Opera + Classical Music Features

Preview: Royal Opera 2006-7 Season

From a new production of Bizet’s Carmen to a revival of the classic production of La boheme, the Royal Opera’s 2006-7 season looks like one of its strongest since reopening. Antonio Pappano’s influence on the company’s direction is increasingly apparent, with seven French operas planned for the coming year (if one includes Donizetti’s La fille du regiment).

And the revivals, while large in number at 14, are in all cases bar one from productions that were new in the last decade or so. Only the classic La bohme is from the 1970s so there’s a sense of renewal about the plans.

Gounod’s Faust opens the season on September 15. David McVicar‘s production grew on me on its first revival, and has a strong cast again with Angela Gheorghiu (Marguerite) and Piotr Beczala (Faust) reprising their roles; John Relyea plays the devilish Mephistopheles and Maurizio Benini conducts.

Two innovative concert performances of Halevy’s La Juive take place at the Barbican on September 19 and 21. Dennis O’Neill makes a long-overdue return to the Royal Opera as Elazar, and other roles are played by Alastair Miles and the Cardiff Singer of the World 2005, Nicole Cabell (one to watch).

Continuing the celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday, La finta giardiniera receives its first Royal Opera production (by Christof Loy) from September 21. As the studio recordings prove, this mid-period Mozart opera is full of musical delights, and represents a new stage in the composer’s operatic development. Patrizia Biccir, Christopher Maltman and Camilla Tilling play leading roles; Mozart specialist Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was one of Pappano’s greatest successes in his first year as Music Director, and he returns to conduct Richard Jones‘ production on 30 September to celebrate Shostakovich’s centenary. John Tomlinson reprises his portrayal of Boris Ismailov, whilst Sonyetka will again be played by the up and coming mezzo soprano Christine Rice.

The old John Copley production of Puccini’s La Bohme returns from October 23, conducted by Philippe Jordan. Marcelo Alvarez brings his Rodolfo to Covent Garden for the first time, sharing the role with Frank Lopardo. Nuccia Focile makes a role debut here as Musetta; former Young Artist Jared Holt sings Schaunard.

One of the most rewarding revivals of the season will surely be Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades from November 11. Francesa Zambello‘s production is full of the psychological insights that this work requires, and the strong cast includes Vladimir Galouzine (Hermann), Gerald Finley (Yeletsky), Katarina Dalayman (Liza) and Larissa Diadkova (Countess).

It need hardly be said that the new production of Bizet’s Carmen will be the year’s sell-out. Anna Caterina Antonacci and Marina Domashenko share the title role, and their Don Joss are Jonas Kaufmann (a significant role debut) and Marco Berti. Ildebrando D’Archangelo and Laurent Naouri are Escamillo, while Music Director Antonio Pappano, who usually weaves magic in the French repertoire, will conduct the first cast (opens December 8) and Philippe Auguin the second.

Laurent Pelly‘s new production of Donizetti’s La fille du régiment has a high profile bel canto cast led by Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez (from January 11, 2007). This is the one with the nine high Cs for the tenor lead, ripe material for Florez to demonstrate his phenomenal technique. It’s a fabulous opera, more than ready for a new airing in the opera house; the characters are vivid and the drama is well-paced. Bruno Campanella conducts a cast that also includes Alessandro Corbelli.

Elijah Moshinsky’s solidly traditional production of Verdi’s Il trovatore stars Marcelo Alvarez as Manrico, Anthony Michaels-Moore as Luna and Stephanie Blythe as Azucena. It has the most stupid plot of any opera ever written, but the music is sublime and it’s never less than absorbing. Nicola Luisotti conducts (from January 30).

Luisotti also conducts Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which is one of the operas that Pappano reintroduced into the repertoire when he took the helm. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier‘s production has become a cornerstone of recent seasons. It returns from February 14, 2007, with a cast including Liping Zhang and Alan Opie.

