The hugely admired Opera North Ring has been hit by the withdrawal of Alwyn Mellor from its tour ‘for personal reasons’.
Alwyn was singing Sieglinde in Die Walküre and Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung.
She is to be replaced as Sieglinde by the Scottish soprano Lee Bisset and as Brünnhilde by the American soprano Kelly Cae Hogan.
Alwyn Mellor said in a statement: ‘It is with much sadness that personal circumstances mean that I need to withdraw from Opera North’s Ring cycles. I am incredibly proud to have been a part of the Opera North Ring: it is a hugely collaborative effort and I know it will be a huge success. The journey will end without me on this occasion but I am confident that it will be a triumph for all involved and memorable both for those who perform it and for those who experience it.’
Year-end figures from the National Lottery operator Camelot show that the arts received £380m last year, one-fifth of the £1.9bn raised for good causes.
This is £21m up on 2014/5.
The windfall will be mostly administered by ArtsCouncil England.
We are hearing from reliable sources that the European Commission has accepted a proposal from Italy to resume funding for the European Union Youth Orchestra.
The Italian culture minister has announced that Claudio Abbado’s orchestra is saved.
“La commissione europea ha accolto la proposta italiana di salvare l’orchestra giovanile europea fondata dal maestro Abbado”. Lo rende noto il ministro dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo, Dario Franceschini al termine del consiglio dei ministri della cultura UE che ha recepito la proposta presentata dal governo italiano per stabilizzare i finanziamenti a favore alla European Union Youth Orchestra. “La EUYO – conclude Franceschini – è un simbolo dell’integrazione europea: con i suoi 160 elementi è un punto di forza della storia musicale dell’Europa unita”
Although there appears to have been a happy outcome, the EU Commission has been dysfunctional throughout the process and unfit for purpose. What needs to be done to make these time-servers democratically accountable?
Slipped Disc is privileged to present an extract from the newly published memoirs of veteran artists manager, Jacques Leiser.
When I saw Maria Callas it was love at first sight. The first LP of hers that I heard – I still recall my excitement when I think about it – was her “Puccini Heroines” recital recording in which she sang “In Quelle Trine Morbide” from Manon Lescaut. I was bowled over by it. Callas recorded a large quantity of operas for EMI at La Scala during this period. The recordings usually took a month approximately, sometimes less, sometimes more. The recording sessions often had to be inserted during different periods, on account of Callas’s already heavy touring schedule throughout the world.
In April 1954 she sang La Sonnambula at La Scala. It was the first time I heard her live. I was there for the premiere. Without a free ticket, I could never have afforded to attend. After the performance I went backstage, was introduced to Callas, and congratulated her. Two days later there was a second performance, and I went back again. She looked at me and asked, “Didn’t I see you here at the premiere?” and I said, “Yes.” Then she said, “And you’re back again?” to which I replied, “Yes, and I’ll be here tomorrow as well.” She was simply astounded. I attended all ten performances; I couldn’t get enough. Each performance was unique, a new experience each time. Maria Callas was my absolute idol and one of the most inspiring artists I have ever met, one who gave everything for her art.
In time I became friends with her, and she was always very gracious to me. In addition to her extraordinary singing voice – which was easily recognizable even on the radio – Callas’s speaking voice was incredible. When I received telephone calls from her, I would be captivated by the first word she said. Her voice had a timbre like none other I have ever heard. I will never forget the mesmerizing impression she made with its smooth, velvety and warm quality, the beauty of her magical voice, her unforgettable nuances, as well as the power of her voice and incredible dramatic projection on the stage. She was absolutely unique and could not be compared with any other singers of her time.
The Callas I knew was very different from the temperamental diva portrayed by the media; I remember her as an artist totally dedicated to her art, thoughtful and kind to others, even people she knew only casually. She was thoroughly professional, always willing to redo recording takes or whatever was required of her, very cooperative, rarely temperamental without just cause, and a perfectionist. During the tiring Norma recording sessions in the mid 1950s, for instance, one of which lasted until 2 a.m., including a major shift in venue when the stage at La Scala was needed for something else, she didn’t complain, but her colleagues – some of whom were not as committed as she was – did show their irritation. EMI was obliged to order nearly fifty taxicabs to get the musicians home after this marathon session!
On one occasion, before a rehearsal at La Scala, she was asked to wait until the eminent pianist Wilhelm Backhaus finished going over a concerto on stage. Callas refused adamantly, saying, “I don’t care if it is Backhaus! I’m supposed to start my rehearsal at 3 o’clock. Tell him it’s over.” This was not temperament. As a professional she did not want to lose five minutes of her working time. She needed every minute of it. She was a true perfectionist. Callas was mesmerizing, a far greater artist on stage than any of her colleagues. She immersed herself in her roles. As an example, while rehearsing Medea at La Scala we would go to a nearby café, where once during a break from a dress rehearsal, someone asked, “Maria, what are you holding in your hand?” She was still holding a dagger! Even during a coffee break her mind was still on the stage.
