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Opera Now provides a unique and all-encompassing perspective on the international opera scene through its lively and colourful mix of news, reviews, interviews, travel articles and commentary.

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Joyce DiDonato leaves IMG Artists for rival agency Intermusica

24 August 2010, London, UK

Joyce DiDonato
Joyce DiDonato(Photo: Sheila Rock)

IMG Artists has been further destabilised with the news that international mezzo soprano, Joyce DiDonato, and her agent, Simon Goldstone, have left the company.

The news will add insult to injury for IMG, whose owner Barrett Wissman stepped down after pleading guilty to securities fraud in a New York state prosecution last April. This revelation not only shook the global reputation of the company but may also have sparked a string of departures of high-profile artists. Among those who left last year were the stellar sopranos Karita Mattila and Anna Netrebko, tenor Rolando Villazón and baritone Thomas Hampson.

Despite claims that Wissman’s actions are directly linked to the most recent departures, the circumstances under which DiDonato and Goldstone left the agency are currently unclear.

Goldstone, who worked at IMG as an artist manager in the vocal division for fourteen years, has now signed with London firm Intermusica, taking with him 21 artists, including sopranos Amanda Echalaz and Soile Isokoski and director Stephen Barlow.

These artists will join the Intermusica roster with immediate effect, while Goldstone will begin on Monday 20 September 2010 taking on the role as director, Vocal and Opera.

“I am delighted to be joining Intermusica” commented Goldstone in an official statement to the media. “In these challenging times, I feel that the combination of the company’s very experienced senior management team, spearheaded by Stephen Lumsden, and its vibrant and enthusiastic younger members strike just the right balance. I am very happy to be working once again with my esteemed former colleague, Julia Maynard, and together we look forward to adding to an already well-established roster of talented singers, stage directors and opera conductors.”

Stephen Lumsden, founder and managing director of Intermusica, said: "It is tremendously exciting that a manager of Simon’s calibre and reputation has decided to join Intermusica. His arrival represents a major development for both our Vocal & Opera department and for the company as a whole.”

Peter Cowdrey's The Lovely Ladies

16 August 2010, London, UK

Lilly Papaioannou (Côtes du Rhône) and Richard Suart (Bordeaux)
Lilly Papaioannou (Côtes du Rhône) and Richard Suart (Bordeaux)

Toby Stafford-Allen (Champagne)
Toby Stafford-Allen (Champagne)

Warwick Thompson reports on the premiere of Peter Cowdrey’s The Lovely Ladies at Christie’s in London. 

Wine and opera have always been happy bedfellows - think of all those brindisis and Champagne choruses - but now the relationship has become even more intimate. In Peter Cowdrey and Hamish Robinson’s charming forty-minute divertissement, The Lovely Ladies, it’s the wines themselves who do the singing.

A rumour reaches a cellar that Michael Broadbent, the Christie’s auctioneer and noted wine critic, may be retiring. The wines get into a flap, and compete to see which of them should lure Broadbent into celebrating their virtues once more. Should it be Champagne (Toby Stafford-Allen), a jazzy playboy with a neat line in 12-bar blues? Or the full-bodied Côtes du Rhône (the hugely enjoyable Lilly Papaioannou), a seductive Carmen-like temptress in a clinging red dress? Or the conservative Bordeaux (Richard Suart), a delightfully crusty military type? The problem is resolved when the ghost of legendary wine connoisseur George Saintsbury (Michael Chance, accompanied by a Handelian violin obbligato and sounding suitably heavenly) reassures them that the retirement rumour is false.

Cowdrey’s amusing chamber score mixes pastiche and direct quotes with a light hand, and Rosie Johnston’s production, set on a simple raised dais with a translucent scrim at the back, choreographs the action with impressive clarity. The libretto doesn’t contain quite enough dramatic bouffe to motor the plot, and it’s never made clear what the characters want to achieve or why they should be so worried about a critic retiring. But the score is so pleasing and the vocal writing so graceful that, with a bit more tension injected into the plot, Cowdrey’s enjoyable Premier Cru work could easily step up to Grand Cru Millesime.

This performance was in given in aid of the charity Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres.


Anthony Rolfe Johnson remembered

8 August 2010

Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Peter Grimes in the 1993 production by Scottish Opera
Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Peter Grimes in the 1993 production by Scottish Opera(Photo: Bill Cooper)

Anthony Rolfe Johnson was a founding member of Graham Johnson’s Songmakers’ Almanac alongside Felicity Lott, Ann Murray and Richard Jackson. In this exclusive interview with Opera Now, Graham Johnson shares his memories of Tony and speaks in detail about the qualities that defined him as a singer.

I first met Anthony Rolfe Johnson in 1972 when he and I were both still students. He was just finishing his studies at the Guildhall, and I was coming to the end of mine at the Royal Academy of Music.

