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Kent Nagano to leave the Bavarian State Opera in 2013

14 July 2010

Kent Nagano
Kent Nagano(Photo: Nicolas Ruel)

Nikolaus Bachler
Nikolaus Bachler(Photo: Christian Kaufmann)

The music director of the Bavarian State Opera, Kent Nagano, has announced that he will not be available to extend his current contract beyond the summer of 2013.

A public statement issued by the 53-year-old US conductor said that recent “cultural and political developments” in Munich had prompted his decision, which he hoped would “avert any harm being caused to the Bavarian State Opera by a protracted succession debate and subsequent in-house tensions”.

Nagano is the third cultural figure to quit a prominent post in the city since last year, the others being Christian Thielemann, former conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, and Ulrich Peters, artistic director of the State Theatre at Gärtnerplatz.

Already, however, some critics have suggested that by releasing a statement directly to the media, Nagano has highlighted his real reason for moving on – namely a permanent rift in relations with the State Opera’s general manager, Nikolaus Bachler.

Bachler, who declined to comment on Nagano’s statement, also holds a contract with the Bavarian State Opera until 2013. “At the moment it seems very likely that Bachler's contract will be renewed,” says Opera Now Contributing Editor, Tom Sutcliffe, “but what is less clear is whether Nagano will now stay in harness with him until 2013. That is not a good recipe.”

According to Sutcliffe, the seeds for this controversy were sown in 2006 when Peter Jonas and Zubin Mehta left the company: “Their succession was handled poorly by the relevant politicians in Munich. Christoph Albrecht was originally chosen to become the company’s general manager, but decided not to take up this position when Kent Nagano was appointed. As a result, the house was without a general manager until the arrival of Nikolaus Bachler in 2008.”

Ever since, says Sutcliffe, the alleged tensions between Nagano and Bachler “have been increasingly clear, with the atmosphere in the theatre said to be hostile and conspiratorial.” On at least one occasion “bad reviews of Nagano's performances were mysteriously posted in the corridors.”

Audience support for Nagano has also been mixed: "Nagano's speciality in his career has tended to be rare or new works, so few Munich opera-goers would regard him as well suited to the task of leading performances in the classic and romantic German repertoire. Moreover," suggests Sutcliffe, "Nagano's background has always been more attuned to orchestral work than to the slog of the opera house – for example, he is not known for paying particularly careful attention to singers' entries (where he rarely gives indications from the podium).”

Speculations about who might replace Nagano are already rife, but although Bachler has praised Daniele Gatti in the past, Sutcliffe thinks that a more likely contender will be Kyril Petrenko, the 38-year-old former music director of Berlin’s Komische Oper – “one of the hottest properties in the opera business today.”


News round-up - 9 July 2010

9 July 2010

Counting the cost: LA Opera's 'Rheingold'
Counting the cost: LA Opera's 'Rheingold'

William Mason
William Mason

Donors sought to make up the shortfall

Los Angeles Opera’s US$32 million production of Wagner’s Ring cycle has left the company with a deficit of US$5.96 million. According to the company’s chief operating officer, Stephen Rountree, $4 million of this shortfall accrued during the recent LA Ring Festival, which saw three full stagings of the Cycle that failed to attract projected box office returns. (27,000 Festival tickets were sold, but nearly 12,000 of these included discounts of 50% or more off their original price).  The Company is seeking support from its donors to make up the shortfall.

William Mason will step down in 2012

William Mason, the general director of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2011-12 Season. The 68-year-old native of Chicago has worked with the company for over four decades, including 13 years in his current position. His leadership is widely perceived to have been fiscally prudent, and during his tenure the Lyric Opera has become of the most artistically respected companies in the world. A search committee is now being formed to find Mason’s successor by autumn 2011.

Strikes prompt Spinosi’s departure

The French conductor, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, has abandoned La Scala’s forthcoming revival of Il barbiere di Siviglia amidst disruptions caused by strikes. A series of strikes held in response to government cost-cutting reforms has already caused La Scala to cancel several performances in recent months. An official statement said that Spinosi’s decision had come about “because of the impossibility of maintaining a serene and constructive work relationship.” He has been replaced by Michele Mariotti.

