Monday 11 April 2022

Alcina and Arminio to Kurt Cobain and Kaija Saariaho to Werther and Wozzeck, the Royal Opera House's new season

The Royal Opera has announced plans for its 2022/23 season, with 11 new productions split between the main stage and the Linbury. New main stage productions will be Handel's Alcina, Dvorak's Rusalka, Verdi's Aida and Il trovatore, Berg's Wozzeck and the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Innocence. Whilst the Linbury programme includes Handel's Arminio with cast and creative team from the Jette Parker Young Artists, Britten's Rape of Lucretia as a collaboration between the Jette Parker Young Artists and the Britten Pears Young Artists Programme. Also at the Linbury, Oliver Leith's Last Days based on the Gus Van Sant film (loosely based on the final days of Kurt Cobain), Brian Irvine's Least Like the Other from Irish National Opera.

The operas for main stage new productions are a brave (or foolhardy) selection, as previous productions have had a strange whiff of the elephants' graveyard about them, as many of the previous production at Covent Garden failed to catch fire. 

Handel's Alcina was performed back in 1962 with Joan Sutherland in a production by Zeffirelli that solved the opera seria problem by turning it into a concert. Stephen Wadsworth's 1992 production featured another fine Australian soprano in the title role, Yvonne Kenny, a set that led one critic to comment that Alcina's island looked as if it had been sprayed with Agent Orange, and production concept devoid of magic. This time Richard Jones is in charge of the production and we are intrigued. Though, judging by his production of Rodelinda at ENO [see my review], his approach to Handelian opera seria might not be for everyone and with his production of La Boheme revived in 2022/23 and his new production of Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila forthcoming you worry that his style might be being somewhat over exposed. A terrific cast includes Lisette Oropesa, Emily d'Angelo, Mary Bevan and Rupert Charlesworth, conducted by Christian Curnyn.

Amazingly, the Royal Opera's first production of Dvorak's Rusalka only came in 2012. This was a fairly unlovely modernisation of the piece, deriving from a 2008 Salzburg Festival production. The new production has been entrusted to Natalie Abrahami and Ann Yee, and again we promised a contemporary re-imagining. But it is conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with a terrific cast including Asmik Grigorian, Sarah Connolly, David Butt Philip, Matthew Rose and Emma Bell.

Neither Verdi's Aida nor Il Trovatore have achieved long-running productions at Covent Garden and it would be wearisome to list the failures and almost-rans. The new Aida is directed by Robert Carsen, but it has musical attractions with a strong double cast and conducted by Mark Elder. Il Trovatore is being directed by Adele Thomas whose previous successes here have been in Baroque opera (Handel's Berenice in 2019 and the recent production of Vivaldi's Bajazet), so it will be interesting to see what her take on this warhorse is. 

With Wozzeck we are back on safer ground. The Royal Opera has a strong track-record in this opera, dating back to 1952 (and I was lucky enough to see the 1984 production by Willy Decker using Caspar Neher's original 1952 costumes and sets, and the new production is being entrusted to Deborah Warner, with Christian Gerhaher in the title role.

Main stage revivals don't really feature any novelties and many are bread-and-butter revivals, but there is plenty of interesting casting. Lise Davidsen and Stefan Winke headlining the revival of Stephen Wadsworth's production Wagner's Tannhauser, Bryn Terfel in Rossini's Barber of Seville, Ermonela Jaho as Liu in Puccini's Turandot, Malin Byström as Salome, Puccini's La Boheme with casts including Juan Diego Florez (the very same), and Danielle de Niese, and Jonas Kauffmann returns to the role of Werther in the production where he created the role in Paris (to great acclaim). The revival of Tosca has a lot of interest, Natalya Romaniw sings the role at Covent Garden for the first time (hurrah!) with casts also including Malin Byström (also in the title role),  Gwyn Hughes Jones, Freddie De Tommaso and Erwin Schrott. It is great to see Paula Murrihy back, this time as Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni to Luca Micheletti's Don. Lovely to see that Ailish Tynan pops up as First Lady in The Magic Flute and Berta in The Barber of Seville.

It is in the smaller roles that some of the most satisfying casting comes. Besides welcome returns for Jette Parker graduates including Dominic Sedgwick, Thomas Atkins, Michael Mofidian, Blaise Malaba, we also look forward to Ross Ramgobin as Schaunard (La Boheme) and Gamekeeper (Rusalka), Rowan Pierce as Papagena (The Magic Flute), Sam Furness and Rosie Aldridge as Andres and Margret in Wozzeck, Ella Taylor as Tebaldo in Don Carlo (a strong revival with Brian Jagde, and Lise Davidsen), Anna Stephany as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro.

Full details from the Royal Opera House website.

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