A rather poignant incident illustrates a side of Callas that is rarely mentioned, her emotional warmth. During her 1962 German tour with the conductor Georges Prêtre, she was singing when Prêtre cued both the singer and the orchestra incorrectly. Callas signaled him, calmly and unobtrusively so as not to embarrass him, to go back several measures. After the performance, Prêtre disappeared into his hotel room and avoided the reception. Callas inquired, “Where’s Georges?” and asked me to take her to his room. We left the reception and went to Prêtre’s room, where she called out, “It’s Maria! Open the door.” He opened it, dressed in his bathrobe; he was very upset. She sat him down on the bed and lectured him in a motherly fashion, “You’re an excellent conductor… it could happen to anybody.” I was profoundly moved: she was consoling him; a typical prima donna would have been screaming that he had ruined her performance. I was witness to another instance of her kindness during that German tour. One day I brought some mail addressed to her including a letter from a former member of the La Scala chorus, whom she did not know, who had sung in some performances with Callas. The singer had since married a German and was living in Hamburg. She had never forgotten those La Scala performances and had tried but failed to buy tickets for the gala concert that was scheduled for Hamburg during the tour. Not only did Callas request two free tickets for her former colleague, but she replied personally with a friendly note.
When I left EMI in 1964, I wrote personal notes saying goodbye to various artists and all my friends and associates, including Callas, mentioning that I was no longer associated with EMI. Shortly afterwards, Callas sang Norma in Paris before a glittering audience including political dignitaries and celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot, Yves St. Laurent, and others. At the end of the performance I went backstage to congratulate her. She was still on stage, not in her dressing room. When she saw me, she embraced me – while she was still going out to take curtain calls – and said, “Oh, I kept your note and I’m so sorry to hear you have left EMI! What are you doing now?” It was as if we were sitting together alone at a café. At such a moment of success, how could she remember if I had written her a note three or four months before? She was a generous, caring person. Unfortunately, despite her great talent and dedication, Callas frequently experienced vocal difficulties. EMI had brought its most advanced recording equipment to Italy, but La Scala had no provisions for a control booth with a direct view of the performers on stage. If Walter Legge, the legendary British chief producer for EMI records (and the husband of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, another of the great sopranos of the time) heard something unusual occurring, he would ask me to go on stage to investigate. One day he asked, “Who is that mezzo or alto making those awful noises down there? Go and tell her to leave.”
Unfortunately, it turned out to be La Divina herself in a moment of vocal crisis. The fact was that some days Callas wasn’t in voice. It just wasn’t there. She knew it – and we knew it. At those times she would just pick up her bag and say “Ciao!” Again, it was not a matter of temperament. We knew she couldn’t perform, so we simply worked on some other section of the recording. Although I was not at the 33 infamous Rome performance of Norma attended by the Italian president – the performance that Callas abandoned after the first act – I am quite certain that her voice simply left her. Of course the press seized upon this to portray her as temperamental. Throughout her career, Callas struggled in trying to control her voice with its unusually large range. She suffered considerably, being aware of her inadequacies. Her voice sometimes was uneven between the registers, but she compensated for all the vocal imperfections and persisted where others would have given up. Callas used to phone me late at night from her hotel room when she could not unwind or fall asleep. She would sometimes talk for nearly an hour, about herself, her life, her problems, etc, then would say that we had better get some sleep. Invariably she ended these conversations saying, “Pray for me that I’ll awake tomorrow with my voice.”
(c) Jacques Leiser
From an outspoken interview with the half-Jamaican British baritone Roderick Williams:
The baritone Roderick Williams plays a game when he sits and looks out across the auditorium from the concert platform, between solos. “The game often doesn’t last long,” says the popular and sought-after singer. “I count the ethnic minorities. But I might get as far as my mother and stop there.”
The musicians’ salaries were cut last year. They have now been cut again.
The international composer and conductor Christian Lindberg has sent the following protest to Slipped Disc:
It is a total shame that, despite the fact that the whole Swedish media heavily condemned the plans on cutting Västerås Sinfonietta´s budget, the management of the Västerås concerthall has decided to cut the musicians salaries from 60% of full salary to 50%. The only thing that would bite on these decisionmakers totally immune to criticism would be if we all refuse to perform (except together with the Sinfonietta) in the Västerås Concerthall until the musicians get the 10% back that they so much need and deserve.
The EU’s Commissioner for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, was unexpectedly caught out by a question on the European Union Youth Orchestra at a ministerial meeting on families. An Austrian minister asked why the EUYO was being defunded, and the Hungarian commissioner seemed not to know his basic facts. As soon as he had finished stumbling through an answer, the EUYO issued this rebuttal of his claims:
– 1 Commissioner Navracsics referred on a number of occasions to the ‘EUYO’s funding application’. This is incorrect. The application was made not by the EUYO, but by the Towards 2020 Partnership, a partnership of 11 organisations (one of them being the EUYO) together with a further 35 Associate Partners.
– 2 Commissioner Navracsics referred to the EUYO’s annual funding applications. Since his accession as Commissioner the EUYO has never made (nor has been able to make) annual applications.
– 3 Commissioner Navracsics referred to the recent Creative Europe application as having been judged by independent experts as being of ‘poor quality’. This is not what the independent experts reported in their detailed evaluation of the application.
– 4 Most importantly, Commissioner Navracsics’ statement fails to mention that the EUYO had a meeting with him in Brussels in January 2015. We met to seek an alternative funding solution appropriate to a long established EU cultural ambassador organisation such as the EUYO. Creative Europe is a partnership project fund and was never designed to be used as a core funding stream for cultural ambassador organisations. The Orchestra received no response to this meeting, nor to subsequent meetings with other EU offices.
Commissioner Navracsics today asked for patience as the Commission seeks a solution. Unless a solution to the core funding needs of the EUYO is found by July, the Orchestra will be forced to cease operations from 1 September.