UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

14/05/2019

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The annual revealing of the upcoming season details for the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, this year in the Linbury Theatre, set against the dark set for that evening’s production of Phaedra, promised no less than 17 new productions (including six world premieres), while the Royal Opera itself presents 24 co-productions, co-commissions and partnerships.

The Royal Opera continues its outreach work, intending to collaborate with every school in Doncaster through the scheme ‘Doncaster Creates’; the Royal Ballet will also tour to that city in Summer 2020. At a higher level of education, the Royal Opera’s Doctoral Composer-in-Residence, Matt Rogers, offers a co-commission with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, She Described it to Death, which will be performed at the Linbury in July 2020 (see here). The Doctoral Composer-in-Residence scheme began in 2013, with Philip Venables’s 4.48 Psychosis. The works in the scheme are co-supervised between Julian Philips (Head of Composition at the Guildhall) and Sarah Crabtree, Creative Producer for the Royal Opera.

Family audiences also get their own niche, with a production from Antony McDonald of Gerald Barry’s ‘wild and witty’ Alice’s Adventures Underground (conducted by Thomas Adès; the Royal Opera will also stage Barry’s The Intelligence Park) as well as Jules Maxwell’s setting of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, directed by Ben Wright and staged by the Candoco Dance Company. This latter production features a cast and group of musicians who are both disabled and non-disabled. The fresh take on Alice links also to Zauberland: An encounter with Schumann’s ‘Dichterliebe’ with text by Heine and Martin Crimp and music by Schumann and Bernard Foccroulle, which with its basis of a young woman waiting at a European border as the Middle East blazes with conflict: it promises to be incredibly stimulating (in dream, she muses on the city she has been forced to leave behind). Directed by Katie Mitchell, this Linbury piece for soprano, piano and four actors could be incredibly moving (Julia Bullock is the soprano and Cédric Tiberghien the pianist).

In terms of further nurturing fresh talent, the Jette Parker Scheme welcomes five new singers (South African soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha; British mezzo Sophie Wake-Edwards; Tongan/New Zealand tenor Filipe Manu; Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno; South Korean bass-baritone ByeongMin Gil) and one stage director (Isabelle Kettle).

One aspect mentioned was the intention, too, to ‘bring Handel to the fore’, something many (including myself) will applaud heartily. This includes Covent Garden’s first ever Agrippina directed by Barrie Kosky, with Joyce DiDonato in the title role and with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In addition to this comes the rarely-seen Susanna at the Linbury in March 2020, when Patrick Milne will conduct the London Handel Orchestra and which will form part of 2020’s London Handel Week. Handel’s oratorio will be performed with a cast taken from the Jette Parker scheme and with the title role taken by Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha.

A slightly contentious aspect of the listings for this season is the near total lack of female conductors (one, Ariane Matiakh, will conduct some performances of Richard Jones’s La  bohème in early 2020); the under-representation was acknowledged by Oliver Mears, who told of plans to increase the number, but those plans are taking time to filter through.

The Royal Opera’s Janáček cycle continues with Jenůfa, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, directed by Claus Goth and with Asmik Grigorian as the titular heroine (Mears described this as one of the most exciting house debuts of recent years) and with the much-loved Karita Mattila as the Kostelnička.

It is nice to see Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, a delicious opera presented in co-production with Paris and Palermo with a cast headed by Bryn Terfel (a mouth-watering prospect) and conducted by Evelino Pidò, directed by Damiano Michieletto. There is an intriguing credit of ‘Video designer: rocafilm’ for this one … There is a major new production of Britten’s Death in Venice in co-production with Volksoper Wien conducted by Mark Elder and with Mark Padmore as Gustav von Aschenbach. (It is joined in the season by a Turn of the Screw conducted by Finnegan Doenie Dear.)

Old favourites return, and core repertoire excites: Kaspar Holten’s Don Giovanni, with Erwin Schrott as the Don and conducted by Hartmut Haenchen; Die Zauberflöte (David McVicar’s production, but conductor tbc, cast including Vito Priante as Papageno); Otello (directed Keith Warner, conducted by Antonio Pappano, with Gregory Kunde in the title role). Cav and Pag is there (conducted by Daniel Oren). There’s Fidelio in a new production by Tobias Kratzer, conducted by Pappano and with Lise Davidsen and Jonas Kaufman as Leonore and Florestan. Semyon Bychkov conducts Tristan and Isolde, a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, in Christoph Loy’s award-winning production (Ricarda Merbeth is the Isolde, Michael Weinius the Tristan). Joining the heavyweights is Elektra, conducted by Pappano, with Nina Stemme, and Karita Mattila as Klytämnestra.

Of course, there is the question of when does an old favourite become a proverbial bad penny? Leaving that idea ringing in the air, Richard Eyre’s La traviata returns, described (by the Royal Opera) as ‘a favourite among Royal Opera productions’. Three conductors (Maurizio Benini one of them), no fewer than five Violettas (Hrachuci Bessenz, Dinara Alieva, Kristina Mkhitaryan, Vlada  Borovko, Aleksandra Kurzak – what is the collective noun for a group of Violettas, anyway?) join five Alfredos and five Giorgios.

Puccini’s La bohème (four Mimìs, including Sonya Yoncheva; three Rodolfos including Piotr Beczala; and three conductors) returns in Richard Jones’s staging, while Madama Butterfly also returns, as does Jonathan Kent’s Tosca, conducted by Antonio Pappano and with Anna Netrebko as Floria Tosca – at least that’s the plan. (Apart from Traviata!) Verdi is a bit thin on the ground this season, but the magnificent edifice of Don Carlo is there conducted by Opera North’s former Music Director, Richard Farnes, with Michael Fabiano as Don Carlo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Phillip II and Hibla Gerzmava as Elizabeth of Valois. Lovely to see Massenet here; Werther this time with a potentially fabulous combination of Juan Diego Flórez and Isabel Leonard as Werther and Charlotte respectively; the director is Benoît Jacquot and the conductor Edward Gardner. There is also a Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor directed by Katie Mitchell.

The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance will be on July 18, 2020.

Ballet highlights include Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, Merce Cunningham/Ashton/Tanowetz’s Cross-Currents/Monotones II and a new work by Tanowetz. There is also  Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, Coppèlia, John Cranko’s Onegin and the world premiere of Wayne McGregor’s The Dante Project.

Cinema highlights include (amongst others): the ballets CoppéliaThe Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and the operas FidelioDon Pasquale and Elektra. Free culture returns to communities across the country, from Aberdeen to the Isle of Wight as through the BP Big Screens with three world class productions free of charge. Full details and titles to be announced later this year.

Colin Clarke

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