Old wine, new bottles: vintage season unveiled at the ROH

Recently, I’ve enviously devoured new season announcements flooding in from various opera companies around the globe. Adding events to Bachtrack keeps me abreast of all the wonderful things in store. In February, the Opéra de Paris unveiled a seriously tempting season, well cast, beautifully balanced (Eurostar is seriously going to make a small fortune out of me!). German houses are gradually revealing many goodies, Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich, Brussels and Amsterdam all have much to offer. Eyes now turn towards London. While the troubled English National Opera doesn’t announce its season until 5th May, today the Royal Opera House set out its wares… and it’s the strongest season for years.

Sir Antonio Pappano and Kasper Holten © Johan Persson

Sir Antonio Pappano and Kasper Holten
© Johan Persson

The season is built around four giant pillars – new productions of classic works, each with a star from the operatic firmament shining brightly. Anna Netrebko’s role debut as Norma has been mooted for years. As her soprano has grown and darkened, allowing her to venture into heavier Verdi roles such as Lady Macbeth, the only question that remained was whether she’d still be up for bel canto. Evidently, she’s game as Norma opens the season in a new production from La Fura dels Baus. Before Christmas, Renée Fleming says her farewell to the London operatic stage in a signature role: the Marschallin in Robert Carsen’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier (also to be seen at The Met later in the season). In the spring, Kasper Holten delivers his final new production as Director of Opera before heading back to Denmark, and what a tempting proposition it is: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg featuring Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs. And in the summer, Keith Warner is tasked with replacing Elijah Moshinsky’s celebrated production of Verdi’s Otello, with Jonas Kaufmann making his much vaunted debut in the title role.

Discussing the new season, Antonio Pappano was keen to stress the importance of nurturing Italian repertoire. The Royal Opera, he explained, has a rich tradition in Germanic works, but Italian rep is more precarious, more fragile. He also touched upon the problems singers face in building lasting careers, the importance of singing bel canto and not stretching voices too soon. It’s significant that so many leading artists choose to make big role debuts at the ROH. Pappano’s contract has now been extended to 2020, clearly answering questions about where he may be headed next with a “Why would I want to be anywhere else but here?” response. He paid warm tribute to chorus master Renato Balsadonna, who leaves at the end of the current season to pursue his conducting career (“Just what I need… more competition!”) and to Holten, whose departure was announced suddenly before Christmas. The post of Director of Opera has just been advertised (you have until 9th May to submit your application!).Norma-Netrebko-royal-opera-new-season

Other new productions next season include Thomas Adès new opera The Exterminating Angel, which premieres at the Salzburg Festival this summer, and Barrie Kosky’s house debut, directing Shostakovich’s satire The Nose, in David Pountney’s English translation. Jonathan Miller’s Armani-clad Così fan tutte is replaced with a new staging by Jan Philipp Gloger, with Semyon Bychkov conducting Così for the first time.

Revivals are an important part of any new season. Defending another triple cast Traviata, Holten explained that there needed to be a balance in the season. Revivals of operatic staples help to fund new productions of rarer operas like The Nose. When they’re well cast, these revivals are worthwhile. I’d go back to see Traviata for as long as the ROH can find great sopranos. I missed Ekaterina Bakanova’s triumphant step-in for Sonya Yoncheva last summer, so am delighted she’ll get her own run. I’ve thrilled at the Violettas of Joyce El-Khoury and Corinne Winters in other productions and will be keen to catch them in Richard Eyre’s iconic staging. Other tasty revivals see Javier Camarena make his house debut in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Ermonela Jaho (singled out for particular praise by Pappano for her shattering Suor Angelica) sings her first Butterfly in the house and modern masterpiece Written on Skin returns. I’m not convinced I need to see David McVicar’s Adriana Lecouvreur again and it’s possibly a little soon to revive David Bösch’s Il trovatore which hasn’t even been seen yet… but when it’s so attractively cast, perhaps not.

The rumoured new production of the French version of Don Carlos has to wait. Instead, there’s a revival of Nicholas Hytner’s staging of the Italian version, with a very strong cast – Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Eboli, Ludovic Tézier’s Posa and Ildar Abdrazakov’s Philip II standing out.

Crystal Pite

Crystal Pite

Kevin O’Hare introduced a well balanced new season for The Royal Ballet, drawing on the classics – a Sleeping Beauty that returns to its 1946 production for inspiration – and its rich Ashton/MacMillan heritage. It’s great to see Mac’s Mayerling return, a terrific vehicle for great dancers, as well as his Anastasia, absent from the house for too long. Ashton tops and tails the season: the charming La Fille mal gardée opens, while a triple bill which features Marguerite and Armand closes it… deliberately planned just before another Traviata run which is based on the same story? Who knows.

Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works gets its first revival, with Alessandra Ferri returning to the central role, which also features Mara Galeazzi this time round. Christopher Wheeldon’s Strapless, not exactly rapturously received the other month, is brought back, with a long rehearsal period for the work to be “revisited”. Liam Scarlett gets a new abstract work and – after seeing Polaris at Sadler’s Wells last season – I’m delighted that Crystal Pite has been commissioned by The Royal Ballet for the first time, her work being choreographed to Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Well done, ROH – a strong new season, with plenty to tempt even the most casual opera or ballet-goer. Opening night dates are pencilled into the diary already.

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