Tony explained to me at our first meeting how a completely new life as a singer had suddenly blossomed for him after he had expected to spend the rest of his life working as a farmer.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of someone who had heard his choral singing, he had come to the Guildhall as a mature student, completely inexperienced and unschooled. For four years he was there virtually day and night: his dedication must have been almost frightening – but it paid huge musical dividends.

What I heard at our first rehearsal was something so beautiful and breathtakingly musical that one did not ask how it had come about, one simply gave thanks that it existed.

A little later I heard him at the British Institute of Recorded Sound in South Kensington where Pierre Bernac, Poulenc’s great baritone, made yearly visits to give classes. Tony sang Poulenc’s Bleuet, an unbearably moving Apollinaire setting about a young soldier during the First World War preparing to go over the top from the trenches. Bernac was known for being a real taskmaster, but on that occasion all he had to say was “My God, what a singer you are!” I can still hear the heart-stopping way Tony sang the closing lines of Bleuet: “O douceur d’autrefois/ Lenteur immémoriale.” We recorded the song for Hyperion some years later.

One gave thanks for Tony’s singing because he himself seemed to be giving thanks simply for being alive when he sang. He came from a strong Methodist background and had been a singer of hymns from childhood. Perhaps this accounts for the stable, calm and yet fervent quality that was part of the magic of his singing. I always felt that he must have been loved by his cows as much as he loved them and that his kindness to all God’s creatures accounted for an almost Franciscan aura of goodness about him – without any trace of holier-than-thou.

The mellifluous fluidity of Tony’s sound, seemingly produced without effort, was the result of an extraordinary combination: an easy head-voice underpinned by, and launched from, an equally easy baritonal register. Tony’s floated tops notes had roots in the soil, as it were, which was what made them so beguiling. As the years went on he developed greater punch and fiery incisiveness for some of his bigger roles, but he was never a typical tenor. He wasn’t one of those singers who achieved their effects through bluster and testosterone. He preferred to be persuasive and golden rather than hectoring and brassy.

It is terribly sad that we should have to bid farewell to two such great English tenors as Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson within a few months of each other. They each had their very different strengths and they were both great artists.

Unlike Philip, the gritty challenges of composers such as Harrison Birtwhistle never appealed to Tony. While I think of Philip as essentially an heroic musical figure, Tony took another route – he was quietly seductive. It is not that Tony lacked stentorian and manly colours and possibilities (when I first met him he excelled in the sport of archery) but with him every note was a serenade to the absent lover, “an die ferne Geliebte”, and there were always ladies in the audience who were enraptured by his music-making.

Tony was a true chevalier, and I think the lack of ‘coercion’ in his voice (the forcefulness of a command was veiled by the plea of an invitation) made him very special. There was so much repertoire in which he excelled: Monteverdi (a composer whose Orfeo he later conducted), Handel, Bach, and Mozart. In Schubert his own personality seemed effortlessly to chime with that of the composer, and in Britten he was successful in such disparate roles as Albert Herring and Aschenbach at the different ends of his career.

A full version of this interview will be published in the September/October 2010 issue of Opera Now – click here to subscribe now.


News round-up - 29 July 2010

29 July 2010

Eva Wagner-Pasquier
Eva Wagner-Pasquier(Photo: Picture-Alliance / DPA)

Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo(Photo: Jose Zakany)

Eva Wagner-Pasquier suffering from stress

Eva Wagner-Pasquier, the joint director of Bayreuth Festival, has been admitted to hospital with circulatory problems. This year’s six-week Wagner extravaganza opened during the weekend with a new production of Lohengrin, and Wagner-Pasquier’s symptoms are said to have been caused by stress in the run-up to this event.  The great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner has been joint director of the Festival together with her half-sister, Katharina Wagner, since 1 September 2008.

Production to be filmed on location in Mantua

Plácido Domingo is to play the title role in a televised production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, featuring historically accurate locations in the Italian city of Mantua. Scheduled for broadcasts on 4 and 5 September, this ambitious project will be directed for the BBC and Italy’s RAI Uno by award-winning cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. Following hot on the heels of Domingo’s debut as Simon Boccanegra at London’s Royal Opera House in June, Rigoletto will be the 69-year-old singer’s second major baritone role.

“Personal reasons” prompt Peter Stein's decision 

German director, Peter Stein, has withdrawn from the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Boris Godunov “for personal reasons”, said a spokesperson for the company. Stephen Wadsworth has taken over the production, which will receive its premiere on 11 October. All other elements of the production are to remain intact.

Balázs Kovalik’s contract term comes to an end

A power vacuum has been left at the top of the Hungarian State Opera following the departure of the company’s artistic director, Balázs Kovalik. Kovalik’s contract came to an end last month and was not renewed or extended by General Director, Lajos Vass. A statement issued by the state secretary of Hungary’s ministry responsible for culture said that "negotiations are in process with various personalities of the opera world on possible cooperation".

