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News round-up - 16 July 2010

16 July 2010

Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona
Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona

Anthony Freud
Anthony Freud

Redundancies prompt plans for strikes

The chorus of the Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona has mounted a public protest in the city’s historic Las Ramblas quarter to denounce proposed job losses and salary cuts. 72 singers took part in the performance of Verdi’s chorus of Hebrew slaves from Nabucco (‘Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate’), watched by a crowd of onlookers and television cameras. The protest followed a 5% salary cut in June and the announcement that 10% of the theatre’s 400 workers are soon to be made redundant. A spokesperson for the chorus said that if no agreement is reached, they will strike on 23 July to disrupt the premiere of the zarzuela Dona Francisca.

Anthony Freud re-elected as chairman

Opera America, the US national service organisation for opera, has elected seven new board members. They were appointed during the recent Opera America conference in Los Angeles. Chairman, Anthony Freud, has also been re-elected to serve another two-year term. The new members include Gregory Carpenter, general director of Opera Colorado, David B Devan, executive director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Andreas Mitisek, artistic and general director of Long Beach Opera, and composer, Jake Heggie, whose Moby-Dick recently received rave reviews at its Dallas Opera world premiere.

Partnership with Emerging Pictures announced

Opus Arte, the UK arts production and distribution company, has announced a partnership with Emerging Pictures that will bring productions from London’s Royal Opera House into US cinemas. Emerging Pictures is America’s largest all-digital network of independent cinemas and already screens opera productions from the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. 

17-16 September 2010 – The Netherlands

The 48th biannual International Vocal Competition ’s-Hertogenbosch will take place this year from 17 to 26 September. Featuring jury members Edith Wiens, Dunja Vejzovic and Sergej Leiferkus, the ten days are expected to attract over 180 young, talented singers performing opera, oratorio and Lied. Cash prizes worth a total of €45,000 are on offer, together with engagements with De Nederlandse Opera, Opera Zuid and I Romantici. Applications are still open, and overseas candidates are being invited to apply via YouTube for the first time in the history of the competition.

Rigoletto in Beijing – 2 August 2010

Plácido Domingo will make his debut as Rigoletto on 2 August, leading a concert performance in Beijing with five singers from the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. This is the second baritone role to be tackled by Domingo, who received mixed reviews for his recent portrayal of Simon Boccanegra at London’s Royal Opera House.

Spanish tenor celebrates his country’s World Cup victory

Plácido Domingo flew to Johannesburg on a night off from Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House to watch Spain win their first ever World Cup final. The 68-year-old Spanish tenor, who recently recovered from cancer surgery, joined his country’s team for their post-match celebrations before flying back to London. He appeared two nights later in a performance that was screened live in nine UK cities.

Mezzo-soprano to appear in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special

The pop-classical Welsh mezzo-soprano, Katherine Jenkins, is to appear in this year’s Christmas special episode of the long-running BBC science fiction drama, Doctor Who. In a statement to the press, Jenkins said: ''I heard the news that I got the role on my 30th birthday and it was the best birthday present ever.''

Welsh tenor caught out by technology

Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, the voice of UK advertising campaign GoCompare, was recently caught out by his own public posts on Twitter. Citing illness as the official reason, he withdrew from a concert of works by Beethoven, only for it to be revealed that two days earlier he had posted the tweet: "Bloody Beethoven – learning music is hardly ever fun."


Sir Charles Mackerras dies, aged 84

15 July 2010, London, UK

Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Charles Mackerras(Photo: Z Chrapek)

Sir Charles Mackerras has died at the age of 84 following a battle with cancer.

The Australian conductor, who enjoyed a career spanning some 60 years, was recognised internationally for his performances and recordings of opera and orchestral repertoire. His numerous appointments included conductor laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conductor emeritus at Welsh National Opera, principal guest conductor emeritus at San Francisco Opera, conductor emeritus of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Speaking about the news, Roy McEwan, managing director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra said: "We learned this morning with great sadness of the death of Sir Charles Mackerras. Sir Charles was one of the most distinguished conductors of his generation and it has been an enormous privilege for all of us at the SCO to have had such a special relationship with him over the last twenty years or so. Apart from being a great musician, Charles was a man of enormous warmth, wit and personal generosity. For him, the music always came first, which gave him a humility in the way he approached his craft and an integrity in all the work he undertook."

A specialist of the Czech repertoire - especially Janáček - and regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of Mozart, Mackerras conducted in opera houses and concert halls worldwide and remained in high demand right up until the end of his life.

Future plans included making a guest appearance at next month’s BBC Proms and a concert performance of Idomeneo at the Edinburgh Festival later this year – a festival for which he was recently named honorary president.

Sir Charles also had a long-standing relationship with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducting 26 operas there in total. A statement released yesterday by the company's music director, Antonio Pappano, said: "Charlie Mackerras’s impact on the development of musical performance practice over the last 60 years has been enormous.  He was a force of nature, a true man of the theatre, who grappled with how to honour a composer’s intentions with the utmost rhythmic flair, drama and enthusiasm."

A full news story and obituary will appear in the September/October issue of Opera Now


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.



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