Wednesday, 30 March 2011

ACE Funding & WNO


Well, it could've been a lot, lot better but all the same it could have been a lot, lot, lot worse. Arts Council of England today announced their enforced funding decisions for 2012 to 2015 and WNO will continue to receive ACE backing. The funding, to begin in April 2012, represents far less than what they would have expected a year ago but given the current climate it's reassuring to know that funding will continue up until 2015. And before you think that WNO has been treated unfairly consider the fact that ROH and Opera North have both suffered the same -15% cut to their funding while other organisations have had their funding cut completely.

For those of you interested in figures:

Funding for Previous & Current Years

2010 /11
6, 761, 196

2011 /12
6, 294, 674

Funding for Future Years

6, 011, 414

6, 149, 676

6, 315, 102

The % Lowdown

Cash change -6.6%
Real terms change -15.0%

Now, as you may have guessed, I'm not that hot on figures but even to my eyes there will be a significant drop in funding income which, combined with the age-old fact that inflation always tends to inflate, means that WNO will need to increase revenue from other areas in order to maintain the current level of investment. Where this money can be found is anyone's guess but the first thought that comes to mind is an increase in ticket prices – but ticket price sales alone won’t cover the funding gap.

Another possibility has to be finding more partners. Businesses that sell the idea of Cardiff as being a young cosmopolitan city could consider combining forces with Cardiff Council and fill the funding gap - nothing says cosmopolitan more than an internationally renowned opera company. Last year's production of Meistersinger gained genuine worldwide interest with people flying in from all corners of the globe (the Wall Street Journal sent a journalist to cover the event) and was a great example of what WNO does so well.

Despite perceived negative notions the arts contribute greatly towards local, and national economies. Hotels, restaurants and countless other business enterprises benefit greatly from having links to areas where WNO performs. And let's face it, it would be an embarrassment to a nation that prides itself on being a Land of Song if it was unable to support one of its cultural jewels in its own capital city.

Inevitably the number of new productions will surely decrease, and if it means that jobs are saved then I would gladly put up with no new productions for a while. This doesn't mean that WNO's quality of work should dip - on the contrary if ever there was a time for WNO the show what it can do it is now. However, ambition comes in many flavours and surely the management of WNO should have the preservation of the status quo cappuccino in mind before embarking on any major projects – Scottish Opera produced a marvellous Ring Cycle but look at what's happened to it since then. But less of my fanboy meanderings, what does WNO have to say about today's announcement?

"Welsh National Opera is very pleased that we continue to be recognised as part of the national portfolio of arts companies in both England and Wales.

Although we are naturally disappointed that there will be a second year of reduction in the grant from ACE, we understand that this is in line with the settlement for other large scale companies.

Despite the considerable challenge that this presents, the company is confident that it will continue to achieve the highest artistic standards."

Next post:

What you can do for your opera company.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Cardiff is the new Vienna!


From tonight students on the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama's new MA Opera Performance course are presenting their take on Die Fledermaus at the Weston Studio (WMC). Running for three consecutive nights the production follows hot(ish) on the heels of WNO's run of Fledermaus - but judging by the disclaimer on the RWCMD’s website of the production containing some scenes of a sexual nature comparisons with John Copley's production may be few and far between.

To book your tickets click here, but you'd better rush as there aren't many left.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

When Koala's Meet Dreams

Koalski of Canberra about to unleash the Windmill

Have you ever fancied getting that dream about chess playing koalas wearing matching orange corduroy trousers and jacket who hustle you out of all that you own off your chest? If so then you can unload the traumatic nightmare at The Archive of Sleep, set up by WNO’s digital arm (WNO3) in celebration of WNYO’s new production The Sleeper. You can write, draw, film or tra-la-la your dreams on to the website.

But remember - fear the koala.

Monday, 21 March 2011

If George Orwell Composed an Opera...

