Most opera houses begin their new seasons with a grand gala, attended by the rich and the privileged; not so the Royal Opera in 2014, when a packed programme kicks off with a performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole for which seats will cost £1-£25, and will be restricted to students. The house achieved attendance of 96% last season, and it’s clear that the 2014-15 schedule aims to maintain or exceed this, with a canny mixture of ‘bread and butter’ much-loved works alongside the more adventurous offerings.
Even the old war horses are something special this time around: 2015 sees the last-ever outing for John Copley’s beautiful, faithful production of La bohème (you know, the one with the snow) with a starry cast led by Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja – Richard Jones will direct a new bohème in 2017, although Kasper Holten joked that they will “keep the old one in the cupboard.” Other notable revivals include Der fliegende Höllander conducted by Andris Nelsons and with Bryn Terfel as the Dutchman, Tristan und Isolde in Christof Loy’s award-winning production, with Nina Stemme as Isolde: and David McVicar’s Rigoletto in which Simon Keenlyside will make his role debut.
The season’s first new production will be Verdi’s I due Foscari, conducted by Antonio Pappano and with Plácido Domingo and Francesco Meli as the father and son, followed by Giordano’s Andrea Chénier with Jonas Kaufmann making his role debut as the poet-hero and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Maddalena – once a showcase for the likes of Domingo and Carreras, Chénier is, as Pappano remarked, “one you can only do if you have the tenor…”
Devotees of Szymanowski’s Król Roger (yes, there are many) will be eagerly anticipating the first-ever Covent Garden outing for this 20th-century masterpiece, and another major work from that century, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny will be seen in a new production by John Fulljames; Mark Wigglesworth conducts. Two other new productions sure to excite interest are Un ballo in maschera to be directed by Katharina Thoma, whose Ariadne auf Naxos was seen at Glyndebourne last season, and Idomeneo by the Austrian director Martin Kušej, working in the UK for the first time. If the heart sinks at the prospect of what Kasper refers to as a “stark, quite political” production of Mozart’s work, there is sure to be consolation in Marc Minkowski’s conducting and the presence of Matthew Polenzani and Sophie Bevan in the cast.
After the resounding success of the superb L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe, it’s not surprising that the ROH is expanding its collaborations – first up is a new production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with the Roundhouse in Camden; eight performances will be directed by Michael Boyd and conducted by Christian Curnyn. The annual ROH / Opera North / Aldeburgh Music collaboration continues with The Virtues of Things, to be premiered at the Linbury in May 2015, and the ROH and Aldeburgh Music have co-commissioned a piece from Harrison Birtwistle, The Cure.
Seven operas are part of the ‘Live Cinema Season,’ including two which will surely be amongst the most clamoured-for at the box office, I due Foscari with Domingo (27th October 2014) and Andrea Chenier with Kaufmann (29th January 2015). There’s a chance to see Der Fliegende Holländer (with Bryn Terfel) on February 24th 2015, and if you have yet to experience the retiring La bohème (Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja) you’ll have the chance to do so on June 10th 2015.
There’s also a full programme of studio performances, the first hosting by the ROH of the ‘Operalia’ singing competition, which has discovered and promoted the likes of Joyce di Donato and Rolando Villazón – and Antonio Pappano will present a new BBC series, The Golden Age of Singing in which he will explore the story of the classical voice across the last 500 years. Amongst the lively, engaging programme of talks, one in particular caught my eye; Leave Opera Alone! on October 20th, in which Kasper Holten and guest speakers will be tackling such questions as “Why don’t directors just do what the composer wanted?” and “What does Regietheater really mean?” A definite date for the diary – as is so much of this 2014-15 season.
Details at the ROH site.