Saturday 9 April 2016

Much to look forward too - the Royal Opera's new season

Jonas Kaufmann -  © Julian Hargreaves / Sony Classical
Jonas Kaufmann -  © Julian Hargreaves / Sony Classical
The Royal Opera House has announced its 2016/17 season and the opera programme is a canny mixture of staples and delights. Any major opera house has to try to achieve that awkward balance between the unusual and the usual. So 2016-17 sees Covent Garden presenting new productions of Bellini's Norma (with Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja making their role debuts), Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (with Bryn Terfel as Sachs), Verdi's Otello (with Jonas Kaufmann making his role debut as Otello), Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (with Renee Fleming making what is rumoured to be her last Covent Garden appearance), Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, Shostakovich's The Nose and Thomas Ades' The Exterminating Angel. The first five are repertoire staples, but made all the more tempting by the high profile casting, whilst the last two are the sort of repertoire which keeps a bit of spice in the programme.

There are plenty of revivals, 14 performances of La Traviata, 11 performances of Madama Butterfly. eight of Turandot, nine of Il barbiere di Sivigla and nine of L'Elisir d'Amore. It is these which help to make the season pay, and it is almost a duty for an opera house of Covent Garden's stature to present core standards regularly for those who do not attend opera regularly. There are some interesting revivals too, Nicholas Hyntner's production of Verdi's Don Carlo returns, as does David McVicar's production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, Jonathan Kent's production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and the first revival of the new production of  Verdi's Il Trovatore. Graham Vick's production Mozart's Mitridate Re di Ponto makes a welcome return after a long gap as does Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.

Joseph Calleja
Joseph Calleja
Bellini's Norma will be directed by a team from the Catalan theatre group La Fura dels Baus, an intriguing choice indeed (either an inspiration or a disaster waiting to happen, we will see). Antonio Pappano conducts, with Anna Netrebko as Norma, Joseph Calleja as Pollione (both role debuts) and Sonia Ganassi as Adalgisa. The production fills a large gap in Covent Garden's repertoire as the opera has not been staged there since 1987 (the short-lived production created for Margaret Price). With Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Kasper Holten will be directing his last piece before he leaves the Royal Opera, again Antonio Pappano conducts with Bryn Terfel as Sachs, Johannes Martin Kranzle as Beckmesser, Gwyn Hughes Jones as Walther and Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Eva. It will be interesting to see if Holten will be able to work the right sort of magic and keep the form he achieved with Szymanowski's King Roger, rather than the over-fussy style of the productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni and Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin.

Keith Warner, director of Covent Garden's Ring Cycle returns to direct Verdi's Otello, with Pappano conducting, Jonas Kaufmann making a much anticipated role debut as Otello, sharing the role with Gregory Kunde, with Maria Agresta and Dorothea Roschmann as Desdemona and Ludovic Tezier and Zeljko Lucic as Iago. The last new production of the opera was Elijah Moshinsky's in 1987 but I can still remember seeing Jon Vickers and Joanna Bruno in a revival of the 1950's era production. Thomas Ades' eagerly awaited new full-length opera The Exterminating Angel is based on the screenplay for a 1962 Luis Bunuel film, El agnel exterminador. The surreal scenario is described as a 'circular vision of hell' and the strong cast includes Charles Workman, Amanda Echalaz, John Tomlinson, Christin Rice, Sally Matthews, Anne Sofie von Otter, Frederic Antoun, Iesyn Davies, Ed Lyon and Sophie Bevan. Thomas Ades conducts and Tom Cairns directs, and the pair were responsible for the libretto.

Shostakovich's early comedy The Nose is being given at Covent Garden for the first time, with director Barrie Kosky (who directed Handel's Saul at Glyndebourne last year) making his Covent Garden debut. Ingo Metzmacher conducts with a cast including John Tomlinson, and Martin Winkler and the work will be sung in David Poutney's translation. German theatre director Jan Philipp Gloger makes is UK debut with a new production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, with a cast including Corinne Winters and Johannes Martin Kranzle, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. We are promised a production set in a theatre with Don Alfonso as a director. You have been warned!

