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Opera world stages its own awards as faces budget crunch

Ballerinas perform during a dress rehearsal for the ballet "Coppelia" at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in central London in this fi
Ballerinas perform during a dress rehearsal for the ballet "Coppelia" at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in central London in this fi

By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - The world of opera, faced with budget cuts and wanting to raise appreciation of opera, has launched its own annual international awards, unveiling a shortlist of finalists in 23 categories.

The Operas, which will be presented at a ceremony in London on April 22, are the brainchild of Opera Magazine and British businessman Harry Hyman.

Opera Magazine editor John Allison said he hoped the awards would bring recognition to opera at a time when many opera houses were struggling to make ends meet due to a decline in private sponsorships and cuts in state subsidies.

English National Opera, one of London's two principal opera companies, last month announced a loss for 2012 with audience figures down 9 percent and a drop in its public subsidy, while Paris Opera chief Nicolas Joel has publicly decried budget cuts and said he did not intend to renew his contract in 2015.

"Opera houses all over the world are in a lot of difficulty at the moment as everything is being cut and everyone is feeling the pinch. Some smaller houses in the United States have closed," Allison told Reuters.

"Opera houses work very hard and artists put their life and soul into their work but there are a lot of good performances that come and go and are not recognized. Hopefully these awards will raise opera in everyone's conscience."

Allison said the awards also aimed to boost support for new and emerging artists who struggle to make a living from their profession and receive little public recognition.

"Everyone has awards - films, books, music - but there just has not been a set of international awards for opera. We want to change that," said Allison.

The International Opera Awards, to be known as The Operas, involve 23 categories that recognize "the achievements of all the performers, producers and teams that work in Opera".

Awards will be given to best female singer, male singer, conductor, opera company, and chorus, and there is also a life-time achievement award and a readers' award.

Prizes for young singers will come with bursaries attached.

Finalists for the male singer are tenors Aleksandrs Antonenko, Piotr Beczala, Joseph Calleja, Jonas Kaufmann, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, and baritone Bryn Terfel.

Female singers in the running for the award are Sarah Connolly, Joyce DiDonato, Evelyn Herlitzius, Catherine Naglestad, Nina Stemme, and Beatrice Uria-Monzon.

The conductors shortlisted are Britons Richard Farnes and Antonio Pappano, Germany's Ingo Metzmacher and Christian Thielemann, and Italian Nicola Luisotti.

The opera companies running for the prize are Oper Frankfurt, Opera National de Lyon, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Stanislavsky Music Theatre Moscow and Theater an der Wien.

One category unlikely to be seen at the Grammys is accessibility with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, London-based Streetwise Opera, Teatro Sociale in Como, Italy, and Welsh National Opera all vying for that prize.

Allison said more than 1,500 nominations were received from 41 countries with the judging panel made up 10 opera experts ranging from critics and opera house chiefs to singers.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casiato)

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