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Upcoming at ROH and Glyndebourne 2019

What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:

Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role

Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point

Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)

Carmen and Hansel and Gretel for the mezzo-deprived; Dudnikova might be an interesting Carmen, I liked her Principessa de Bouillon.

Winter:

The Queen of Spades = must not forget

Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production

Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go

Così returns but don’t count me in

Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season

Spring:

La forza del destino 😉 yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times

Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.

Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…

Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!

Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.

Summer:

Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…

Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!

Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.

La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.

In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.

Glyndebourne 2019

La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun

Rusalka – nah

Il barbiere – see below

Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino 😉

Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…

Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.

The other greatest opera house in the world (ROH)

In the interest of journalistic balance, how about we tackle the season introduction interview with ROH’s new Head of Opera? (makes me think of gorgons)

‘One day all this will be yours,” I joke to Oliver Mears as we shake hands in the champagne bar at the Royal Opera House. It’s a stupid thing to say and I’m not quite sure what prompts it, except that Mears is so slight and vulnerable looking that you can’t quite believe he is already director of opera at this famous, glitzy, occasionally poisonous place.

British humour – this post will write itself!

His appointment in 2016 was greeted with surprise. He was just 37, the youngest head of opera in Covent Garden’s history, and he was jumping from the relative obscurity of Northern Ireland Opera, with a budget of £1m, to a house with a budget of more than £130m.

One humble pie coming right up!

He was given a warm welcome, he says, with music director Antonio Pappano and head of casting Peter Katona (a fixture at Covent Garden for 35 years)

The man we have to thank that certain names don’t seem to ever make it at ROH (or only rarely).

some of his fingerprints are already visible, in particular a production of Billy Budd directed by Deborah Warner that he has bought in from the Teatro Real in Madrid, and a Hansel and Gretel for Christmas that he hopes will tempt parents to bring their children to Covent Garden. “It’s not going to be set in a gas chamber,” he says when I suggest that some productions of this fairytale can be very dark. “That’s not the kind of show we’re after.”

Actually, being set in a gas chamber would make perfect sense… What kind of shows are you after, though? CT Cherubinos? Wait, that’s Katona’s choice.

Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera – one of the first of a series of shows conceived for young people and designed to counter “negative preconceptions” – has replaced another Holten production. Mears won’t say which, but it’s a fair bet it was seen as either too expensive or too likely to bomb at the box office.

Konigskinder, then. I mean why do something a bit off the beaten track when you can follow in the steps of Wiener Staatsoper?!

Negative preconceptions? Which operas cause said preconceptions? Will there be a ban on Puccini and Verdi, then? And how about the positive preconceptions? – like opera is lavish, we have a reason to dress up and have a nice meal in town, makes us look sophisticated to ouselves and among our peers etc.

I have to say as far as I’m concerned – even though it’s got a main trouser role – I dislike Hansel and Gretel (the opera; I like the fairytale, especially the part where the Witch is fattening Hansel up). I don’t know I’d’ve liked the music as a child any better. One of my top operatic faves as a kid was the Soldiers Chorus from Faust.

With Arts Council England, aware of accusations of being London-centric, reducing the ROH’s funding (cut by 6% in real terms in last year’s settlement), these are relatively straitened times. Covent Garden needs to be a little more frugal and, in these days of Brexit and Corbynism, a little more of the people.

Long Live Populism! Let’s cut arts’ funds from the other biggest opera house in the world and distribute the crumbs Up North! That’ll change things.

That may be one reason behind Mears’s appointment. He showed both in Northern Ireland and with the opera company he founded in his mid-20s, Second Movement, that he could demystify opera, appeal to all ages and build a community of opera-goers.

Too bad YNS is already busy at the Met, they’d make the perfect team to ensure the future of opera! On the other hand, it may be rather strategic having them both on each edge of the Atlantic at the same time. Securing opera from whales’ attacks?