Robert Carsen's new production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier will be set in Vienna just before WWI (a familiar trope nowadays). Andris Nelsons conducts, Renee Fleming and Rachel Willis-Sorensen share the Marschallin, Alice Coote and Anna Stephany (nice to see her making her Royal Opera debut) share Octvian whilst Sophie Bevan sings sophie and Matthew Rose is Ochs. The previous production, John Schlesinger's glamorous evocation, debuted in 1984 and lasted until 2009 but I can just about remember the production before that which has its last outing in the early 1980's with Gwynneth Jones as the Marschallin.

The casting of the revivals gives us much of interest.
Sondra Radvanovsky singing Puccini's Manon Lescaut with the perhaps slightly surprising choice of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Des Grieux. Ermonela Jaho, whose name is forever associated with Puccini's Suor Angelica, essays another Puccini heroine in Madama Butterfly sharing the role with Ana Maria Martinez

It is lovely to see that George Benjamin's Written on Skin is coming back, Christopher Purves and Barbara Hannigan return also, as does Benjamin himself as conductor, but new to Covent Garden in their roles are Iestyn Davies, Mark Padmore and Georgia Jarman who shares her role with Hannigan.

Hurrah that David McVicar's production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur is returning. I confess to admitting that I am a bit conflicted about the idea of Angela Gheorghiu singing the title role again, and cannot help wishing the Covent Garden had given us some more imaginative casting. But she shares the role with Armenian soprano Hrachuhu Bassenz, with Brian Jagde as Maurizio. The cast also includes Kzenia Dudnikova, Gerald Finley and Alessandro Corbelli, these last two sharing the role of Michonnet.

Richard Farnes conducts the revival of Verdi's Il trovatore with a strong double cast which includes some tempting names, Gregory Kunde, Roberto Algana, Quinn Kelsey, Lianna Haroutounian, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anita Rachvelishvili.. La Traviata features a number of interesting sopranos including Joyce El-Khoury and Corinne Winters. And Nicholas Hyntner's Don Carlo returns too, with Bryan Hymel in the title role and Krassimira Soyanova as Elisabeth, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. Ludovic Tezier is Posa, and again I can't help wishing that with a cast like this the opera could not be sung in French again.

Mozart's Mitridate Re di Ponto will feature Michael Spyres in the title role, with Albina Shagimuratova, Lucy Crowe and Bejun Mehta, conducted by Christophe Roussett - certainly a mouthwatering team. Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann will feature Vittorio Grigolo and Leonardo Capalbo in the title role with Thomas Hampson as the villains, Kate Lindsay as Niklausse and the heroines being sung by Sofia Fomina, Chistine Rice and Sonya Yoncheva. I can't help wishing that Covent Garden would give us a new edition of the opera, but I suppose we will have to wait for a new production for that.

L'elisir d'amore will feature Pretty Yende, Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak and Rolando Rillazon. The title role of Turandot will be shared between Christine Goerke and Lise Lindstrom, whilst Calaf is shared between Aleksandrs Antonenko, Roberto Alagna and Alfred Kim.

Away from Covent Garden, the Jette Parker Young Artists will be performing Handel's pasticcio Oreste at Wilton's Music Hall in a production directed by Richard Gerard Jones, with the Southbank Sinfonia conducted by James Hendry, with a cast including Angela Simkin, Jennifer Davies, Vlada Borovko, Thomas Atkins, Simon Shibambu.

Welsh National Opera will be bringing their production of Andre Tchaikovsky's The Merchant of Venice to Covent Garden with a cast including Lester Lynch, Sara Castle, Martin Wolfel and Mark Le Brocq. Lionel Friend conducts.

BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting eight of the operas and six (including Norma and Otello) will in the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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