Critics were divided over Francisco Negrin‘s production of Handel’s Orlando when it opened back in 2003, but I thought it was an engaging interpretation of an unacknowledged masterpiece. This time Camilla Tilling, Rosemary Joshua and Kyle Ketelsen take leading roles, and Charles Mackerras conducts (opens February 26).

Meanwhile, I must have been the only person on earth not to have been totally impressed with Thomas Ads’ The Tempest when it was premiered a couple of years ago how much recitativo secco can one opera take? Nevertheless, most people apparently loved it, and with Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside returning as Caliban and Prospero and Kate Royal making her ROH debut as Miranda, it has a good chance of success. As before, ticket prices will be reduced to a maximum of 50 for this recent work.

A double bill of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ravel’s L’heure espagnole takes centre stage in April, directed by Richard Jones. The latter opera will star Yann Beuron as Gonzalve and Christine Rice as Concepcion. Schicchi is important for the title role debut of Bryn Terfel, making his only appearance of the season, and it’s good to see Joan Rodgers back at the ROH. Antonio Pappano will conduct what promises to be an interesting combination of comedies.

Verdi’s Stiffelio returns in Elijah Moshinsky‘s production from April 20, 2007; the opera first came to prominence in modern times with this production back in 1993. With luck, Jos Cura will lend gravitas to the title role, whilst Verdi specialist Mark Elder is the ideal choice of conductor.

Pelleas et Melisande is given a new production from May 11, and the fantastic news is that Simon Rattle is returning home to conduct. Gerald Finley (Golaud), Simon Keenlyside (Pelleas) and Angelika Kirchschlager (Mlisande) make up the dream cast.

Beethoven’s Fidelio marks the return of Finnish soprano Karita Mattila to Covent Garden, in Jürgen Flimm‘s production from the Met. Antonio Pappano conducts this season highlight from May 27.

I’m no fan of Francesco Zambello‘s production of Don Giovanni, which returns from June 11, but the cast has potential. Erwin Schrott follows up his recent Figaro by playing the Don; Anna Netrebko (the only good thing about the last revival) is Donna Anna, and veteran Robert Lloyd returns as the Commendatore. Ivor Bolton returns to conduct, after a long absence from the House.

Katya Kabanova comes back from June 19, starring Janice Watson, Toby Spence and Felicity Palmer. Happily, Janacek specialist Charles Mackerras is back to conduct Trevor Nunn‘s outstanding production.

Two special concert performances of Massenet’s Thais give us an all too rare chance to hear American diva Rene Fleming in one of her signature roles. Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson co-star for these performances on June 27 and 29, and Andrew Davis returns after a long absence to conduct.

Jonathan Kent’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca gets an early first revival from July 3 with the exciting soprano Violeta Urmana in the title role. And David McVicar’s dark take on Verdi’s Rigoletto comes back yet again from July 9, starring Alexandru Agache. If it’s anything like as exciting as last year’s revival, it will be the highlight of next summer.

There is more Mozart to end the season: Jonathan Miller‘s chic production of Cos fan tutte plays from July 14, with Dorothea Rschmann as Fiordiligi and Thomas Allen back as Don Alfonso. Colin Davis is at the helm, so it should be a frothy end to the year.

It looks to be a time of great development for the company, with the introduction of a multimedia suite that will allow the recording and broadcast of more productions. And it was announced that the House is in discussions with the Victoria and Albert Museum to collaborate and save the Theatre Museum (a brilliant suggestion, in my view).

There is to be a new CD series called ‘Royal Opera House Heritage’ that will open up recordings from the archives to more people. The first two of these are relased on May 29, 2006: Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland in 1959 and Rafael Kubelik‘s 1955 Otello. I applaud the idea, which may also include the release of Victoria de los Angeles‘s 1957 Butterfly and the 1958 Don Carlos in future months. Nevertheless, one hopes that more unusual fare will be offerred in forthcoming releases.

In general, it seems that the Royal Opera is in pretty good shape, and the new season has much to offer. Don’t miss it.

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