Aix Festival announces future plans
7 July 2009, Aix en Provence, France
Sir Colin Davis
As the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's residency came to an end at this year's Aix-en-Provence Festival, it was announced that from next year, the London Symphony Orchestra under its music director Sir Colin Davis would be newly resident at the festival until 2013.
In its first year, the LSO will only be giving concerts over one weekend of the Aix-en-Provence festival; but in 2011 the orchestra will play for Natalie Dessay's first Traviata, with Frenchman Louis Langrée taking up the baton, while Sir Colin will conduct an as yet-to-be-announced Mozart opera.
Will the Berlin Phil be a hard act to follow? Read Francis Carlin's full report from the 2009 Aix-en-Provence festival in our forthcoming September/October issue of Opera Now
The truth about Bayreuth's links with Hitler - every nook and cranny to be searched
29 June 2009, Bayreuth, Germany
The past: Hitler with Winifred Wagner
The future: Katharina Wagner's new era of openness
Bayreuth’s Nazi past to come under renewed scrutiny
Adolf Hitler’s links to the Bayreuth Festival are to be fully investigated, said Katharina Wagner, the 31-year-old great granddaughter of the composer who took over as the Festival’s co-director last year. Ms Wagner – known for her iconoclastic approach to Bayreuth’s traditions and its identity – made her announcement at a press conference to launch Bayreuth’s current season (opening on 25 July), which includes revivals of the Ring cycle and of Katharina’s own controversial production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.
Bayreuth has struggled to shake off its Nazi associations: Hitler’s friendship with the Wagner family is well documented. He attended the festival every summer and it seems certain that Bayreuth’s ethos in the early 20th century played a part in shaping his personal political ideology. He had a close relationship with Katharina’s British-born grandmother Winifred (excellently recounted in Brigitte Hamann’s book, Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth), and the Nazi regime generously supported the Festival at a time when many other areas of Germany’s cultural life were being squeezed.
However some commentators feel that there is little left to unearth about the Hitler’s links to the Wagner family and that Katarina's comments are another indication of her media-savvy approach to running the Festival. Ms Wagner’s gesture certainly has more than a ring of a publicity stunt about it, at a time when Bayreuth is actively seeking sponsors and is opening out its audience base for the first time.
Meanwhile, Katharina’s has insisted that ‘every nook and cranny’ of the festival’s archives will have to be investigated so that Bayreuth can come to terms with a dark chapter in its history. ‘There's a shadow hanging over Bayreuth,’ she said, ‘and I feel a responsibility to try to get some clarity’.
In other related developments, Katharina Wagner has backed an initiative to put plaques in Bayreuth's park which point out that Arno Brekker, the creator of sculptures of Richard and Cosima Wagner, was Hitler's favourite sculptor.
Next year she also plans to host an exhibition on ‘silenced voices’ about the expulsion of Jews from Germany’s opera houses. Richard Wagner’s villa, Haus Wahnfried, where Hitler was a frequent guest, will also establish a permanent exhibition of the festival’s Nazi history.
Opera in Nice faces an uncertain future
22 June 2009, Nice, France
Amanda Holloway reports from the Cote d'Azur
A spectacular production of Aida, complete with galloping horses full-size palm trees and tonnes of sand, ended a successful 2008/9 season for the Opéra de Nice. It was a dramatic triumph for the director, Paul-Émile Fourny, and conductor Marco Guidarini produced wonderful performances from soloists, orchestra and large chorus. But prospects for the next season are looking less rosy.
The future of the opera company, and classical music in Nice generally, may be in jeopardy. The Opéra is run directly by the City of Nice, and the Culture Minister has so far failed to renew the contract of General Director Paul-Émile Fourny.
It is rumoured that the City plans to merge the opera orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, with that of Cannes, creating a 'regional' orchestra and effectively removing the close relationship between orchestra and opera company. Music Director of the Philharmonique, Marco Guidarini, has turned down the chance to lead the newly merged orchestra, although he has applied for the job of artistic director of Nice Opera.
Meanwhile, the opera is unable to announce its 2009/10 season until decisions about its artistic leadership have been resolved.
Opera Now will run a full report from Nice in its September/October issue.
News Round Up
19 June 2009
London’s Royal Opera House (ROH) is to build a £60m production park in on a 14 acre site in Thurrock, Essex. Visitors to the park will be able to watch new sets being built in Covent Garden’s workshops and view famous costumes such as the one worn by Maria Callas when she gave her last performances as Tosca at the opera house. The site will host a skills academy where school leavers can train as technicians for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics and world tours by acts such as Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. A full-size stage will serve as a training area. The ROH considered relocating to Essex, in the far east of London not far from the Olympic Village, only after the Olympics organisers compulsorily purchased the land where its workshops stood. The props and scenery park is now likely to play a part in reviving the Thames Gateway region, creating 250 jobs and 2,250 training posts and apprenticeships.
Confessions of a Wagner virgin
19 June 2009, Seattle, USA
As part of its ongoing audience-building programme, Seattle Opera has announced a video project featuring a young opera-goer’s first experience of Wagner’s Ring cycle, being staged by the company in late summer. 19 year-old Cassidy Quinn Brettler, a Seattle resident, will present the film (‘Confessions of a First-Time Opera-goer’) having previously had minimal exposure to opera. Her task will involve talking to performers, artistic staff and Ring fans, while exploring behind the scenes and attending rehearsals. The film will be put together by female students on a Reel Grrls media training programme.
Brettler, a media and drama student at Emerson College in Boston, had to fight off the challenge of 49 other would-be presenters, the result coming down to an online poll. Says Brettler: ‘When I was little I thought operas were just things that old people went to, but then I saw Hansel and Gretel a few years ago and really liked it. Brettler reckons she now wants to ‘show everyone how much variety truly exists in the opera genre’. Wagner’s Ring she proclaims as ‘very unique and interesting.’
The progress of Brettler’s work on ‘Confessions’ can be followed online via her own Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as on a range of Seattle Opera platforms - the company’s own website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
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