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Chinese soprano wins 48th Concours de Chant Toulouse

23 September 2010, Toulouse, France

Competition winners Yuan-Ming Song and Gevorg Grigoryan
Competition winners Yuan-Ming Song and Gevorg Grigoryan(Photo: Patrice Nin)

Chinese soprano, Yuan-Ming Song, has won the 48th Concours International de Chant Toulouse with a performance of ‘Toi qui sus le néant’ from Verdi’s Don Carlos.

Song was one of ten young performers selected to participate in this year’s public final at Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole, accompanied by the Orchestre National du Capitole under British conductor, Graeme Jenkins.

No first prize was awarded in the Male Voice category, but Russian bass Gevorg Grigoryan came second, followed in third place by baritone, Inhui Kim, from South Korea.

Sopranos dominated the Female Voice category, with Portugal's Eduarda Melo and Anna Kasyan from Georgia in second and third places after Song.

Each winner received a cash prize worth between €1,000 and €6,500.

Jury members for the competition included Peter Katona, casting director from London’s Royal Opera House, Christoph Seuferle, director of opera at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, and Lenore Rosenberg, associate artistic administrator for The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The Concours International de Chant Toulouse was founded in 1954 to discover and promote talented young singers. This year’s competition attracted over 130 applications from 31 countries.

Past winners include José Van Dam, Viorica Cortès, Alexandrina Miltcheva, Ludovic Spiess and Leontina Vaduva.

News round-up - 22 September 2010

22 September 2010

Cecilia Bartoli
Cecilia Bartoli(Photo: Simon Fowler / Decca)

Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo

Mezzo-soprano to lead Whitsun Festival from 2012

The intendant designate of the Salzburg Festival, Alexander Pereira, has appointed Cecilia Bartoli to the post of artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival with effect from 2012. She takes over from Riccardo Muti, who launched his inaugural season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra earlier this week.

Tenor to stay on as company’s general director

Tenor Plácido Domingo has renewed his contract with Los Angeles Opera and will stay on as the company's general director through 2013. His current contract was due to expire in June 2011. Domingo joined L.A. Opera as artistic director in 2000 and became general director in 2003. He is also the general director of Washington National Opera and has recently been criticised in the media for failing to devote enough time to these roles. Both companies currently face financial difficulties in the wake of the Great Recession.

Players vote in favour of the move but warn of an “inevitable decline” in standards

The orchestra of Scottish Opera has voted narrowly in favour of a management proposal to move to part-time contracts. The players will be offered 31 weeks’ work in the 2011-12 financial year and, from April 2012, a minimum of 28 weeks per year. In a statement made by the UK Musicians’ Union, however, they warned that the move would prove damaging and said the artistic standards of the national company will “inevitably decline”. Scottish Opera’s general director, Alex Reedijk, commented: “We welcome the news that the MU and our players have accepted our proposal. This proposal ensures we are best able to protect the company’s artistic standards by keeping the ensemble together.”

Jacek Laszczkowski to perform castrato role in new Baroque production

41-year-old Polish opera singer, Jacek Laszczkowski, will make history tomorrow night as the first male soprano ever to perform at London’s Royal Opera House. Playing a role that was originally written for a castrato, Laszczkowski will perform opposite soprano Véronique Gens in the company's new production of Niobe, Regina de Tebe, by 17th Century Italian composer, Agostino Steffani.

2,000 free seats available for opening night screenings on 27 September

The New York Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold will be screened for free via eight giant screens in Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza on 27 September. A total of 4,500 seats are available for the screenings on a first come, first served basis. The production, directed by Robert Lepage, marks the beginning of the Met’s first new Ring cycle in more than 20 years, and will feature the Welsh bass-baritone, Byrn Terfel, in his first US appearances as Wotan.

Leeds-based ensemble announced as station’s “partner in Yorkshire”

The Orchestra of Opera North has been announced as Classic FM’s sixth partner orchestra in the UK. Under the terms of the partnership, the station will feature the orchestra on-air and online as its “partner in Yorkshire”, with frequent airplay for the orchestra's recordings and a long-term commitment to advertising their performances.

