Classical Music Buzz > Brian Dickie
Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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FullSizeRender 3We ended up hearing 45 singers yesterday of which 30 were sopranos.  They were all Japanese. Oh poor sopranos - it is a really competitive world for them!  To have two thirds of the 1,000 plus contestants competing for only 17 or so spots in the finals is a huge challenge and there will be a lot of disappointment.  And it is tough on the jury as well since inevitably there are many worthy finalists, and it is painful to leave good ones out.

At this stage I am having to be very rigorous - and yesterday there were excellent prospects who, for the time being, will be on the waiting list - we will draw on that in the middle of June when the overall picture is clearer. In the meantime there have been some sure fire finalists in North America and I guess there will be some eventually from Japan and China. 

Just to remind everyone - we bring 44 singers to Gütersloh for the finals in the second week of October.  There will likely be 23 or 24 women and 20/21 men.  Of the women the chances are that 16/17 will be sopranos of various varieties, and the balance mezzos/contraltos.

So today we have some singers from Korea, China, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia as well as many more Japanese.  So lots of variety, more men than yesterday, will make it an interesting day.

Meanwhile the four amazing pianists who return year after year for Neue Stimmen were indefatigable. The leader of them is Miyuki Kotouda who is attached to the Suntory Hall Opera Academy.  And the evidence of her outstanding work with Japanese singers is there for all to see around the world.  I remarked on her exceptional contribution back in 2013 and nothing has changed!  

So another long day lies ahead - then off to Shanghai tomorrow.  My time in Japan this time will have been too short.....

3 months ago |
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Yokosuka arts 2017Here I am off in a few minutes for a marathon two days of auditions in Yokosuka - in the exceptional theatre (seen left this morning with its Neue Stimmen banner - click pic to enlarge) that they built here 23 year ago.  It has a mixed programme of excellent events including lots of serious music.  And nothing is more serious that the Neue Stimmen competition which they have hosted for 20 of those years.

I think that I may hear as many as a hundred aspiring singers in these two days.  If they all show up it will be some task.  At present it is programmed to be seven hours on each of the days.  

My trip from Los Angeles yesterday was uneventful - and arrived an hour early.  It is then a short 45 minute ride to Yokosuka from Tokyo's Haneda Airport - a much better option if you are going west or south west from Tokyo.

I will report on how I get on later assuming my energy does not evaporate completely! Thank goodness I have managed this trip with complete resilience so far.  And there is only a week to go!

3 months ago |
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IMG_5457Disney Hall 6pm Tuesday May 2 2017

It is a little time since I was last in Los Angeles - indeed I am horrified to see that it may be almost 10 years.......decades go by.  It was a happy memory to walk down Grand Avenue from the Omni Hotel to the LA Music Center on Tuesday evening.

Yesterday we had our Neue Stimmen auditions - quite a strong turn out with I think two sure finalists, and a good many extremely worthy people that I must for now put on the waiting list.  It is too early in the game to commit to too many.  Another 20 cities still to go!  The singers were so fortunate to have the support at the piano of the unique and wonderful Nino Sanikidze - a Georgian gem who is a key figure in Placido Domingo's splendid company.

After the auditions a late lunch was deserved, and hugely enjoyable.  Peter Kazaras, Ken Cazan and LA Opera's Sam Gelber were most generous hosts to me and also to dear Richard Jarman, formerly of so many top line positions in the opera, festival, and dance worlds, and most recently, and just retired, as the boss of the Britten-Pears Foundation.  We went to the rightly celebrated Otium which mere words can not describe. Its just a delicious experience and we lingered quite late into the afternoon.  THANK you Peter, Ken and Sam - and I am sure that I speak for Richard as well.

I then went to the LA Opera to meet up with Rupert Hemmings, son of my very dear late friend and colleague, Peter Hemmings, the founding General Director of LA Opera (and by the way of Scottish Opera).  Rupert is firmly embedded in LA Opera as Senior Director - Production. It seems to be a very happy company full of good people, the newest recruit being Sam Gelber joining them from the Metropolitan Opera.

I had expected to spend a quiet evening before leaving for Tokyo this morning.  But it was not to be - for who should I encounter in the bar of the Omni but a powerful gang from the artists management firm Opus 3. David Foster and Caroline Woodfield are very old friends indeed, so we had a little celebration.  And another old friend Martha Gilmer was there too - very happy indeed in San Diego after her many years as a pillar of the Chicago Symphony.

So my dinner was later than planned........

I am now in flight from LAX to Tokyo's Haneda Airport - much more convenient for my short onward trip to Yokosuka where we have our auditions on Saturday and Sunday. 

3 months ago |
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IMG_5459The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the LA Music Center 7pm May 2 2017

Thanks to the leadership in the pit from James Conlan, and superb singing from Sondra Radvanovsky and Russell Thomas, the shabby old shocker Tosca worked its evil magic last night in LA as well as I can remember from recent performances. This is just the kind of performance to get newcomers to opera really pumped up - and at every performance of one of the top 20 operas there will be a good many seeing an opera for the first time.  And seeing Tosca for the first time in many other cases as well.  There were old guys coming out last night saying that they has never seen it before - incredible to us addicts of course, but it is the reality.

