Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Odyssey Opera Resurrects Henry VIII

BOSTON, MA (For Release 07.18.19) — One of the nation’s most adventurous opera companies, Odyssey Opera, begins its seventh season with a concert performance of Henry VIII (1883) by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns based on El cisma en Inglaterra (The schism in England) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

Glyndebourne Announces the Return of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup in 2020

Glyndebourne’s major new international singing competition returns in 2020 with a renewed commitment to supporting diversity in opera. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup - the international competition for opera singers is designed to discover and spotlight the best young singers around the world, offering a top prize of £15,000 and a guaranteed role at a leading international opera house. The final will once again be broadcast live on Sky Arts on 7 March 2020 and the series is produced by Factory Films.

Garsington Opera: Five Young Singers Win Prestigious Awards

Winners of this year’s prestigious Leonard Ingrams Foundation awards are mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew and tenor Oliver Johnston. These awards support, encourage and nurture the best young artists involved in the creative process of bringing opera to the stage, and are made in memory of Garsington Opera’s founder Leonard Ingrams, to ensure the continuity of his vision.

Bill Bankes-Jones on the twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival

“We need to stop talking about ‘diversity’ and think instead about ‘inclusivity’,” says Bill Bankes-Jones, when we meet to talk about the forthcoming twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival which runs from 24th July to 10th August.

The Italian Opera Connection at ‘The English Versailles’: The Duchess of Buccleuch and the Georgian Stage at Boughton House

As part of its annual programme of events, Boughton House in Northamptonshire hosts ‘A Passion for Opera’, a rare exhibition portraying the musical life of Lady Elizabeth Montagu (1743–1827) and the world of Georgian operatic culture.

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycle

Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced both schedules and cast-lists for is Spring 2020 performances of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Given the series of individual productions already staged by the company since Fall 2016, that pave the way for the complete cycle, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s complete production should affirm the artistic might of the great composer.

Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

London Bel Canto Festival 2019: an interview with Ken Querns-Langley

“Physiognomy, psychology and technique.” These are the three things that determine the way a singer’s sound is produced, so Ken Querns-Langley explains when we meet in the genteel surroundings of the National Liberal Club, where the training programmes, open masterclasses and performances which will form part the third London Bel Canto Festival will be held from 5th-24th August.

The Royal Opera Tours to Japan in September 2019

The Royal Opera is delighted to be returning to Japan in September 2019 as part of an exciting year of UK-Japan exchanges, titled UK in Japan 2019-20, following the Company’s hugely successful tour in autumn 2015.

Longborough Festival Opera announces collaboration with The Academy of Ancient Music in 2020

Longborough Festival Opera will collaborate with the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) for its production of Monteverdi The Return of Ulysses in 2020. Robert Howarth will conduct Monteverdi’s beautiful, compassionate drama, with Tom Randle in the title role.

Glyndebourne’s first production of Dialogues des Carmélites to open Glyndebourne Festival 2020

Glyndebourne’s first production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites will open Glyndebourne Festival 2020, it was announced today. The opera house unveiled its 2020 plans at an event in its recently built Production Hub, hosted by Glyndebourne’s new senior leadership team, Artistic Director Stephen Langridge and Managing Director Sarah Hopwood, who jointly replace the former position of General Director.

Garsington Opera Announces 2020 season and 2019 Paris Performance

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce the 2020 season that will open on 28 May, featuring three new productions - Verdi’s Un giorno di regno, Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, Dvořák’s Rusalka and a revival of John Cox’s legendary production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park: in conversation with Alison Langer

“Sop. Page, attendant on the King.” So, reads a typical character description of the loyal page Oscar, whose actions, in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, unintentionally lead to his monarch’s death. He reveals the costume that King Gustavo is wearing at the masked ball, thus enabling the monarch’s secretary, Anckarstroem, to shoot him. The dying King falls into the faithful Oscar’s arms.

Martin Duncan directs the first UK staging of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

A mournful Princess forced by her father into an arranged marriage. A Prince who laments that no-one loves him for himself, and so exchanges places with his aide-de-camp. A melancholy dreamer who dons a deceased jester’s motley and finds himself imprisoned for impertinence.

Thomas Larcher's The Hunting Gun at the Aldeburgh Festival: in conversation with Peter Schöne

‘Aloneness’ does not immediately seem a likely or fruitful subject for an opera. But, loneliness and isolation - an individual’s inner sphere, which no other human can truly know or enter - are at the core of Yasushi Inoue’s creative expression.

The London Handel Festival and The Royal Opera announce a co-production of Handel’s Susanna starring members of The Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme

The London Handel Festival and The Royal Opera today [14 May 2019] announced a co-production of Handel’s oratorio Susanna as part of the 2020 London Handel Festival. The new production, performed in English in the Linbury Theatre [5 - 14 March 2020], will star members and Link Artists from The Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. Handel’s Susanna was written for Covent Garden and had its premiere on the site in 1749, but has not been performed at Covent Garden since.

Royal Opera House announces 17 new productions for its 2019/20 Season

The Royal Opera House today launches its 2019/20 Season, unveiling an exciting range of new commissions, world premieres and much-loved revivals, supported by a diverse range of ticketed and free daytime events, activities and festivals for people of all ages. In the first full Season since the completion of the Royal Opera House’s three-year Open Up renovation, The Royal Opera Company unveils a host of innovative new work, with 13 new productions, including two world premieres, in the Season ahead.