Kenneth Tarver to play title role of Aureliano in Palmira for Opera Rara

The American tenor, Kenneth Tarver, will give his debut in the title role of Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 23 October. The production, conducted by Maurizio Benini, will also be recorded by the label Opera Rara, which specialises in recordings of rare and forgotten opera.

u - The Opera by librettist, Marc Okrand

A production performed entirely in the language of Star Trek's fictional warrior race – the Klingons – recently received its world premiere in the Netherlands. Conceived by the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble, based in The Hague, the new work is simply called u, meaning "universe" or "universal". The libretto was written by the creator of the Klingon language, Marc Okrand, who holds a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley and is the author of The Klingon Dictionary.


Zhang Yimou directs Turandot in Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' stadium

14 September 2010, Beijing, China

Nancy Pellegrini reports on Zhang Yimou's production of Turandot in Beijing's 80,000-seat Beijing National Stadium.

With Zhang Yimou’s US$17.5 million production of Turandot in Beijing’s National Stadium, China is staking their claim on Puccini’s final work, planning a movie, books, comics, musicals, a beauty pageant and even a theme park; the performance itself will tour former Olympic cities and end in London in 2012. But how’s the show?

Film director Zhang Yimou’s production of Turandot in Beijing’s National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) raises a philosophical question: should opera ever be done in an 80,000-seat venue?  The answer is probably not.

Touting the event as the biggest thing since Zhang’s Olympic Opening Ceremony set the bar too high; seeing even the massive stage tucked neatly into a corner created audible disappointment before the overture even began. The 1000 performers, 4000 costumes, and hundreds of musicians were impressive, but the sound bounced around trailing audio mud, while microphones smothered nearly all traces of timbre or vocal nuance. 

Dai Yuqiang (Calaf) is known as China’s Pavarotti, partly because his honeyed tones bear a striking resemblance to the late, great Luciano. Miked, however, he hovered between loud and harsh. Raffaella Angeletti (Turandot) has a lovely dynamic range, but here her forte notes were shrill. Perennial Liu (Yao Hong) and Timur (Tian Haojiang) fared better, but overall there was a vocal uniformity that only technology can bring. Certainly Turandot was written with spectacle in mind; after all, the story is ludicrous, and – setting aside the Chinese folk tunes and pentatonic scales – musically everyone is killing time until ‘Nessun Dorma’. But without being able to enjoy (or indeed, revile) individual voices, opera has little point.

Having said that, there was plenty to see. The bi-level stage was set against a “largest movie screen in the world” backdrop shaped like a Chinese palace that broadcast mood-setting video: a slow-motion cavalry, a blooming peony and an exploding gong, among others. Yao is an outstanding actress; her evocative arias, and Timur’s passionate reaction to her death were the evening’s most powerful moments. However, while Dai Is well-suited for the arrogant Calaf, he struggled with emotion. Concluding his ‘Nessun Dorma’ by throwing his hands up in triumph brought to mind an aria competition winner rather than a lovesick prince on the brink of death. And although the climaxes were visually stunning, dancers or lantern bearers parading through the more intimate scenes seemed merely a desperate attempt to fill the space.

This Turandot has its strengths, however: a strong cast and orchestra, gorgeous costumes, some breathtaking staging and a blend of old and new. It brought thousands to their first opera, and anyone sitting in the central VIP seats or scanning the TV screens got a spectacular view. For everyone else, it was too big for a stage, too small for a stadium. Some music lovers feel that stadium staging is the way to make opera accessible to the masses. Whether those same audiences will later come to a theatre where they can’t enter during Act II arguing about their seats while balancing popcorn and ice cream, only time will tell.

