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Michael Berkeley commissioned to write 'Atonement'

27 March 2010

Michael Berkeley
Michael Berkeley(Photo: BBC Radio 3)

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan(Photo: Annalena McAfee)

British composer Michael Berkeley has been approached to write an opera based on Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel, Atonement

The initial approach was made by a German opera house, and discussions are now underway for a three-way co-production with companies in the UK and US.

Berkeley has confirmed that the new opera, tentatively scheduled for premiere in 2013, will be written and sung in English.

Berkeley is married to McEwan’s literary agent and he and the author have been friends for many years. Their small-scale opera, For You, with music by Berkeley and an original libretto by McEwan, was premiered at London’s Linbury Studio in 2009.

Despite the success of this venture, McEwan has decided not to write the libretto for Atonement, instead passing this task to poet and critic Craig Raine.  

Atonement was published in 2001 and has since sold more than 2 million copies in the UK alone. It became an Oscar-winning film in 2007 starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, based on a screenplay by Christopher Hampton.

The story is told by a fictional author attempting to reconcile her past actions by re-writing history. At the core of the narrative are two young lovers, separated by class differences, war and a lie rooted in the narrator’s own childhood jealousy.

Speaking to The Times last week, Berkeley explained how an operatic adaptation will offer unique possibilities for exploring the protagonists’ inner lives: 

“The love affair…is at a distance, in letters and the mind. That’s something that music can do that no other art form can. You can have [the lovers] on stage together singing a duet while he’s in France (fighting in the Second World War) and she’s in a hospital in England (working as a nurse). You can go into the minds of these two people so that they can be simultaneously articulating their thoughts to each other.”

Berkeley has also confirmed that the librettist, Craig Raine, has expressed interest in looking at McEwan’s story from a different angle – from the perspective of the narrator’s childhood self, whose role is pivotal yet dealt with obliquely in the novel.

Philip Langridge dies aged 70

23 March 2010

Philip Langridge
Philip Langridge(Photo: Philip Davies)

Philip Langridge has died aged 70 following a positive diagnosis for cancer earlier this year. Recognised as one of the finest English tenors of his generation, Langridge was particularly well known for his interpretation of Janáček and modern British operas. 

Composer Harrison Birtwistle, whose operas include several major roles crafted specially for Langridge, described him as a “unique artist-musician" whose death has left "a large hole in the world's music".

Philip Gordon Langridge CBE, tenor – born 16 December 1939, died 5 March 2010.

Aberdeen Word festival to host five new opera premieres

17 March 2010

Five:15 2008
Five:15 2008

(Photos: The List)

Scottish Opera has announced that five newly commissioned short operas will be premiered in May 2010 during Word, the University of Aberdeen’s Writers Festival. A short tour to Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and Òran Mór cultural centre in Glasgow will follow.

The operas have been commissioned under Scottish Opera’s ongoing Five:15 Operas Made in Scotland initiative, now in its third year. 

Five teams of writers and composers are involved, each with a distinct approach to their chosen subject matter. These include an exploration of the strength found in words during wartime, a satirical take on modern morality and the state of the economy, and a tale of forgiveness that treads the middle way between passion and spirituality. 

This year’s commissions also include the first score by a woman composer – Miriama Young – plus a three-way collaboration involving a writer and two composers that promises a blend of orchestral and electro-acoustic music. There’s even a returning partnership from a previous year, namely writer Ron Butlin and composer Lyell Cresswell, whose production for Five:15 in 2008 received rave reviews.

“This third year of Five:15 looks as original as ever”, says Scottish Opera’s General Director, Alex Reedijk. “It’s truly exciting that the project is still generating great interest among artists in Scotland.”

Planned over five years, Five:15 will culminate with some longer-length productions during Scottish Opera’s 50th birthday celebrations in 2012. 

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

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