Some commentators have been less than kind about The Royal Opera’s 2010/11 Season, but if rumours are to be believed their ‘Olympic Season’ which follows promises an embarrassment of riches.
The 2011/12 season will include the mouth-watering prospect of a new staging by David McVicar of Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens with tenor-of-the-moment Jonas Kaufmann making his role debut as Ene and Eva-Maria Westbroek tackling Didon for the first time.
But I digress. Whilst it has to be said that some of the revivals next season are less starrily cast than one comes to expect from The Royal Opera (the notable exception is Tosca which sees Angela Gheorghiu returning along with Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel), there are four new productions and a world premiere. For my money the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new opera Anna Nicole will be the highlight of London’s operatic calendar. Based on the precarious and tragically short life of Anna Nicole Smith, Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: the Opera) will be providing the libretto let’s hope some of the more delicate ladies in the audience have their smelling salts to hand the world’s finest opera director, Richard Jones, is responsible for the staging and Pappano conducts. The icing on the cake is that one of the most exciting singers currently before the public today, Eva-Maria Westbroek, sings the title role. Turnage has a good track record for writing operas that shock (Greek, 1988) and convey powerful messages (The Silver Tassie, 2000) so expectations are high for Anna Nicole, and if The Royal Opera follow their usual pricing structure for new works with a top price of 50 these performances should find a genuinely new audience for opera.
Tim Albery returns to stage Wagner’s Tannhuser, a work that has been absent from The Royal Opera’s repertoire since Elijah Mosshinsky staged the work (never revived) in 1986, following his staging of Der fliegende Hollnder two seasons’ ago. I have to confess that it failed to make much of an impression on me, but he’s a resourceful director so fingers crossed he can unravel some of the complexities found in this later work. After his success with Lohengrin Semyon Bychkov conducts, and Eva-Maria Westbroek returns as Elisabeth. Michaela Schuster should prove a strong Venus but Johan Botha in the title role will probably deliver on the notes if not the acting.
Twenty-five years absent from the repertoire is nothing compared to how long Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur has been languishing in the doldrums, as she last graced this particular stage in 1906! Oft-reviled and generally considered to be a load of old hokum, The Royal Opera are at least pulling out all the stops as Angela Gheorghiu assumes the title role for the first time whilst the golden-voiced Jonas Kaufmann is her lover, Maurizio. Mark Elder conducts, so there’s a steady pair of hands guaranteed on the tiller. Should be fun.
For lovers of Baroque opera there’s a real rarity in September when Agostino Steffani’s Niobe, Regina di Tebe receives its UK premiere, a staggering 322 years after it was first performed. Will it be worth the wait? There’s as fine a cast of baroque specialists assembled as you could hope for including Veronique Gens, Iestyn Davies and Jacek Laszczkowski so it already looks better on paper than some of the company’s more recent forays into works from this period (remember Tamerlano?).
Continuing to explore the Russian repertoire, Paul Curran (company debut) stages Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride for the first time at the Royal Opera House. Mark Elder returns to conduct a largely all-Russian cast led by Marina Poplavskaya and Dmitry Popov. I’ve never warmed to Poplavskaya’s excursions into the Italian repertoire, but this should suit her down to the ground.
Another first for the company will be Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon. Directed by Laurent Pelly and already acclaimed on its first outing in Santa Fe, the Royal Opera has cast it from strength with the wonderful Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon and continuing in the vein of the best panto tradition, Alice Coote plays Le Prince Charmant. Veteran Polish contralto, Ewa Podles, makes an all too rare appearance at Covent Garden, ensuring that the season ends on a high.
So amongst the more routine revivals The Royal Opera are at least presenting new stagings of works not seen at Covent Garden for many years, giving audiences plenty of novelties to explore.