Showing posts with label Tony Pappano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tony Pappano. Show all posts

Friday, December 13, 2013

Parsifal: A Love Story?

Angela Denoke as Kundry & Simon O'Neill as Parsifal. Photos: Clive Barda

Yesterday I mentioned that the Royal Opera's new Parsifal, directed by Stephen Langridge, seemed rather a curate's egg as cooked by Heston Blumenthal. But the more one thinks about it, the deeper it goes. What follows contains spoilers aplenty, so if you don't want to know the results, look away now.

Langridge's concept is startling, thought-provoking and at times extremely disturbing. It is a very contemporary interpretation, some of which works, some of which doesn't, and some of which seems better after you've had 36+ hours to digest it.

First of all, take the giant cube that occupies the centre of the stage. The first impression is that this is infelicitous design - it resembles a set of Portaloos, or alternatively an outsized SAD lamp (goodness knows our knights need one). More to the point, the hammy gestured flashbacks enacted within it (see image below) are unnecessary distractions and add little of discernible value to the whole, while making it necessary for the real action to take place on the peripheries of the stage.

But wait. Our friend Pliable at Overgrown Path has pointed out that the cube has resonances from Islam. There's another image here... The set design, furthermore, places the holy spring at the back of the stage in a rectangular tub bearing no small resemblance to a mosque's howz for ritual purification.

So are these Grail Knights a kind of Wagnerian Al Qaida? As they send four initiates out into the world in woolly hats, armed with pistols, at the end of the Grail ceremony, it seems not entirely impossible. What's certain is that at the heart of this ceremony lies something dark and desperate. At its outset, in a ritual motion, the knights take knives and spear their own hands.

The ailing Amfortas, bound to the cult/temple/whatever-it-is by his father's demand, doesn't want to carry out the Grail ceremony and begs not to have to do it. The question, though, is always why? Isn't lifting the Holy Grail a beautiful thing to do? Not here - because the Grail is a young boy, and Amfortas has to slash his stomach. No wonder he doesn't want to do it. The boy then passes out and is carried in a classic pieta tableau around the knights, who reach out towards him. But when he comes round, he sits on a bench wrapped in a sheet, ignored and alone, apparently no longer of any significance. Parsifal alone rushes to sit beside him; a look passes between them. This also makes sense - for what inspires human compassion as much as a child abandoned, wounded and suffering? It's the discovery of compassion that transforms the 'Pure Fool'.

The question "why?" appears to be a powerful driving force. Why is Kundry going to such lengths to cure Amfortas when she was responsible for his initial downfall? Simple: she loves him. He loves her too, but his terrible wound has come between them. And at the end, Amfortas cured, Kundry redeemed, they walk off hand in hand, away from the cult/temple/whatever-it-is to live happily ever after. Parsifal has saved Amfortas so that he can live and love and be a whole man. Parsifal opens the Grail shrine to find that the Grail - who was there earlier, a bit older than he was in Act I - has disappeared. Parsifal follows suit, walking away and exiting at the back. Job done. True Grail revealed: it is human love.

At least, I think that is what's going on. It could perhaps use a little more clarification. I may have got it completely wrong, but it's been a process of elimination: if that isn't what's happening, then what is? Pass.

The single biggest problem with the notion - which is beautiful in itself - is that while it can, with some effort, be extrapolated from Wagner's original meanings (insofar as any of us really understand them), it doesn't dovetail easily with other issues, notably that of Kundry. An astonishing character, the constantly reincarnated female version of the Wandering Jew mingled with Mary Magdalene and Venus, Kundry is released from her curse by Parsifal: not only the curse of tearlessness, but that of deathlessness. Usually she finds her rest at the opera's conclusion. Here, she may find true love, but the effect is still to diminish her significance.

Since seeing the performance I've been looking at the Royal Opera House's reactions page and found a fascinating post interpreting the production via profoundly Christian symbolism and the eucharistic litury. Scroll down and read; it's the one by Richard Davey. It makes a huge amount of sense and is wholly different from my take. Perhaps this Parsifal will be "read" in a unique and personal way by everyone who experiences it - rather like those psychological tests where you see images in an ink blot that reflect your own mind. Then it becomes fascinating on a whole new level.

