ENO today announced the appointment of Henriette Götz as Executive Director.
At first glance it looks like she's a replacement for Loretta Tomasi, who stepped down as Chief Executive at the end of 2013.
But no. Read on.
John Berry, currently the Artistic Director "will lead the executive team, as well as continuing to lead on the company’s ambitious artistic programme". So this change places him in charge of everything. As Executive Director, Götz will only be responsible for operational matters.
Whether or not you think Berry himself is the cause of ENO's artistic and financial malaise, there's no question he has failed to resolve it. Will the increase in his powers make things better or worse? Guesses welcome.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were today announced as the third-ever winners of the $1m Birgit Nilsson prize. In case you're thinking that sounds a lot, it only works out at about £4,000 per player - and it's more likely to be put towards educational or social work in any case.
But perhaps the most surprising fact to emerge from a report by Rupert Christiansen, a member of the prize jury, is that the Wieners employ only 12 permanent backroom staff. Yes, 12. For a pool of 148 players. I understand additional people are taken on tour, but the numbers are not huge.
In comparison, the LSO, only two-thirds the size, has a staff of more than 80. That includes a sales and marketing headcount of 12 - yes, the same size as the entire administrative workforce in Vienna. And I'm not picking on the LSO - other London orchestras employ similar numbers, as do their US counterparts.
How do the Wieners manage it? Well, they don't bother with social media for a start. In fact sales and marketing generally is low profile. There's no press department. If questions are asked of the orchestra, it's likely that first violinist (and orchestra president) Clemens Hellsberg will answer them. Ultimately the musicians manage themselves in many respects. Go back a few years and it's how most orchestras operated.
It doesn't seem to do them any harm. The Vienna Philharmonic remain, arguably, the most successful orchestra in the world. They sell out pretty much everywhere they go. And regardless of whether you think they're artistically the best, the second best or the 17th best, they are undeniably pretty good, with conductors of all stripes regarding an invitation from them as a career pinnacle.
Less outlay on admin means more left over for the musicians. Something other organisations might like to chew over.
Through his Teeth - Linbury Studio, 7 April 2014
The laws of statistics suggested that if the Royal Opera House tried out enough new operas, sooner or later one would work. After an endless train of inept, underbaked or just plain boring efforts they've finally hit paydirt with Luke Bedford's Through his Teeth. If there's one thing you need to see this week, this is it.
The taut hour-long thriller doesn't waste a note. Loosely based on the true story of a sometime car salesman who conned a string of women out of their savings, it boldly explores the complicity of victims in their deception.
Bedford tunes in to the almost comic banality of David Harrower's libretto with conversational ease. The little eight piece Chroma ensemble are deployed inventively and sparingly. The plentiful pauses are as meaningful as the sounds that separate them in this Zen garden of a score. A sprinkling of quarter tones work their unsettling effect. The tension mounts almost imperceptibly; Harrower is a dramatist and he knows exactly how to tell a story. A single bass drum points the way to the denouement.
Anna Devin is frighteningly plausible as the the confident young career woman drawn in and dragged down by Owen Gilhooly's manipulative conman, even if the key scene where he first lies to her isn't quite convincing. Lightning wig and wardrobe changes enable Victoria Simmons to play interviewer, sister and fellow victim - each role musically delineated with precision.
The CCTV backdrop elegantly underlines that surveillance is a weapon used by both sides. Creaky, clanky sliding screens play a less successful part in Bijan Sheibani's production.
This is not the first opera from Luke Bedford (a composer who, incidentally, this blog has followed from the start). But it is easily his most impressive - and I hope the comparative ease of staging the score will lead to further productions in future, perhaps from students.
I am baffled that the ROH have given this brilliant nugget virtually zero publicity. Perhaps they are piqued by its loose fit to the 'Faustian' brief plaguing their current commissions (what composer with half a brain is going to be inspired by Gounod?)
Anyway, the result is that there are still tickets left for the last two performances, on Wednesday and Friday. Believe me, it will be money well spent.
*UPDATE* as reader Richard points out in his comment below, the 30%-off Guardian mentioned in a previous post is still valid.
Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise - Royal Opera House, 6 April 2014
While opera squeezes itself into pubs, clubs and underground bunkers, could piano recitals take over its abandoned theatres? Jonas Kaufmann's sold out the Royal Opera House instantly. Some may have come for the Schubert; I suspect most were after the man.
The darkest song cycle in all of liederdom sits uneasily with the velvet and glitz of the ROH, even with the austere Act 3 set from La traviata drafted in as a backdrop.
But with a new album to promote and 3,000 eager fans who'd swoon if he tackled the telephone directory, it was the obvious choice. Having disappointed both opera buffs and lieder lovers last year when he pulled out of ROH and Wigmore dates, it could also be seen as a compromise offering.
Despite a punishing Reise of his own, which sees him in a different city (if not country) every other night, Kaufmann sounded in terrific health. The sheer beauty of his timbre is unquestionable and his range of vocal colours remarkable.
With only a piano to compete against, we heard sounds too light to dare normally in an opera house - plus the odd unidiomatic sob that we already have. You might call Kaufmann's approach 'operatic' - in the melodic not the melodramatic sense, meaning rooted in musical line rather than text. None of the declamatory tones considered permissible in Lieder passed Kaufmann's lips. There were simply no ugly sounds.
There was no place for the oversized gesture either. This was a cool and self-contained performance, an armchair journey free of the burgeoning desperation, anxiety and even insanity that many singers bring to the cycle. Kaufmann's reflective, inward style treated the text as metaphor for a memory, not lived experience. While many singers might be tempted to scale up the story in a big theatre, Kaufmann took the opposite approach, drawing the audience in instead of reaching out to them.
