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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.


Negotiations underway for part-time orchestra at Scottish Opera

9 September 2010, [Originally posted on 31 August]

General director, Alex Reedijk
General director, Alex Reedijk

Scottish Opera may be planning to halve the working hours and salaries of its orchestra, a report in Glasgow’s The Herald revealed last week.

According to the report, “The management of the opera company, led by general director Alex Reedijk, believe the expense of a full-time orchestra cannot be sustained.”

The alleged proposal to put all 54 orchestra members on part-time contracts for 26 weeks’ work per year has been met with “anger, concern and dismay” by the musicians.

They have responded by writing an internal letter to the company’s board members stating that “We are the last remaining performing artists on full-time contracts, and if we were to continue in the direction that these proposals take us, Scottish Opera would no longer be a performing arts company at all, merely an administration, and indeed would no longer be a ‘national’ company worthy of the name.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Scottish Opera has told Opera Now that “we are currently in negotiations with the players representatives and the Musician's Union about new employment contracts and do not have anything further to add.”

The orchestra of Scottish Opera is due to celebrate its 30th birthday this year, having survived a previous financial restructuring of the company in 2004 that led to the loss of nearly 100 jobs, including all 34 members of the Opera’s chorus.

Union says proposals will damage the company "irretrievably"

The UK's Musicians' Union has declared that "the artistic integrity of [Scottish Opera] will be compromised and damaged irretrievably" if proposed cuts to the contracts and pay of the company's orchestra go ahead.

The Union's comments were published in an open letter sent to all 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament last week, including Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop MSP.

Referring to recent media coverage about the proposed cuts, the Union's letter continued: "We understand that in today’s economic climate there are difficult decisions to be made about public spending...however, we believe that the company is one of Scotland’s most important cultural institutions and should be preserved for future generations.

“We believe that Scotland deserves a first-class opera company...using its public investment imaginatively and wisely to deliver excellent performances: small, medium and large, to the widest range of audiences.”

While Scotland's Culture Minister has so far not commented publicly on the debate, the Labour party's culture spokeswoman, Pauline McNeill MSP, said:

“I share the concerns that the Musicians’ Union have on the future of Scottish Opera. I urge Scottish Opera to consider all options and to discuss those with members in case there is a suitable alternative."

She added: "The reduction to working time for musicians is a drastic measure and those responsible, including the Scottish Government, must safeguard the integrity of our national company.”


Registration now open for Italy's "Benvenuto Franci" Vocal Competition 

9 September 2010, Pienza, Italy

Benvenuto Franci (1891-1985)
Benvenuto Franci (1891-1985)

Registration for the 2nd International “Benvenuto Franci” Vocal Competition in Pienza, Tuscany is now open. Singers are invited to apply online via Pienza’s local government website.

This year’s registration deadline is 6 October 2010.

Named in honour of Pienza-born baritone, Benvenuto Franci, the Competition was launched in 2008 by Artistic Director, Monica Faralli. It takes place biannually and attracted more than 100 applicants in 2008.

The 2010 Competition will feature a jury led by Pavarotti’s ex-wife and former business manager, Adua Veroni. Two days of rounds held at Pienza’s Conservatory of San Carlo Borromeo will culminate in a Final concert at the historic Church of San Francesco on 16 October.

The Competition is open to all singers born after 31 December 1974. There is also a special ‘Seniors’ section for singers born before 1 January 1975. Each applicant is expected to prepare five arias in their original language, accompanied by piano.

Cash prizes worth a total of 6,500 Euros are on offer, together with opportunities for the winners to take part in concerts and auditions.

All elimination rounds as well as the Final will be open to the public.

The 2nd International “Benvenuto Franci” Vocal Competition will be linked with the Amici per la Pelle association, which provides information and assistance for the prevention, study and treatment of skin cancer.