So, the performances. Gerald Finley stole the show as Amfortas, in no uncertain terms. Heartbreaking, all-encompassing, impassioned, incandescent, desperately moving. Rene Pape's Gurnemanz is a true classic, but at this performance he seemed short of his best; and Angela Denoke's much-praised Kundry unfortunately went somewhat off the rails in Act II, losing control of intonation and struggling for the high notes. She was absolutely fine in Act III, but we spent part of the interval wondering whether an understudy might have to sing from a wing. Simon O'Neill's Parsifal grew from harsh-toned callow youth in Act I, breaking his own bow on realising his guilt at killing the swan, to steely, determined redeemer with voice to match. Willard White smouldered as Klingsor - the first time one might wish for an evil magician to have a bit more to do. Chorus and orchestra were on blistering form, with Tony Pappano leading an account that was sumptuously coloured, full of tension and concentrated beauty.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Sizzling Vespers at ROH


A last-minute invitation to the Royal Opera House's Great Big Verdi Bicentenary Production yesterday was more than welcome. Yet it conspired with blocked local train lines and slow rush-hour tubes to ensure that I arrived a hair's breadth before curtain up for an opera I didn't know, without having had time to read the story.

What a marvellous way to listen. You wouldn't look up the plot before attending a film, would you? If someone gave you a programme containing a synopsis, indeed, you might be cross. You'd call it a 'spoiler'. OK, some operas are so convoluted that we might need a little help. After our 20th Marriage of Figaro, we might have unravelled the plot enough to have some idea of what's going on. But in the era of surtitles, and of certain directors who actually know how to tell a good story when they get the chance, do we still need advance briefing? The only giveaway, in this state of blissful ignorance at a grand-scale, nearly-four-hour romantic roller-roaster, was knowing that the finish time would be 9.50pm. If hero and heroine start singing happy wedding songs at 9.20pm, you can bet your bottom dollar it's all going to go horribly wrong.

Robert McKee, Hollywood screenwriting story guru par excellence, might be impressed with certain part of this plot. Who could imagine a greater conflict for our young hero, Henri? He is a rebel; he discovers his father is the local dictator; and he has to choose between his newly discovered instinctive feel for his dad, aka Guy de Montfort, and the rebel duchess whom he loves, Helene. Montfort wants to kill Helene, having already killed her brother, but after Henri cracks and obediently calls him "mon pere", he changes his mind and insists that she and Henri marry. Yet the leader of the rebels, Procida - vengeful after the psychologically muddled Henri has betrayed him - declares that their wedding bells will be the signal to unleash a massacre. All of this takes place against background conflict of occupation, wanton cruelty and simmering revolt.

Stefan Herheim's production contains a few absolute masterstrokes. In the prologue, a ballet class is in progress. Soldiers burst in, taunt the girls, abduct them. Montfort chooses one and commits violent rape. The act is witnessed by the ballet master, powerless to help his dancer. He is Procida and becomes the rebel leader after years in exile - and you know exactly where he found his motivation. The rape victim demonstrates to her attacker what is about to happen: evoked in ballet, we see the pregnancy, the baby, the mother and child. The little boy will become Henri. Ballet is a vital part of the storytelling throughout, representing Henri's mother and her appalling history as a vital presence while the action progresses. The details are superb: for instance it's clear that the ballet girls in the crowd recognise, love and respect Procida for his original incarnation in their own world. And we see, on Procida's return to his studio, exactly how the rape of his dancer has become equated in his mind with the rape of his country.

The designs by Philipp Fürhofer are big, bold, convincing. Michael Volle as Montfort virtually stole the show; Bryan Hymel - the current high-register, French-conversant tenor du jour - was often beautiful in tone, but a little underpowered and, as actor, slightly wooden within a drama where so much was detailed and realistic. Lianna Haroutounian (replacing Marina "Popsy" Poplavskaya), matched him well; again, a voice that is basically gorgeous and has much character and distinction, yet perhaps not quite large enough in such a vast-scale opera. Erwin Schrott as Procida seethed, fumed and loomed - though personally I wouldn't have chosen to bring him on in a dress at that particular moment in the last act (and another touch that proved uncomfortable was Helene's cradling - and others' footballing - of her brother's severed head). Throughout, Pappano's conducting existed in technicolour, full of razor-blade edginess and Mediterranean warmth.

As for Verdi in French - it sounds even weirder, if that's possible, than Verdi in English. But it is authentic, so... what was needed was better diction from most of the cast other than Hymel. And despite all the ballet - no actual ballet. There's around half an hour of designated ballet music in this opera and there was to have been a major collaboration on this between Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. But thanks to some operatic goings-on behind the scenes some months ago, the whole thing went ballet-up. It's fine dramatically as it is, of course - probably better - but still a pity to lose that.

