The Royal Opera House has announced its opera programme for 2013/14 for both the main stage and the Linbury Theatre.
Placido Domingo will conduct at Covent Garden for the first time in the second half of a run of Tosca (in Jonathan Kent’s production, running 10 May-26 June 2014), and other plans include a season based on a main-stage production of Gounod’s Faust (4-25 April 2014) which includes two accompanying new works in the Linbury Studio Theatre, by composers Luke Bedford and Matthew Herbert.
The Faust season reflects director of opera Kasper Holten’s ambition for the ROH to make ‘coherent’ programming choices between the main stage and Linbury. Holten also clarified the Linbury’s role, at least in operatic use, as being ‘about new or very recent work’ after the commissioning duties of the ROH2 arm were brought under Holten’s aegis in summer 2012.
Verdi’s five-act Les Vêpres siciliennes will be staged ‒ ‘in its full monstrosity’ ‒ by Norwegian director Stefan Herheim (17 October-11 November 2013) in a large-scale co-production which will see ballet dancers from the Royal Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet and the Royal Ballet’s upper school in the third act’s dance scene.
Stephen Langridge will direct a new production of Wagner’s Parsifal with Simon O’Neill in the title role and a cast including René Pape, Gerald Finley, Willard White and Angela Denoke. Holten said Langridge would be a ‘very interesting’ director; Alison Chitty is the designer.
Holten himself will direct a new production of Don Giovanni ‒ ‘it’s a director’s graveyard so I’ve taken that for myself’ ‒ and there will also be new productions of Manon Lescaut (directed by Jonathan Kent) and Maria Stuarda (Patric Caurier and Moshe Leiser). In total the season will see seven new productions.
Holten admitted that contemporary music was missing from the main stage in 2013/14 but pointed to the ROH’s recently published plans for new music until 2020 and the refocused Linbury. He said he would not be drawn on which of this season’s activities were his and which were the work of his predecessor, Elaine Padmore.
The Linbury will include a new opera by Julian Phillips for Christmas 2013 (How the Whale Became), a double bill of new works by Elspeth Brooke (with text by Jack Underwood) and Francisco Coll (text by Meredith Oates) in March 2013, and the UK premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Quartett, which premiered at La Scala in April 2011, in June 2014. The UK premiere run of Australian composer Ben Frost’s The Wasp Factory, with a libretto by David Pountney from the Iain Banks novel, is on 2-8 October 2013.
Sir Antonio Pappano was in combative mood at the press conference (13 March), criticising the press and online reaction to late-notice cast changes in the December 2012 production of Robert le Diable. He defended the decision to replace American soprano Jennifer Rowley at three days’ notice in the role of Princess Isabelle (she was replaced by the Russian Sofia Fomina and Patrizia Ciofi, both of whom were well received), saying that what mattered most in performance was what happened on the night.
‘We did not put her [Rowley] on stage, that’s what I found offensive,’ said Pappano. ‘That’s a strong artistic decision.’ He acknowledged that reviewers ‘have to say what they feel’ but urged them not to speak on behalf of public opinion: ‘That’s where you go too far.’
Rowley had herself been a replacement for Diana Damrau, after Damrau became pregnant and stepped down. Pappano did say that the ROH had dealt with a lot of singers pulling out in recent years ‒ ‘when anyone pulls out that’s a big thing for us’ ‒ and said he felt there was ‘something about this generation of singers ‒ I don’t know if they’re weaker or what it is. It’s very frustrating for me.’
Holten talked about the ROH’s ticket pricing, saying strong box office sales suggested the management’s lower pricing for contemporary works meant audiences were prepared to take a risk on something unknown ‒ ‘expensive but still affordable’ ‒ and said that the ROH’s cinema screenings were ‘not making and not losing’ money. Taking in cinema screening, broadcasts and sales through Opus Arte, he said, the company was breaking even on its audiovisual efforts but it was ‘a work in progess’. Again, the public was prepared to take a risk on a cinema screening ‘if it’s affordable and live.’
Jonas Kaufmann will give a solo recital on the main stage on 6 April 2014 and plays Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut (17 June-7 July 2014). Pappano described him as ‘number one in French, Italian and German [repertoire] right now… The guy has all the tools.’