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News round-up - 16 March 2010

16 March 2010

Opera heroine?: Anna Nicole Smith
Opera heroine?: Anna Nicole Smith(Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Classical BRIT Lifetime Achievement Award winner: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Classical BRIT Lifetime Achievement Award winner: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa(Photo: John Swannell)

Back with Decca: Andreas Scholl
Back with Decca: Andreas Scholl(Photo: Eric Larrayadieu)

Mark-Anthony Turnage premiere scheduled for February 2011

London’s Royal Opera House has announced details of a new commission about the life of U.S. glamour model, Anna Nicole Smith. With a libretto by Jerry Springer: The Opera co-creator, Richard Thomas, and music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, the premiere will be directed in February 2011 by Richard Jones.  Smith, who first came to public attention after marrying an oil billionaire nearly four times her age, was later dubbed “the queen of trailer trash” by U.S. tabloids. She died in 2007.

Fewer performances overall but adventurous programming choices sustained

New York City Opera (NYCO) and the Lyric Opera of Chicago have announced trimmed-back seasons for 2010-11, yet both companies have managed to include some adventurous programming despite the cuts. NYCO, which for financial reasons recently ceded four weeks of its autumn season to New York City Ballet, will present the first opera by Broadway musicals veteran, Stephen Schwarz, plus the New York premiere of Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, and a triple bill of short operas by John Zorn, Arnold Schoenberg and Morton Feldman. In Chicago, the Lyric Opera’s season (down to 68 performances from 77 this year) includes new productions of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Handel’s Hercules and Wagner’s Lohengrin.

Peter Sellars to make his Met debut while prices rise and union talks continue

New York’s Metropolitan Opera recently announced price rises of 11% on tickets and 6% on subscriptions for the company’s 2010-11 season. This move coincided with the launch of the season programme, which – signalling a commitment to working with new directors and replacing decades-old revivals by Franco Zeffirelli – includes a new La traviata by Willy Decker and Peter Sellars’ Met debut with Nixon in China. Meanwhile, general manager Peter Gelb has engaged his predecessor, Joseph Volpe, to negotiate a better deal for the company when chorus, orchestra and stagehand contracts expire next year. 

Opera Company NI to reinvigorate opera in County Down

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has committed funds of £374,000 towards a new opera company in County Down, merging the existing resources of Castleward Opera and Opera Fringe. As well as staging its own productions and working with regional partners to develop touring, Opera Company NI will offer training opportunities for local talent. 

World premiere commission to close five-opera run

Highlights of Minnesota Opera’s 2010-11 season will be the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, based on Giorgio Bassani’s novel, and a new production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, directed by Kevin Newbury. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – another new production – will feature counter-tenor David Daniels and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under Harry Bicket, while Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Verdi’s La traviata complete the season’s line-up.

Glimmerglass Opera names Zambello as general and artistic manager

Director Francesco Zambello has been named as the new general manager and artistic director of Glimmerglass Opera, the 35-year-old summer opera festival in Cooperstown, N.Y. Zambello will assume her new position in September 2010 and is expected to announce a major overhaul of the company shortly afterwards. 

High profile projects consolidate new long-term contract

German counter-tenor, Andreas Scholl, has signed a new long-term recording agreement with Decca, marking the renewal of a relationship that lasted from 1999 until 2006 when Scholl moved to Hamonia Mundi. His first project under the new agreement is Handel’s Giulio Cesare with Les Arts Florissants, playing the title role alongside Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky, and Nathalie Stutzmann.

11th Classical BRIT Awards 2010

The New Zealand-born soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, will receive a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Classical BRITs. She will also perform live during the awards ceremony in London’s Royal Albert Hall on 13 May. Previous recipients of the award include Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras.


American conductor, Carl St. Clair, will leave his post as music director at Komische Oper Berlin in 2012 when the company’s general manager, Andreas Homoki, moves to Zurich Opera House. Homoki’s successor in Berlin, Barrie Kosky, is already searching for a new music director.

100 opera houses join in Europe Day celebrations

12 March 2010

On 8 and 9 May, 100 opera houses in 22 countries across Europe will celebrate the fourth annual European Opera Days weekend through a coordinated programme of activities called ‘Crossing Bridges’.

The participating opera houses will mount open days, special performances and education events that explore ‘bridges’ between theatres and local communities, as well as links to other creative art forms and cultures.

Timed to coincide with Europe Day (9 May), European Opera Days is a joint initiative of Opera Europa and RESEO (the European Network for Opera and Dance Education).

“We believe that ’Crossing Bridges’ is a stimulating metaphor for the art of opera today”, say Opera Europa President, Joan Matabosch, and RESEO Chair, Linda Lovrovic. “Often accused of being elitist and out-of-date, opera today is extraordinarily alive and kicking. Exploring unconventional spaces, performed in pubs and metro stations, it also uses multimedia and state-of-the-art technology to tell stories which reach out and speak to us all.”

Some of the weekend’s more unusual highlights include:

  • Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Belgium: an ‘artistic battle’ between workshop groups, mixing contemporary urban street culture with Donizetti’s Rita.
  • Scottish Opera, UK: 'Baby O' - a creative workshop connecting sounds with movement, colours and textures for babies and their parents.
  • Royal Opera House, UK: La traviata workshops for 60 participants aged 9-12, initiating the ROH's first Youth Opera Company.
  • Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Germany: a practical workshop for young people based on Rameau’s Les Paladins, mixing music, dance and painting.
  • National Theatre Brno, Czech Republic: a fashion show of popular high street brands modelled by leading Czech singers, with opera soundtrack.
  • Icelandic Opera, Iceland: surprise performances of opera arias, duets and choruses performed in shopping centres, schools and swimming halls.