Tosca LASondra Radvanovsky in lethal mode

So when you see and hear Sondra Radvanovsky eating up the stage and completely in command of her remarkable vocal resources you are in a different world if you have never been there before.  And Russell Thomas's full throated singing of Recondita armonia brought the house down as did Tosca's Vissi d'arte in Act 2.

So it was a great evening with a full house - and an audience spanning the generations.  Excellent.

Before the performance I had an excellent supper in Kendall's Brasserie.  As often is the case I just ordered a first course - the waiter complained that it was only an "appetiser" - I replied that an American appetiser is enough as they always are so huge.  But she replied "Oh no but we are French"!  Well I was right - a good quantity of delicious potted salmon rillette with toast.............and an excellent Napa Sauvignon blanc.

My Neue Stimmen auditions begin at 11 am at the Music Center.  I think we have a good list of candidates.

3 months ago |
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IMG_5456

Yesterday was another miserable wet day in Chicago - and I got soaked on multiple occasions since I failed to bring storm gear on this "travelling light" trip. Michigan avenue looked like a late November afternoon........

Nevertheless I got it all done.  The auditions were at the Lyric yesterday morning in one of their splendid large rehearsal rooms.  Ideal. The turn out was not as spectacular as in New York but there are some people in reserve.  The fact is that I am at the beginning of a long process and I have set the "qualifications for the finals" bar very high.  I do not think that we will get a real sense of the overall level until we are done with Munich on June 10 - and there will still be Berlin, Vienna and Cape Town still to come - all strong places.

So for the time being people must hold their breath.  But nevertheless I have identified three sure finalists so far in New York, each very possible prize winners and up there with the best of recent years.

Today I am off to Los Angeles - the first time that we have had Neue Stimmen preliminaries in that city.  I have high expectations given that UCLA and USC Thornton School have strong opera programmes under the leadership of Peter Kazaras and Ken Cazan, and the LA Opera has the flourishing Domingo-Colburn-Stein young artists programme.  We shall see and hear, but there could be rich pickings!

So off I go!

3 months ago |
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20110316-WrigleyTrib
Alas Chicago has not been in photogenic mood these last days with torrential rain and cold.  This was the view from near my hotel on a better day - maybe five years ago!

But it has been so great to be back in this city which is so important to me.  And yesterday I was able to see COT's production of Philip Glass' s The Perfect American by my old company, Chicago Opera Theater, in the Harris Theater where we performed from 2004 onwards.  It was hugely enjoyable in a production by Kevin Newbury who had been responsible for our staging of Nixon in China in 2006. He has subsequently and deservedly built a fine career, and this production of the Disney opera reflects great credit on COT.  Justin Ryan was excellent as Walt, and our old friend Scott Ramsay was outstanding as Wilhelm Dantine, one of Disney's unrecognised, angry and frustrated cartoonists.  

It was a great treat to encounter so many old friends, colleagues, and board members at the performance - a full house incidentally but there were only two performances so that is hardly surprising.  Philip Glass is always a sell out anyway and I have little doubt that they could have sold out four - but you never know!!

I am sad to see that COT will not be at the Harris next season.  The company was one of the partners in the building of this excellent theatre - but it is expensive these days as companies struggle to balance the books.  But there it is........

COT is in transition mode with no current artistic direction.  But there is a search on for artistic leadership - an exciting challenge which should really be undertaken by a veteran with a track record of excellence.  Any takers? 

I have my Neue Stimmen auditions at the Lyric Opera's home beginning at 11 this morning.  Next stop Los Angeles where I fly tomorrow morning.

3 months ago |
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New York Mar 22-4

This is not my most recent photo of New York but it sums it up quite nicely I think.  And I have been here these last two days trying to reconcile the tacky with the beautiful.  And there has been some success.  The last couple of Neue Stimmen auditions, in 2015 and 2013, yielded little.  But there were at least three potential finalists here so I am off to a flying start.  I have to be careful to curb my enthusiasm!

It always a pleasure to be in Marc Scorca Hall - and a further pleasure to spend some time with Marc himself which I did yesterday evening after the day's work.  He was of course General Director of Chicago Opera Theater at one point in his youth - until about ten years before I went there in my dotage in 1999.

In fact I started my day yesterday with breakfast at the Café Luxembourg with Robert Rattray - a veteran (if he will excuse the expression) of the British opera scene who took over Sally Billinghurst's job at the Met a couple of years ago. He seems really happy there and I am sure is bringing his particular brand of British excellence to the Met.  We had had a good meeting together the previous evening soon after my arrival with that other Brit, Jonathan Friend, who has been in influential and industrious presence at the Met since the good old days of Joan Ingpen.  So these trips are splendid opportunities to indulge in boring reminiscences.........oh dear!!

