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News round-up - 30 January 2010

30 January 2010

Gerald Finley as Captain Balstrode in 'Peter Grimes' (Photo: Clive Barda)
Gerald Finley as Captain Balstrode in 'Peter Grimes' (Photo: Clive Barda)

ENO RECEIVES AWARD FOR PETER GRIMES
South Bank Show Awards 2010, London

The Opera Award at the last ever South Bank Show Awards has gone to English National Opera for David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes. It was the third year in a row that ENO had won this Award. All performances of Peter Grimes in May 2009 sold out, achieving a total audience of more than 19,000. David Alden’s next production for ENO – Lucia di Lammermoor – opens at The Coliseum in London on 4 February 2010.


LA OPERA 2010-11 SEASON
Fewer operas but one world premiere

Los Angeles Opera will present six productions in 2010-11, including the world premiere of a new commission: Il Postino by Mexican composer, Daniel Catán. Based on Michael Radford’s 1994 Academy Award-winning Italian film and the earlier novel by Antonio Skármeta, Plácido Domingo will perform the role of Pablo Neruda with tenor Charles Castronovo as the postman. The season’s other productions are Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (from Glyndebourne), Verdi’s Rigoletto (from San Francisco Opera) and Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia (previously seen in Munich, Hamburg and Vienna), plus two company revivals.


OPERA NORTH 2010-11 SEASON
The UK’s largest regional company to present seven new productions

While many companies are planning reduced seasons for 2010-11, the UK’s Opera North has announced details of seven new productions alongside just one revival. Operas guaranteed to bring box office success –  Lehár’s The Merry Widow and Bizet’s Carmen – will anchor a season that also includes Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Janáček’s From the House of the Dead and the British premiere of The Portrait by Polish composer, Mieczysław Weinberg. The season ends with Wagner’s Das Rheingold, beginning Opera North’s first ever complete Ring cycle.


FRANCESCO ZAMBELLO TO DIRECT NEW SALOME IN WASHINGTON
Washington National Opera 2010-11 season

Washington National Opera has confirmed that Francesco Zambello will direct the company’s new production of Richard Strauss’s Salome in October 2010 with Deborah Voigt in the title role. Voigt made her critically acclaimed debut as Salome in Zambello’s 2006 production for Chicago Lyric Opera.


NEW ZEALAND BARITONE MAKES MET ROLE DEBUT
Teddy Tahu Rhodes performs Escamillo in Carmen

Teddy Tahu Rhodes recently made his role debut as Escamillo in Carmen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He stepped in to replace Mariusz Kwieichen, who was ill.


Los Angeles launches citywide Ring Festival LA

29 January 2010

Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund in 'Die Walküre' (Photo: Monika Rittershaus / Courtesy of LA Opera)
Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund in 'Die Walküre' (Photo: Monika Rittershaus / Courtesy of LA Opera)

From 15 April to 30 June more than 100 cultural and education institutions in Los Angeles Region will mount a festival inspired by Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Organized under the leadership of LA Opera, Ring Festival LA will comprise dozens of performances, exhibitions, symposia and special events in locations across the city and beyond.

The festival has been timed to coincide with three complete performances of Achim Freyer’s new US$32 million Ring cycle production for LA Opera. Critics recently highlighted the high cost of this production when the company was forced to take an emergency bridging loan for $14 million to cover debts.

LA Opera General Director, Plácido Domingo, is nonetheless confident that “Ring Festival LA will be a defining moment in the cultural history of Los Angeles”, a sentiment echoed by Festival Leader, Barry Sanders: “Ring Festival LA will be the most significant arts festival since the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival…but this time, none of the artists will be imported. It will be open to all, and give opera back to the people.”

The festival’s partners include prominent organisations such as the Goethe Institut, LA County Museum of Art, Huntingdon Library, Griffith Observatory and University of Southern California, with events ranging from in-depth academic lectures and study groups to a hip hop theatre workshop for people aged 16 to 23.

