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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

News roundup - 13th November 2009

13 November 2009

Cape Town theatre company receives Excellence in Opera Award

Cape Town theatre company, Isango Portobello, has received the Excellence in Opera award at this year’s Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Awards in South Africa. Specialising in imaginative adaptations of classics from the Western theatre canon and setting them in African townships, Isango Portobello’s first production was The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo, featuring Mozart’s music arranged for marimba ensemble.  The company enjoyed a hugely successful tour to London with this production in 2007-08, including a spell of sold out performances at the Young Vic.

Family and friends stunned by unexpected act of generosity

Former British civil servant, Mona Webster, who died in Edinburgh in August, has unexpectedly bequeathed a legacy of £4.5 million to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, with an additional £100,000 going to the Royal Opera Trust in Covent Garden. The lighthouse-keeper’s daughter and Inland Revenue worker had built her fortune through canny investments over many decades. She was passionate about opera and would travel occasionally to New York for performances at The Met- her favourite opera house.

Vocalist of the Year

Mezzo Elina Garanca has been named as Vocalist of the Year in the 2010 Musical America Awards. Her forthcoming projects include several appearances as Carmen, including Richard Eyre’s new production for the New York Metropolitan Opera, and a recording of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi for Deutsche Grammophon, playing Romeo alongside Anna Netrebko’s Guilietta.

Honegger opera cut from the company's 2009/10 season

Performances of Arthur Honegger's Jeanne d’Arc au bûchers scheduled for May/June 2010 have been cancelled at the Opéra de Nice following the reorganisation of the company's artistic and management team earlier this year.

New York City Opera hits the right note

12 November 2009

The New York City Opera 2009-10 season opened last weekend with a gala programme at its newly renovated home, named after billionaire philanthropist David H. Koch, who pledged US$100 million to the theatre in July 2008.

As well as reconfiguring the auditorium’s layout, replacing seats and updating stage facilities, extensive work has been undertaken to improve the acoustics, and it’s this aspect of the renovations that has attracted most interest from commentators.

Designed in the early 1960s by leading avant-garde American architect, Philip Johnson, the Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater was formerly known as New York State Theater. For more than three decades its acoustics were attacked by critics, so in 1999 New York City Opera (NYCO) took the controversial decision to introduce a ‘sound-enhancement’ amplification system, ironically encouraging many critics to intensify their attacks.

“The dreadful thing about the acoustics in the New York State Theater was the ‘flatness’ of the sound”, writes New York-based arts journalist, Robert Levine. “It wasn't that you couldn't hear the instruments or the singers with clarity, but the sound dropped dead the moment that it happened. The amplification system merely made it sound, at times, as if the hall were a tiled bathroom.”

US$100 million later, the amplification system and carpeting is gone, and new panels to throw the sound into the hall have been installed along with a whole host of other more subtle alterations.

This week, Levine attended NYCO’s new production of Don Giovanni , staged by Christopher Alden. Speaking to Opera Now afterwards, Levine described his first-hand experience of the acoustical alterations:

“Every vocal and instrumental thread is now clear, and we, the audience, ‘feel’ the music around us. The sound is brighter than it is warm: from my seat in the First Ring it didn't have the underfoot rumble one feels at Carnegie Hall, for instance, although friends downstairs, on the Parterre, claimed that the bass is more ‘live’. Further upstairs, I was told that the sound is superbly focused.”

“All in all, congratulations (and a huge sigh of relief) are in order.”

Find out more

In the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Opera Now: Robert Levine interviews NYCO’s new boss George Steel and reviews of Christopher Alden’s production of Don Giovanni.

America's 'national' opera awards?

11 November 2009

Honoured: John Adams
Honoured: John Adams

Marilyn Horne
Marilyn Horne

This week sees the launch of National Opera Week in the US on 13 November, spearheaded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Opera Honors in Washington, DC. The NEA awards aim to be to opera what The Oscars are to film and The Emmys to television: a national rallying cry for the industry and also a platform for celebrating and promoting the art form as widely as possible.

However, some commentators have been questioning the national credentials of the awards. The event has failed to secure any television rights, generally regarded as the life-blood of a major awards ceremony in the US. And although Chicago-based radio station WFMT will be broadcasting the proceedings live to around 150 markets, several key regions of the US will not be covered. 

For example, Mike Boehm, writing in the Los Angeles Times on 4 November, highlighted the fact that no radio stations in Los Angeles  (a city that loves an awards ceremony) have agreed to broadcast the NEA Opera Honors, despite the fact that three out of five award recipients this year have strong links to the LA opera scene – including composer John Adams.

The Opera Honors, which took place for the first time in 2008, are billed on the NEA website as “the greatest honor our nation bestows in opera”.  In reality, the NEA has little real status or influence in the US arts world. Although its budget has been steadily increased in recent years, standing at US$155 million in 2009, this still represents a tiny fraction (around 2 per cent)  of  total expenditure on the arts in America. Meanwhile, the NEA's history as a publicly funded grant-making organisation has been marred by accusations of artistic censorship and political bias. Whether it is best-placed to steer the national profile of opera in the US remains to be seen.

As Opera Now's Washington-based correspondent Karyl Charna Lynn explains: "Opera plays a very small part in US cultural life, despite great strides in recent years and openings of major new opera houses in Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. The NEA Opera Honors are a genuine attempt to bring opera more fully into the mainstream of America's cultural consciousness, but clearly they still have some way to go before succeeding in that mission."

The 2009 NEA Opera Honors will take place in Washington, DC, on Saturday 14 November. Recipients John Adams, Frank Corsaro, Marilyn Horne, Lotfi Mansouri and Julius Rudel will be welcomed by eminent colleagues from the classical music world, including Plácido Domingo and André Previn. Opera-lovers worldwide can listen to the live awards ceremony by logging on to www.wfmt.com from 1630 PST (0030 GMT).

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