Wigmore Hall director, John Gilhooly, elected to top position

The Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) has appointed Wigmore Hall director, John Gilhooly, to succeed outgoing RPS chairman Graham Sheffield. Gilhooly was previously the Society’s honorary secretary and has been part of the RPS council since 2007. The annual RPS Music Awards feature an Opera and Music Theatre Award that went to the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2010.

Savonlinna Opera Festival’s Opera By You 2010 – Free Will

Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland has launched an online community opera project called ‘Opera By You’. Participants are being invited to interact with the project’s core creative team, actively contributing to a new opera that will be premiered in 2012. The theme of ‘Free Will’ has already been selected from over 100 online entries, together with a loose narrative concept involving a team of dead geniuses who return to Earth to improve the lot of mankind – “with unexpected and puzzling results”.

Three classic operas plus Adams’ A Flowering Tree

Cincinnati Opera has announced details of four productions for its 2011 Season. Highlights include the local premiere of John Adams’ Indian folk tale opera A Flowering Tree, and a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Revivals of Rigoletto and Eugene Onegin complete the line-up, the latter featuring baritone Nathan Gunn in his role and company debut as Onegin.

The Royal Welsh College to partner with Welsh National Opera

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff, has launched a new MA in Opera Performance. Starting in September, the course will be delivered in partnership by the Royal Welsh College and Welsh National Opera, offering advanced students access to professional training and performance opportunities. It will be led by Angela Livingstone, the College’s recently appointed Head of Opera, Vocal Studies and Choral Conducting.

Deborah Cheetham’s Pecan Summer

Pecan Summer, Australia’s first opera for an all-Aboriginal cast, has received a standing ovation at its Melbourne preview. Written by Australian soprano, Deborah Cheetham, it tells the story of thousands of Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents under acts of parliament between 1869 and 1969. A commission for London’s 2012 Olympic Arts Festival, the opera will receive its world premiere in Australia on 9 October.

Application deadline – 21 January 2011

Next year’s Handel Singing Competition final will take place in London on 7 April 2011 at St George's, Hanover Square. Applicants are invited to apply by 21 January 2011.  Bookings for the 2011 London Handel Festival will also open in January.

Sir Charles Mackerras remembered

27 July 2010, London, UK

Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Charles Mackerras(Photo: Felicity Palmer)

Leos Janáček
Leos Janáček

Gavin Plumley is British a musicologist and journalist. He is the editor of a website dedicated to the life and work of Leos Janáček and has broadcast and written widely about the composer.

Opera Now: How significant was Sir Charles Mackerras' contribution to establishing the status of Janáček’s operas within the mainstream repertoire of opera houses worldwide?
Gavin Plumley: Sir Charles's training in post-Second World War Prague gave him an invaluable connection with many of the musicians who had grown up with Janáček's music. Later, in Britain, he was able to advocate the scores to an entirely new audience. Although the more stubborn elements of taste sometimes got in his way, Sir Charles's determination ultimately won through. His highly idiomatic approach, both in performances of Janáček and all other repertoire, allowed us to hear the music in the best light. Combined with the English-language scholarship of John Tyrrell (with whom Mackerras worked on editions of the scores) and the Welsh National Opera/Scottish Opera cycle of the operas in the late 70s/early 80s, his fervent discipleship really was the key to establishing Janáček in the international repertoire.

ON: Sir Charles was a conductor who excelled in performances of symphonic music as well as opera. What qualities as an artist helped him to interpret these different kinds of repertoire so convincingly?
GP: I think it was very simple: Sir Charles never wanted to impress his own aesthetic onto a composer's work. Moreover, he was a bright and analytical man who just brought out the music's nascent qualities. His performances of Der Rosenkavalier, for instance, went back to the piece's roots. What can be a rather lugubrious work was truly a comedy in his hands – it sparkled.

ON: Which of Sir Charles' Janáček opera recordings stands out most for you, and why?
GP: They are all benchmark recordings. I am very fond of the second Supraphon recording of Káťa Kabanová, which balances the more caustic elements of Janáček's sound world with the underlying Romanticism in the score. But the thrillingly paced Jenůfa with the Vienna Philharmonic is unbeatable.

ON: Apart from his extraordinary legacy of Janáček recordings, how else do you think Sir Charles will be remembered?
GP: At the end of a dress rehearsal for Martinů’s The Greek Passion at Covent Garden, Sir Charles should have been on stage taking his curtain call with the cast. Instead he was at the back of the pit correcting the trombone parts. He clearly had better things to do than just bask in the glory. It's a cliché to say “it was all about the music", but for a man who contributed so much musicologically and in performance, it feels like a good truism.

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