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New Year news round-up - 10 January 2010

10 January 2010

Sarah Connolly CBE
Sarah Connolly CBE

Rolando Villazón (© Felix Broede / DG)
Rolando Villazón (© Felix Broede / DG)

Grace Bumbry
Grace Bumbry

BRITISH MEZZO-SOPRANO RECEIVES CBE
Sarah Connolly recognised in the 2010 New Year Honours List

British mezzo-soprano, Sarah Connolly, has been named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to classical music in the 2010 New Year Honours List. Connolly’s calendar for 2010 includes the role of the Composer in two productions of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (New York Metropolitan Opera in February and Welsh National Opera in Oct/Nov) plus the lead role in a new production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda with Opera North (4 to 30 June 2010).

ITV LAUNCHES NEW ‘OPERA’ REALITY TV SERIES
Rolando Villazón and Katherine Jenkins to mentor celebrity contestants

Britain’s ITV has announced the launch of Popstar to Opera Star, a new reality TV show featuring popstars performing world-famous opera arias. Mexican tenor, Rolando Villazón, will mentor the show’s celebrity contestants with best-selling Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins. The results will be judged by rock legend Meat Loaf and Classic FM DJ Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. Weekly Friday night screenings begin on 15 January 2010.

THE 32ND KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 2009
Mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry receives prestigious tribute

73-year-old mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry, was recently included in the 32nd Kennedy Center Honors 2009 for her lifetime contribution to American culture. She sat with President and Mrs. Barack Obama in the Presidential Box of the Kennedy Center Opera House during a TV broadcast of the Honors event on 29 December 2009. Bumbry’s tribute was introduced by Aretha Franklin, followed by a live performance of ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Tosca by Angela Gheorghiu.

2010-11 SEASON ANNOUNCEMENTS
Seattle Opera and Spoleto Festival announce their forthcoming seasons

Seattle Opera and Spoleto Festival have begun the New Year by announcing their forthcoming season programmes. Seattle’s offering includes new productions of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor plus the Seattle premiere of Massanet’s last opera, Don Quixote. Spoleto’s 2010 programme comprises a more recherche triptych of Haydn, Wolfgang Rihm and – to mark the reopening of Charleston’s Dock Street Theatre following three years of renovations – the 18th century English ballad opera, Flora.

ONASSIS’ FORMER YACHT TO HOST LUXURY OPERA CRUISE
The Maria Callas Experience – from £1,500 per night per person

Christina O – the luxury yacht where Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis once entertained the world’s most famous and powerful celebrities – will be used to host an exclusive week of Mediterranean opera cruises later this year. Named after Maria Callas, with whom Onassis conducted a notorious affair for nearly 10 years in the 1950s and 1960s, the cruise packages will feature live performances by sopranos Nelly Miricioiu, Clare Rutter and Mary Plazas. Prices start at £1,500 ($2,400) per person for a State Room.

WORLD PREMIERE IN ROME LAUNCHES YEAR OF HENZE
Antonio Pappano directs Opfergang at the Accademia Nazionale de Santa Cecilia

The world premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Opfergang will take place tonight at the Accademia Nazionale de Santa Cecilia in Rome, directed by Antonio Pappano and featuring soloists Ian Bostridge and John Tomlinson. This marks the beginning of an important year of Henze performances, including a new production of Phaedre at Duisburg Theatre for RUHR.2010 European Capital of Culture.

BOLLYWOOD INSPIRES NEW INDO-FRENCH OPERA PRODUCTION
Adolphe Adam’s Si j'etais Roi to receive three performances in New Delhi

The Neemrana Music Foundation in New Delhi will present three performances this month of Adolphe Adam’s orientalist opera Si j’etais Roi (If I Were King). The new production, which involves 200 performers from India, France and Sri Lanka, has been inspired by Bollywood and includes dances and action sequences modelled on epic Hindi movies.


Suffolk Opera presents Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

1 January 2010, Bury St Edmunds, UK

(Photo: Suffolk Opera)

Rosie Johnston reports on Suffolk Opera's production of Eugene Onegin in Bury St Edmunds.

