Post COVID-19 update, by James Black Management
Usually, the start of the new season would see a flourish of announcements looking forward to the exciting events ahead.
In a post COVID-19 world, so much has been cancelled that September 2020 is now less a time for anticipation than for reflection.
Those dark days over five months ago brought about a change in my life and that of my artists that has had long-reaching consequences artistically, personally and financially. And although, as they say, “Self pity begins at home,” I do not fool myself that these consequences have only affected the performing arts, even if it does seem that our particular industry seems to be taking the longest to find a way forward.
During those those darkest days, I was touched by the dignity and stoicism showed by the artists of James Black Management. As together we watched the unravelling of projects hard worked for and long anticipated, whether a major house debut, a major role debut, a beautiful concert of choral repertoire, an important concert, a return to conducting a major ballet company, I was moved sometimes to tears by their constant support of each other and of their kindness to me with gestures that I cannot make public but which will long resonate within me. I also wish to pay tribute to all those promoters who have tried in whatever way possible to make some compensation to those contracted to perform who were no longer able so to do, being fully appreciative of the vulnerability of the freelance artists’ incomeAnd now, wonderful initiatives are being explored. Here in the UK, with apologies to any I have left out, Garsington Opera at Wormsley, the Glyndebourne Festival, Grange Park Opera, The Grange Festival, Hampstead Garden Opera, Longborough Festival Opera (with JBM’s Lee Bisset), Nevill Holt Opera, Opera Holland Park (see below), the Waterperry Opera Festival and Welsh National Opera (one example featuring JBM’s Ross Ramgobin) found ways to present performance in some live form. There were broadcasts from the Royal Opera House and the Wigmore Hall; there were Roger Vignoles’ Distanced Lieder; Simon Lepper’s Music in my Garden; and now both English National Opera and Scottish Opera are presenting socially distanced performances of La Bohème, both casts of ENO’s Live & Drive featuring JBM artists.
As I write this I read that the London Symphony Orchestra will find a way to perform at LSO St Luke’s, the Orchestra of Opera North will be performing at Leeds Town Hall; and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will return to live performance in front of an audience presenting a season. Artists are creative and resilient people: they will and do find a way.
As I experienced when attending one of Opera Holland Park’s boldly innovative concerts this Summer (and I was very proud that JBM’s Jennifer France, Anush Hovhannisyan and Ross Ramgobin were all performing), the need for people to engage not just with live performance but with each other remains firmly rooted in our collective psyche. This was brought home even more keenly to me when I taught for a few days at Jésus León’s Vienna Opera Academy in August. The process of working again on live music making with those wonderfully talented young singers, alongside superb colleagues, brought inspiration to my spirit. I watched with great pride the streams of their performances of Don Giovanni performed indoors with an orchestra and audience conducted by JBM’s Toby Purser at the Palais Eschenbach. As I did for the streams from Florence’s Re-Generation Festival, in whose curation JBM’s Anush Hovhannisyan played such an active role.
It will take a long time to return to normal, or even a new normal in our world, but there are ever more signs of a determination to find a way forward. Even as I write this, from within the JBM roster, one has just performed two concerts in Innsbruck, one is in rehearsal in France, two others begin rehearsals in the UK at the start of September. Two more begin rehearsals shortly in Germany and another in Portugal. I continue to explore options with promoters world-wide and will never again take for granted the excitement (I hope I never did) felt as an engagement is discussed, confirmed and a contract lands on the desk (or even in these modern days via a PDF on the iMac). Will these upcoming projects happen? Will there be another spike? As I lack Madame Arvidson’s insight, or at least her chutzpah, I’ll not speculate.
However, as Carmen (or was it La Carmencita?) says to Escamillo, “It is not forbidden to wait, and it is always sweet to hope.” We have waited, and continue so to do, but we also hope and, a cliché being a cliché because it is invariably true, “Hope springs eternal.”
A message on Coronavirus COVID-19 by James Black Management
Usually, approaching the start of each month, it is exciting to set out the upcoming range of engagements to be undertaken by the artists of James Black Management for the monthly website update. However, these unprecedented circumstances mean that opera houses, concerts halls and other places of public music making and entertainment are closed. The absolute priority has to be the health of the nation, but the consequences of such closures are devastating in their impact on all freelance performers as they see months of preparation and projected income vanish.
It has been moving to see the care promoters have taken in their treatment of their freelance employees as they struggle to make decisions whose implementation can have such serious consequences, whilst retaining the survival of the very organisations that will in an uncertain future once again sustain them. It has been equally salutary to experience the dignity and understanding with which artists have accepted these decisions even as their livelihoods vanish in an instance, acutely aware as we all are of the bigger picture.
As we increasingly self-isolate and shield for our own safety, the Arts become ever more important. A book to read, a gallery to virtually visit, music to listen to, radio programmes to hear. World-wide, performing artists are reaching out to offer streaming experiences whether from opera houses, concert halls and theatres or individual postings. I urge you to engage as much as possible with these; let us never forget their importance in our lives.
When we emerge in to a new world, we will relish even more the joy of being able to meet together once again to enjoy the collective magic that the Arts afford.
In the meantime, stay safe.
The Times: Anush Hovhannisyan is The Face to Watch in Opera 2020
Congratulations to Anush Hovhannisyan, who has been selected by The Times as The Face to Watch in Opera 2020 ahead of her upcoming performances in Les vêpres siciliennes with Welsh National Opera and with Opera Holland Park in Eugene Onegin.