Zhang Yimou's Turandot will be staged in London as part as of the 2012 Olympic Games cultural programme


News round-up - 10 September 2010

10 September 2010

Dominique Meyer
Dominique Meyer

Cork Opera House
Cork Opera House

New director vows to expand company repertoire

The new director of Vienna State Opera, Frenchman Dominique Meyer, began his tenure last week with an announcement that the company’s repertoire will expand under his leadership. As well as bringing “Mozart back to the forefront” and re-introducing Baroque repertoire banished under former director, Ioan Holender, Meyer indicated that more modern and contemporary works would be added to Vienna’s roster – in particular the “beautiful operas” of Janáček. The number of new productions each season will also increase from four to six.

Discrepancies worth €63,000 uncovered

Fraud squad detectives have been called in by Cork Opera House to investigate the alleged misappropriation of company funds totalling €63,000. The discrepancy was uncovered during an internal audit led by executive director, Padriac Liston. A member of staff has since been interviewed and dismissed. Liston, who is an accountant and former boss of Heineken Ireland, was appointed in June after the company reported losses of €83,000 for the past financial year.

Opera category shortlist announced

Three recordings have been shortlisted in the opera category for this year’s Gramophone Awards: Peter Maxwell Davies’ Taverner (BBC SO / Oliver Knussen), based on the life of the 16th century English composer, John Taverner; Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s tale of mediaeval courtly love, L’amour de loin (Deutches SO Berlin / Kent Nagano); and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (The Hallé / Mark Elder). The winner will be announced at next month’s Awards ceremony in London.

Shuna Scott Sendall to perform at Proms In The Park

Scottish soprano, Shuna Scott Sendall, has been selected as the winner of the first BBC Radio 2 Kiri Prize. She was one of five singers who took part in the final, following a series of masterclasses in London with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Sendall’s prize includes an appearance at BBC Proms In The Park on 11 September, where she will join Dame Kiri to perform live for an audience of 40,000 people.

René Jacobs’ Mozart series continues with The Magic Flute

Harmonia Mundi has launched a special blog site to accompany their latest opera release – Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Weekly updates until 26 October will focus on different aspects of the opera and its production. The initiative continues René Jacobs’s series of Mozart recordings for the label, which already includes Le nozze di Figaro, Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito.

Heinz Fricke retires after a recent bout of ill health

Heinz Fricke, who has held the post of music director at Washington National Opera since 1992, has announced his retirement following a recent bout of ill health. The company plans to announce his successor during the forthcoming season. Meanwhile, Fricke will continue to bear the title of Music Director Emeritus.

Extra room needed for sell-out shows

The Canadian Opera Company is adding 60 standing room only spaces to its venue in Toronto, following a number of sell-out shows in recent years. The tickets, priced at $12 each, will be available on the day of performances.


The Pasadena Playhouse in California has appointed its first ever resident opera company after emerging from bankruptcy earlier this year. The Intimate Opera Company will launch its residency in December with a production of Gian Carlo Menotti's seasonal favourite, Amahl and the Night Visitors.


The Grand Théâtre de Genève in Switzerland has launched a new online ticketing service that allows opera-goers to choose their own seats and print out their tickets.


Indo-Norwegian partnership brings Puccini to Mumbai

9 September 2010, Mumbai, India

Anne Randine Øverby
Anne Randine Øverby(Photo: Magne Turøy)

Khushroo Suntook
Khushroo Suntook(Photo: Natasha Hemrajani)

Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA
Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA(Photo: Fram Petit)

India’s first fully-staged professional production of Tosca will receive two performances in Mumbai on 28 and 30 September. Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, reports on a unique collaboration between Bergen Opera and India’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA).

Following a triumphant production Madama Butterfly at the NCPA in February 2008, international opera returns to Mumbai this September as the NCPA teams up with Opera Bergen to present another Puccini masterpiece, Tosca.

The Norwegian link has been in the pipeline for two years – a typical timeline, given the sheer complexity and financial logistics of opera. On this occasion, the catalyst was a meeting between Khushroo Suntook, the NCPA’s operaphile Chairman, and Anne Randine Øverby, the  founder and director of Opera Bergen.

