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
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).
- Read more about the awards at the official NEA website
- A full report on the awards by Karyl Charna Lynn will be published in
the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Opera Now
Winners announced in inaugural Voice of Black Opera competition
6 November 2009, Birmingham, UK
Winner Elizabeth Llewellyn (right) with jury member Grace Bumbry
Soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn from London has become the first ever Voice of Black Opera.
The British born singer of Jamaican parents was awarded the Sir Willard White Trophy at last Saturday’s final in Birmingham, UK, by a jury that included legendary sopranos Grace Bumbry and Maria Ewing.
Two other winners were also selected from the six finalists: Baritone Peter Brathwaite received the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Award for the best performance of a song or aria by a black composer, and Nadine Mortimer-Smith was awarded the Brixtonian Trophy for the most promising voice.
Organised by the British Black Classical Foundation (BBCF), the Voice of Black Opera hopes to establish itself as a biennial competition for singers of Black and Asian heritage from across the Commonwealth.
As well as encouraging, promoting and recognising excellence amongst black and Asian classical singers, BBCF founder and artistic director, Vincent Osborne, hopes that the competition will help to develop audience attendance of classical music and opera in those diverse communities.
'For hundreds of years,' Osborne explains, 'the arts have refuted the fixed prejudice of many other areas of society. Diversity has now become a very familiar term, but there are still many opportunities for the creative industries to capitalise on the potential in our communities. Opera, particularly in the UK and Europe, seems to lag behind other performing arts genres when it comes to non-white faces on stage.'
Korean Bass Wins Inaugural ‘Stella Maris’ Competition
4 November 2009
Tenor Michael Schade with winners Jong Min Park, Ji-Min Park and Dovlet Nurgeldiev
Held on board a luxury ship during a 10-day cruise between Venice to Barcelona, the first ever Stella Maris International Vocal Competition came to a close today.
The competition’s overall winner, Jong Min Park, has been awarded the title Stella Maris Classical Star 2009. The 22-year-old Korean bass from the Accademia alla Scala in Milan also received the 15,000 Euro audience prize and a consultation with the Austrian artist agency, Dr Raab & Dr Böhm.
Park was the audience favourite throughout the competition, and secured his victory in the final round with a performance of an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
Two other competitors also received prizes from the international jury, led by Canadian tenor, Michael Schade.
Dovlet Nurgeldiyev (tenor) of Hamburg State Opera will do a test recording with Deutsche Grammophon, while Ji-Min Park (tenor) of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden is due to appear in concert with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbruecken/Kaiserslautern and as part of “Musik in den Haeusern der Stadt” in Cologne.
The 400 guests travelling on board MS Europa were invited to attend all four rounds of the competition, which included eight competitors from international opera houses across Europe and the USA.
Next year’s Stella Maris International Vocal Competition will take place on a cruise from Istanbul to Dubai between 6 and 26 November 2010.
News roundup – 4th November 2009
4 November 2009, International opera news
L’ELISIR D’AMORE NOW AVAILABLE ON THE GLYNDEBOURNE LABEL
Released 2 November
Recorded at the 1962 Glyndebourne Festival with Mirella Freni in the role of Adina, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore is now available on The Glyndebourne Label. The company’s fifth new CD release from its historic archives, it was with this Franco Zeffirelli production that Freni first achieved international recognition. Also featuring Luigi Alva as Nemorino, with the LPO under Carlo Felice Cillario.
‘TWEETS’ TO DEMYSTIFY THE HISTORY OF OPERA
San Diego Opera offers daily Twitter updates
With a limit of just 140 characters per ‘tweet’, San Diego Opera has launched an online project to demystify the history of opera. Using the free micro-blogging site, Twitter, the company will post daily updates that are both informative and entertaining, tracing the evolution of the art form from 1590 to the present day. Twitter’s 6 million unique monthly visitors around the world will be able to track these updates by watching out for the prefix ‘#operahistory’.
OPERA VOLUNTEERS INTERNATIONAL MEET IN NASHVILLE
Opera Volunteers International (OVI), a nonprofit organisation that promotes opera through volunteer activities in the United States and Canada, will hold their next international focus meeting at the new Noah Liff Opera Center in Nashville, Tennessee later this month. Delegates will attend training sessions and performances, including the new Nashville Opera production of Philip Glass’s The Fall of the House of Usher directed by John Hoomes.
Find out more
FREE LIVE OPERA TRANSMISSIONS FOR U.S. SCHOOLS
Beginning 7 November
The Metropolitan Opera in New York will start its second season of free live opera screenings for schools with a transmission of Puccini’s Turandot on 7 November. Reaching an estimated 12,000 students, educators and parents in 13 states across the U.S., The Met: HD Live in Schools will include a total of four high-definition screenings between November 2009 and May 2010.
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