Tickets go on sale next week (28th of March) for Welsh National Youth Opera's brand spanking new opera The Sleeper. A collaboration between librettist Michael Symmons Roberts (The Sacrifice) and composer Stephen Deazley The Sleeper is set in an unspecified nightmarish future where sleep is unattainable and a group of young people have a secret to protect, but the military are closing in...

With a running time of 75 minutes performances take place at The Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay. Word from The Man is that The Sleeper is a promenade performance so hold the stilettos for the ladies and ban the 9-inch Cuban heels for the gents. Another word from The Man is that you'll be close to the action so don't shush! your neighbour if they start singing as chances are they'll be members of the cast.

The eight performances will take place from the 15th to 18th of July and begin at 6:30 pm and 9 pm (except for the 17th July when start times are 3:30 pm and 6 pm). Tickets cost £11 and £6 (concessions for under 30s). If you're feeling a tad Scrooge-like tickets for the final performance are all £6. Tickets are sold directly by WNO and you can get yours by ringing 029 2063 5030 (Monday to Friday 9:30 pm to 5:30 pm). One final word from The Man is that the performances may not be suitable for under 12s.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Class of 2009

Photos nabbed from BBC

With attention soon to be focused on June's biennial edition of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World I thought I'd take the opportunity to take a look back at the previous competition's competitors and see what they've been up to since Ekaterina Scherbachenko hoisted the crystal vase aloft and declared, in a Scottish brogue, “I am the only one!"

You'll notice that some are still studying, others are dipping their toes into the pool of professional singing for the first time while a few are not in Kansas anymore and are hitting the opera circuit all on their ownsome. All I can say is good luck to all twenty-five of them!

So read on to see what's become of your favourite singers from the Class of 2009...

Marc Canturri (Andorra)

Regular appearances on Spanish stages, including Dancaïre in the recent Bieto Carmen at the Liceu.

Fernando Javier Radó (Argentina)
Divides his time between his native Argentina and Europe, where he took part in the Neue Stimmen Master Classes last year.

Katharine Tier (Australia)
Completed her Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera before joining the ensemble of Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Emiliya Ivanova (Bulgaria)

A finalist in Placido Domingo's Operalia 2010, she has joined the ensemble of Theatre Bonn.

Etienne Dupuis (Canada)

Burgeoning international career, future engagements include Opéra de Montréal and Opéra de Tours.

Javier Arrey (Chile)
After being chosen to join the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices in San Diego, he is now in his first season with the Domingo– Cafritz Young Artists Program of Washington National Opera.

Tomislav Lučić (Croatia)

Joined the ensemble of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden.

Jan Martiník (Czech Republic) Song Prize Winner

Continues to sing with the Komische Oper Berlin, has signed with Askonas Holt agency.

Anna Stephany (England)
Enjoying growing international career with future appearances at Concertgebouw, Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and with CBSO.

Csaba Szegedi (Hungary)

Continues to sing with Hungarian State Opera.

Helen Kearns (Ireland)

Continuing her studies as an artist in residence at Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel.

Claire Meghnagi (Israel)
Continues to sing with Les Arts Florissants, will be making her role debut as Susanna this summer with Opera Holland Park.

Giordano Lucà (Italy) Audience Prize Winner
Recently made his operatic debut (be warned – nakedness on show) singing the role of the Duke (Rigoletto) at Teatro Verdi di Padova.

Eri Nakamura (Japan)

Joined the ensemble of Bayerische Staatsoper.

Ji–Min Park (Republic of South Korea)

Signed for Askonas Holt agency, and embarking on international career.

Dana Bramane (Latvia)

Continues to sing with Latvian National Opera.

Octavio Moreno (Mexico)
Graduated from Houston Grand Opera Studio's young artist development programme and continues to sing with the company.

Wade Kernot (New Zealand)

Joined the ensemble of Theatre St Gallen.

Izabela Matuła (Poland)
Continuing her concert / operatic career. Currently touring the US with Opole Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

Dora Rodrigues (Portugal)

Continues to sing with Teatro Nacional de São Carlos.