Suffolk Opera bit off more than it could chew with Eugene Onegin;  a piano reduction of Tchaikovsky’s multi-textured, emotionally complex orchestral score was never going to convey the dramatic and psychological narrative. Despite brave attempts by Music Director Peter Cowdrey to keep form and pace from the piano, the evening was unshaped by Robin Martin Oliver’s directing. Tatiana’s journey from an inexperienced country girl on the brink of sexual and emotional awakening was virtually ignored and key relationships, notably between Tatiana and Onegin, and Onegin and Lensky, were underdeveloped.

Martin Oliver went spectacularly against the grain with Tatiana’s bedroom; a luxury double with satin sheets and pillows? All that was missing was the mini-bar.  Lynsey Docherty sang with emotion and intellect and she has a strong top to her soprano.  Her letter scene started with uncertainty however a solid relationship developed between her and Cowdrey and between them they achieved pathos without descending into sentimentality.

In Act II, Tchaikovsky’s masterstroke was to keep Tatiana mute at her own party. She has virtually no music apart from one poignant line that floats over the anguish of the ensemble. She is a tortured onlooker and yet Martin Oliver had Tatiana giggling and simpering in reaction to Triquet’s attention. Alex Wingfield was a young, attractive Triquet; although the couplets are a hackneyed set piece he sang sensitively and with charm; a different take on the usual wheel-on-the-panto-dame type proffered in so many productions.

Hugo Tucker sang a poignant Lensky; his voice is light but with robust high notes, if a little less rounded in the lower register.  His fatalistic poet, unconsciously bent on his own destruction, worked beautifully in the duel scene; the canon with Onegin was well paced and moving.

Luke Williams’ Onegin had the necessary charisma; his lyric baritone has richness in sound and colour and he gave us an anti-hero the audience could identify with and believe in until his rape-like assault on Tatiana in Act III scene II undid any audience sympathy.  Add the appearance of Lensky’s ghost like a confused escapee from the chamber of horrors, and the drama dribbled awkwardly away

Suffolk Opera’s chorus managed to stay in time and maintain energy throughout, although ‘statue mode’ scenes are problematic for the most professional of choruses; I’m always drawn to a wobble or a leg twitch. Suffolk Opera will be on terra much firma with Offenbach's La belle Hélène, scheduled for November 2010.

 

Kentish Opera presents Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld

1 January 2010, Tonbridge, UK

(Photo: Kentish Opera)

Rosie Johnston reports on Kentish Opera's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at Tonbridge School.

Kentish Opera gave a hilarious account of Offenbach’s inverted Orphic tale at the E.M. Forster theatre in Tonbridge. There were pitch problems in the string section and temerity in conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald’s approach to the overture but Director Terry John Bates wrung every last drop of parody from an already overstocked libretto. Public Opinion, starting the piece with pseudo severity, was played by Nicola Smedley as Anne Robinson, complete with clipboard, snarl and threats of ejecting the weakest link. Euridice was re-incarnated as Tara Palmer Tomkinson run amok in the groves of Thebes; a  pastoral shopaholic fused to her MP3 player as Orpheus scratches away at his violin. The role was stunningly sung by Stephanie Kemball Read. She has superb high notes which resonated effortlessly above chorus and orchestra and her transition from sing to spiel was faultless – a true all round performer. David Newman acted well in the role of Orpheus as frustrated musician and irritated husband. His tenor lacked clarity at times but his fusty, middle-management  comedy contrasted well with Kemball Read’s ego fuelled, high octane Euridice.

Joe Shovelton as Aristaeus/Pluto was tentative to start with; his projection lacked heft and he seemed ill at ease whilst crawling through the cardboard wheat sheafs in sexual predator mode. He warmed up however, and managed an effortless fireman’s lift when kidnapping Euridice.
 
