Monday 27 April 2015

The International Opera Awards 2015

Sir Antonio Pappano receiving the Richard Strauss Anniversary Production award at the Opera Awards 2015, with Joyce Kennedy and Richard E Grant
Richard E Grant, Joyce Kennedy, Sir Antonio Pappano
Richard Strauss Anniversary Production Award
The International Opera Awards 2015; Savoy Theatre, London
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on April 26 2015
Live performance, and awards for achievement; the opera world rewards its own

Now in their third year, the Opera Awards looks set to be a fixture of operatic life, giving the opera world a chance to reward its own. This year the awards ceremony took place at the Savoy Theatre, which meant a rather better acoustic then previous years for the live performance element of the evening, though did necessitate climbing a remarkable number of stairs between the reception in the Savoy Hotel and the Savoy Theatre. The ceremony itself was hosted by the actor Richard E Grant, and we were treated to live performances from Carolyn Sampson, Justina Gringyte, Lawrence Brownlee and Aleksandra Kurzak. In a packed programme,  the awards for Male Singer went to Christian Gerhaher, Female Singer to Anja Harteros and Conductor Semyon Bychkov (none alas able to receive in person) and Director to Richard Jones, with a Lifetime Achievement going to Speight Jenkins.

The ceremony was pre-fixed by a reception in the ballroom at the Savoy Hotel, which was a chance for people to meet and congratulate, and catch up with old friends. I was able to catch up with a number of singers whom I normally only see across the footlights, and to chat about roles old and new.

The potential recipients for the awards are selected and judged by a jury of those working in opera, which this year consisted of Per Boye Hansen, Artistic Director of Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, John Allison, Editor of Opera, Nicholas Payne, Director of Opera Europa, Erna Metdepennighen, formerly of De  Standaard (Belgium), Hugh Canning, chief music critic of The Sunday Times, Kathryn Harries, Director of the National Opera Studio, Peter Alward, Intendant of the Salzburg Easter Festival, Hugo Shirley, Recordings Editor of Gramophone, Evans Mirageas Artistic Director of Cincinnati opera, and George Loomis, critic for International Herald Tribune.

Justina Gringyte and Richard Peirson - Opera Awards 2015
Justina Gringyte and Richard Peirson, in the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen
The Accessibility Award went to Norwegian National Opera and Ballet for its impressive education programme (in one year the offered 2000 guided tours to nearly 30,000 people, 40% of them schools and families, over 500 educational events reaching 40,000 people). The award for the Richard Strauss Anniversary Production was given in memory of the late Michael Kennedy and presented by his widow Joyce. The winner was the production of Die Frau ohne Schatten directed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden by Claus Guth, in a co-production with La Scala, Milan, with designs by Christian Schmidt, lighting by Olaf Winter and projections by Andi A. Muller. The award for Philanthropy was presented by Harry Hyam (who founded the Opera Awards), though in fact he read a letter from Peter Gelb of the Met in New York which described the achievements of the award's recipient Anne Ziff, who is chairman of the Metropolitan Opera.

Next soprano Carolyn Sampson, accompanied on the piano by Joseph Middleton, sang Richard Strauss's Das Rosenband.

The Newcomer award was presented by Barry Kosky, Intendant of the Komischer Opera, to the young director Lotte de Beer whose recent work has included Waiting for Ms Monroe by Robin de Raaff (De Nationale Opera) and Massenet's Manon (Opera Zuid). The Designer award was presented by Sir Antonio Pappano to the designer Es Devlin (designer of the recent Mahagonny and Don Giovanni at Covent Garden. The Conductor award was presented to the Semyon Bychkov who sent a video message from Chicago in which he thanked his wife Marielle 'whose harmony and goodness can bring calm to any volcano'. Soprano (and imminent mother to be) Danielle de Niese presented the Director award to Richard Jones whose recent work has included Anna Nicole (Royal Opera), The Girl of the Golden West (ENO), Ariodante (Aix en Provence), Die Meistersinger (WNO and ENO), Der Rosenkavalier (Glyndebourne), and he will be doing Boris Godunov at Covent Garden next season.

Soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, accompanied by Richard Peirson who accompanied all the subsequent performers, sang an aria from Rossini's Il Turco in Italia (an opera in which she is currently starring at Covent Garden).

The DVD (Complete Opera) award was presented by Iestyn Davies to the Aix-en-Provence Festival and Bel Air Classiques for Patrice Chereau's production of Richard Strauss's Elektra with Eva Herlitzius in the title role and with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Orchestra de Paris. It was Chereau's final production before his death in 2013. The CD (Operatic Recital) award was presented to Anna Bonitatibus for her recital Semiramide - La Signora Regale on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and collected on her behalf from mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright. The CD (Compete Opera) award was presented by Per Boye Hansen of Norwegian Opera; it was received by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly on behalf of Opera Rara for Offenbach's Fantasio, conducted by Sir Mark Elder with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte then sang the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen, a role that Gringyte will shortly be performing with ENO.

Richard Jones receiving the Director Award from Danielle de Niese, with Richard E Grant - Opera Awards 2015
Richard Jones, Danielle de Niese, Richard E Grant
Director Award
The award for Rediscovered Work was presented by Carlo Rizzi to the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro for their 2014 production of Rossini's Aureliano in Palmira, the world premiere of a new critical edition with a cast including Lena Belkina and Michael Spyres, with Will Crutchfield (whose new edition it was) conducting, directed by Mario Martone. Gus Christie presented the award for New Production to Birmingham Opera for their 2014 production of Mussorgsky's Khovanskygate. Receiving the award, Graham Vick pointed out that their average audience is under 40, with many of the volunteers under 28 and of these 30% are black or ethnic. The award for World Premiere went to Philippe Boesman's Au Monde which was premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels. The Festival award was presented by Hugh Canning to David Pountney for the Bregenz Festival whose programme attracts 200,000 people each year to Bregenz and encompasses both the large scale lake-side productions and small scale events. Accepting, Pountney pointed out that the festival showed that Great art can be great economics'.

Tenor John Osborne, who had flown in from the Netherlands specially, then sang an aria from Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini.

The Chorus award was presented by Samuel Jackson, managing director of Classic FM, to the chorus of WNO and accepted by five of the chorus members. The Young Singer award was presented by Anthony Whitworth-Jones to mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte, who in her acceptance thanked all of her teachers and colleges.  The Male Singer Award went to Christian Gerhaher who was in Munich. Gerhaher's recent operatic performances have included Wolfram in Tannhauser with Covent Garden. The Lifetime Achievement award was presented by tenor Lawrence Brownlee to Speight Jenkins who was general director of Seattle Opera from 11983 to 2014. In accepting Jenkins said that it meant something as a West Coast American to receive a European award and he thanked his board.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee then sang the Italian singer's aria from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.

The Opera Company award was presented by Sophie de Lindt of Zurich Opera (recipients of the 2014 award) to the Komischer Oper, Berlin, and it was received by the intendant, Barry Kosky who thanked the 420 people who worked at the Komischer Opera, saying without their work they cannot present opera, adding that authenticity was most important in 'living vital music theatre', and he thanked the company's founder Walter Felsenstein. The Female Singer award was presented by Nicholas Payne and received Anja Harteros, who was not able to be present (as Payne pointed out, 'not for the first time in London') and sent her sincere affection.

John Allison, editor of Opera magazine, presented the Readers award in memory of Andrew Porter who died earlier this month. The award was presented jointly to tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak. Accepting on both their behalfs, Aleksandra Kurzak said the award came 10 years after her Royal Opera House debut and she now regards the place as her artistic home.

Then Aleksandra Kurzak returned to the stage to sing O mio babbino caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, before Harry Hyman closed the awards. Of course that was not the end, and the lucky ones went on to a gala dinner at the Savoy Hotel, a portion of the proceeds from which would go towards supporting the Opera Awards Foundation which gives bursaries to young opera professionals.

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