Dawid Kimberg (South Africa)

In his final year as a Jette Parker Young Artist.

Yuri Minenko (Ukraine)

Signed with Askonas Holt agency, enjoying growing international career – appearing with CBSO in June.

Vira Slywotzky (USA)
Graduated from Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program and divides her time between opera and concert performances as part of The Mirror Visions Ensemble.

Natalya Romaniw (Wales)
In final year of studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Appeared in, and co-presented, the BBC 4 documentary Chopin: The Women Behind the Music.

... and of course...

Ekaterina Scherbachenko (Russia) 2009 Winner

Best to let her tell you what she's up to...

"The experience of competing in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 was priceless... I now have a great agent, with offers from opera houses around Europe... The people who supported me during the competition were incredible, from the conductors, pianists, and organisers to the backstage staff... For me, being in Cardiff was the most valuable experience I've had...

This season, I will make my debut as Liù in a new production of Turandot at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich under the direction of Zubin Mehta. I will also debut at the Metropolitan Opera (Micaela), the Monte Carlo Opera (Tatyana), the Glyndebourne Festival (Mimì) and the Teatro alla Scala (Liù). I would not have had these opportunities without BBC Cardiff Singer of the World."

Saturday, 12 March 2011

WNYO Looking for Young Musicians

Fancy throwing a TV out of a hotel window, flying in a hairdresser from Sydney or demanding 159 1 ltr bottles of Evian encased in pomegranate candyfloss? If the answer is yes then you might like to audition for one of twelve places in Welsh National Youth Opera’s band for their World Premiere performance of Stephen Deazley's and Michael Symmons RobertsThe Sleeper in July.

WNYO are looking for percussionists, violin & viola, cello & double bass players, along with flute doubling piccolo and clarinet doubling bass clarinet players. All you have to be is 16 to 25 years old, Grade 8 standard, Welsh or have received a sizeable chunk of your education in Wales.

The deadline to register your interest is the 16th of March, with auditions being held at Wales Millennium Centre from the 18th to the 20th of March. If you are interested then contact Paula Scott on 07896 960023 or by email to book your audition place.

For further details click here.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Die Fledermaus - Die Dress Rehearsal

Photo Clive Barda

To post or not to post that is the question, whether it be nobler to shut one’s trap or make worms meat of a performance meant to be hid from popular eyes is the weighty millstone that drags mine eyes from Venus to Vista*. T'would be fair to report a facsimile or should I bid goodnight to Turner’s companion?

Usually I would avoid reviewing a dress rehearsal, as they are essentially a fine-tuning performance for the production team before the first night. Mind you, I haven't yet been to a dress rehearsal that was nothing less what you would experience on a paid night so I’ll full steam ahead with this belated review of the dress rehearsal of WNO’s Die Fledermaus. (In case you're wondering why I am reviewing the dress rehearsal it's because an old hairdressing injury from my days as Aberaeron's only 24-hour one –manned salon flared up causing me to miss the whole of WNO's Die Fledermaus and Il Trovatore Cardiff runs.)

I'm figuratively holding my hands up and admitting that I wasn't ecstatic at the thought of seeing Die Fledermaus, not out of dislike of operetta (I'm partial to Offenbach) but due to a general antipathy towards the characters, especially Eisenstein. Okay, mainly Eisenstein that smug so-and-so. But pushing my dislikes to one side I headed off to the Armadillo on a Tuesday afternoon...

With John Copley running the show I was expecting, and received, a spirit of the piece production. The direction is clear and uncluttered, aided by handsomely designed sets (Tim Reid) and sumptuous costumes (Deirdre Clancy). This Fledermaus invites you to sit and be entertained, only coming unstuck in the notorious third act where, despite Desmond Barrit’s (Frosch) admirable efforts, Strauss manages to stall his own work with the baffling inclusion of the jailer's sketch. It's a mark of how good a performance Barrit gave that I wasn't squirming in my seat feeling sorry for him.

