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International Opera Awards 2015

London's Savoy Theatre plays host to opera's glitterati as the awards celebrate their third year

Best new production Khovanskygate (Birmingham Opera Company, 2014)
© Donald Cooper

At just three years old the International Opera Awards are still a toddler, but in terms of their standing and reach they've grown up fast.

The key word is ‘international', and with a 10-strong judging panel drawn from six different nations the awards, though UK based, do what they say on the tin. Winners at last night's Savoy Theatre celebration hailed from Norway, Germany, Russia, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria and the USA as well as the home nations.

The significance of an awards ceremony that can draw the great and good from all over the world is self-defining, and as well as the presentations a starry evening featured musical performances from Carolyn Sampson, Justina Gringyte and John Osborn, plus two from Aleksandra Kurzak, joint winner with Jonas Kaufmann of Opera Magazine's readers' award. There was also a rare London sighting of the great American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who had flown in specially from Pittsburgh to present the lifetime achievement award to Speight Jenkins of Seattle Opera and who rewarded the Savoy audience with a ringing account of the Italian Tenor's aria from Der Rosenkavalier.

UK recipients included record company Opera Rara for its rediscovery of Offenbach's neglected Fantasio, Designer Es Devlin and director Richard Jones for a year of assorted triumphs at home and abroad (the latter including a five-star Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne) and three opera companies: Welsh National Opera for best opera chorus, the Royal Opera for the best production of a Richard Strauss opera in his 150th birthday year (Claus Guth's Die Frau ohne Schatten, another WOS five-star event) – and, sensationally voted the best new production in the world, Birmingham Opera Company's community-infused adaptation of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, directed by Graham Vick and rechristened Khovanskygate.

All the awards were ring-fenced within 2014, so more recent successes have another year to wait before they're in contention.

If there was little room for substance in an evening dominated by host Richard E Grant's decidedly un-international brand of whimsy, at least David Pountney, artistic director of both WNO and the Bregenz Festival, drew huge applause when he responded to the latter's award for accessibility with a telling observation. "Bregenz is a little town of 28,000 people which has created a festival that attracts over 200,000 people a year and brings in 160 million euros every year into that region. That is a model our politicians would do well to study. Great art can be great economics."

The Winners

Accessibility: Den Norske Opera

CD (Complete Opera): Offenbach: Fantasio, Opera Rara

CD (Operatic Recital): Anna Bonitatibus: Semiramide: La Signora Regale, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi

Chorus: Welsh National Opera

Conductor: Semyon Bychkov

Designer: Es Devlin

Director: Richard Jones

DVD: Strauss: Elektra, Bel Air Classiques

Female Singer: Anja Harteros

Festival: Bregenzer Festspiele

Lifetime Achievement: Speight Jenkins

Male Singer: Christian Gerhaher

Newcomer: Lotte de Beer

New Production: Khovanskygate, Birmingham Opera Company

Opera Company: Komische Oper Berlin

Philanthropist: Ann Ziff (Bill and Ann Ziff Foundation)

Readers' Award: Jonas Kaufmann Aleksandra Kurzak

Rediscovered Work: Rossini: Aureliano in Palmira, Rossini Opera Festival

Richard Strauss Anniversary Production: Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

World Premiere: Boesmans: Au Monde, La Monnaie

Young Singer: Justina Gringyte

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