News round-up - 30 August 2010

30 August 2010

Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith(Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Philanthropist, Agnes Varis
Philanthropist, Agnes Varis

Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole – The Opera

A new opera based on the life of former U.S. glamour model, Anna Nicole Smith, is to be screened on BBC4 TV in early 2011. Anna Nicole – The Opera with music by Olivier award-winning composer, Mark-Anthony Turnage, will receive its world premiere at London's Royal Opera House on 17 February 2011. Directed by Richard Jones, the production promises to be “provocative in its themes, exciting in its bravura style and thrilling with its sheer contemporary nerve”. Smith, who first came to public attention after marrying an oil billionaire nearly four times her age, was later dubbed "the queen of trailer trash" by U.S. tabloids. She died in 2007 after ingesting a fatal overdose of prescription drugs.

Gift of US$2.5m will subsidize 13,600 seats

Agnes Varis, a managing director of the Met’s Board of Directors, has donated US$2.5 million to support the company’s subsidised weekend tickets scheme. Her gift towards the 2010-11 season will ensure that 13,600 weekend seats - normally priced at $137 to $322 - can be made available for just $25 each. An estimated 93 performances will be covered by the scheme, including every Friday evening, Saturday matinee, and Saturday evening performance (except for the new production premieres of La Traviata on 31 December and Die Walküre on 22 April).

Solo recital scheduled for 13 February 2011

Popular Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, is to make his solo recital debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 13 February 2011. His performance will feature a selection of arias, lieder and art songs by Beethoven, Wagner, Liszt, Richard Strauss, Fauré, and Tosti. Bocelli, who has been completely blind since the age of twelve, is a multi-award-winning performer and was recently honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to live theatre.

Jennifer Lynch promoted to key role

San Francisco Opera General Director, David Gockley, has announced the appointment of Jennifer Lynch as Development Director, effective 1 September 2010.  Lynch has been with the company for nine years and currently serves as Senior Director, Comprehensive Campaign.  Her new role includes overall responsibility for San Francisco Opera’s annual and special fundraising campaigns, currently worth approximately US$30–35 million per year.

Six lectures by Daniel Snowman at London’s Royal Academy of Music

A series of six monthly opera lectures by leading social and cultural historian, David Snowman, will be launched at London’s Royal Academy of Music on 28 September 2010. ‘The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera’ will explore the world of opera houses, impresarios, monarchs, money makers, artists and the changing nature of audiences over the past five centuries. Online booking now open.

Stephen Costello to play Rodolfo in La bohème

Following his acclaimed appearances in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at this year’s Salzburg Festival, the American tenor, Stephen Costello, will make his debut at the Vienna State Opera on 6 and 9 September 2010. Costello will play Rodolfo in a revival of the Franco Zeffirelli production of La bohème under Franz Welser-Möst.

61-year-old David Rendall is seeking damages worth £250,000

61-year-old British tenor, David Rendell, has launched a £250,000 law suit against the Royal Danish Theatre. Rendell was injured when a stage set for Aida collapsed on him at the theatre during a performance in 2005.  He has subsequently been forced to give up performing after undergoing a left knee replacement, hip replacement and surgery to his shoulder.


Ireland to get a new national opera company in 2011

27 August 2010, Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Opera Theatre Company (OTC) began its final tour in Dublin this week with the Irish premiere of Grigory Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

The company, which was launched in 1986 as the national touring company of Ireland, will close at the end of the year when funding from the Arts Council of Ireland ceases.

In its place, a new national opera company – Irish National Opera (INO) – will be launched in 2011, subsuming the existing functions of OTC as well as those of Opera Ireland.

A board for the new company is already in place, but recruitment for a general director only began last week. A business manager will be sought in January and INO’s first production is expected to take place in autumn 2011.

In the meantime, Opera Ireland will present Tosca at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre during November – ostensibly the last production by the company in its current form, although funding may be still sought from the Arts Council of Ireland for an additional spring season in 2011.


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