Øverby i established Norway’s second opera company (after the National Opera in Oslo) in the city of Bergen on the west coast. She has produced and conducted more than 80 operas in her long career, which has included conducting tours to China, Egypt and the USA.

 Øverby has relished an opportunity to work in India, in part because of her strong personal connections with the country: “Actually, I was born in India and lived here until I was 18,” she says. “‘My parents were missionaries in Bangladesh and then in South India, so the country is really in my blood. Bringing opera here is like a dream come true – a real personal voyage of re-connecting and re-discovery for me.”

Øverby has assembled a 90-strong cast to come to Mumbai, ranging from international soloists to instrumentalists and choristers. “I have to emphasize that this is a full-scale production created especially for Mumbai,” says Øverby. “We’re bringing a professional organist, rehearsal pianists, even six children who sing at the beginning of the great ‘Te Deum’ scene set in the church at the end of Act I. I was determined from the start not to cut any corners. If we’re going to do grand opera in India, it must be the real thing so that audiences are not short-changed.”

There are many local elements in the mix, however. The production will also feature 40 members of Mumbai’s Paranjoti Academy Chorus. And the entire production has been built in Mumbai, using local craftspeople and designers. “One of the great joys about a production like this has been co-operating with a local people and getting to know the spirit of Mumbai through its creative life,” says Øverby, who has visited the city five times this year in preparation for the opera.

With this level of resources and detail comes considerable financial commitment, but Øverby points out, “Opera Bergen is a small company that is used to having little money. We give our artists a lot of freedom in the way we work, so it’s not just a factory churning out productions.  As a result, I think people are more willing to give their time and energy to us at a rate that we can afford. In return, they can work in an interesting, more creative way than might be possible with other companies.”

Mumbai’s Tosca will be staged by Øverby’s long-time collaborator, the stage director Bruno Berger. What sort of approach has the production team taken for staging the opera? “We are presenting the opera in a very classical way,” Øverby says. “The drama will be presented in a clean, stylistic way and not at all exaggerated. The music is so powerful that it needs to come across very directly for the audience to feel its full force, so we’re trying to keep a clear focus in the staging.”

The hope is that Tosca will be the start of a series of ongoing collaborations involving opera co-productions with overseas companies. As the NCPA’s Chairman points out, the way forward for opera in India is to set up joint ventures that allow expertise and finance to be shared: “My love for opera is enormous, but it’s also enormously expensive!” says Khushroo Suntook. “One of the nice things that we got from this particular partnership is that Opera Bergen has brought a lot to the table, not least in the experience, integrity, and devotion that Anne has lent to our venture.”

“As for the future,” Suntook explains, “we are talking to people in continental Europe to do co-productions. We have a lot to offer to the opera world here in Mumbai. We have an economical orchestra and we have the facilities to build excellent sets and make wonderful costumes. The next step is to build up our singing talent and produce some good-quality homegrown singers. This takes time, but the Mumbai-born, internationally renowned soprano, Patricia Rozario, has been visiting India and holding masterclasses at the NCPA.  She has found some promising voices, who could have a future if the right opportunities are given.  So I’m looking ahead to February 2012/13 with a view to doing a short opera season based on the co-production model.”

Meanwhile for the forthcoming Tosca, Suntook, a great aficionado of the singing voice, is pinning his hopes on an international cast that is well-regarded and highly experienced: “We have a wonderful Georgian soprano, Iano Tamar, in the title role who has sung major roles at La Scala and Covent Garden. She comes to Mumbai after appearing Bregenz Festival. And I’m told that the Scarpia of Anooshah Golesorkhi is especially powerful. It transpires that he is a Zoroastrian by birth, so should be particularly popular with Mumbai's strong contingent of Parsi opera lovers!”

A version of this article originally appeared in the September issue of On Stage, the monthly magazine of Mumbai's National Centre for the Performing Arts.


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