On the last account, I have it on good authority there has always been a strong community of opera goers. Good luck mixing the different fandoms, though. It’s like asking Star Wars fans to hang out with Twilight enthusiasts.

(That thinking may also underpin the recent announcement that Stuart Murphy, who has spent his career in television, is to be chief executive of English National Opera – a decision that bemused the opera cognoscenti.)

That be the chap who’s an opera basic. Total brov and that. London = we to embrace populism.

Covent Garden will stage only five new productions in 2018-19, and only two of those will be produced in-house: Katya Kabanova directed by ROH stalwart Richard Jones, and Hansel and Gretel.

And that is because – wait for it –

Five new productions seems a bit thin, but Mears says the expense of reviving the Keith Warner production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for its final outing means less money for everything else.

😀 I’m not making this up! The connection across the opera-secured Atlantic is strong. So, more rehearsal time, then? I will be holding them to it.

Full as it is with revivals of tried-and-trusted productions – Tosca, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, La Fille du Régiment – the 2018-19 season feels a little conservative, with operas that will keep the box office where the opera house management likes it to be, at around 95% capacity.

As they were saying, he will demystify opera, appeal to all ages and build a community of opera-goers. Chop-chop.

Barrie Kosky’s controversial new production of Carmen will return in the new season. “We actually had someone heckle last night,” says Mears. “They stood up and said: ‘This isn’t Carmen; this is a scandal.’ People who haven’t liked it say: ‘You’ve ruined Carmen.’ But what does that mean? We don’t know what Carmen is.

They had one heckler? Shut the production down! But it’s nice that he’s defending core rep, shows he has complete ability in doing his job. Maybe if we all stand up in the middle of something and demand more Baroque he will reply to us in print. I mean how many seasons were “ruined” for us early opera lovers?

And whilst we’re at it, why haven’t we had Tito since 2002? Look at the other bastion of opera defence, the Met, they’re doing it every other year. We have Coote and Connolly as locals and JDD is here all the time, but somehow nobody thought about Tito.

Our job is to do something more than that – to dig deep and come up with work that generates an emotional reaction.”

Heckling is a start, I guess.

What we need to find is the golden area in the middle where we have practitioners who are able to give life to these operas

practitioners…?

practitioner
prakˈtɪʃ(ə)nə/
noun
  1. a person actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession, especially medicine.
    “patients are treated by skilled practitioners”

Opera Doctor, now turning stuffy libretti into transformative gifts for a diverse community of opera-goers. Welcome back, Dulcamara! Show us the cure.

“commissions are the lifeblood of the art form,” he says – but adds that commissioning new work is also very expensive. “It’s very difficult in the current financial climate to commit to a brand-new commission every single season,” he says. More likely is that there will be a new commission every other year.

Introducing hibernation and/or opera austerity.

In 2013, Holten had announced to great fanfare four new commissions “inspired by the writings of philosopher Slavoj Žižek”.

Oddly, they have never been heard of again, and there is no sign of them being programmed. I ask Mears what happened. “Two have fallen by the wayside for different reasons,” he says. “The other two – by Turnage and Saariaho – are still in our long-term schedules.”

So basically you’re saying the other chap came up with an idea (among many), the idea didn’t materialise but look at us resurrecting it. Which is good, of course. But it was his idea.

He will also address gender diversity. The new season features only one female director, Deborah Warner, and two female conductors, Keri-Lynn Wilson and Julia Jones in Carmen. “It’s a long-term project and it’s going to take time,” he says.

Is it because of the rehearsals for the Ring?

The ROH will not follow the lead of the Proms and set quotas, but insists that the company does have firm targets and that a 50-50 gender split is the long-term aspiration.

How long are we talking? The next anniversary of women’s right to vote in this country?

Gender equality, audience diversity, countering negative preconceptions, putting opera back into the cultural mainstream – what an agenda. It will, as Mears says, all take time. But will he be given that time?