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April 23, 2013

Gossip from the First Ever International Opera Awards

By Spear's

The party was marvellous, but the opera singers were left, strangely, without a voice

I’ve been to a marvellous party, to quote the Noel Coward song. The first ever International Opera Awards, held last night at The Park Lane Hilton where conductors, world famous singers, directors, agents and those willing to pay £250 a ticket gathered for a lyrical pat on the back.

In this climate it is a risk to start something so elite and requiring so much sponsorship, but the 700-seater ballroom was full and there was a sprinkling of celebrities to keep the paparazzi happy. They couldn’t get enough of Nancy dell’Olio whose strong connection to this art form being that she is um…  Italian.

Celebs aside, a strong international presence made by Peter Alward, Director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, Joyce diDonato, Jonas Kaufmann and Daniel Dolle, the artistic director of Geneva Opera, who I happened to be sitting next to and who was a very nice chap indeed.

There was certainly an expectant buzz and for those in the business it proved an excellent networking opportunity. Perhaps in the future this could be part of a three-day forum. Thankfully there wasn’t a cross over artist in sight for that pleasure has been left to the Classical Brits — once a platform for bona-fide classical music, it has sadly crossed to the dark side.

So the Katherine Jenkins-free evening kicked-off with a recital from students at the National Opera Studio. The talented stars of the future performed extracts from La Cenerentola, Pearl Fishers and The Tales of Hoffmann but the amplification was a disaster — badly mic’d singers together with an unamplified piano made for an unbalanced and slightly amateur performance.

Given that everyone in the room is a musical expert this was not the department where corners should have been cut. There is a way to amplify opera nicely if it has to be done (the vast room had a carpet and low ceiling so it was necessary) but this was not the way to do it.

BBC Presenter Nicholas Owen was our host for the evening and Harry Hyman, Founder of the Opera Awards, gave a short speech explaining the objectives of the Awards: to recognise and award artistic achievement and to provide funds for a series of bursaries to develop aspiring talent. Then Craig Massey from Sanlam Private banking (the main sponsor) amused us all with his musical analogies about finance and his naming great of opera stars such as Bocelli (ouch!) before he explained he prefers jazz really — now that’s entertainment!

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In light of the latest major philanthropic gesture by Lord Ashcroft to give half of his 1.2billion fortune, it seems we are finally stepping up a level in terms of our awareness of sponsorship in the Arts. This is good news indeed, and so despite a few gaffes, Massey is the hero of the day.

We had all the ingredients for a glamorous evening ahead, the Oscars of the music world if you like, but this was not to be for there was an urgency to run on time and twenty one awards were rushed through like general auditions at a State German Opera house, one after the other. Stars such as Joyce diDonato were not even allowed so much as a thank you when sweeping on stage to pick up an award on behalf of the Metropolitan Opera for ‘best accessibility’, and so it continued. Tonight it seemed the opera singers had no voice.

Antonio Pappano received best conductor (no speech), Sophie Bevan (pictured below) picked up best young singer, while Kaufmann left with best male and Nina Stemme best female singer. All quite ‘speechless’ that is until George Christie received a lifetime achievement award and spoke to a longing audience. ‘Good luck Gus’ were his departing words – a jovial warning to his son who has now taken over — and this so warmed our hearts that he received a standing ovation.

The evening was certainly promising and has the potential to be something spectacular, so three cheers for Harry Hyman, Craig Massey, Classic Fm, Opera Magazine and the Evening Standard for pulling this off.

I enjoyed myself immensely but my words of advice to the organisers would be to have a better PA system and sound engineer, to show clips of the productions on the screens to make the event more ‘produced’. I’d also suggest they should have fewer categories or they should simply announce the winners of less important categories, rather than go through all the nominees, who are already listed in our programme.

We would then be able to enjoy a few words from the winners, something everyone was clamouring for. There is room for improvement but my darling; it simply was a marvellous party.

Read more from Melinda Hughes

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