There are reasons, one suspects, why the opera is not presented more often: it is vintage Verdi in many ways, but the music is more generic and less distinguished than such works as Otello, Rigoletto or Falstaff, while tenors who can pull off the role of Henri are few and far between. Hymel is a godsend, in that respect. This production, despite a few inevitable flaws, seems set to become a classic that will be remembered for many years to come.





Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Jonas Kaufmann is an honorary Londoner"


Der Jonas's love-in with London continued as he scooped two prizes at the inaugural International Opera Awards last night. Commenting in The Evening Standard, which supported the event in association with Opera Magazine, the editor Sarah Sands praised London as a magnet for international levels of excellence and - while reminding us that we need to raise our own game to be able to compete in our own capital city - pointed to Kaufmann as a prime example of the world-class talent that comes here to shine.  
"Pity the English tenors up against the winning German Jonas Kaufmann," she writes. "I watched him performing Verdi and Wagner at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday and he was perfectly at ease with both composers and all nationalities. It is voice without borders...Jonas Kaufmann is an honorary Londoner now, as far as I'm concerned."
Jonas himself, interviewed in the paper, makes straightforward and utterly pertinent remarks about why opera is for everyone. On the website, the Standard has a video of him receiving his prize.

Jonas won the Male Singer award and the Audience Prize. Other key awards included Nina Stemme for the Female Singer award, Sophie Bevan for Young Singer, Tony Pappano for Conductor, Dmitri Tcherniakov for Director, George Benjamin's Written on Skin for Premiere, Christian Gerhaher for CD, Oper Frankfurt for Opera Company and Sir George Christie of Glyndebourne for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The full list is here.

It's a warm, warm welcome from us and, one suspects, most of the music business to the UK's first full-scale prize glitter devoted entirely to opera. The more it can be celebrated, the more people hear about Jonas, Nina, Sophie and then hear their voices, the better. And if Jonas should ever decide he does want to become a Londoner, we'd be queuing up to show him the town.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A solution to vocal problems? Oh yes! Oh yes!

Argy-bargy at the Royal Opera House press conference yesterday: in the course of a highly operatic morning, Tony Pappano had a go at everyone about the misinformation and conspiracy theories that circulated around the Robert le Diable cast changes a few months back.

Leaving aside the possibility that the work itself is jinxed and should just be quietly buried...what happened, Pappano said, was this: first Florez decided against moving into heavier repertoire, following an unhappy experience with the Duke of Mantua; next, Diana Damrau got pregnant; and though Maria Poplavskaya was ill, she then recovered and went back into the show because her doctor said she was was well enough to do so. The saga with Jennifer Rowley is another issue altogether...

Apart from that, there's plenty good stuff next season including a recital on the main stage by Jonas Kaufmann, who'll also be singing in Puccini's Manon Lescaut; three Strauss operas for the composer's anniversary year, including Karita Mattila in Ariadne auf Naxos; Faust with Calleja and Terfel; Les Dialogues des Carmelites with Magdalena Kozena on stage and Simon Rattle in the pit; a new production of Parsifal; and a lavish, expensive staging together with the Royal Ballet of The Sicilian Vespers. In ballet, there'll be a full-length creation by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, with a new score by Joby Talbot, and Carlos Acosta will be in charge of a new staging of Don Quixote. Sales are up, with ballet reaching 98% of box office and opera hot on its heels (so to speak). More opera 13-14 news here. More ballet 13-14 news here.

Still, it was clear that TP is fairly fed up with singers who cancel, and that it does happen more than it used to.

What to do? Maybe the ROH needs to invest in some vibrators.

This is not a joke. (At least, I don't think it is.) Just look at this news from the University of Alberta:
Vibrators are being used by researchers at the University of Alberta to help give actors a little bit more vocal power. The team of researchers found that pressing the sex toys against the throats of actors helps to give them improved projection and range – vocally, of course.
“You can actually watch on a spectrograph how vocal energy grows,” said David Ley, who worked on the project. “Even when you take the vibrator off, the frequencies are greater than when first applied.
He said he has used this method with singers, schoolteachers and actors, and so far the vibrator technique has always worked...
Ley headed over to a local love shop in search of some hand-held vibrators in order to test out whether they could help release various forms of muscular tension. He was looking for a vibrator with a frequency somewhere between 100 and 120 hertz, which is close to the range of the human voice. Once he applied the vibrator to an actress’ neck over the vocal cords, she was able to produce striking results.
(As reported on RedOrbit - Your Universe Online - read the whole thing here.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pappano: "We should celebrate culture"


In today's Independent Rosie Millard asks why we never see politicians at arts events. Are the arts really that difficult? No - it's a matter of image. Read it here...

