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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 - 17 December 2009

17 December 2009

Falling income from ticket sales and fundraising forces cuts

Atlanta Opera will present only three operas in the 2010-11 season instead of four. This move is designed to reduce the company’s operating budget from $6.75 million to $5.3 million and follows a consistent fall in income from ticket sales and fundraising over the past two seasons, down 19% and 13% respectively. Atlanta Opera relocated to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in 2007 and enjoyed a substantial increase in revenue prior to the global recession, but recorded a deficit in 2009 and has projected a deficit next year as well.

Martin Duncan will direct the first-ever British production of Armida

Garsington Opera has announced their 2010 summer programme, which includes the first-ever British production of Rossini’s Armida. Written in 1817 when the composer was only 25, Armida is based on an epic poem about the First Crusade by Italian poet Torquato Tasso. Martin Duncan will direct this rarely performed opera for Garsington, following his successful production of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes at Covent Garden earlier this year.

Tim Albery will direct Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera in Toronto

British opera director, Tim Albery, has agreed to direct the North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna at next year’s Luminato arts festival in Toronto. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter’s debut opera about “a day in the life of an opera singer” is currently on a worldwide tour, having been jointly commissioned by Manchester International Festival (where it received its world premiere in July 2009), Sadler’s Wells, Melbourne International Arts Festival and Luminato: Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity.

LA Opera receives $14 million emergency loan

17 December 2009

Leased: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Leased: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Details have emerged of an emergency bridging loan for $14 million to cover debts accumulated by LA Opera over the past three years.

Under an agreement approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the money will be raised through sale of a special bond, secured by leasing the opera’s county-owned venue, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Interest on the bonds is expected to be around 5%, leaving LA Opera to pay an estimated $2.1 million in interest between now and the deadline for repayment of the principal lump-sum in 2013.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Rountree, is confident that the loan will be repaid and confirmed that $30 million has already been pledged by 23 wealthy donors. Payment of these pledges has been scheduled over the next two-and-a-half years due to losses suffered by donors themselves during the global recession.

The debts owed by LA Opera include advance payments against the company’s $32 million production of Wagner’s Ring cycle directed by Achim Freyer, planning for which began more than a decade ago. The first three parts of the tetralogy have been performed over the past year and Götterdämmerung will be staged in April 2010, followed by three full cycles between 29 May and 26 June.

However, Rountree has said that the loan will only be used to cover the company’s debts, and will not be spent on day-to-day operations or the Ring cycle production.

LA Opera’s general director, Plácido Domingo, is due to sing the role of Siegmund in Die Walküre next year. Giving his reaction to the news of the emergency loan in a statement from Italy, he said he is "absolutely thrilled that the county of Los Angeles has recognized the important and prestigious role that a world-class opera company plays in our community."

LA Opera is the second American company headed by Domingo that has recently announced details of serious financial difficulties: earlier this month, Washington National Opera was forced to eliminate eight staff positions and reduce the number of its productions next season from six to five as a result of overspending.

Find out more

News round-up - 11 December 2009

11 December 2009

Alberta Cefis, Chair of Opera Atelier
Alberta Cefis, Chair of Opera Atelier

The Royal Opera House on iTunes U
The Royal Opera House on iTunes U

This year’s recipient is announced by

Ms Alberta Cefis, Chair of the Board of Directors for Toronto-based baroque opera company, Opera Atelier, has received this year’s National Opera Directors Recognition Award. An initiative of the national association for opera companies and professionals in Canada,, the awards were launched last year to highlight examples of good governance, celebrate models of volunteer excellence and raise the bar for board director commitment.

300 items of free multi-media opera and ballet content now available online

The Royal Opera House has become the first performing arts organisation in Europe to launch its own iTunes U site. Nearly 300 items of free multi-media content from the Royal Opera House are now available via a dedicated area within the iTunes Store. The materials being offered include film, audio and written resources on productions, plus master-classes, interviews with artists, and sessions focused on specific repertory.

Conductor back at work following a two-month break

James Levine has returned to The Metropolitan Opera in New York following a back operation to treat a herniated disc. The 67-year-old artist was last seen on the podium in September. He is currently conducting Bart Sher’s new production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, which opened on 3 December.

America’s National Multicultural Institute honours Song of Houston

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) has become the first opera company ever to receive the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from America’s National Multicultural Institute. The award recognises the commitment to developing a more inclusive society expressed through HGO’s ongoing community and education project, Song of Houston.