And the rest of the cast? Nuccia Focile (Rosalinde) appeared to be having a whale of a time playing prima donna to her real life husband’s (Paul Charles Clarke) primo divo Alfred, who never shies away from belting out the catalogue of tenor favourites or certain adverts. Joanne Boag was a creamy voiced Adele demonstrating her comedic skills once more after her turn as Echo in the recent Ariadne. David Stout gave a suave performance as Falke. Warden Frank was played by Alan Opie, his diction clear as a bell and his character playing spot on. Helen Lepalaan made for a bright toned and dashing Orlovsky. But what of Mark Stone as Eisenstein? Would he have me wanting more or less of Fledermaus? The answer is a surprising yes. I still find the character to be irritating but Stone persuaded me to let go of my irritation for the afternoon with his generous performance.

The orchestra, under the direction of Viennese native Thomas Rösner, played marvellously and the chorus, doubling as waltzers, filled the air with a warming rendition of (the admittedly) schmaltzy Bruderlein und Schwesterlein.

In closing this smallest of reviews, and with Fledermaus already hitting the road, the news from the dress rehearsal is/was that WNO's new production is/was three hours of musical fun and enjoyment, shaped marvellously by John Copley and his team, allowing the cast to do what they do so well.

*Okay Windows 7 - but which sounds better?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Margaret Price In Conversation with Edward Seckerson

In January came the sad news of Dame Margaret Price's death at the age of 69. I can't lay claim to have seen her perform in her heyday or any other of her days, so my appreciation is a second-hand one, based on decades-old recordings and little else. By little else I mean that my enjoyment of her voice is purely down to the quality of her singing alone, which is as it should be. But never quite is. Unlike some singers (especially sopranos ) I've never encountered an overenthusiastic / rabid set of fans where Margaret Price is concerned and for this I am grateful*. At the end of the day it's what a singer can do on stage that matters to me, the rest is just magazine fodder. Sometimes entertaining magazine fodder, but fodder still.

But less of my pontificating, and more from MP herself. Make yourself a cuppa, grab the biscuits, and put your feet up for the next forty minutes and watch as Edward Seckerson of The Independent conversed with Margaret Price at Wigmore Hall several years ago. Conductors may want to walk on by this one...

*Okay, so they might exist - but I've never run into them.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 - The Competitors


The runners and riders for this year's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World were announced today bringing to a close an auditioning process that included 600 singers, 45 cities and 36 countries. The all-important number (for now) is 20. You could, if you wanted to, fracture this number into smaller chunks such as:

  • 12 Europeans, 2 North Americans, 2 South Americans, 2 Southeast Asians and 2 Australasians.

Or you could chunkify it another way:

  • 1 bass, 6 baritones, 3 mezzo-sopranos, 1 tenor and 9 sopranos.

Or the most obvious quantifier of chunkage would be:

  • 8 guys and 12 dolls.

But I prefer to stick with 20 individual singers.

Starring in alphabetical order...

Davide Bartolucci (Italy)
Andrei Bondarenko (Ukraine)
Susanne Braunsteffer (Germany)
Leah Crocetto (USA)
Sasha Djihanian-Archembault (Canada)
Máire Flavin (Ireland)
Vazgen Ghazaryan (Armenia)
Marcela González (Chile)
Szymen Komasa (Poland)
Hye Jung Lee (Republic of Korea)
Anna Leese (New Zealand)
Valentina Naforniţă (Moldova)
Olesya Petrova (Russia)
John Pierce (Wales)
Maria Radoeva (Bulgaria)
Meeta Raval (England)
Enzo Romano (Uruguay)
Helen Sherman (Australia)
Şerban Gheorghe Vasile (Romania)
Wang Lifu (China)

Of course with competitors you need a jury or, as is the case with BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, you need two of them. Entering the fray for the first time is the competition's new patron Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Cardiff Singer), as are conductor Alexander Polianichko (CS), pianist Bengt Forsberg (Song Prize) and director Lorenzo Mariani (CS). Making return visits are Håkan Hagegård (both), Dennis O'Neill (CS), Adam Gatehouse (SP) and Marilyn Horne (both) with John Fisher once again the chairman of the board of both competitions.