The reality is a little more complex. The fact is that some politicians do like the arts. But woe betide them if they're spotted there by a tabloid newspaper.

I got  Sir Antonio Pappano going on this subject not long ago. It is one of the issues we discussed for an in-depth interview for Opera News in New York - the article is the cover feature for the February issue and subscribers should have their copy by now. UK readers need to know what he said, so here is a small extract.


At one performance in Pappano’s Ring Cycle, several cabinet ministers were spotted in the audience, notably the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, a committed Wagnerphile. The tabloid newspapers pounced. “The paparazzi got to them and suddenly they’re not coming near the opera house because they were accused of taking time off from running the country!” Pappano fumes. “This is absolutely ridiculous.
“Recently I went to my orchestra in Italy to open the season. On the first night the President of the Republic was there; he came to shake my hand while I was on stage, and applauded the orchestra and the chorus. On the second night Mario Monti, the Prime Minister, did the same thing and came to the dinner afterwards – so I was able to talk to the Prime Minister. In Italy politicians are celebrated for coming to a cultural event. But in Britain, if you do so you’re considered an elitist, highbrow snob. These two things occurred within a week of each other. I think we should celebrate culture and I was really annoyed about what happened in London.”
There’s a danger, he adds, that the popular press’s anti-intellectual agenda could deter the government from supporting the arts: “In the end it’s going to threaten the existence of institutions that are supposed to be there for the duration.”
Read the whole thing here.

It does strike me that the arts, and opera in particular, are perhaps missing out on a vital chance to engage in a dialogue with this slash-happy administration. There is an enthusiasm there; it must surely be possible to tap in to this to encourage a bit of positive thinking all round?

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to handle financial cutbacks, c/o Royal Opera House

Clonk: the collective sound of critics' jawbones crashing on to red carpet yesterday as the ROH's music director, Tony Pappano, and head of opera, Kasper Holten, announced their plan for the years ahead at Covent Garden. Here is a lesson for us all in how to handle a lousy financial climate.

"If you let the crisis into your heart, you risk becoming the crisis," said Kasper Holten. So you don't. Instead, you grab fate by the throat and you concentrate on NEW WORK and COMMISSIONING.

There may be no shortage of Toscas and Traviatas ahead as well, but the single most important thing will be to focus on the new. Embracing the fact that they now have direct control over the Linbury Studio as well as the main stage (I'd feared it might be calamitous to take away the Linbury's own planners - but possibly not), Tony and Kasper are plunging headlong into what we can only call the vision thing.

There's risk. My goodness, there's risk. How do you convince audiences that this is the way forward, especially in such financially straitened times? What's important, says Kasper (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist) is not to fail to take risks - because if you don't push the boat out, if you don't encourage new creations and you don't keep the art form vital and living, then what is subsidy for anyway? He wants these new works to become the source of excitement for the audience. He wants them to be the hottest tickets in town. It won't happen overnight, he acknowledges - but the crucial thing is to dare to do it.

There's inspiration. There's collaboration - notably with Music Theatre Wales and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the latter not least to encourage improvement in the art of libretto writing. And with Opera North and Aldeburgh Music, there's a project to commission first operas from emerging composers. There will be new pieces from key British figures - notably Tom Ades for the main stage - but many more, including Luke Bedford and the extraordinary sound artist Matthew Herbert in the Linbury.

Nor is it just best-of-British: there's a true international focus. Unsuk Chin is writing Alice through the Looking Glass for the main stage. Gerald Barry's acclaimed The Importance of Being Earnest will be given in the Linbury.There's a new opera by Philip Glass. There's a big "cycle" of four new commissions for 2020, intending to engage with the strongest, deepest currents of life today - and Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany) will write them.


Verdict? I think it's completely amazing and wonderful. If this great Dane and the inspirational Tony Pappano can together bring fresh air sweeping into the Royal Opera House, then for goodness' sake let's open the gates, let it in, bring it on and cheer for a bit of risk and creativity at last, right at the top of the British musical establishment.

At the very least, the ROH might be a good setting for the next series of Borgen.

Incidentally, I have recently written an in-depth feature about Tony Pappano and it is the cover story in the February issue of Opera News from New York. It's not flagged up online yet, but subscribers seem to have their copies already, so do please get hold of one and have a read (here's the site).