Royal Opera House Manchester takes a step closer to reality

9 December 2009, London, UK

The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000
The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000

Plans to create a second base for the Royal Opera House in the northern English city of Manchester have moved a step closer to reality following endorsements from a number of key agencies, including Manchester’s flagship arts complex, The Lowry.

A mutual understanding has been reached that will safeguard The Lowry’s role as the regional centre for lyric theatre, while The Palace Theatre – the proposed home of Royal Opera House Manchester (ROHM) – will primarily become a producing theatre.

Earlier this year, Arts Council England published a report about ROHM, which suggested that the project would result in an additional £5m being needed for other Manchester-based organisations “damaged by the change in the regional arts ecology”. The Lowry, which projected an annual loss of £1.5m in its own revenue, had responded with open opposition to ROHM.

But in a surprising and abrupt change of heart, the Chairman of The Lowry Trustees, Roy Aldridge, said yesterday: “We welcome this agreement, which builds on the existing world class arts provision in the region. The agreement recognises the importance of establishing a clear artistic identity for both the Royal Opera House Manchester and The Lowry."

In July, the self same chairman had described plans for ROHM as “bad for the city, bad for the arts and bad for the taxpayer”.

One implication of the new understanding is that The Lowry will cease to present opera performances once ROHM has become a reality. Instead, ROHM will present performances by The Royal Opera, create productions in partnership with other Manchester-based organisations such as The Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata, and produce premieres by Opera North.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has backed the scheme, saying that it "has the potential to be something really special", but nobody yet seems sure where the necessary funding will come from. (An estimated £80-£100m is required for refurbishment of The Palace Theatre, and a further £12-£15m per year for running costs.)

A spokesperson for the Royal Opera House has told Opera Now that “at the moment we are really only working on the broad concepts rather than detailed planning. If the funding is found for this project it will probably not be built until at least half way through the next decade.”

Find out more

Sex, violence and Michael Jackson – it must be opening night at La Scala

7 December 2009, Milan, Italy

Carmen and Don José - Anita Rachvelishvili and Jonas Kaufmann
Carmen and Don José - Anita Rachvelishvili and Jonas Kaufmann

Today, St Ambrose Day, is perhaps the most auspicious date of the international opera calendar, since every year, it marks the opening night of the new opera season at La Scala, Milan. (Ambrose is the city’s patron saint.)

Tonight’s performance offers the usual mix of glamour, tradition and above all controversy, as La Scala’s general director Stephane Lissner has invited the iconoclastic Sicilian director, Emma Dante, to stage her first opera, a new production of Carmen.

Dante, who claims she had never stepped inside La Scala before being invited to direct there, has promised a contemporary take on the usual interplay of sultry feminine wiles and macho posturing. The director’s theatrical style tends to be hard-hitting, hyperactive and confrontational (not unlike the heroine of the opera), which is bound to provoke La Scala’s conservative first-night audience, who pay up to €2,400 for their seats and tend to treat the whole occasion as a gladiatorial sport.

Following reports of dress rehearsals last week (and news that conductor Daniel Barenboim had to insist on scenes being toned down), the Italian press has been scandalised by the promise graphic rape and violence – not to mention an already notorious ‘Michael Jackson moment’ for the toreador, Escamillo.

Dante is aided and abetted by her set designer Richard Peduzzi, whose recent designs for a new Tosca at The Met in New York drew resounding boos from the audience, unimpressed by Peduzzi’s uncompromisingly dingy minimalism.

At La Scala tonight, the young Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili is cast in the title role, with opera’s current leading dreamboats Jonas Kaufmann as Don José and Erwin Schrott as Escamillo.

Meanwhile, La Scala has announced that Lissner’s contract as general director has been extended to 2015.

With the Italian opera world in dire financial straits and a Berlusconi government that is largely unsupportive of the arts, many expected Lissner to jump ship to vacant positions at Salzburg, Berlin or Madrid. But for a Frenchman in the usually insular world of Italian opera, Lissner has done well since he arrived in Milan in 2005, negotiating La Scala’s notoriously tricky political landscape with flare and characteristic cunning.

‘One of the problems for La Scala has always been a lack of planning,’ says Lissner. ‘With another five-year mandate, I have a chance to implement some long-lasting changes. We can put together finest international casts and really plan for the future. Last season, we put on 300 performances, up from 165. Things are going well. This is one of the most famous and beautiful opera houses in the world. So, why not stay put?’

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