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Opera Now provides a unique and all-encompassing perspective on the international opera scene through its lively and colourful mix of news, reviews, interviews, travel articles and commentary.

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News round-up - 9 April 2010

9 April 2010

Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim(Photo: Sheila Rock)

Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze(Photo: Schott / Peter Andersen)

Berlin’s oldest opera company moves to Charlottenberg’s Schiller Theatre

Staatsoper Unter den Linden director Jürgen Flimm and music director Daniel Barenboim have announced details of the company’s 2010/11 Season. Coinciding with the start of a three-year residency at Charlottenberg’s Schiller Theatre during extensive renovations to the Staatsoper’s home, the Season will open on 3 October with the world premiere of Metanoia - über das Denken hinaus by composer Jens Joneleit. In addition, Guy Cassiers’ new Ring cycle will be launched with performances of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, plus six other new productions are planned: Stravinsky's The Rake’s Progress, Berg’s Wozzeck, Bernstein’s Candide, Tomasso Traetta's AntigonaPeter Eötvös's Tri Sestri and Toshio Hosokawa's Matsukaze.

Elegy for Young Lovers – 24 April to 8 May 2010

London’s Young Vic theatre is to host seven performances of Hans Werner Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers in a new English National Opera co-production directed by Fiona Shaw. With a libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, this rarely performed 20th-century masterpiece offers an excoriating critique of the Romantic notion of the artist as hero.

Linda Jackson to serve as onsite liaison to Francesco Zambello

Linda Jackson has been appointed as the new Managing Director of Glimmerglass Opera, the 35-year-old summer opera festival in Cooperstown, N.Y. An arts professional with more than 20 years experience in the field of opera, most recently as Managing Director of Connecticut Opera, Jackson will act as onsite liaison to Glimmerglass’s new General & Artistic Director, Francesca Zambello. 

New Realities | New Strategies - 9 to 12 June 2010

Composer Daniel Catán, whose opera Il Postino will be premiered at LA Opera in September, has been confirmed as the keynote speaker for this year’s OPERA America Conference. The Conference, hosted by LA Opera in June 2010, will explore new strategies for safeguarding the sustainability of the industry in the wake of the global recession.

Concert dedicated to the memory of Christos Lambrakis 

A concert has taken place in Athens dedicated to the memory of Greek media entrepreneur and builder of the Megaron/Athens Concert Hall, Christos Lambrakis. The performance of Mozart’s Requiem featured Bulgarian soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow alongside Greek mezzo-soprano Agnes Baltsa, tenor Mario Zeffiri and bass Christophoros Stamboglis. Lambrakis died in December 2009 after receiving heart surgery in Athens. He was 75.

Graham Johnson and Steuart Bedford remember Philip Langridge

8 April 2010

Philip Langridge as Aschenbach in the Opera Australia 2005 production of 'Death in Venice'
Philip Langridge as Aschenbach in the Opera Australia 2005 production of 'Death in Venice'(Photo: Branco Gaica)

Philip Langridge as Marquis in Berg's 'Lulu' at the Royal Opera
Philip Langridge as Marquis in Berg's 'Lulu' at the Royal Opera(Photo: Clive Barda)

Following the death last month of Philip Langridge, pianist Graham Johnson and conductor Steuart Bedford have spoken to Opera Now about their memories of working with Langridge, his legacy and the qualities that made him one of the finest English tenors of his generation.

“Philip was an unpublicised national treasure”, says Johnson, “and in terms of what he did to serve British music, I can’t think of any British artist who deserved a knighthood more.”

Well known for his interpretations of Janáček and modern British operas, Langridge particularly excelled in the works of Britten, successfully reinventing roles that had been written originally for Peter Pears.

“Along with Anthony Rolfe Johnson, he was one of the generation of tenors who inherited the mantle of Peter Pears,” explains Johnson. “When I heard Philip in the flesh do Death in Venice at English National Opera, I told him that he was the greatest Aschenbach I had ever heard – which is remarkable considering that I helped Peter Pears learn this role and was his friend and admirer for many years.”

Bedford, who recorded Britten’s The Turn of the Screw with Langridge for Collins, was similarly impressed: “You can’t really go about Britten’s work by copying Peter Pears. You have to do it your own way, and Philip was one of the people who managed to do that successfully. His interpretations were always entirely valid and convincing.”

According to Johnson, the fact that Langridge had trained initially as a violinist meant that he approached singing with an unusually strong grasp of musical form and structure: 

“Somebody who understands sonata form after having performed violin sonatas will think of music in larger structures, and will never interpret an operatic role as a series of individual phrases and sections. I know that one of the things Claudio Abbado loved about working with Philip was this total musicianship. Abbado felt a musical kinship with Philip.”

Langridge turned 70 last December but his future schedule showed no signs of plans to slow down. According to Johnson, “the fact that Philip died ‘in harness’ – with several years of future engagements already in the diary – is evidence of the commitment that led him to master so many roles in such different operas.”

Searching for a suitable epitaph for Langridge, Johnson cites ‘Starry Vere – god bless you’ from the libretto of Britten’s Billy Budd: “This phrase, sung by the sailors on deck as they turn to salute their captain, captures Philip’s star-like quality and his important position as a role model for the younger generation.” 

The full transcript of this interview with Graham Johnson will appear in the May/June issue of Opera Now.