Visit the official European Opera Days website for the full weekend programme

Plácido Domingo recovering after surgery for cancer

12 March 2010

Plácido Domingo (Photo: Sheila Rock)

Plácido Domingo has announced via his official website “that the doctors have given me a clean bill of health, with no follow-up therapies necessary”. His statement follows surgery to remove a ‘malignant localised polyp’ from his colon.

The 69-year-old Spanish tenor was due to have played Bajazet in Handel's Tamerlano at Covent Garden (5-20 March 2010), but pulled out at at short notice when he felt abdominal pains while singing in Tokyo.

Speaking on behalf of Domingo in New York earlier this week, spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer explained that "His exact return to his performing engagements remains subject to how fast he can heal and regain his characteristic strength." 

He is currently still scheduled to sing the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at La Scala, Milan on 16 April.

News of Domingo’s illness follows recent reports exploring whether his packed international performing schedule combined with general directorship of Washington National Opera and LA Opera is over-taxing. In particular, several commentators have raised concerns that the fortunes of the two opera companies are suffering because Domingo cannot devote adequate time to his duties.

LA Opera recently had to secure a $14 million emergency loan to cover debts accumulated by the company over the past three years, whilst Washington National Opera was forced to eliminate eight staff positions and reduce its number of productions next season from six to five (down from seven in the 2008/09 season).

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in February, Domingo staunchly defended his relationship with both companies: "Nothing has changed since I started my contracts, both with Washington and then with Los Angeles," he said. "I'm very proud that both companies, they have really grown. And the only problem that we have right now is the fact that we are generally, globally, in a crisis."

For a man who lives by the personal catchphrase, “If I rest, I rust”, such confidence is characteristic and – so it seems from the message posted on his website – not easily shaken: 

“I can’t go on stage for a few more weeks, but I am spending my time studying and preparing for future engagements. I feel well and am looking forward to performing again as soon as possible. My love to you all. Plácido.”

News round-up - 30 January 2010

30 January 2010

Gerald Finley as Captain Balstrode in 'Peter Grimes' (Photo: Clive Barda)
Gerald Finley as Captain Balstrode in 'Peter Grimes' (Photo: Clive Barda)

South Bank Show Awards 2010, London

The Opera Award at the last ever South Bank Show Awards has gone to English National Opera for David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes. It was the third year in a row that ENO had won this Award. All performances of Peter Grimes in May 2009 sold out, achieving a total audience of more than 19,000. David Alden’s next production for ENO – Lucia di Lammermoor – opens at The Coliseum in London on 4 February 2010.

Fewer operas but one world premiere

Los Angeles Opera will present six productions in 2010-11, including the world premiere of a new commission: Il Postino by Mexican composer, Daniel Catán. Based on Michael Radford’s 1994 Academy Award-winning Italian film and the earlier novel by Antonio Skármeta, Plácido Domingo will perform the role of Pablo Neruda with tenor Charles Castronovo as the postman. The season’s other productions are Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (from Glyndebourne), Verdi’s Rigoletto (from San Francisco Opera) and Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia (previously seen in Munich, Hamburg and Vienna), plus two company revivals.

The UK’s largest regional company to present seven new productions

While many companies are planning reduced seasons for 2010-11, the UK’s Opera North has announced details of seven new productions alongside just one revival. Operas guaranteed to bring box office success –  Lehár’s The Merry Widow and Bizet’s Carmen – will anchor a season that also includes Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Janáček’s From the House of the Dead and the British premiere of The Portrait by Polish composer, Mieczysław Weinberg. The season ends with Wagner’s Das Rheingold, beginning Opera North’s first ever complete Ring cycle.

Washington National Opera 2010-11 season

Washington National Opera has confirmed that Francesco Zambello will direct the company’s new production of Richard Strauss’s Salome in October 2010 with Deborah Voigt in the title role. Voigt made her critically acclaimed debut as Salome in Zambello’s 2006 production for Chicago Lyric Opera.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes performs Escamillo in Carmen

Teddy Tahu Rhodes recently made his role debut as Escamillo in Carmen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He stepped in to replace Mariusz Kwieichen, who was ill.

Los Angeles launches citywide Ring Festival LA

29 January 2010

Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund in 'Die Walküre' (Photo: Monika Rittershaus / Courtesy of LA Opera)
Anja Kampe as Sieglinde and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund in 'Die Walküre' (Photo: Monika Rittershaus / Courtesy of LA Opera)

From 15 April to 30 June more than 100 cultural and education institutions in Los Angeles Region will mount a festival inspired by Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Organized under the leadership of LA Opera, Ring Festival LA will comprise dozens of performances, exhibitions, symposia and special events in locations across the city and beyond.

The festival has been timed to coincide with three complete performances of Achim Freyer’s new US$32 million Ring cycle production for LA Opera. Critics recently highlighted the high cost of this production when the company was forced to take an emergency bridging loan for $14 million to cover debts.

LA Opera General Director, Plácido Domingo, is nonetheless confident that “Ring Festival LA will be a defining moment in the cultural history of Los Angeles”, a sentiment echoed by Festival Leader, Barry Sanders: “Ring Festival LA will be the most significant arts festival since the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival…but this time, none of the artists will be imported. It will be open to all, and give opera back to the people.”

The festival’s partners include prominent organisations such as the Goethe Institut, LA County Museum of Art, Huntingdon Library, Griffith Observatory and University of Southern California, with events ranging from in-depth academic lectures and study groups to a hip hop theatre workshop for people aged 16 to 23.

“The presence of so many of LA’s cultural, educational and civic leaders clearly demonstrates that the city’s forces can be brought together through a cultural festival,” says Domingo. “Ring Festival LA will have far-reaching impact throughout our community.”

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