This year’s programme features classical music for the first time

On 15 July, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón will become the first classical artist ever featured at London’s annual iTunes Festival. Singing songs from his new album, ¡MÉXICO!, he will be part of a line-up at Camden’s Roundhouse that includes pop acts the Scissor Sisters, Tony Bennett, Ozzy Osbourne, Mumford & Sons and Faithless. Free tickets are being given away through London’s Metro newspaper and the performance will available to download from the iTunes store.

Lynne Dawson to assume departmental leadership in September 2010

The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK, has appointed Lynne Dawson as Head of the School of Vocal Studies. Currently a Visiting Tutor with the department, she will commence her new duties in September 2010, working with RNCM President, Sir Willard White, Head of Opera, Stefan Janski, Deputy Head of Vocal Studies, Susan Roper, and International Chair in Vocal Studies, Joan Rodgers. Dawson will replace Alec Crowe, who is retiring after nearly 30 years at the College. 

Toronto’s Dora Mayor Moore Awards 2010

The opera category in this year’s Dora Mayor Moore Awards has been won by costume designer, Martha Mann. Her designs for Opera Atelier’s recent production of The Marriage of Figaro were highlighted as examples of Outstanding Original Costume Design. The Dora Awards, which cover five categories including opera, recognise outstanding achievements in Toronto’s performing arts industry.

Mikhail Karikis’s Xenon: An Exploded Opera

An opera that was co-commissioned by six festivals in Kent, UK, has begun its summer run at Canterbury’s Sounds New festival. Each festival will showcase one of six acts from Mikhail Karikis’ Xenon between May and October. This pioneering production initiative has been funded by a combined grant from Arts Council England and the South East England Development Agency to find out whether it affects cultural tourism in the region. Karikis’ work incorporates performance, music and visual art and, according to his blog, “is conceived as a response to John Cage and Pierre Boulez”.

Italian bass, Cesare Siepi, dies aged 87

Cesare Siepi was recognized as one of the mid-20th century’s leading Italian basses, celebrated in particular for his portrayal of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His career included over 350 performances at New York’s Metropolitan Opera plus frequent appearances at Covent Garden, La Scala and Vienna State Opera. He worked mainly in Italy from the 1970s onwards, and ended his stage career in 1988. Siepi died in Atlanta on 5 July, aged 87.

Domingo downsizes

8 July 2010, [Originally posted on 30th June 2010]

Plácido Domingo sings Simon Boccanegra
Plácido Domingo sings Simon Boccanegra

John Steane gives his impressions of Plácido Domingo’s performance in the baritone role of Simon Boccanegra, which opened in Covent Garden last night.

Standing before the audience at the end of his first London performance as Simon Boccanegra, Plácido Domingo won himself a reception which expressed, as well as their appreciation of that night’s work, the audience’s warm regard for the man and a lifetime’s achievement.

But this does not mean that his experiment of singing one of Verdi’s greatest baritone roles as a tenor had been successful. We commonly think of Domingo’s tenor as baritonal, but if there was one thing that the experiment demonstrated, it was the difference between that (the baritonal tenor) and the real thing. The centres of resonance are different, and the timbre and its associations that Verdi had in mind were not those of a tenor. The wrongness of tone was apparent from the first, wrong in itself and wrong in its relation to other voices (as in the trio in act  two).

The passage least affected was the monologue at the start of act three which with the warmth of characterisation was raised almost to the status of Otello’s great solo where he also has the stage to himself for the only time in the opera. At such moments, the tone regained its old beauty. Elsewhere it was a voice singing within its range but not its rightful tessitura.

It would be wrong to call the venture a failure: but just as certainly, it was not a success.

A concert performance of Simon Boccanegra featuring Plácido Domingo will be broadcast live from this year’s BBC Proms on 18 July 2010.



On the same day that Plácido Domingo gave his first London performance as Simon Boccanegra, he accused opera house directors of casting singers in roles that do not suit them.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, he suggested that good singers are now in short supply due to the number of new opera houses worldwide:

“There are many, many, many more theatres around the world,” he said, “so the needs and variety of repertoire is tremendous. The directors of theatres, they don’t care. They need an artist, and if one of the characters gets sick, they just get another. Probably the voice is not for the piece, but they have to do it.”