“The presence of so many of LA’s cultural, educational and civic leaders clearly demonstrates that the city’s forces can be brought together through a cultural festival,” says Domingo. “Ring Festival LA will have far-reaching impact throughout our community.”


Birmingham Conservatoire to mount opera world premiere

28 January 2010

Matthew Cooper and Lucie Louvrier as Mr & Mrs Jedemann
Matthew Cooper and Lucie Louvrier as Mr & Mrs Jedemann

An opera written in 1999 by British composer, David Blake, will finally receive its world premiere at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre this coming March.

Students from Birmingham Conservatoire will give four performances of Blake’s Scoring A Century, which traces the fictional story of a married couple through the historical trials and tribulations of the 20th century.  The work’s unusual score promises to take audiences on a parallel musical journey that mixes opera, cabaret, dialogue and musical theatre.

Two earlier productions – in Oregon, USA and Dublin, Ireland – were cancelled in the wake of the September 11 tragedy

Birmingham’s core artistic team includes international opera director Keith Warner, who also wrote the opera’s libretto, and Lionel Friend, the Conservatoire’s Conductor in Residence. Their production will feature a cast of 47 plus a mixed ensemble of 32 instrumentalists – all from Birmingham Conservatoire.

The two leads – Mr and Mrs Jedermann (‘everyman’) – will be played by postgraduate students Matthew Cooper and Lucie Louvrier.

Michael Barry, Director of Theatre Studies at the Conservatoire: “[Keith Warner] is paying [our] singers the compliment of treating them as just another opera company and so they are learning what is expected at the highest level of the profession. Students are also picking up technical advice and audition techniques to take forward in their careers…opportunities don’t get much better, or bigger, than this.”


News round-up - 21 January 2010

21 January 2010

Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen at La Scala (Marco Brescia / Teatro alla Scala)
Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen at La Scala (Marco Brescia / Teatro alla Scala)

LA SCALA PERFORMERS PROTEST WORKING RULES ABROAD
Audience critical of dressed-down tactic

No beginning of any season at La Scala would be complete without controversy. Although the hugely successful opening of Carmen in December passed undisrupted, the final night of this production was recently marred when some performers and musicians donned casual street clothes instead of costumes. Their protest was an attempt to put pressure on the company to clarify its policy for pay and working conditions abroad. Shouts of “Shame” were heard from audience members critical of the dressed-down tactic.


NEW DEUTSCHE OPER DIRECTOR NAMED
Dietmar Schwarz to take over from Kirsten Harms in 2012

Dietmar Schwarz, the director of opera at Theater Basel, has been appointed to run Berlin’s Deutsche Oper from 2012, succeeding Kirsten Harms. His appointment follows Harms announcement in September that she will leave Deutsche Oper in 2011, and won’t seek an extension of her contract. Schwarz said in the statement that he hopes to bring “new and fresh ideas” to Deutsche Oper. Under his leadership, Theater Basel was Basel was chosen last year as “Opera House of the Year” by the German opera magazine, Opernwelt. 


GRAMMY AWARD NOMINATION FOR WASHINGTON’S WOLF TRAP OPERA
John Musto’s Volpone makes Best Opera Recording category

The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Washington, US, has received a Grammy Award nomination in the category ‘Best Opera Recording’ for John Musto’s Volpone. Described as ‘a comic opera unfaithfully based on Ben Johnson’s 17th century comedy’, Volpone was commissioned by the Foundation and recorded by the Wolf Trap Opera Company with a cast including members from the company’s 2007 summer residency programme. The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will take place in Los Angeles on 31 January 2010.


WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA 2010-11 SEASON
Risk-averse productions dominate due to financial constraints

Washington National Opera has announced a 2010-11 season comprising five productions judiciously selected to ensure box office success, including Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Strauss’ Salome and fourteen performances of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The fifth opera – Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride – will be a company premiere featuring Plácido Domingo as Oreste. Domingo will also perform as part of a new celebrity concert series named after himself.


ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ANNOUNCES FREE EVENT FOR ARMED FORCES
Joanna Lumley to host Valentine’s Day performance

The Royal Opera House in London has become the first UK arts organisation to support Tickets for Troops, a charity that gives free event tickets to members of the British armed forces. Joanna Lumley will host a special evening of opera and ballet at Covent Garden on 14 February, marking the contribution of those who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A total of 2,000 tickets will be available to serving military personnel and those medically discharged through injury since 2001.


CONDUCTOR CANCELS ALL ENGAGEMENTS FOR TREATMENT
Seiji Ozawa announces six months leave following cancer diagnosis

74-year-old Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa, has cancelled all his engagements for the next six months following a positive diagnosis for esophageal cancer. Ozawa has been music director at the Vienna State Opera since 2002. His contract is due to expire later this year, but he is confident of returning in July “in time to fulfil my summer schedule.”  


New York City Opera yields performance dates to the ballet

20 January 2010, New York, USA

NYCO General Manager and Artistic Director, George Steel, with Julia Koch at the inauguration of the David H. Koch Theater (April 2009)
NYCO General Manager and Artistic Director, George Steel, with Julia Koch at the inauguration of the David H. Koch Theater (April 2009)

New York City Opera has ceded four weeks of its autumn season to New York City Ballet in return for US$9 million from a capital campaign fund shared by the two companies.

The move substantially reduces the amount of opera on offer at the newly refurbished David H. Koch Theatre (formerly the New York State Theater), where both opera and ballet companies have been resident since 1964. The venue recently reopened after renovations costing US$107 million, paid for by oil billionaire and philanthropist, David H. Koch.

Some reports, including highly critical commentary by Bloomberg, have implied that the benefactor – known to be an avid dance fan – may have influenced the decision to change the season dates, which tips the balance number of performances at the David H. Koch Theatre substantially in favour of ballet.

NYCO’s Director of Public Relations, Pascal Nadon, speaking to Opera Now, strongly countered this suggestion: “David Koch has not sought and does not have any influence on the programming in the Theater or on the scheduling balance between New York City Opera and New York City Ballet.”

Nadon is keen to point out that “our recent autumn season was a great success, including the gala opening, which raised a record-breaking US$2.3 million for the company.” Opera Now critic Robert Levine described NYCO's recent Don Giovanni as "active, clever and never dull", adding that the theatre's new acoustics are "clean, clear and with plenty of ping" – perfect for opera.  Despite this success, Nadon concedes that NYCO still needs “to work towards a ‘right-size’ operation” that entails “reducing our fixed operating costs and producing a more compact and manageable number of productions than in the past.”

US-based Opera Now correspondent, Heidi Waleson, concurs with this view, dismissing David Koch’s possible influence as a “red herring”. The real reason for the shift, she says, is purely financial:

“In addition to the US$ 9 million in funds that NYCO will receive from this move, giving up the autumn season to the ballet will also help them to lower their fixed costs.” The latter, says Waleson “are enormous, given that NYCO still has union contracts which obligate them to pay their orchestra and chorus for many more dates than they can actually afford to perform, as well as their costs for the building.”

The collapse of the global economy goes some way towards explaining these challenges, but the key turning-point in the fortunes of NYCO seems to have been the decision by Gerard Mortier’s (during his 21-month tenure as general manager and artistic director of the company) to give very few performances at other venues during the renovation of the New York State Theater. New York City Ballet meanwhile continued to give performances throughout the closure.

“The ballet has had the upper hand all along,” explains Waleson. “When the Theater was closed for the renovation, they gave up no performance weeks, since it was Mortier who wanted the work done on behalf of the opera. I'm not surprised that the ballet has now taken advantage of NYCO's financial peril to secure the autumn season.”



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