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Latest News

Auto-translating opera glasses trialled at Avignon

16 July 2015, Katy Wright

Audience members test the glasses
Audience members test the glasses

The world’s first auto-translating opera glasses made their debut at this year’s Avignon Festival.

Co-developed by Atos and Theatre in Paris, the augmented reality glasses allow audience members to choose surtitles in their native language, which are displayed on the glasses at a pace matching that of the performance.

The technology was used for the first time during performances of King Lear at the Palais de Papes, with the option of translation into French, English or Mandarin. It will undergo further testing at future festival productions.

Paul Rodin, managing director of the Avignon Festival, said: ‘These glasses not only demonstrate technological prowess, but are an accessibility tool, providing a simple way for cultures to be spread and making the ‘other’ accessible to very different publics.’

Further alterations will be made before the glasses are rolled out for general use. A greater selection of languages and additional content (such as superimposed 3D animation and dramatic effects) will be available, while those with hearing difficulties will be able to customise the devices.

According to Carl de Poncins of Theatre in Paris, the final product could be in use in opera houses and theatres in the UK within a year.

Operalia finalists announced

16 July 2015, Katy Wright

The finalists for the 2015 Operalia competition have been announced. 11 singers will perform in the opera final, while five will sing for the Zarzuela prize.

The opera finalists are:

  • Edward Parks, baritone, USA
  • Andrea Carroll, soprano, USA
  • Julien Behr, tenor, France
  • Kiandra Howarth, soprano, Australia
  • Bongani Justice Kubheka, bass-baritone, South Africa
  • Hyesang Park, soprano, South Korea
  • Tobias Greenhalgh, baritone, USA
  • Darren Pene Pati, tenor, New Zealand
  • Noluvuyiso Mpofu, soprano, South Africa
  • Ioan Hotea, tenor, Romania
  • Lise Davidsen, soprano, Norway

The Zarzuela finalists are:
  • Andrea Carroll, soprano, USA
  • Darren Pene Pati, tenor, New Zealand
  • Kiandra Howarth, soprano, Australia
  • Ioan Hotea, tenor, Romania
  • Hyesang Park, soprano, South Korea
The final round of the competition will take place on 19 July at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.


Armed robber takes €11k from Greek National Opera

13 July 2015, Katy Wright

The Olympia Theatre, home to Greek National Opera
The Olympia Theatre, home to Greek National Opera

The extended bank holiday in Greece has seen individuals and businesses to hoard cash rather than deposit it in a bank – and led to a parallel increase in robberies. On the morning of Wednesday last week (8 July), the Greek National Opera’s accounts office was held up by an armed robber who made off with €11,000 (£7,800). The cashier present at the time was slightly injured but released from hospital later that day.

The incident was kept under wraps until the weekend when a report leaked to the press and the company’s administration was forced to release the details.

It is not known whether the incident was directly related to the postponement, announced on 9 July, of the GNO’s production of Carmen at the outdoor Odeon of Herodes Atticus amphitheatre, original scheduled for 26 to 31 July. It is clear, however, that the ongoing uncertainty and lack of functioning services in Greece is severely affecting its companies’ ability to operate.

Greek National Opera

ENO artistic director announces departure

10 July 2015, Katy Wright

John Berry
John BerryENO

English National Opera has announced that its artistic director, John Berry, is to relinquish his post on 17 July after 20 years with the company. 

Berry said of the decision: 'My work is now done and ENO is today regarded as one of the most creative forces in opera. The decision feels right to leave at the end of a hugely successful season both from an artistic perspective and in terms of audience numbers. ENO is an institution that has an international reputation for producing important new work, recognised by opera awards won at the Oliviers earlier this year and the recent Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Opera and Music Theatre. We played to packed houses for Sweeney Todd – over half the audience had never visited the London Coliseum before – and we welcomed record numbers to see The Pirates of Penzance on stage and in cinemas across the UK.

'After eight seasons leading the Company artistically and as the award winning 14/15 season comes to a close, I am looking forward to spending the summer deciding on my next role. I look forward to remaining involved with ENO in the future, as an audience member and supporter.'

