Monday, March 27, 2017
The final performance of Verdi’s Ernani was cancelled in Toulouse on Tuesday after the tenor Alfred Kim was arrested on charges of beating up his girlfriend. Kim was tried the following day. He was given an eight months suspended sentence and a fine of 8,000 Euros. He then took a flight out of France. The Korean is due to appear in Aida in Brussels in two months’ time, followed by Turandot at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The cancellation was announced three hours before curtain time ‘due to the unavailability of the tenor Alfred Kim.’
"A performance of Verdi's Ernani at the Capitole de Toulouse was cancelled last Tuesday, because South Korean tenor Alfred Kim, who held the title role, was placed under custody over violence against his girlfriend."
Jonas Kaufmann ‘I refuse to be lectured on this,’ says Keith Warner about his new production of Otello coming to The Royal Opera in June 2017 (and starring Jonas Kaufmann in a to-die-for role debut, alongside American tenor Gregory Kunde ). I’ve just asked him the straight-to-jugular question – will there be blacking-up? – and it gets him immediately into a cheerfully pugnacious mood. ‘I’ve employed anybody of any colour for any role all through my working life. I would never dream of asking a black singer to put on a white face, so why ask a white singer to black up? That’s not the kind of theatre I’m interested in, and it’s just not necessary: it’s about the audience making an imaginative leap. And on top of all that, it’s of such offence to the black community in London and elsewhere. Why do it?’ So far, so firm. But then a glimpse of the collegial and anti-tyrannical figure, adored by singers for his responsiveness to work in the rehearsal room, shines through. ‘It’s not an edict. It’s not set in stone. Anything can change in rehearsal. But sitting here now, I just can’t see it. I’ve spoken to Jonas about it too, and he’s very sensitive to the issue.’ It’s this willingness to adapt, this delight in questioning everything – even his own dearly-held beliefs – which have made his previous Royal Opera productions so memorable. His Olivier Award-winning Wozzeck (2002) was a miracle of cool insight and gallows humour. His staging of Rossi’s Orpheus (2015) in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was both engaging and moving. Speaking about his 2007 Ring cycle, he once said, ‘There is no true success in a Wagner production. Only degrees of failure.’ It’s a phrase that charmingly and modestly undersells its spectacular merits. Who could forget that joyous, doomed leap of the incestuous lovers at the end of Act I of Die Walküre ? Keith Warner in rehearsal for Orpheus, The Royal Opera and Shakespeare's Globe © 2015 ROH/Shakespeare's Globe. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey Now he turns his attention, for the first time in his career, to Verdi ’s late, great masterpiece. It’s getting him excited, as much for the chance to work with his old friend and frequent collaborator Tony Pappano , as for the opportunity to explore the psychological depths of this great work. Indeed, his approach will be to treat the piece as something of a psychodrama, with the issue of identity crucial to the protagonist’s breakdown. ‘In Shakespeare’s time the word Moor had a wide connotation. I can relate this to my childhood, growing up on a council estate in North London, when anybody who came in – Pakistanis, Hindus, Africans – were called “blacks”, usually disparagingly: Moor was a similar catch-all phrase.’ So are Otello and the Venetians confused about his identity? ‘I think so. I’ve also been reading an excellent collection of essays in Shakespeare and Race [edited by Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells], one of which suggests that Othello/Otello might have been one of the devşirme of the Ottoman empire .’ These were young Christian boys, taken by Muslims from conquered countries as a kind of tax, then sent to Constantinople to be educated as leaders, and then returned as men to be governors of their former homes. ‘Quite a few of these men would turn traitor, and return to their original roots. Could that be Otello’s story? If he’d been taken, and then escaped, and was now working for the Venetian state, the piece becomes about his confusion over who he is. He’s continually hearing attacks about his identity, in which the colour of his skin is really the least important thing.’ It promises to be a memorable interpretation, given Kaufmann’s star quality and Kunde’s deep and unique experience in the title role. This production will replace Elijah Moshinsky’s traditional, period-costume staging, which has been doing sterling service from 1987, in which year Plácido Domingo sang the title role. How does Warner hope to realize his psychodrama concept visually? ‘I want to give the impression that everything turns against Otello. He’s a great hero, and then his whole world collapses, bit by bit, until it comes down to the size of a tiny handkerchief. That’s what I’m after: to start outwardly and go internally. The set will be a huge symbolic play of black and white, moving from light and love into the dark prison cell of his mind. I’d like the audience to feel that it can’t quite define the space any more when we get to that point. I think Jonas will be able to act this breakdown in a way that very few other Otellos have.’ The costumes also promise to riff on this notion of instability. ‘The designer (Kaspar Glarner ) and I have tried to find a kind of look that will use an Elizabethan/Jacobean framework and take it into a modern context. In one sense it’ll be “period” and in another not at all. Materials might be Elizabethan, but the cut not – or vice versa. I hope it will have a kind of universality.’ The production will present yet another opportunity for Warner to work with his dear friend Tony Pappano, with whom he has a relationship going way beyond mere professional respect and shared artistic goals. They regularly go on holidays together and their families know each other well. They met in Vancouver in 1989 when Warner’s English National Opera production of Werther was being revived by the Canadian Opera Company . It was Pappano’s first major operatic job, but Warner was instantly enthralled by the conductor’s energy, musicality and instinct for drama. ‘I went home to my wife that night and said: “I have just worked with the greatest conductor in the world,” because it was immediately clear he was going places. And we hit it off within ten minutes. We started going on holiday together after that, and then visiting one another wherever we were. I was best man at his wedding, and we’ve had more Christmases together than Father Christmas and Rudolf. We’re just great mates.’ But he never loses sight of the extraordinary musicianship and roar-of-the-greasepaint instinct that makes Pappano such a great opera conductor. ‘He really leads a production from the dramatic side, and has totally sure instincts about the drama. When we were doing the Ring, for example, we wanted to put him down in the programme as “Violence Consultant”, because whenever anyone got killed on stage, you could really see that Italian side of him that’s fascinated with the Mafia bursting out. It was fantastic.’ Since there just happen to be one or two gory deaths in Otello too, his consultancy skills will no doubt come in handy again. But opera, of course, is always about the sum of the parts, never just either great conducting, or beautiful singing, or insightful direction. It’s the circle that so rarely squares, but when everything comes together, it beats anything you could ever hope to experience in a theatre. Warner agrees. ‘Tony and I share this idea that opera is actually incredibly close to circus. It’s not for nothing that Verdi makes the role of Otello so absurdly difficult. It has hugely loud passages, but demands sophisticated lyricism too, and it’s utterly remorseless. So part of the enjoyment for an audience is like being at a circus and having that delicious feeling of suspense: is the singer going to fall off the tightrope? Can he hit the high note? Tony understands that in his bones, and I love that. We always feel that we’ll risk everything when we work together. And why not? What would be the point otherwise?’ This article was originally published in the Royal Opera House Magazine, received quarterly by the Friends of Covent Garden . Otello runs 21 June-15 July 2017. Tickets go on sale to Friends of Covent Garden on 7 March 2017 with General Booking opening on 28 March 2017. The production is generously supported by Rolex and staged with generous philanthropic support from Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, John G. Turner & Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
Nadja Michael as Salome in Salome © Clive Barda/ROH 2007 The Royal Opera House and the Victoria and Albert Museum are collaborating on an exhibition examining the history of opera over nearly 400 years. ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ will run from 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018 at the V&A, focusing on seven important opera premieres - seven opening nights in seven distinct cultural landscapes - each of which had an impact on the way opera was perceived and performed in the 20th and 21st centuries. More than 300 operatic objects will be on display including Salvador Dalí’s costume design for Peter Brook’s 1949 production of Salome; Music in the Tuileries Gardens by Edouard Manet, a masterpiece of modernist painting contextualising Wagner ’s modern approach to music in 1860s Paris; the original score of Verdi ’s Nabucco from the Archivio Storico Ricordi in Milan; and one of two surviving scores from the first public opera (L’incoronazione di Poppea). Original material from the 1934 St Petersburg premiere of Shostakovich ’s avant-garde Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk will be reunited and displayed outside Russia for the first time: these include the composer’s original autograph score, along with stage directions, libretto, set models and costume designs. Alongside the physical objects, the music of opera will take centre stage with different performances being played via headphones throughout the exhibition. The Royal Opera Chorus will play a starring role, with a 360-degree sound installation of a new recording of ‘Va, Pensiero’ (the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. The cities and premieres that will be explored are: Venice (Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, 1642); London (Handel ’s Rinaldo 1711); Vienna (Mozart ’s Le Nozze di Figaro , 1786); Milan (Verdi’s Nabucco, 1842); Paris (Wagner’s Tannhäuser , 1861); Dresden (Strauss ’ Salome , 1905) and St Petersburg (Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, 1934).’ Kate Bailey, V&A curator of the exhibition, said: 'Opera: Passion, Power and Politics will be an ambitious exhibition from the V&A, the world-leader in innovative performance exhibitions. We are delighted to be working so closely with the Royal Opera House, drawing together their expertise with the V&A’s broad collections to bring the total art form of opera to life in a stunning new space'. Kasper Holten , The Royal Opera’s outgoing Director of Opera, said: 'One of the first things I did when I arrived in London in 2011 was to reach out to leaders of other important cultural organizations. But I could not have imagined then that my first meeting with Martin Roth (then director of the V&A) would have resulted in an incredible collaborative journey that now results in this marvellous and immersive exhibition being born. The exhibition will show us opera as the soundtrack to the history of Europe. We hope to show audiences, both those in love with opera already and those who are still missing out, that the art form is alive and kicking and has as much to say to the society around it today as it did 400 years ago.' ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics' runs 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018 at the V&A. Tickets will soon be available from our website, as well as the V&A's. The exhibition is sponsored by Societe Generale.