But the main purpose was of course the Neue Stimmen auditions.  And again it was such a pleasure to have Jonathan Kelly as the brilliant friend and partner to all these young singers.  What a difference he makes.

I am now on my way to Chicago where I will see The Perfect American at COT tomorrow afternoon and where I have our Neue Stimmen auditions at the Lyric Opera on Monday.  Of all that more anon. Meanwhile I am happy to back on an American Airlines flight to Chicago.

3 months ago |
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The blog is back and I owe an explanation!

Way back at the end of last year I took on a project with my friend and colleague Sarah Playfair - we became joint heads of casting at the English National Opera for three months while they recruited a new person for this vital position. Between us we had about 100 years of experience in the opera business…..not necessarily an overwhelming advantage but nevertheless we learnt a great deal along the way, both of us with periods at Glyndebourne, Sarah extensively and tirelessly elsewhere in the UK, and I with spells in Canada, the US, France and Germany. We had a great time at ENO through to the end off February when the wonderful Michelle Williams moved from Scottish Opera to ENO’s great theatre in St Martin’s Lane.

Having done this blog pretty well daily since April 2005 I was faced with a dilemma. Whilst it was all very well for me as General Director of COT to chronicle my daily activities (it was originally all the idea of a Board member who was a PR professional), I felt constrained by my responsibilities to my colleagues at ENO not to spill the beans about goings on there even if they were overwhelmingly positive. So I stopped!!

Then in January something else happened - I was diagnosed with a heart condition that needed immediate treatment and at the beginning February I underwent a quadruple bypass operation. The was an amazing though alarming experience - this was now 12 weeks ago and I am up and running again. And today I embark on the long Neue Stimmen process for the 2017 competition as I fly to New York for auditions tomorrow and Saturday, then on to Chicago and Los Angeles next week.

Between now and the time I return from Cape Town in early August I will have heard a good thousand singers (if not a thousand good ones!) from which I and my colleagues have to choose 44 for the final stages in Germany in October. I will be covering 17 cities, sharing some of them with Evamaria Wieser and Dominique Meyer. Evamaria is taking on the burden separately of Moscow, Kiev, Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw - but we will be meeting up in Munich and Berlin to compare notes, and Dominique and I will preside in Vienna!

So it is a considerable task - and you will be able to follow its progress here, as you have been able to since 2005!

Manhattan from air

I am now in flight and it seems that we have the wind behind us - odd when flying west. So we may be 30 minutes early………I will see Manhattan (above in a photo taken from the air two years ago) in another few hours. This evening I have the pleasure of dinner at Gabriel's with my old friend Matthew Epstein, then early to bed to prepare for the stressful days to come.

3 months ago |
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I am sorry folks - I have been completely hopeless with the blog in recent days.  I used to pride myself on posting something, however trivial, every day.  I now try to avoid trivial (not always successfully of course) and this ends up by my being a big blank!  But I kid myself into thinking that it is all about Christmas and that is the reason I am not getting my act together......

Last Monday's Carice Singers concert was a complete hit.  I was so proud of my great niece with her great contribution to this 16 voiced choir - actually I think there were 17 as I spied a lone male alto amongst the low ladies......this is clearly an up and coming group of passionate highly intelligent young things. They will give the wonderful Harry Christophers a run for his/their money!

So what is coming up?  I feel totally consumed by a project I am working on until the end of February - but I do have a trip to Switzerland for some Mozart a week today, and will get to the ROH Trovatore as well. More about those in due course. And I have to finish my taxes..............

7 months ago |
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I have been taking it pretty easy on performances these last weeks having been working pretty full time during the day.  Not sure that I can manage so many 14 hour days any more!  But Christmas is coming and I am sure I will recover......!

On Thursday there was an enchanting evening at the China Exchange - playing hosts to the National Opera Studio's pretty starry current crop who put on a hugely enjoyable programme of Mozart, most ingeniously devised by the apparently immortal Giles Havergal.

He had the excellent notion of getting these young people to act out scenes from Beaumarchais and Molière before singing the matching equivalents from Figaro and Don Giovanni - and it worked splendidly on all levels.  And giving them the opportunity deal with the spoken word in such depth was something of a game changer for some of them I fancy.

There was much to enjoy.  In particular Laura Zigmantaite was delightful in both her spoken and sung versions of Chérubin/Cherubino, a seamlessly Anglicised Sofia Troncoso essayed both Charlotte/Zerlina and Suzanne/Susanna with complete fluency, and David Ireland and Benjamin Lewis displayed outstanding vocal quality in multiple incarnations.

There was a terrific team of pianists - budding members of the scanty music staff community who provide the foundations of excellence upon which fine performances are built.  Here are the most undervalued members of the opera community!  I am sorry - one of my obsessions coming out again!

All in all this was a most refreshing and encouraging two hours - a real pleasure.

7 months ago |
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