Ian Belsey’s Jupiter was funny if deliberately stagey – he’d make an excellent Widow Twankey. Vocally he has good control and pitch.  There were excellent supporting performances from Lisa Swayne (Diana), Letitia Perry (Minerva) and Nicola Widenbach as Juno, all with light, pretty voices and gorgeous, bosom heaving costumes.  Myvanwy Bentall as cupid was exquisite; perhaps the most natural performance of the evening with her subtle inflection and beautifully coloured soprano.  Greg Tassell as Mercury represented was a football kicking, zoot suit wearing yoof with attitude; the audience loved him although it seemed as if the characterisation detracted from the vocal performance;  the timbre of his tenor was dry at times.

The chorus deserves a huge puff; non-professionals of all ages, they sang and high kicked their way through the burlesque; clearly loving it.  The performance’s apotheosis, the much anticipated ‘le gallop’ (the can-can, as we know it) had the necessary sand-blaster energy.

Bates played hilariously on the contrast between the Gods, bored to death on Mount Olympus and the sexy low-life of Hades, where dead is very much alive; Carol Stevenson’s costumes were beautifully thought out considering inevitable budget constraints.

 

Herrenchiemsee Festival, Bavaria – 14-26 July 2009

1 January 2010, Vol 21, Jan/Feb 2010

The Herrenchiemsee Palace
The Herrenchiemsee Palace

Alpine horns at sunset in Herrenchiemsee
Alpine horns at sunset in Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee's Hall of Mirrors
Herrenchiemsee's Hall of Mirrors

Reviewed by Amanda Holloway:

Bregenz, Savonlinna – both venerable festivals that rely for their charm on an idyllic lakeside setting. Now add to these Herrenchiemsee, a wooded island on the beautiful Chiemsee lake, 50 miles east of Munich.

The Herrenchiemsee experience starts on the jetty at Prien, where you board a paddle steamer for the 15-minute journey to Herrenchiemsee Island, disembark and take a horse-drawn carriage (or a romantic stroll) through the woods. And suddenly you arrive at Herrenchiemsee Palace, an extraordinary copy of Versailles built in the late 19th century for Ludwig II of Bavaria, as a homage to his hero Louis Quatorze.

The annual music festival based in this fairytale castle has at its heart an opera production, but with a majority of choral and symphonic concerts, it is not yet an opera festival. Given the budget, festival founder Enoch zu Guttenberg would love to do more. A composer and conductor of the KlangVerwaltung orchestra, Guttenberg is a Bavarian aristocrat whose son happens to be the Defence Minister of Germany. It was Guttenberg’s musical achievements that attracted the attention of Deutsche Bank Chairman Josef Ackerman, and led to significant sponsorship for the Herrenchiemsee Festival. Guttenberg had initially been approached by Bavarian politicians to start a festival in the palace, but was doubtful about how it would pay for itself when the concert hall seated only 600. As he recalls. "We were lucky, because Josef Ackermann is a musician at heart, and now Deutsche Bank pays for the whole festival. 1.4 million euros every year. And we need it!"

Sponsorship is guaranteed for the next four years, at which point Ackermann steps down. It will be a challenge finding a replacement in the current economic climate, but Guttenberg is determined that ticket prices won’t rise. "We don’t want only rich people, we want everybody to come." With Munich and Salzburg so near, it must be hard to attract people to this relatively small venue, but Guttenberg says the festival has a different approach. "Each year we choose a theme, or concept, which makes people think about politics and society."

The last three festivals have seen semi-staged productions of La traviata, Nabucco and Cavalleria rusticana, led by Italian conductor Ljubka Biagioni zu Guttenberg. She is the wife of the Artistic Director, but she’s also an international conductor in her own right. And crucially, she has a vision of how opera can work in these extraordinary surroundings. A 98-metre Hall of Mirrors doesn’t immediately suggest the poverty-stricken Sicilian landscape of Cavalleria rusticana, for example. But dramatically and musically this semi-staged performance worked. Genuine human emotion radiated from the stage across the acres of glittering gold leaf and chandeliers, drawing the audience into the unfolding tragedy from the opening bars of the overture. With a few props from her own garden  – a chair, a brightly painted horsecart – and costumes depicting generic village folk, Ms Guttenberg created a thoroughly believable world for her vivid characters.

The orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia, sat in the centre of a stepped stage with the action swirling around them. With vibrato kept to a minimum, the colours and dynamic contrasts of this responsive band were thrilling to the ear (their former conductors have included Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy), in spite of very limited rehearsal time.
Though the front stage was the focus of the drama, there was much use of the anterooms for dramatic entrances and exits. Turiddu’s first lovely aria floated through the mirrored doors before he appeared, and what a spine-tingling sound that was. It’s the first time I’ve heard the Latvian Aleksandrs Antonenko, and his rich, dark tenor, handsome face and burly frame was well suited to the role of Turiddu. His Santuzza (Dimitra Theodossiou), was every inch the wronged woman, her powerful soprano ragged with emotion.

Much of the emotional veracity of the performance came from Ms Guttenberg, elegant in a black silk coat, hair upswept, and completely in command of her orchestra and the singers swirling around her. The standing ovation went on for hours, and she deserved nothing less.

The 2010 festival takes place from 13-25 July, and the programme includes choral and orchestral music from Bach to Penderecki, Enoch zu Guttenberg’s signature Bruckner and, for opera lovers, a semi-staged Die Zauberföte and a spectacular Rigoletto. Not hard to find the political and social message in that! 

 

News round-up - 23 December 2009

23 December 2009

Tosca, Act III, from Luc Bondy's production for The Metropolitan Opera
Tosca, Act III, from Luc Bondy's production for The Metropolitan Opera

Italian soprano Mirella Freni
Italian soprano Mirella Freni

NEW YORK’S METROPOLITAN OPERA MAY REVIVE RETIRED 1985 TOSCA
Decision pending following controversy over Luc Bondy’s new production

Metropolitan Opera general manager, Peter Gelb, has announced that the company is considering reviving Franco Zeffirelli’s retired production of Tosca during the 2010-11 season. Gelb stressed that this possibility is unconnected with the controversy surrounding Luc Bondy’s new production, which was booed when it opened The Met’s current season. Instead, Gelb cited scheduling challenges associated with Robert Lepage’s new Ring cycle, an explanation described by Zeffirelli as “an escape, an excuse”. The final decision will be taken before the company’s 2010-11 season is announced in February.


2010 MIDEM CLASSICAL AWARDS
Italian soprano Mirella Freni to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award

Italian soprano Mirella Freni has been announced as the winner of the 2010 Midem Classical Awards ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. Freni will receive her award at a gala event in January, held during the record industry’s annual trade fair in Cannes, France. She was selected by an international jury comprising representatives of magazines, websites and artist management organisations.


US OPERA FESTIVAL CUTS BUDGET AND TICKET PRICES
Glimmerglass Opera operating budget down by 20% against 2009

Glimmerglass Opera - the annual opera festival based in Cooperstown, New York State - has reduced its 2010 operating budget by roughly $1 million compared with 2009. Next year's starting price for tickets has also been slashed from $58 to $26 in a move designed to attract new audiences. Four full productions will staged at the Alice Busch Opera Theater in Springfield between 9 July and 24 August 2010.


2010 MUSICAL AMERICA AWARDS
This year’s award ceremony speeches now available online

The 2010 Musical America Awards ceremony took place at New York’s Lincoln Center last week. The award recipients included Musician of the Year, Riccardo Muti, and Vocalist of the Year, Elina Garanca. The 33-year-old Latvian soprano said that she was “shocked” to receive her award since she has performed only rarely in the US – a situation due to change very soon when she performs the role of Carmen at The Met on New Year’s Eve.


OPERA LOVERS
Glyndebourne’s Gus Christie weds soprano Danielle de Niese

Executive Chairman of Glyndebourne Productions, Augustus (‘Gus’) Christie, has married his fiancé of ten months, Danielle de Niese.  The Australian lyric soprano of Sri Lankan and Dutch ancestry made her Glyndebourne Festival debut in 2005 as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Rumours of the couple’s relationship were confirmed publicly in 2007 and de Niese subsequently performed the title role in L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the 2008 Festival. Christie separated from his former wife, Imogen, in 2004.



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