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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?”


National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors 2010

25 June 2010, Washington, US

Philip Glass
Philip Glass

The recipients of this year’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Opera Honors were announced today in Washington by NEA Chairman, Rocco Landesman.

The four recipients – soprano Martina Arroya, general director David DiChiera, composer Philip Glass and music director Eve Queler – will be honoured on 22 October in a concert and ceremony at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The event, produced by Washington National Opera, will feature video tributes for each honouree created by OPERA America.

“The recipients of this year’s NEA Opera Honors are four outstanding individuals, who together represent the finest traditions of opera,” said Chairman Landesman. “Without their artistic accomplishments, the world of American opera would be far less extraordinary.”

Each honouree will receive $25,000 in recognition of their significant lifetime contributions to American opera.

The NEA Opera Honors take place annually and are now in their third year. Recipients are nominated by the public and chosen by an NEA-convened panel of opera experts. Past honourees include John Adams, Frank Corsaro, Marilyn Horne, James Levine, Lofti Mansouri, and Leontyne Price.



Arts Council England's in-year cuts less harsh than expected

25 June 2010, London, UK

Dame Liz Forgan, ACE Chair
Dame Liz Forgan, ACE Chair

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

This move followed last month’s news that £19 million would be slashed from ACE’s 2010-11 budget as part of the Chancellor’s £6.2 billion spending reduction plan across Government.

£4 million had already been removed from ACE’s allocation by the previous Government.

In total, these measures leave ACE £23 million worse off, but for now frontline organisations have been protected and are only losing £1.8 million between them - an average of £2,000 each.

This has been achieved by taking £9m out of ACE’s own reserves, postponing a major public engagement project and cutting 4% from the budget of organisations who do not directly produce art: Creativity Culture and Education and Arts & Business. ACE will also reduce its own administrative expenditure by £400,000.

The biggest loss for frontline arts organisations in absolute terms will be experienced the Royal Opera House (£142,185), which receives ACE’s single largest annual grant of more than £28 million.

Other significant losses in the opera sector include English National Opera (£92,180), Opera North (£49,577) and Welsh National Opera (£33,976).

Commenting on the cuts, Arts Council England’s chair, Dame Liz Forgan, said that “we have done our best to minimise the effect on our funded organisations and the art they produce so brilliantly." She added: “I am confident that the decisions we have taken are the right ones - for art, for artists and for the audiences we serve.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne revealed on Monday that worse cuts may be in store for the sector when the Comprehensive Spending Review takes place in October. He indicated that all non-protected departments – including the Department for Culture Media and Sport – could be required to reduce their budgets by as much as 25% over the next four years.


News round-up - 23 June 2010

23 June 2010

Cork Opera House, Ireland
Cork Opera House, Ireland

Streetwise Opera's 'My Sacred Heart'
Streetwise Opera's 'My Sacred Heart'

Financial pressures force cost-cutting measure

Ireland’s 1,000-seat Cork Opera House is to close from 4 July to 29 September as part of a cost-cutting survival plan. This announcement comes one year after the completion of a €2 million revamp, paid for by public and private funds. The organisation recently announced losses of €83,000 for the financial year 2009-10, but a review of accounts by Deloitte and Touche has put this figure much higher, at €300,000. Overall, the board has been told that costs must be reduced by €500,000, and have warned staff that pay cuts and redundancies may be necessary.

The UK's National Lottery Awards 2010

Streetwise Opera, the leading UK charity that works with opera and homeless people, has been selected for the televised final of this year's National Lottery Awards. The company’s current project, My Secret Heart, was voted the Best Arts Project in a public poll, having already reached audiences of more than 150,000 on its international tour. A final round of public voting will take place from 26 July to 13 August, followed by a BBC 1 TV broadcast featuring the winners of each category. 

Atlanta Opera’s Eric Mitchko to lead recently formed company

North Carolina Opera (NCO) has announced the appointment of Eric Mitchko as its first General Director, effective from 6 July 2010. Mitchko, 41, is currently the Director of Artistic Administration at Atlanta Opera and previously worked as a vice-president of Columbia Artists Management. The newly-formed NCO, created by a merger of Raleigh's Capital Opera and the Opera Company of North Carolina, will launch its debut season on 15 October with two performances of Tosca.

Audience vote decides how Zaide should end

Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia, US, recently asked audiences to decide the ending for Mozart’s unfinished opera, Zaide. A vote in the interval offered three different options – happy, ecstatic or bleak. The production by company director, Kim Pensinger Witman, also featured scenes of beatings and water-boarding, prompting what Witman has described on the Wolf Trap Opera Blog as “more honest and provocative conversations with our patrons than I’ve had in years.”


News round-up - 21 June 2010

21 June 2010

Peter Gelb
Peter Gelb

Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell

Spending up despite falling assets and income

The Metropolitan Opera in New York has announced investment portfolio losses running into tens of millions of dollars coupled with rising expenses over the past financial year. The cumulative result is a drop of US$144 million in the net value of the Company’s assets compared with 2008.  To counteract this trend, General Manager, Peter Gelb, has already introduced cost-cutting measures for 2010-11 including a delayed pay rise for stagehands. In addition, a modest profit is now being generated by The Met’s ‘Live in HD’ telecasts, which recently topped record sales of 2.2 million tickets. Gelb told the Associated Press that “we are confident that we will thrive in the future.”

Purcell tops nationwide BBC poll

Henry Purcell's ‘When I am laid in Earth’ from Dido and Aeneas has been named the UK's favourite aria in a nationwide poll conducted by BBC Radio 3. Listeners were asked to email the station with their favourite aria as part of the BBC’s ongoing series, ‘A Passion For Opera’. Arias by Mozart, Wagner and Puccini also made the Top 10, which became 11 due to a tie.

Dresses worn by top divas go on display

An exhibition of dresses worn by opera’s top divas has opened at France’s national centre for stage costume in Moulins. The top attraction is expected to be Maria Callas’s salmon pink gown, created for Franco Zeffirelli’s 1964 Paris Opera production of Norma. Other past and present superstars featured in the extensive display of haute couture include Regine Crespin, Montserrat Caballe, Kiri te Kanawa, Angela Gheorghiu, Jessye Norman, Renée Fleming, Barbara Hendricks and June Anderson. The exhibition runs until 31 December 2010.

60,000 bees take up residence on the roof of the city's Opera House

A beehive on the roof of Vienna’s Opera House has recently become home to more than 60,000 bees. Their unusual presence is part of a government-sponsored project to celebrate the 2010 international year of biodiversity. Honey produced from the initiative will be sold at an upoming gala evening to raise funds for environmental charities.

Costume designer, Peter J. Hall, dies aged 84

An important figure in opera costume design for over 40 years, Peter J. Hall enjoyed a particularly close working relationship with director-designer, Franco Zeffirelli. After training in the costume department at London's Royal Opera House, Hall settled in Dallas in 1960 and went on to create costumes for more than 70 Dallas Opera productions, as well as working with other leading companies around the world. Peter J. Hall died on 27 May 2010, aged 84.


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