Earlier this year, cancer surgery forced Domingo to withdraw from a production of Handel’s Tamerlano that would have made him the first singer ever to appear in both tenor and baritone roles during a single Royal Opera House season. He was replaced as Bajazet by the American tenor, Kurt Streit.



27-year-old tenor wins Welsh Singers Competition

2 July 2010, Cardiff, Wales

Competition adjudicator, Bryn Terfel, presents John Pierce with his award
Competition adjudicator, Bryn Terfel, presents John Pierce with his award(Photo: Brian Tarr)

27-year-old tenor, John Pierce, has won the Welsh Singers Competition 2010.

He was one of four singers who performed in this year’s public final at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Grant Llewellyn. The panel of adjudicators included Welsh bass-baritone, Bryn Terfel.

As well as receiving a cash prize of £2,000, Pierce will now go on to represent Wales in Cardiff Singer of the World 2011.

Speaking candidly about his success, Pierce said: “I am really shocked to have won, and even more shocked as it comes just eight weeks after becoming a dad to my daughter, Sophie.”

He went on to explain that his grandmother had always wanted to become an opera singer, but due to financial restrictions had turned down a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when she was 13. 

“My grandmother and parents encouraged me to develop my singing skills and have been a great source of inspiration and support over the years,” he added.

Pierce’s winning performance ended with Rodolpho’s aria ‘Che gelida manina’ from La bohème – a fitting choice since he has already been engaged to play this role with British Youth Opera in September, then cover it for English National Opera in the autumn.


News round-up - 2 July 2010

2 July 2010

David Angus
David Angus

Ben Heppner
Ben Heppner(Photo: Kristin Hoebermann)

David Angus to fill position after two-year vacancy

British conductor, David Angus, has been appointed as the new music director of Boston Lyric Opera (BLO), effective September 2010. The position had been vacant for two years, but Angus emerged as the obvious candidate after conducting BLO’s April 2010 production of Idomeneo. As well as winning critical acclaim for these performances, BLO’s General & Artistic Director, Esther Nelson, said that Angus “demonstrated terrific synergy with our Orchestra and Chorus.” He will conduct Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to close BLO’s 2010-11 Season and thereafter a minimum of two productions per season.

Maria Calls Debut Artist of the Year 2010

Tenor Ben Heppner has been named ‘Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year’ by The Dallas Opera. The award, which is given each season for a particularly remarkable and memorable Company debut, celebrated Heppner’s role as Captain Ahab in the recent world premiere of Moby-Dick. In a note of thanks to The Dallas Opera, Heppner said “I am indebted to Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer and Leonard Foglia for their exceptional work in creating this outstanding new work,” and “Thank you for trusting me with the responsibility for Ahab.”

Two concert productions planned for next season

The Opera Orchestra of New York, which suspended its opera performances in 2008 due to financial difficulties, has announced details of two concert productions next season: Meyerbeer’s L’Africane at Avery Fisher Hall and a double bill of Massanet’s La Navarraise with Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at Carnegie Hall. The double bill, featuring tenor Roberto Alagna, will be conducted by the Company’s new music director, Alberto Veronesi.

Ciné lumière, London – 5 July 2010

London’s Ciné lumière will screen Mozart's Don Giovanni on 5 July in a live broadcast from Aix-en-Provence Festival. Conducted by Louis Langrée, with Bo Skovhus playing the title role, this new production by Dmitri Tcherniakov is set outdoors in the stunning historical Théâtre de l'Archevêché.

Doctors describe recovery as “stunning”

25-year-old American soprano, Charity Tillemann-Dick, recently gave her first public performance following a double lung transplant and open heart surgery in September. After hearing her rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Tilleman-Dick’s doctor described her recovery as “stunning.”

Canadian contralto, Maureen Forrester, dies aged 79

Although best-known for her performances and recordings of German lieder, oratorios and symphonic repertoire, the Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester also enjoyed a considerable reputation for her operatic appearances. These included Erda in Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera (1975) and the Countess in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades at La Scala (1990). She died on 16 June 2010, aged 79.


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