If the final result had a monochrome tint, that was largely down to Helmut Deutsch's self-effacing and unvaried accompaniment. Whether this was an attempt to link the songs stylistically, or simply his way of dodging Kaufmann's spotlight it is hard to say. I was however impressed by his cunning page turning trick; by having two copies of the score, one turned over to the next page, he made sure he never missed a note.
The marathon was greeted by prolonged silence, in marked contrast to the stentorian coughing and throat-clearing that had peppered every pause in the previous 80 minutes. No encore, of course,
And the applause, with thanks to Kyoko ( and for the better photos above, too):
The Gheorghiu cancellation story gets odder.
The capricious diva has pulled the Facebook statement quoted below. Baden Baden remain silent on the 'withdrawal' and continue to show her name in their cast list.
Is this a brief delay to formalise 'contractual negotiations' or has Angela had a change of heart?
Greece may be more than a little strapped for cash, but it seems it can still throw the odd euro at culture. The stage is set for the opening of a new Maria Callas Museum in Athens in 2015.
Many of the museum's exhibits were formerly on show in the Technopolis centre.
Organisers originally hoped to create the museum in the diva's former home, abandoned since severe earthquake damage in 1999. However the cash-strapped municipality couldn't afford the necessary repairs, and so the collection will now be shown in a former hotel previously earmarked as a theatre museum. The ground floor will turn into a cafe, aptly named 'La Divina'.
Set up costs of €1m will be paid by the city of Athens. It is anticipated that operational costs will be covered by tickets and café and shop receipts. Good luck with that.
It always sounded too strange to be true. Angela Gheorghiu, the opera world's most notorious canceller, filling in for Anna Netrebko, holder of the #2 position?
Now Gheorghiu announces via Facebook that she's not going to replace Netrebko in the Baden Baden Faust this summer after all. It seems she forgot her principles when she agreed to the gig:
"I am very sorry to have to turn down the offer from the Baden-Baden-Festspielhaus to perform in Faust in June this year. It has always been one of my principles not to sing in a new production that has not been conceived from the very beginning for me. It is also rather unusual for me to have to replace another singer. Nevertheless, I have tried to make it possible and to be available for the whole period but unfortunately I have not been successful in doing this."
Baden Baden, it appears, have not yet been told.
Plácido Domingo with his 72nd (/76th?) birthday present, a gift from his son.
In a plausibly uncoincidental tie in with his latest album release, the canny baritenor has named his equine hair-twin Wojtyla.
For those who find Polovtsian Dances in sequinned Hammer pants too saccharine for their tastes, Graham Vick's Birmingham Opera Company present a hardcore alternative later this month - an English language adaptation of Musorgsky's Khovanshchina.
Like Prince Igor, KHOVANSKYGATE: A National Enquiry is an Official UK - Russia Year of Culture 2014 Event. But there the comparison stops.
The blurb tells us the tale "raises strikingly modern parallels; the story takes place in a Russia divided by powerful conservative forces and growing Westernising influence. Musorgsky paints a devastating portrait of a nation on the brink of collapse; torn apart by state corruption, religious fanaticism, social inequality and ethnic cleansing."
Performers include the CBSO and over local 200 volunteers, and in keeping with BOC's reputation for novel locations, it will be shown in a giant circus tent at Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham.
Prince Igor - Novaya Opera, Coliseum, 1 April 2014
A despotic invader annexes a troubled state and casts out the rightful ruler. Given recent events, Prince Igor may not be the most sensitive choice to mark the UK-Russia Year of Culture
But if anyone cares to discover Russia's musical achievements instead of dwelling on its political mis-steps, Novaya Opera's gloriously traditional and stupendously performed production is the place to start.
Those already missing the Copley La bohème can get their olde-tyme fix here. Yuri Alexandrov's production could have been created any time in the last hundred years. It's more traditional than Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. And talking of Christmas and trimmings there's enough bling to festoon a forest of festive trees. Every surface is beaded, brocaded, sequinned or sparkling. You don't know the meaning of spectacular until you've seen the glittering all-singing all-dancing Polovtsian Dances scene. Puffy blouses, Aladdin pants and more beards than a Saturday night in Dalston complete the picture.
Who cares if the fruits are plastic, the falcon is stuffed, and the 'baby' is a bolster wrapped in a sheet? Does it matter that the chorus are choreographed instead of individually fussed over? Before opera began its course towards TV-influenced naturalism, this sort of staginess was accepted. And in its way it draws an audience in by making them complicit in the artifice. You don't complain that the candle doesn't look like a candle (and I regret to inform you in advance that it doesn't), you accept that it's just a representation of one.
There are plenty of inimitably big, meaty Russian voices. Don't ask me who, I couldn't bring myself to slap down £8 for the scrawny programme. But a covert glance at my neighbour's revealed no names I recognised. The titular baritone and the steamy contralto Konchakovna were stunning, but just about everyone was a cut above what you'd expect to hear in the Coliseum, and a distinct improvement on what the Mariinsky bring over here. This is Russian opera as it's meant to be sung.
Jan Latham-Koenig, who gave us a disappointing Traviata at Covent Garden recently, redeems himself with a blistering dramatic performance from the excellent Novaya orchestra. Chunky edits to the 'full' third and fourth acts of this multi-version work bring the running time down to three hours (including a long interval) and leave a poignant ending.
As my neighbour (an opera newcomer) said at the end "Billy Elliot doesn't cut it any more".
I'm not sure if the Amazon Local offer is still running. If not, then TKTS had seats today at around half price, and should do for later dates (it runs daily to Saturday). Don't miss.
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