John Rigby has been nominated for Best Musical Direction at the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards
Congratulations to John Rigby who has been nominated for Best Musical Direction for the new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London’s Palladium 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards.
Outstanding critical acclaim for Jennifer France’s debut performances as The Princess
Jennifer France received outstanding critical acclaim for her debut performances as The Princess in Philip Glass’ Orphée with English National Opera.
“First in Chanel black, then in Schiaparelli pink to show her perilous new fondness for the sunlit upper world, Jennifer France as the Princess made a truly auspicious Coliseum debut. Her duets with (Nicholas) Lester, as she entices the poet into her realm of shadows only to despatch him back andjeopardiseher own status as an immortal, had a show-stealing Gothic glamour and shimmer, the voice angelic and fleshly at once.”
Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk
“Jennifer France (ENO debut) as a high soprano Princess (her love aria and duet with Orphée piercingly dramatic) is a couturier’s dream (costumes black and white and then negative reverse). Her surprise magenta gown brings gasps from the auditorium.”
Vera Liber, British Theatre Guide
“…Jennifer France’s electrifying Princess, weaving her spells at the top of the voice, of hint of violence in its razor edge. This is another exciting ENO debut.”
Claudia Pritchard, Culture Whisper
“The best of the singers hail from the underworld, Jennifer France being icily brilliant as the Princess, bringer of death…”
Richard Fairman, The Financial Times
“The excellent cast is dominated by France, by turns glacial, gloriously imperious and exquisite as the Princess.”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian
“Jennifer France, making her ENO debut as the Princess, cut an icy path through the show with sharp costume and clean, precise sound.”
Benjamin Poore, Music OMH
“Jennifer France’s Princess manages to be enigmatic and imperious, embracing everything the dour Eurydice is not. There is an elegance to France’s Princess of Death, a rhythmic power to her characterisation of the role which is faultless. It isn’t just the crystal-like purity, the diamond-cut precision of her singing which is so striking but the way she acts which also gives this assumption such presence. Standing centre stage, swatched in black. She can sometimes seem larger than life; walking in the shadow scene there is a rhythm to her steps which moves in complete harmony with the music. She seems a source of mystery, no more she than when she disappears through the mirrors and fades into the darkness. The voice is tenebrous, yet completely resolute. There is a haunting, but formidable projection to what she sings. And yet she is fundamentally human, capable of seeming completely tragic as she resolves to forego her own love.”
Marc Bridle, Opera Today
“…the night’s most striking performance was Jennifer France as the Princess. Alluring in vocal artistry as well as adept as an actor, France’s performance of the Princess was effortless. Stalking across the stage in patent stilettos, this femme fatale was acutely attentive to performance direction. Dynamic and tonal demands were met hand-in-glove, with France’s pianissimi notably her defining skill.”
Shadi Seifouri, Plays To See
“France has a clarion soprano of great beauty and flexibility all elements of which were on display. Not only a vocal triumph, France encapsulated the dangerous, enigmatic beauty of the Princess.”
Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International
“…above all it’s down to Jennifer France as the Princess: sensuous and regal in her movements, elegant in her gestures and in absolute, thrilling command of a voice that expanded, through the drama, from diamond-cut poise to tremulous, neon-lit passion. And yet there’s no sense of France upstaging anyone. She’s the dark star around which this whole wondrous spectacle orbits: ravishing, poignant and leaving an oddly uplifting sense that some mysteries are beyond the reach even of art. When in Act One the Princess glided around the sleeping Orphée to a yearning flute melody, a vast image of her unblinking, stricken face flickering behind her, I found myself willing it to continue — and actually resenting the approaching interval. I think the word for that is a triumph.”
Richard Bratby, The Spectator
“…Death, a demandingly high coloratura role that would have taxed Joan Sutherland, heroically taken here by Jennifer France…”
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph
“A strong cast is rightly dominated by Jennifer France, sustaining preposterously stratospheric lines as the Princess…”
Richard Morrison, The Times
BBC Broadcasts during DecemberHear Angela Simkin and Fiona Kimm in Sullivan’s Haddon Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Andrews on 19 December 2019.
Jennifer France debuts at the Salzburg Festival
Happy Birthday Rosalind Plowright!
As she celebrates her 70th Birthday, Rosalind Plowright OBE continues her performances as Contessa di Coigny in the revival of Andrea Chénier at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and sings Madame Arvidson in Opera Holland Park’s new production of Un ballo in maschera.
Cardiff Singer Of The World 2019
James Black Management is pleased and proud to announce that Julien Van Mellaerts will represent New Zealand at Cardiff Singer of the World 2019. Winner of the 2017 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the 2017 Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition and the Maureen Forrester Award at the 2018 Concours musical international de Montréal, Julien Van Mellaerts graduated from London's Royal College of Music with the Tagore Gold Medal.
International Classical Music Awards
Two recordings featuring JBM artists have been nominated for the 2019 International Classical Music Awards:
Ensemble Diderot's German Cantatas with Solo Violin on Audax Records, conducted by Johannes Pramsohler featuring Jorge Navarro Colorado singing 'Ich will in aller Not' by Daniel Eberlin.
Classical Opera’s Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne featuring Alessandro Fisher as Bastien, on Signum.