Jonathan Sutherland recounts an unsettling incident last night in Stockholm: The American tenor Leonardo Capalbo had an unnerving experience last night at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. He was singing Gustavo in a new production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera directed by Tobias Theorell. The important Act III Sc. 2 monologue ‘Forse la soglia attinse’ was sung from the Royal Box at proscenium stage-left instead of in front of the curtain or in a small part of the stage as is usually the case. The Royal Box in Stockholm is accessible only to members of the Swedish royal family and is usually empty. To use the box in the staging, Theorell obtained the written permission of King Carl Gustav. Capalbo entered the box to sing the demanding scena and was startled to find two people dressed in black hiding in the corner, whether in search of a better seat or for more nefarious purposes. He proceeded with the difficult recitative and coda, despite muffled talking by the two interlopers. The intruders were not visible to conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi or to most of the audience. Memories of the fate of the real Gustavus III were obviously not far from Capalbo’s mind yet he managed to finish the emotionally draining scena to cheers and applause. Before returning to the stage for the Festa da ballo e Coro, Capalbo informed stage management about the intruders but officials found the box empty. Sounds like Stockholm needs a security upgrade.
Vlada Borovko as Violetta Valéry in La traviata, The Royal Opera © Neil Gillespie Jette Parker Young Artist Vlada Borovko had just finished a morning dress rehearsal for Boris Godunov when she was told the singer she was covering had started feeling unwell. ‘We might need you tonight,’ a member of Royal Opera company management explained. ‘We’re almost sure she will perform but, maybe look at Act III – she might not make the last bit.’ Though Borovko had learned the lead role of Verdi ’s classic La traviata for the company, she had never actually performed in the opera before. With only one hour until curtain up, the young Russian soprano was told the singer was too sick to sing at all. She would have to step in. ‘I’d never performed Violetta with an orchestra before. I’d never sung the duet with the baritone. I’d never even sung ‘Addio del passato’ in public … but I was ready to take a chance, so my first performance in La traviata happened at a moment’s notice at Covent Garden.’ It's moments like this that can launch a young performer into the spotlight – and something the Jette Parker Young Artist s Programme trains singers to take in their stride. It's by no means a shadowing internship, but a structured professional programme that prepares singers for life in the opera world, where they could be called to the stage at short notice. Vlada Borovko as Ermione in Oreste, The Royal Opera and Jette Parker Young Artists © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda The combination of huge talent, hard work and the remarkable luck of being in the right place at the right time first helped Borovko break into the opera world, even at the very beginning of her career. She loved to sing, but with no one around her to guide her into the profession she decided to study foreign languages at the University of Nizhny Novgorod . At the age of 19, she was advised by the jury members at a youth talent competition to start professional training. She wowed them with her ability to hit the high notes in The Fifth Element 's techno vocalise, starting with a reworking of Donizetti ’s mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor . ‘I did not really have any operatic training, but I could hit that F# and imitate opera sound,' she said. 'Afterwards, I was approached by a local teacher who said I should consider applying to the Kazan State Conservatory. I'd never even thought my voice was special.’ Vlada Borovko and Bálint Szabó in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore But it was special – and as well as recognising her talent, Professor Galina Lastovka at the Conservatory identified a strong work ethic in Borovko. 'She told me: "You're a smart girl and you have talent. I’ll give you a chance". I was determined to succeed.’ Lastovka was a strict, enthusiastic teacher, who would work with her outside of normal classroom hours. ‘I think she really wanted me to be something and she gave me much knowledge which really helped me on the Programme,’ she recalls thoughtfully. Now a long way from Kazan, Borovko hopes to continue to prove her talent when given the opportunity. Currently, she shines as a playful but cunning actress, Mademoiselle Jouvenot in Cilea’s tragic opera Adriana Lecouvreur . Later in the Season, she will sing the role of Giannetta in Donizetti’s joyous L'elisir d'amore and Donna Anna in Act II of Don Giovanni in the Programme’s summer performance. She will also appear in Verdi ’s Requiem at Grange Opera in June. As she builds her repertory, the Russian singer hopes to meet collaborative professionals on her path. She explains that she is happy to work with directors who have faith in singers’ individualities and discuss the roles with the artists. ‘If we collaborate and build the character together, it’s magic.’ ‘In every role I get, I want to prove myself. I sing contrasting repertory which shows various facets of the voice,' she adds. 'You think you find your limit and then you realise you can go further. That’s the amazing thing about opera – you just never stop learning.’ Adriana Lecouvreur runs until 2 March 2017. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona , Vienna State Opera , San Francisco Opera and Opéra National de Paris , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Estate of the Late Arthur Wise and The Friends of Covent Garden . L'elisir d'amore runs 27 May – 22 June 2017. Tickets are still available . The Jette Parker Young Artists summer performance is on 16 July 2017. Tickets will be available from soon. Vlada Borovko appears in the Monday lunchtime recital series at the Swiss Church in Endell Street on 13 March 2017. Tickets are free and will be available here . The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is generously supported by Oak Foundation.
Giuseppe Verdi (10 October 1813 - 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. Although his work was sometimes criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and having a tendency toward melodrama, Verdis masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
Great composers of classical music