Tuesday 23 April 2013

Adventures at the Opera Awards

The Opera Awards 2013, logo
I attended the Opera Awards last night (22 April 2013), to cover them for OperaToday.com. The first ever awards event which puts opera firmly in the spotlight. At one point in the evening I spoke to Sarah Connolly, who was one of the nominees in the Female Singer category, and she talked about having been in the same location (the ballroom at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane) attending the Olivier Awards, but for those opera was just one category amongst many. At the Opera Awards it was all about opera. The operatic luminaries present were pretty impressive, including Janet Baker, Joyce DiDonato, Sarah Connolly, Jonas Kaufmann, Antony McDonald, Antonio Pappano, Pierre Audi and many more. The event had two intentions, to recognise achievement across the board in opera and to raise money for a new foundation to support young singers and performers. And I got to interview Joyce DiDonato.

My evening started with an interview with tenor Nicky Spence who is the ambassador for the awards, a chance to meet up with someone who I've only ever seen on stage, reviewed CD's and communicated on-line. And that was the beauty of the evening, the opportunity to mix and meet people as Nicky Spence put it, 'As opera is a huge family, its great to be able to catch up with the opera community as a whole. Nice to be able to put your glad rags on without the prospect of avenging your father's murder or pretending to make love to a baritone'. Our interview revealed one or two cracks in the generally slick organisation. Whilst people were having video interviews and photographs in the foyer, we where whisked off to a side room off the main ballroom which was intended to be quiet. Unfortunately there was also a dearth of chairs, and a group of people getting changed into their glad rags. Still we managed.

Spence was very enthusiastic about the awards and how they were intended to raise the profile of opera internationally and to recognised all aspects of the opera. That the new bursary fund would help up and coming talent in a time when we were on 'wartime rations for art'.

The issue of recognising everyone came up a few times, but I think that the exact configuration of categories needs some work as at 22 there seemed to be a little too many. But the first ever awards means that such things can be tried out.

JoyceDiDonato also talked about it being the first awards when I interviewed her, commenting that it was lovely to be in at the ground level, helping to define what the awards will be. She also commented on who had been nominated and how this showed that it was a serious undertaking. We also talked about her Scottish year (she's just done Maria Stuarda at the Met, is doing Elena in La Donna de Lago here in May and brings Maria Stuarda to Covent Garden next season), and about the way repeating a role with different directors helped to go a little deeper. My parting question was to ask about her dream role. She shot back Scarpia and then laughed, but went on to say that at the moment she has her hands full with so many wonderful things, but that she would like to do more serious Rossini.

Interview over it was time to mingle. Attendees were various from companies big and small, people I bumped into or spotted included Randall Shannon (the chief executive of the Buxton Festival), James Clutton  and Mike Volpe from Opera Holland Park, Pierre Audi (Netherlands Opera), Bill Bankes-Jones (Tete a Tete), Matt Peacock (Streetwise Opera) and Rodney Milnes (former editor of Opera Magazine).

But this was a fund-raiser, so in addition to champagne we were also presented with a wide array of items for the silent auction, mixing opera with sporting memorabilia. (On the basis presumably that attendees were liable to be keen on one or the other if not both).

Before dinner there was entertainment, members of the National Opera Studio sang Rossini (La Cenerentola) and Bizet (Au fond du Temple saint from Les Pecheurs de Perles). The amplification could not conceal that the acoustic was not ideal, but there were some great performances. The young singers returned after dinner to sing the big ensemble from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.

Dinner proved to be something of a hiccup for us on the press and media table at the back. Some confusion in the organisation meant that we were dining initially on just wine and crisps. Still, all was sorted out and we were whisked away for a private meal before returning to the awards. We talked about the fact that there were too many categories and tried to pare them down, but mainly failed to agree which ones should go; giving us an insight into the task of the judges. We also tried to guess the winners of the major categories, I managed to guess right for both Male and Female Singer.

The awards were introduced by speeches from the co-founders of the awards, John Allison (editor of Opera Magazine) and Harry Hyman (of the Nexus group of companies), both of whom emphasised the need to recognise excellence across the board in opera. John Allison made the interesting comment that great art needed risk taking and that if a company does not fail a few times then it isn't trying enough!

The awards were presented by Nicholas Owen from Classic FM. For speed, I suppose, there were not individual speeches but that was a shame in some ways as it made the presentation itself a bit perfunctory. Though hearing some of the judges comments about the winners was illuminating. Clearly Dmitri Tcherniakov's production of Rimsky Korsakov's The Invisible City of Kitezh for Netherlands Opera had impressed, as it won awards for both New Production and for Tcherniakov as Director, it being described as a production of a lifetime, brilliantly executed by cast, chorus and orchestra.

It was nice to see a Handel opera seria getting the award for best CD opera set, but one quibble. The Rediscovered Work went to Les Arts Florissants performances of Charpentier's David et Jonathas, but I can remember them performing it around 10 years ago so hardly a recent discovery!

Other highlights from the awards. Jonas Kaufmann was Male Singer and got the Readers Award ('a phenomenon'), Nina Stemme was Female Singer ('an astonishingly versatile artist'), Sophie Bevan was Young Singer ('lovely voice and an engaging personality'), George Benjamin's Written on Skin was the World Premiere, Antonio Pappano was the Conductor and Oper Frankfurt was the Opera Company. It was nice to see Antony McDonald receiving the award for Designer. Sir Peter Moores was Philanthropist and Sir George Christie received a Lifetime Achievement award.

My full coverage of the awards features on OperaToday.com.

Complete winners list

Accessibility: The Metropolitan Opera
Male Singer: Jonas Kauffman
Readers Award: Jonas Kauffman
CD (complete opera): Handel - Alessandro, c. George Petrou (Decca)
Chorus: Cape Town opera
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
DVD: Puccini - Il Trittico, Royal Opera, p. Richard Jones, c. Antonio Pappano (Opus Arte)
Female Singer: Nina Stemme
Lifetime Achievement: Sir George Christie
Production: Rimsky Korsakov - The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Netherlands Opera, p. Dmitri Tcherniakov
Oper Company: Oper Frankfurt
Orchestra: Metropolitan Opera
Philanthropist/Sponsor: Sir Peter Moores
Set Designer: Antony McDonald
Young Singer: Sophie Bevan
CD (Operatic Recital): Christian Gerhaher - Romantic Arias (Sony)
Costume Designer: Buki Shiff
World Premiere: George Benjamin - Written on Skin, Aix-en-Provence
Festival Opera: Salzburg Festival
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Rediscovered Work: Charpentier - David et Jonathas, Les Arts Florisants
Newcomer (conductor or director): Daniele Rustoni
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

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