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Latest News

Director deems soprano's physique unsuitable for role

20 January 2010

Daniela Dessì performs Francesca da Rimini
Daniela Dessì performs Francesca da Rimini

Italian soprano, Daniela Dessì, has walked out of rehearsals for a new production of Verdi’s La traviata at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome following comments by director Franco Zeffirelli about her physique.

Criticising the decision to cast Dessì as Violetta, Zeffirelli said at a press conference in December that “A woman of a certain age and plumpness is not credible in the character”. He added, with reference to the fate of the opera’s heroine, that “[Dessì] is not exactly the kind of woman who is likely to die of tuberculosis.”

Dessì’s husband, Fabio Armiliato, who was due to sing the role of Alfredo, has also withdrawn from the production.

Meanwhile, Dessì has staunchly defended her suitability for the role of Violetta, stating that “I believe a lot in the physical appearance of the singer. I have always taken care of myself.” She also told the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, “You don’t sing with your body, you sing with your voice.”

Zeffirelli’s comments reflect a growing trend in the world of opera to cast singers based on their looks as much as their voices, a trend influenced by the growing importance of broadcasting and recording to the coffers of major opera houses.  

“Cinema is already leaving its mark on the way operas are produced in the opera house,” says Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar. “The scrutiny of the camera means that the days of wooden acting and improbable casting have had to be addressed.”

Arguably, female opera singers tend to come under even greater scrutiny for their looks than male artists. But in some cases, warns Khandekar, this emphasis on visual impact “can be to the detriment of the music.”

Dessì is now said to be exploring possible legal action against Zeffirelli, but given that she decided to quit the likelihood of any action being brought is slim. Opera Now commentator, Robert Thicknesse, has suggested that “any subsequent posturing probably has more to do with whether she gets paid or not, which I imagine she will.”



Puccini's Torre del Lago villa threatened by flooding

11 January 2010

A view over Lake Massaciuccoli
A view over Lake Massaciuccoli

The Festival Pucciniano stage at Torre del Lago
The Festival Pucciniano stage at Torre del Lago

Puccini’s villa at Torre del Lago in Tuscany was threatened by flooding last month when the Sechio river burst its banks.

Emergency workers laid thousands of sandbags to protect the villa, which sits close to the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli, just south of Viareggio.

Torre del Lago is a mecca for opera lovers, who flock to the small town's Festival Pucciniano in July and August every year. Performances take place on a lakeside stage that offers views of stunning natural beauty.

Once described by Puccini as “Paradise”, it was at Torre del Lago that the composer penned Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

Puccini’s granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, now runs the villa as a public museum, together with a shrine that contains the composer’s remains. During the flood warnings, she worked with volunteers to move all original furniture, paintings and documents to safety.

Speaking to The Times, Simonetta Puccini said: “[My grandfather] loved this lake and was inspired by it to write immortal melodies. He could never have imagined it would become a danger.”


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.

 


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