The bands playing the grooves are BBC National Orchestra of Wales (cond Jac van Steen) and the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera (cond Lawrence Foster). Tickling the ivories are accompanists Simon Lepper, Gary Matthewman and Llŷr Williams.

The competitors will be battling to be one of the five finalists and the chance to win not only the competition but also pocket a handy £15,000. In addition to the main prize there is also £5000 at stake with the Song Prize competition and, in a nice touch by the organisers, there's also the renamed Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize voted for by members of the public worth £2000.

For the full lowdown pop on over to the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World website where you can find full biographies of all the competitors and jury members and also the concert schedules.

And if this has tickled your fancy why not come along to the whole shebang – tickets are still available for all the concerts, including the final (although they are going fast).

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tickets Still Available for BBC CSW Final

Photo BBC

Public booking for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 opened yesterday with most of the hall already booked during subscription booking, but fear not ye late comers there are still tickets available for the final in blocks 9 and 13. But if I were ye I'd not be leaving it any longer to book as these tickets'll be rarer than a parrot with a wooden leg tapping the theme tune to Crimewatch me hearties!*

*I think I may need to stop mixing my viewing of The Sea Hawk and Wycliffe for a while.

WNO@WMC 11/12 Performance Times & Dates


With public booking for WNO @ WMC 11/12 opening at the end of this month (25th of March) it's been drawn to my attention by reader Vecchio John that specific times and dates for performances aren't available online for those of you wishing to plan your bookings. So having consulted with my guru I thought it best to rectify the situation and take the morning off from Split Ends 101.

Although performances tend to take place during the evening there are Sunday matinee performances of Don Giovanni, Beatrice & Benedict and La bohème. It goes without saying that Tristan und Isolde has a start time of 5pm for all performances.

Autumn 2011

Don Giovanni
(performances start at 7pm) – September 16th, 23rd, 25th (4 pm) & 30th; October 5th running time approximately 3 hours 25 min with one interval.

The Barber of Seville
(performances start at 7. 15pm) – September 22nd & 24th; October 1st & 7th running time approximately 2 hours 50 min with one interval.

Katya Kabanova
(performances start at 7. 15pm) – October 6th & 8th running time approximately 2 hours with one interval.


La Traviata
(performances start at 7. 15pm) – February 11th, 18th & 29th; March the 2nd running time approximately 2 hours 40 min with two intervals.

Beatrice & Benedict
– February 17th (7. 15pm) & 26th (4pm) running time approximately 2 hours with one interval.

Le nozze di Figaro
(performances start at 7pm) – February 25th & 28th; March 1st & 3rd running time approximately 3 hours 25 min with one interval.


Tristan und Isolde
(performances start at 5pm) – May 19th & 26th; June 2nd running time approximately 5 hours 40 min with two intervals.

La bohème
(performances start at 7. 15pm) – June 1st, 3rd (4pm), 6th, 8th & 9th running time approximately 2 hours 20 min with one interval.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Wave your daffs in the air like you don't care!

Calm down Wordsworth, calm

It's that time of year when Welsh people feel the urge to wear flowers and vegetables on their clothes. I myself am wearing a genetically modified creation called a Daffeek, which is the brainchild of Professor Jones app Afal. Apart from wearing garden produce we also like to sing, sometimes in Blackadder's roaming packs, sometimes in single formation.

For the sake of the following singers I have decided not to include my deeply praised rendition of O sole mio (widely considered to be the definitive performance). Instead I shall let you feast your ears on messrs and miss'ssss Evans, Jones, Evans, Terfel and Manics.

Geraint Evans sings Mahler

Gwyneth Jones
sings Beethoven

Anne Evans sings Wagner

Bryn Terfel singsPuccini

Manics sing Manics (operatic in its emotional string pulling)