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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.


Detlev Glanert's Caligula

1 July 2010

Oehms Classics OC 932 | 2 CDs, 126 mins

Detlev Glanert’s Caligula was given its premiere at the Oper Frankfurt in October 2006 and recorded live for this double CD release by Oehms Classics. With a libretto by Hans-Ulrich Treichel based on Albert Camus’ Absurdist play of the same title, the opera recounts a dark tale that traces the tyrannical Roman emperor’s descent into a state of narcissistic self-loathing.

Glanert’s music is no less striking than his choice of subject matter, employing a postmodern synthesis of styles by turns stark, lyrical and surreal. The result is a compelling theatrical narrative that combines finely judged dramatic pacing with vivid orchestration and supple vocal lines.

Baritone Ashley Holland is outstanding in the title role with an expressive characterization that moves deftly between Caligula’s erratic emotional states. Markus Stentz draws out these contrasts in the score with comparable skill, maintaining balance and clarity throughout despite the vast orchestral forces involved. Occasionally a voice gets lost as the characters move around the stage, but otherwise the live atmosphere (including rapturous audience applause) adds to the overall success of this recording.

"ACE did a pretty good job by adopting equal misery for all"

27 June 2010, Leeds, UK

Richard Mantle
Richard Mantle

Last week, Arts Council England (ACE) announced an in-year budget cut of 0.5% for its 880 regularly funded frontline arts organisations.

In real terms, this means recipients of the largest annual grants have suffered the biggest losses. Several major opera companies are at the top of ACE's list, with the Royal Opera House in pole position.

Outside of London (and in sixth place overall) the worst affected organisation is Opera North, which receives roughly 70% of its £15 million annual operating budget in grants from central and local government bodies. £49,577 has been cut from ACE’s 2010-11 grant to Opera North.

Speaking to Opera Now about the short-term impact of this move, Opera North’s General Director, Richard Mantle, said “I think ACE has done a pretty good job of ameliorating the situation by drawing on its reserves and adopting equal misery for all. If ACE had passed on their full 4% cut to us it would have had a big impact because we are heavily reliant on public funds.”

As far as the company’s forthcoming season is concerned, Mantle says that the cuts are unlikely to cause a reduction in planned activities: “We will have to manage as best we can because to make any cuts to at this stage would probably cost more than we would save.” 

Looking further into the future, however, Mantle admits that the picture is less clear – particularly given Chancellor George Osborne’s indication that all non-protected departments could be required to reduce their budgets by as much as 25% over the next four years:

“We won’t be able to announce our plans for 2011-12 until we know our funding position, but we already need to plan forward into seasons that are uncertain. This kind of balancing act is built into the DNA of opera companies like ours.”

On top of the cut by ACE, Opera North is also coping with a loss of £50,000 from its annual Leeds City Council grant, yet Mantle remains upbeat:

“We have no historic deficits and a very good record of controlling our expenditure, but costs do keep rising. On the other hand, although sponsorship from the private sector has taken a tumble over the past three years, private philanthropy does not seem to have suffered –  in fact it’s currently increasing, with individuals who like what we're doing coming forward to support. The resources of some private foundations are also beginning to grow again, despite what has happened on the stock markets.”

Pointing to the launch last year of Opera North’s Future Fund – a separate charitable trust that supports new initiatives by the company – Mantle is also encouraged by the Tories’ stated desire to reward organisations that take steps to build up an endowment: “We are one of the organisations to have adopted a lead in this respect.”

Meanwhile, with further cuts likely in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review, there is no room for complacency. Mantle says that “a big case now needs to be made by the arts sector to its funding body”, but, he warns “it is not a case that should be made frantically, because that won't win us any friends or support.”


From opera star to popstar?

26 June 2010

Renée Fleming - 'Dark Hope'
Renée Fleming - 'Dark Hope'(Photo: Andrew Eccles)

Renée Fleming as Violetta in 'La traviata'
Renée Fleming as Violetta in 'La traviata'(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Renée Fleming’s new album of rock and pop covers, Dark Hope, has entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at No. 151.

This radical departure from the 51-year-old diva’s typical repertoire of opera and lieder was led by her record company, who she says “for 10 years had the idea of pairing a great opera singer with the best songwriters of a generation.”

Although hesitant at first because the project required her to “give away control” to the album’s producer, David Kahne, his enthusiasm gradually won her over: “I just thought, ‘Boy, he’s convincing me to do this, so that means he could probably convince other people to like it!’”

Featuring eleven “great, unusual B-side-type songs” (including Leonard Cohen’s 1984 classic, ‘Hallelujah’), the highly produced studio sound of Dark Hope combines enveloping, multi-layered textures with uncharacteristically low vocals by Fleming.

Commenting on this appraoch, which inspired the album’s title, Fleming says that she was told in the first session: “The less you sing, the more the technology can do something wonderful with your voice.” Use of her low range therefore became key, “because once I get up above the staff I really can’t reproduce any other sound other than a full-bodied, classically trained sound.”

According to Opera Now contributor, Mark Glanville, this admission “implies a compromise of Fleming’s artistic integrity because the natural colour of one’s singing voice should be a reflection of one’s core persona.” Similarly, says Glanville, her confessed reliance on technology to ‘do something wonderful with your voice’, “makes one wonder why anyone should have bothered at all other than for the gimmick of attaching an opera diva’s name to a collection of rock music.”

In contrast, Glanville points to Beniamino Gigli’s interpretation of “the simplistic ‘Papaveri e papere’, which he sang with his own inimitably beautiful voice and thus lent it a quality it would not otherwise have had. If Fleming doesn’t even give us that, why bother?”


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