Saturday 16 March 2013

Covent Garden new season - some thoughts

Covent Garden's 2012 production of Les Troyens
The Royal Opera's 2013/14 season has much to recommend it with a much needed outing for Verdi's Les Vepres siciliennes and a new Parsifal (an opera which has not had that much success at Covent Garden in recent years). It is heartening that Parsifal is being entrusted to Stephen Langridge, as the roster of directors was starting to look a little too much like the standard modish Europeans plus David McVicar. Similarly, it is good to welcome Jonathan Kent back for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, though those with long memories will recall the debacle of the last new production of the opera at Covent Garden, when Piero Faggioni's set was rejected and the director walked off, leaving Covent Garden to find a production to borrow quickly so that the gala performance with Domingo and Te Kanawa could go ahead! Other new productions are Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Richard Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten

The programming is making a nod towards the anniversaries of Verdi, Wagner and Strauss. Claus Guth's new Die Frau Ohne Schatten is being joined by revivals of Elektra and Ariadne auf Naxos. Another production new to Covent Garden is Robert Carsen's Carmelites, created in 2001 for Netherlands Opera and seen in various places all over Europe. Simon Rattle conducts, so it is no surprise that Magdalena Kozena is playing Blanche, interesting casting indeed; she is joined by Emma Bell, Sophie Koch and Deborah Polaski.

The programme does seem to be making moves into the sort of intelligent programming which we ought to be seeing more of. In companion to the new Puccini Manon Lescaut, Laurent Pelly's recent Manon is revived (with Ermonela Jaho and Ailyn Perez sharing the title role). And round the revival of Gounod's Faust there are a series of contemporary takes on the Faust story.

Other revivals include Wozzeck, David McVicar's Le Nozze di Figaro, the eternal Turandot, La Boheme, La Traviata, Carmen and La Fille du Regiment complete with Kiri Te Kanawa in the role created by Dawn French!

But in the region of repertoire, there does seems to be a certain caution. If you take away all the contemporary work, being done mainly in the Linbury, then the main repertoire is firmly centred on the standard canon. The most unusual operas being CarmelitesLes Vepres siciliennes and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. None of which is exactly obscure. Regarding the Donizetti, which is being done in new production by Leiser and Caurier with Joyce DiDonato in the title role, it is heartening to see more bel canto on stage but frankly, couldn't we have had a different opera? ENO has done two new productions of this work, the first of which was shared with Covent Garden, and Opera North and Grange Park have also done productions, to name but two. Maria Stuarda seems to be the work UK opera companies choose if asked to do a serious Donizetti opera which isn't Lucia di Lammermoor.

Casting is admirably wide, with appearances by Karita Mattila, Roberto Alagna, Deborah Polaski, Veronique Gens, Marius Kwiecen, Simon Keenlyside, Diana Damrau, Willard White, Rene Pape, Gerald Finley, Angela Denoke, Bryan Hymel, Erwin Schott, Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Sally Matthews, Jonas Kaufmann and many more. It is a shame that we still don't get Kaufmann in Wagner, but having him, Christopher Maltman and Kristine Opolais in Manon Lescaut does make it one very hot ticket. Though Pappano does get the lion's share of the new productions, other conductors include John Eliot Gardiner, Colin Davis, Mark Elder, Bertrand de Billy, Simon Rattle and Andris Nelsons.

Where the casting shows a bit of a weakness is in the area of British singers, there seems to be a tendency to use people who have made their mark already at Covent Garden, but to omit others. Where are Susan Gritton, Alice Coote and Sarah Connolly for instance? 

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