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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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Former Bayreuth director Wolfgang Wagner dies aged 90

2 April 2010, [Originally posted on 26 March 2010]

Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010)
Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010)(Photo: Bayreuther Anzeiger / Stephan Müller)

Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson of composer Richard Wagner, has died in Germany aged 90.

Appointed as a co-director of Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 alongside his brother, Wieland Wagner, Wolfgang became the festival’s sole director after Wieland’s death in 1966. 

Although generally considered to be a far less inspired producer than Wieland, Wolfgang was widely recognised for his skills as a business manager, ruthless in turning Bayreuth to his personal advantage, getting the festival funded and making it more famous than ever.

He held the reigns of power for four decades, but stepped down in 2008 to be succeeded by his two daughters, Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier. 

Wolfgang's desire to safeguard his own legacy when making these appointments fed into a wider agenda to perpetuate the Wagners' control of Bayreuth. According to Opera Now correspondent, Tom Sutcliffe, this could prevent the future development of the festival:

“The truth about the Wagners today is that there is no reason for them to have any hold on Bayreuth at all. Across the whole industrial and commercial world good management skills are demonstrably non-hereditary. Fairly soon Bayreuth should be taken away from Wagner’s bloodline and run by talented Intendants who can do something for the whole world of opera rather than behaving as if Wagner still needed Bayreuth.”

According to Sutcliffe, Katharina Wagner “is an even worse director than Wolfgang was himself, simply following the current intellectually decorative and predictable fashions of interpretation – and not showing any real special skills at the hands-on direction of performers and chorus. She is at best only the product of her father’s determination to produce a suitable Wagner heir in his own mould.”

Katharina’s directorial debut at the festival in 2007 – with a production of Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg – was booed loudly by the audience and denounced by some critics, but met by others as an indicator of positive change and renewal. 

“No doubt,” says Sutcliffe, “she and Eva will be able to bring in some new talents and try out new techniques for exploiting what Bayreuth has to offer by making it seem more accessible. However, the Wagners are not a royal or aristocratic family. With the death of Wolfgang, in reality their time has been and gone.”

News round-up - 29 March 2010

29 March 2010

Rolando Villazón
Rolando Villazón(Photo: Felix Broede / Deutsche Grammophon)

Dominique Meyer
Dominique Meyer

Mexican tenor receives ovations at Vienna Staatsoper

Rolando Villazón has given his first stage performance since undergoing surgery last year to remove a cyst on his vocal folds. Performing his signature role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Vienna Staatsoper, the 38-year-old Mexican tenor drew an ovation lasting one minute when he appeared on stage, six minutes of cheering after delivering the aria ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ and curtain-calls lasting 25 minutes at the end of the evening. 

Dominique Meyer outlines planned artistic policy changes

Dominique Meyer, currently the general director of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, has been selected by the Austrian government to replace Ioan Holender as general director of Vienna Staatsoper. Romanian-born Holender has held the post since 1993. Among Meyer’s planned reforms will be the reintroduction of Baroque operas, banished under Holender, and an increase in the number of new productions each year from four to six. Meyer’s tenure will begin in September, coinciding with Franz Welser-Möst’s first season as the company’s new general music director.

Experimental performances featuring “baby-friendly noises”

Scottish Opera has launched ‘Baby O’, a project aimed at parents and their infants aged 6 to 18 months. Featuring company singers making “baby-friendly noises”, the project will offer participants an interactive sensory experience that connects sounds with movement, colour and textures. ‘Baby O’ events are planned in three cities across Scotland as part of this year’s European Opera days.

Impromptu performance surprises supermarket shoppers

Five singers from Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program took part in an unusual marketing initiative last week. Dressed as members of staff at a Baltimore supermarket, the singers burst into a performance of ‘Libiamo ne'lieti calici’ from Verdi’s La traviata, surprising shoppers who stood to watch and recorded the event on their mobile phones.

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. 

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