In interview with Polly Graham, Artistic Director of Longborough Festival Opera

What links Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Cavalli’s La Calisto? It sounds like the sort of question Paul Gambaccini might pose to contestants on BBC Radio 4’s music quiz, Counterpoint.

Carlo Diacono: L’Alpino

“Diacono himself does not know what musical talent he possesses” – Mascagni

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Ruth Ann Swenson (1996)
07 Apr 2007

Ruth Ann’s Rampage: Nobody Wins

Based on reading the New York Times’ account of Met opera soprano Ruth Ann Swenson’s distemper with her home company in New York, published Thursday 5 April over the byline of Daniel J. Wakin, it is hard to find either motivation or reasonable expectation of reward for any of the participants in this travesty – reporter, newspaper, opera manager Peter Gelb (who comes off best), or, least of all, the distraught diva.

Perhaps Swenson has played too many mad-scene heroines on the great stage at Lincoln Center and has gone a touch daft herself? After twenty Lucia di Lammermoors and a few Puritani Elviras, Swenson knows how to pull off a scena. But her angry denunciation of the Met, and especially General Manager Gelb, in the Times may well come back to haunt her as well as the newspaper editors who made the, in my opinion, unfortunate and unprofessional decision to print such clearly un-fit ‘news.’ The lady feels ‘snubbed’ and some of her trophy roles are being given to arch-rivals. Head for the hills!

Swenson, a native New Yorker, made a successful Met debut in 1991 as Don Giovanni’s Zerlina, and has sung leading roles at least 225 times for the company, according to the Met’s archives, including not only the many Lucias, but 49 Gildas (perhaps a house record) in Rigoletto, 25 Rosinas in The Barber of Seville and dozens of La bohemes, Elisir d’Amores and so on. Alas for Swenson, this all came to a screeching halt last autumn when she was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery followed, and as recently as six weeks ago, according to the Times, she was completing chemotherapy. Her famous long mane of red-gold hair is gone, “I have peach fuzz,” she says – no problem on stage as the Met’s wig department is renowned.

The problems derive from the fact Gelb has reduced Swenson’s upcoming performances of Violetta (La traviata) in season ‘08 from nine to five and given four of them to Renée Fleming. Ouch! Is there any poisonous snake or spider more lethal than a diva threatened by another? Swenson’s angry tone, claiming weight discrimination, perhaps age discrimination, and just plain “he does not like me” on the part of Gelb rings a little hollow.

Swenson came back from her cancer treatments only a few weeks ago to sing (presentably) Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust, including the broadcast, and as I write is singing Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which will be featured on the Met broadcast of April 21, and will air several times on the Met’s satellite connection via Sirius Radio. . .; hardly a lack of exposure for any singer. In addition, Gelb is quoted by the Times as commenting during the Cesare rehearsals that Swenson “is singing beautifully... she not only survived this marathon opera but flourished in it... That’s the uniform consensus of the artistic staff and her colleagues.” Gelb tried to water down the complaints but may have added fuel to the fire by mentioning, “Any time we can get Renée Fleming to sing at the Metropolitan Opera is a good day...for the opera..”

Critics have been divided on Swenson’s Violetta finding she sings the demanding coloratura showpieces of Act I well enough but in the later acts of the dramatic Verdi chestnut can lack in theatrical effect. Fleming, on the other hand, is generally praised for performing the entire role splendidly.

So what was behind all this display of hubris and, perhaps, sour grapes? No one really knows, but this observer can make some guesses: chemo is miserable treatment; not only does your hair fall out, but you lose energy and often feel ill and terrible. So, do you go on one of the world’s biggest stages and sing a major role six weeks after completing such a course of medication? And do you talk to the New York Times? Unwise, to say the least. In the Times article Swenson claims to have little knowledge of public relations or press technique (“I am not a PR animal”), so she probably did not expect how chilly are the waters into which she has strayed. Was she ill-advised? Quite possibly. Finally, one has to wonder if Swenson was aware that Peter Gelb is the son of Arthur Gelb, for many years top editor of the Times and one of their revered elder statesmen – the Met manager has ‘a friend at the Times,’ to say the least. Anyone who seeks to air grievances against the mighty Met had better find a different venue from The Paper of Record, just for starters.

How much better it would have been if Swenson, herself, had announced she was cutting back on Violetta and thanked her friend Renée for taking on four performances to help share the burden! How much better it would have been for Swenson to pay tribute to the great opera company and express her appreciation for all the opportunities it has given her! She might even have said she hopes to return to the Met frequently in fresh health and voice to sing many more times over future years Instead, she said “I totally comprehend” where Elizabeth Edwards ‘is’ in terms of cancer treatments and the Edwards’ decision to include Elizabeth in John’s presidential campaign. “You can’t crawl under the covers,” said Swenson. True. But you don’t set the covers on fire before you depart.

I cannot imagine walking into the Met to sing the prima of the Handel opera (April 6) with all the Times’ poison drifting around the place, inflammability that Swenson herself uncorked. I do lament the “new journalism” of that newspaper and other media that will take a scandalous story just about anywhere they can find one, with little respect for damage done to the participants. Yep, Ruth Ann should have kept her yap shut, but the Times should never have poured the hot lead. Nobody wins.

© 2007 J. A. Van Sant

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):