News round-up - 3 April 2010

3 April 2010

Conductor, Leonard Slatkin
Conductor, Leonard Slatkin(Photo: © Donald Dietz)

Conductor admits to not knowing the score

American conductor, Leonard Slatkin, has withdrawn from conducting any further performances of La traviata at New York’s Metropolitan Opera following negative reviews of this week’s opening night performance. He was slammed for openly admitting via his personal web site that he “had never conducted" the opera before but “concluded that since everyone else in the house knew it, I would learn a great deal from the masters.” Slatkin will be replaced by Marco Armiliato on 3 April, house cover conductor, Steven White, on 7 April and Yves Abel, principal guest of Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, on 13, 17, 21 and 24 April.
US house receives its largest donation ever
Publishing heiress and philanthropist, Ann Ziff, has given USD 30 million to New York’s Metropolitan Opera – the largest single donation ever received by the house. The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, told The New York Times that “it’s a very timely and important gift from a longtime supporter of the Met.” Ms Ziff has served on The Met’s board since 1994 and also provided funding for Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle, which begins in September. 
Tenor still recovering after removal of a cancerous polyp from his colon 
Plácido Domingo has returned to Los Angeles, where he will resume his duties as General Director of LA Opera following cancer surgery last month. The 69-year-old tenor also confirmed in a statement that he has already begun singing privately and plans to begin rehearsals shortly for his appearance as Simon Boccanegra at La Scala on 16 April.
Teatro Real’s new director announces his plans for 2010-11
Gerard Mortier has promised ‘innovative’ programming for his first season as the new director of Madrid’s opera house. The 66-year-old Belgian, who will head the Teatro Real until 2016, has scheduled operas by Britten, Szymanowski, Messiaen and Kurt Weill, including new productions by Peter Sellars, Krzystof Warlikowski and Bob Wilson. Plácido Domingo will also make a special appearance on 21 January 2011 to celebrate his 70th birthday.
Premiere to take place at London’s Coliseum in June 2011
The first new opera created under The Metropolitan Opera-Lincoln Center joint commissioning programme is to be staged in June 2011 at London’s Coliseum before moving to New York for The Met’s 2012-13 Season. Based on the story of a real Internet murder, the opera will be scored by 28-year-old American composer, Nico Muhly, with a libretto by established playwright, Craig Lucas. The project will be The Met’s fourth co-production with English National Opera.

Former Bayreuth director Wolfgang Wagner dies aged 90

2 April 2010, [Originally posted on 26 March 2010]

Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010)
Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010)(Photo: Bayreuther Anzeiger / Stephan Müller)

Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson of composer Richard Wagner, has died in Germany aged 90.

Appointed as a co-director of Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 alongside his brother, Wieland Wagner, Wolfgang became the festival’s sole director after Wieland’s death in 1966. 

Although generally considered to be a far less inspired producer than Wieland, Wolfgang was widely recognised for his skills as a business manager, ruthless in turning Bayreuth to his personal advantage, getting the festival funded and making it more famous than ever.

He held the reigns of power for four decades, but stepped down in 2008 to be succeeded by his two daughters, Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier. 

Wolfgang's desire to safeguard his own legacy when making these appointments fed into a wider agenda to perpetuate the Wagners' control of Bayreuth. According to Opera Now correspondent, Tom Sutcliffe, this could prevent the future development of the festival:

“The truth about the Wagners today is that there is no reason for them to have any hold on Bayreuth at all. Across the whole industrial and commercial world good management skills are demonstrably non-hereditary. Fairly soon Bayreuth should be taken away from Wagner’s bloodline and run by talented Intendants who can do something for the whole world of opera rather than behaving as if Wagner still needed Bayreuth.”

According to Sutcliffe, Katharina Wagner “is an even worse director than Wolfgang was himself, simply following the current intellectually decorative and predictable fashions of interpretation – and not showing any real special skills at the hands-on direction of performers and chorus. She is at best only the product of her father’s determination to produce a suitable Wagner heir in his own mould.”

Katharina’s directorial debut at the festival in 2007 – with a production of Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg – was booed loudly by the audience and denounced by some critics, but met by others as an indicator of positive change and renewal. 

“No doubt,” says Sutcliffe, “she and Eva will be able to bring in some new talents and try out new techniques for exploiting what Bayreuth has to offer by making it seem more accessible. However, the Wagners are not a royal or aristocratic family. With the death of Wolfgang, in reality their time has been and gone.”

News round-up - 29 March 2010

29 March 2010

Rolando Villazón
Rolando Villazón(Photo: Felix Broede / Deutsche Grammophon)

Dominique Meyer
Dominique Meyer

Mexican tenor receives ovations at Vienna Staatsoper

Rolando Villazón has given his first stage performance since undergoing surgery last year to remove a cyst on his vocal folds. Performing his signature role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Vienna Staatsoper, the 38-year-old Mexican tenor drew an ovation lasting one minute when he appeared on stage, six minutes of cheering after delivering the aria ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ and curtain-calls lasting 25 minutes at the end of the evening. 

Dominique Meyer outlines planned artistic policy changes

Dominique Meyer, currently the general director of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, has been selected by the Austrian government to replace Ioan Holender as general director of Vienna Staatsoper. Romanian-born Holender has held the post since 1993. Among Meyer’s planned reforms will be the reintroduction of Baroque operas, banished under Holender, and an increase in the number of new productions each year from four to six. Meyer’s tenure will begin in September, coinciding with Franz Welser-Möst’s first season as the company’s new general music director.

Experimental performances featuring “baby-friendly noises”

Scottish Opera has launched ‘Baby O’, a project aimed at parents and their infants aged 6 to 18 months. Featuring company singers making “baby-friendly noises”, the project will offer participants an interactive sensory experience that connects sounds with movement, colour and textures. ‘Baby O’ events are planned in three cities across Scotland as part of this year’s European Opera days.

Impromptu performance surprises supermarket shoppers

Five singers from Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program took part in an unusual marketing initiative last week. Dressed as members of staff at a Baltimore supermarket, the singers burst into a performance of ‘Libiamo ne'lieti calici’ from Verdi’s La traviata, surprising shoppers who stood to watch and recorded the event on their mobile phones.

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