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Latest News

US-Chinese co-commissioned opera to receive premiere in 2010

23 November 2009, Boston, USA

Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs
Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs

Madame White Snake, a new opera by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long, will receive its world premiere at Opera Boston in February 2010, followed by two performances at the Beijing Festival in October 2010.

This project will mark several important ‘firsts’ as far as Opera Boston and US-Chinese cultural relations are concerned. As well as Opera Boston’s first ever new commission, international collaboration and overseas tour, it will be the first visit by an American opera company to China for more than 20 years.

Librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs is also keen to point out that while the legend of the White Snake is known almost universally in China, exists in dozens of oral, written and traditional Chinese opera versions created over the past few centuries, and forms a cornerstone of Chinese cultural consciousness, it is barely known in the West. The opera is therefore also an attempt to bring this powerful mythological narrative before new audiences internationally.

‘The White Snake is a symbol of an outsider’, explains Jacobs ‘and not just any outsider but a powerful woman outsider who has triumphed because of her amazing physical and psychic transformation- a transformation wrought by love.’

Jacobs’ libretto also explores contemporary resonances within the story, which she feels have particular importance in an age of globalization, when so many people have been displaced or migrated to new countries: ‘Many expatriates today – myself included – are trying to make a new identity for themselves in a new home. In doing so, we often try to adapt the culture of our homeland, to manage our new identity it so that it contains the familiar. The same is true of Madame White Snake: the opera is based on an ancient Chinese legend, but this production will be a totally new, American re-imagining of the story.’

The tour to Beijing and other future productions of Madame White Snake internationally will be handled through a non-profit US-based organization called The Friends of Madame White Snake, established initially by Jacobs and her closest friends as a vehicle for raising funds. Jacobs has therefore been intimately involved in the entire production process from beginning to end, and has experienced first-hand the challenges posed by the project’s collaborative dimension.

‘Our connection with the Beijing Festival came about because of the reputation of Zhou Long, and because they wanted to be involved in the commissioning process for a story so that is so important to the Chinese people,'  Jacobs explains. 'Along the way we have had to reconcile different expectations because the Festival had their own concept of what they would like us to bring to China, while we had our own idea. Then of course there was the recession. After it hit Asia, lots of sources of funding dried up, which was a big problem, though I am pleased to say that we are now in discussion with a major potential supporter in China and are hoping to tour the production to several other Chinese cities after Beijing.’

The world premiere of Madame White Snake will take place at the Cultler Majestic Theatre in Boston on 26 February 2010, featuring soprano Ying Huang in the title role, Peter Tantsits as her lover, Xi Xuan, and male soprano, Michael Maniaci, as Madame White Snake’s servant, Xiao Qing. The production will be directed by Robert Woodruff and conducted by Opera Boston Music Director, Gil Rose.

Find out more

News round-up - 20th November 2009

20 November 2009

Tina Kiberg as Brunnhilde in Royal Danish Opera's Götterdammerung
Tina Kiberg as Brunnhilde in Royal Danish Opera's Götterdammerung

Dirk Becker's set for Royal Danish Opera's Die Walküre
Dirk Becker's set for Royal Danish Opera's Die Walküre

Royal Danish Opera streams an extensive excerpt from its award-winning Ring cycle DVD

The Gramophone Awards 2009 DVD Award went to the Royal Danish Opera for “The Copenhagen Ring”, the company’s complete DVD recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Celebrating this success, a one-hour streamed excerpt from Das Rheingold has now been made available for free via the Royal Danish Opera website.

René Pape in a new production of Das Rheingold at La Scala

Dresden-born German bass, René Pape, will make his role debut as Wotan in a new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold at the Teatro alla Scala in May 2010, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Pape, who was recently described by the Chicago Sun-Times as ‘today’s reigning bass’ following his portrayl of Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust at the Lyric Opera, performed the role of Fasolt in the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Das Rheingold earlier this year.

Finals scheduled for April 25th to May 2nd 2010 in Milan, Italy

Operalia was founded in 1993 by Plácido Domingo to identify and support talented young opera singers around the world. No fee is charged for applying, and the competition is held in a different international city each year. Winners receive prize money and access to an agent for two years after the competition, plus career support from Plácido Domingo himself. The deadline for first round applications is January 15th, 2010 and the finals will take place in Milan, Italy, between April 25th and May 2nd, 2010.                   

Winners in this year’s voice section announced

Hungarian soprano, Polina Pasztircsàk, has won the first prize in this year’s Geneva International Music Competition voice section. The 27-year-old also walked away with the Audience Prize, Cercle du Grand Théâtre, and Coup de coer Breguet awards.

London opera festival all set to 'INSPIRE'

20 November 2009, London, UK

Yvonne Howard as Leonore in Opera Holland Park's 2003 production of Fidelio
Yvonne Howard as Leonore in Opera Holland Park's 2003 production of Fidelio

With five new productions slated for its 2010 summer season, London’s Opera Holland Park (OHP) is bucking the trend in UK festivals who are cutting down on their offerings next summer in light of  economic uncertainties. Six productions are planned in all next year, including the revival of the company's 2003 Fidelio.