Acting chairman Harry Brunjes described Berry's contribution as 'phenomenal', saying: 'Under his leadership, the artistic programme at ENO has been unrivalled in its quality, ability to entertain and to innovate. He has helped build ENO a UK-wide and international reputation for excellent dramatic opera that makes us unique – introducing directors from other art forms to the world of opera. He has driven the use of international collaborations bringing in significant financial contributions to our productions and has been instrumental in forging a future for the London Coliseum with a partnership with Benugo.'

Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley said: 'John Berry’s track record for innovative and challenging work is well established and warmly welcomed across the global opera fraternity. Throughout his time at ENO he has demonstrated a strong commitment to keeping opera at the cutting edge of cultural production in the UK. We wish him all the best for the future.'

Berry's departure is the latest in a number of administrative changes at ENO. In March 2015, Cressida Pollock was appointed interim chief executive, while Harry Brunjes stepped in as acting board chair in January. The artistic director leaves at the same time as Edward Gardner, who will be replaced by Mark Wigglesworth in September.

The board of ENO will be undertaking a full evaluation of the artistic leadership of the company before appointing a successor, and will instigate a global search process in due course.

English National Opera

Winners announced at the Belvedere Singing Competition

6 July 2015, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Triumphant trio (left to right): Lise Davidsen, Levy Sekgapane andKi Hun Park
Triumphant trio (left to right): Lise Davidsen, Levy Sekgapane andKi Hun Park(Photo: Paul van Wijngaarden)

The finals of the 34th Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition took place last week in Amsterdam. From a field of around 2,000 applicants in 63 countries, 160 finalists were selected to participate in a week of elimination rounds held at the Amsterdam’s Kleine Komedie theatre and at the Musiektheater, home of Dutch National Opera.

The final round took place before a public audience on 4 July, featuring 15 singers from 10 countries, including four South African hopefuls and the first ever participant from Kenya.

Though the levels of experience and training were varied, the overall standard of this year’s finalists was extremely high. As for the choice of repertoire, there was a preponderance of Mozart arias, with plenty of bel canto favourites and surprisingly little Verdi and Puccini. One notable feature among all the finalists was that they showed solid technique and a good grasp of style in their chosen repertoire, and none of them resorted to ‘shouting’ or over-projecting, which can be the bane of young singers in competitions.

The finals had many highlights, including the Korean-American countertenor Kanming Justin Kim’s touching and understated  ‘Ombra mai fu’ from Handel’s Serse, and the Kenyan baritone Zachariah Njorge Karithi in an elegant rendition of ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Four singers stood out in particular in the finals for their outstanding musicianship, distinctive voices and their powerful ability to communicate to an audience. At just 20, the Korean tenor Ki Hun Park, the youngest of this year’s finalists, sang ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ with youthfully intense, heartfelt fervour and a real feeling for the French language.

The 27-year-old Finnish soprano Tuuli Takala is already establishing herself on the international stage. In the Belvedere finals, she showed exceptional poise and control in her  beautifully phrased and nuanced performance of  the Queen of the Night’s ‘O zittre nicht’ from The Magic Flute.

South African tenor Levy Sekgapane, aged 24, gave the star turn of the final round, with an accomplished performance of ‘Languir per una bella’ from Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri, full of fresh, focused beauty and confident coloratura. He has something of the bravura and brilliance of Juan Diego Flóres, without the brassiness. He gauged the swell of emotion perfectly, capturing the excitement and the pain of youthful infatuation.

Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, 28, is an extraordinary, distinctive dramatic soprano with a brilliant Wagnerian career ahead of her if her ‘Dich Teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser in this final is anything to go by.  She has tremendous stature and presence, singing with a radiant tone that has an attractive, fluty purity and a laser’s edge that cuts through an orchestra playing at full tilt.

The, the jury, headed by John Mordler, with representatives from major opera houses in Russia, Germany, UK, Holland, Ireland and the US, had a tough job to place the three winning finalists. After uncharacteristically long deliberation, the following results were announced: in third place was Ki Hun Park; Lise Davidsen was placed second, and she also received the Media Jury prize and the Audience Prize. The overall competition winner, and a worthy one by any standards, was Levy Sekgapane who received his €7,000 prize donated in memory of the soprano Teresa Stich-Randall.

All the singers in the final were supported by the outstanding contribution of Het  Gelders Orkest under conductor Ed Spanjaard.

The International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition alternates annually between Amsterdam and a roving location. Next year’s event will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, for the first time.

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