this music needs.

Fulljames sought to bring the action up to date and introduce an overarching moral context by conflating concerns about the hurricane in Brecht’s original libretto with 21st-century fears about environmental catastrophe. This directorial intervention didn’t really take us anywhere, however, other than to heavily underline the fact that we were supposed to be seeing the work as ‘relevant’ to the present day.

Many of the themes do indeed resonate in our age of neoliberal capitalism and growing inequality, but there’s an inherent irony in staging an opera like Mahagonny at a venue that’s only accessible (whatever the Royal Opera might say) to a wealthy, well-heeled audience. Ultimately, that’s why the work has to be steeped in layer upon layer of irony, to the point where it no longer really has an agenda – other than to satirise everything, including the idea of opera itself. The result is an extraordinary and engrossing spectacle, but one that leaves you wondering whether any of it has any meaning.

ENO appoints McKinsey’s Cressida Pollock as interim chief executive

9 March 2015, London, UK

Report by Alex Stevens

English National Opera has appointed Cressida Pollock as interim chief executive. Pollock will join from management consultant McKinsey, which has been working with ENO in recent months, on 24 March.

Pollock will lead the organisation as it goes through the process of appointing a permanent chief executive and board chairman. ENO confirmed that she had resigned from McKinsey to take up the role, rather than working on a secondment or similar arrangement.

‘From her time at McKinsey she brings great experience in advising and helping businesses and other organisations to tackle their biggest challenges and raise their levels of performance,’ said a statement.

Last month it was announced that ENO had not been admitted into Arts Council England’s three-year National Portfolio funding programme, because ACE had ‘continuing concerns’ about the robustness of ENO’s governance and business model.

Pollock's appointment was made by a panel of board members led by acting chair Harry Brünjes, ‘alongside’ ACE’s London area director, Joyce Wilson.

Brünjes said in a statement: ‘No one has a better understanding of the work that needs to be done in order to be re-admitted to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio this November. Cressida will be working closely with myself, Glyn Barker (our chair of finance), John Berry, and the senior team over the coming months as ENO adapts to an operating model which will rely less on public subsidy, whilst still maintaining the highest level of artistic excellence.’

Pollock said: ‘I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play this role at one of the UK’s leading arts institutions. I am greatly looking forward to working closely with the board, John and the senior management team during what is a critical time for ENO.’

On Sunday (8 March), the Financial Times published a letter signed by 33 opera and festival directors stating that they were ‘alarmed by the recent questions that have arisen regarding English National Opera and its talented artistic director, John Berry, since they are certainly not deserved’.

The letter defended Berry’s record and highlighted the success of ENO co-productions under his tenure as artistic director (‘this season alone, 18 ENO co-productions will have been seen in 17 different opera houses in eight countries’). This way of working, it said, had ‘wisely saved [ENO] millions of pounds in shared production expenses in recent years, while at the same time making it one of the UK’s greatest cultural ambassadors’.

‘Rather than being criticised, Berry and his company should be applauded for their indefatigable efforts to keep our art form fresh. We stand together in support of him and his notable achievements.’

The letter’s signatories included Pierre Audi, director of Dutch National Opera; Bernard Foccroulle, director of the Aix-en-Provence Festival; Peter Gelb, general manager of New York Metropolitan Opera; Valery Gergiev, artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre; and Dominique Meyer, director of Vienna State Opera.

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