Alongside the announcement of the new season,  the company has launched an ongoing audience development and community programme called the ‘INSPIRE Project’, featuring an extensive range of initiatives, including free and subsidised tickets to performances, free recitals in community centres, schools and hospitals, plus workshops, lectures and online learning resources. The intention, says OHP, is for INSPIRE to ‘encourage all members of the community to experience, discover and actively participate in opera and classical music’.

Opera Holland Park’s General Manger, Michael Volpe, explains: ‘We’ve already done a lot to make opera accessible to the widest possible audience, which as a public venture supported by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is one of our core founding principles. With INSPIRE we hope to go further, to prove that opera can have a huge impact, not just from the cultural enrichment perspective, but by showing how many people there are who react positively when they experience opera. It’s about individual aspiration and expression.’

Volpe is no less enthusiastic about the company’s programme for 2010, which he describes as ‘mouthwatering’, referring in particular to OHP’s first ever production of Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini. This rarely performed C20th Italian melodrama, regarded by many as an underrated masterpiece, will feature Australian soprano, Cheryl Barker, making her role debut as Francesca as well as her first appearance with Opera Holland Park.

Other highlights for London’s opera lovers include Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, making its  OHP debut. Meanwhile, another Australian  soprano, Yvonne Howard (pictured), returns to the role of Leonore in Olivia Fuch's much admired production, described by Opera Now correspondent Roderic Dunnet as 'wise and unpretentious'.

Quizzed as to whether OHP has been affected by the general economic downturn over the past 18 months, Volpe is typically optimistic: ‘2009 was a good year for us, and although as a local authority we are always under financial pressure, we are pressing ahead with our desired programme for 2010 because our support-base remains strong.’

Visit the Opera Holland Park website for details of the 2010 repertoire

Musical America 'Musician of the Year' 2010 Announced

18 November 2009

Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti

Italian conductor Riccardo Muti has been named ‘Musician of the Year’ 2010 by Musical America. The former music director of the Teatro alla Scala, where he was a controversial figure, will be presented with his award at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on 14 December 2009.

For Muti, this will be just one of several reasons to celebrate next year. At the Salzburg Festival in August he will mark the 40th anniversary of his debut there, as well as giving his 200th performance and leading two important new projects: a new production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice directed by Dieter Dorn, and three performances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra of Prokofiev’s oratorio, Ivan the Terrible, narrated by Gérard Depardieu.

Muti’s long association with Salzburg Festival began in 1971 when he conducted Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the invitation of Herbert von Karajan. Having subsequently appeared at every Festival, Muti was invited in 2006 by artistic director Jürgen Flimm to take on the leadership of Salzburg’s Whitsun festival. Now in the fourth year of this five-year contract, Muti’s programme for May 2010 will include Mozart’s azione sacra, Betulia liberata, directed by Marco Gandini and performed by Muti’s own Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini.

Visit the Salzburg Festival website

Stuttgart State Opera's General Music Director quits

17 November 2009

Manfred Honeck
Manfred Honeck

The General Music Director of Stuttgart State Opera, Manfred Honeck, has announced that he will not extend his existing contract beyond the 2010-11 season. Instead, he will leave when the Israeli opera and theatre director Jossi Wieler takes over from Albrecht Puhlmann as Intendant next autumn.

The decision is said to have been mutual, with the announcement purportedly coming from both Honeck and Wieler.

The ostensible reason for Honeck’s departure is clear enough: he does not want to tie himself down to more work in Stuttgart. In fact, says our correspondent Tom Sutcliffe, ‘There was never any likelihood of Honeck remaining, since it’s widely known that he and Puhlmann do not get on. Indeed, the breakdown in the relationship between music director and Intendant was one of the factors that led to the decision not to renew Puhlmann’s contract when his initial five-year term at Stuttgart ends next season.’

Other developments in Stuttgart include the appointment of Sergio Morabito, Wieler’s long-time collaborator, as Chefdramaturg. And Eva Kleinitz will take up the post of Director of Opera in 2011. Kleinitz has most recently been in charge of casting at La Monnaie in Brussels.

‘This is an interesting appointment,’ says Sutcliffe. ‘The title is different (and with it the power structure), but, in effect, Kleinitz will be doing the same job as Pamela Rosenberg when she was co-Intendant of Stuttgart with Klaus Zehelein: in other words opera planning and casting.’

Sutcliffe explains that politicians in Stuttgart responsible for these changes are hoping to regain the company's high repute in German operatic circles, which has been tarnished in recent seasons: ‘Bringing in Kleinitz is additional insurance that an outsider's view will play a part in the flavour of the work, with a more eclectic range of styles.’

Meanwhile, Manfred Honeck is due to conduct several more opera performances during the current Stuttgart season, including a new production of Wagner's Parsifal in March 2010 directed by Calixto Bieto.

Read more at Tom Sutcliffe's opera blog

Visit the official Staatsoper Stuttgart website

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