Here's the whole press release from the ROH so you can see exactly what they're doing.

PRESS RELEASE
10 JANUARY 2013
NEW OPERA AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

The Royal Opera’s artistic directors, Antonio Pappano, Music Director, and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera, today outlined their artistic plans for new operas to be presented at the Royal Opera House from 2013 to 2020. More than 15 new operas will be presented, both on the main stage and in the Linbury Studio Theatre. Four composers will also be given an unprecedented challenge to work on an epic operatic event for 2020.

Pappano and Holten talked of The Royal Opera’s plans to extend the established tradition of commissioning British composers, and also include work by leading international artists such as Luca Francesconi, Kaija Saariaho, Georg Friedrich Haas and Unsuk Chin.  The aim is to continue relationships with a number of the companies who have already worked at the Royal Opera House, as well as to introduce a whole new roster of national and international co-commissions and collaborations.

More projects will be added to the plans over the next few years, especially for the Linbury Studio Theatre from 2015.

Kasper Holten commented ‘New work is not and should not be at the periphery of our programme, but right at the core of what and who we are. And this is something we do, not because we must, but because it is something that we are passionate about. We hope that opera audiences will share our curiosity and come with us with open minds along this journey.  There is not and should not be a guarantee of success for every single piece, only for innovation and risk-taking. But we can guarantee that we will put all the forces of The Royal Opera behind them all, whatever the scale, and whether the new work is aimed at adults or young people. To have a smaller theatre inside a major opera house is a rarity, and the combination of the Linbury Studio Theatre and our large stage gives us a unique platform for developing new work, which will only be strengthened through national and international partnerships.’

Antonio Pappano added: ‘Our efforts are being focused on working with the composers who really excite us, both for the Linbury Studio Theatre and for the main stage. We have worked hard to find the composers we feel have a real flair and passion for opera, and we are very excited about being able to roll out our vision for new work on all scales.’

2012/13
Alongside the current revival of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur and the highly anticipated UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which The Royal Opera has co-commissioned for the main stage, The Royal Opera will produce the UK stage premiere of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest in a production directed by Ramin GrayTim Murray conducts the Britten Sinfonia and the cast which includes Ida Falk Winland, Stephanie Marshall, Hilary Summers, Paul Curievici, Benedict Nelson, Simon Wilding and Alan Ewing, who reprises his role as Lady Bracknell from the concert performances at the Barbican last year. The production will be staged in the Linbury Studio Theatre.


2013/14
There will be a number of new productions created specially for the Linbury Studio Theatre in the 2013/14 Season.

Acclaimed Australian composer Ben Frost adapts Iain Banks’s cult novel The Wasp Factory in a production that he himself directs. This opera has been commissioned by Bregenz Festival’s Art of our Times programme, and is a co-production with the Royal Opera House, Hebbel-am-Ufer, Berlin, Holland Festival and Cork Midsummer Festival. 

For Christmas 2013, Julian Philips is composing a new opera for family audiences to a libretto by Edward Kemp, which will be directed by Natalie Abrahami, with designs by Tom Scutt.

We are working with the British electronic pioneer, composer and sound artist Matthew Herbert to make a new piece in 2014 inspired by the Faust story. Running alongside The Royal Opera’s revival of Gounod’s Faust, Matthew’s production integrates cutting-edge technology into the fabric of the musical score.

Composer Luke Bedford and Scottish playwright David Harrower will create a companion piece taking a very different route through the Faust legend.  Both works are for the Linbury Studio Theatre.

The Royal Opera will present the first UK performances of renowned Italian composer Luca Francesconi’s Quartett, based on the play by Heiner Müller, which is itself inspired by characters from Les Liaisons dangereuses. Quartett had its world premiere at La Scala, Milan, in 2010 and will be shown in a new version in London by The Royal Opera.  The Royal Opera’s new production is co-produced with London Sinfonietta and Opéra de Rouen, and directed by John Fulljames.

During the 2013/14 Season The Royal Opera will launch an annual collaboration with Aldeburgh Music and Opera North to commission first operas from composers who have a flair for operatic creativity that, with careful nurturing, could develop into the composition of major operatic works.  The project is supported by Arts Council England as part of a wider programme of work, led by Aldeburgh Music, to celebrate the legacy of Benjamin Britten.  In the first year of the project, we will commission two operas that will be produced in Aldeburgh, Leeds and the Linbury Studio Theatre in March 2014. Further commissions will follow in 2015 and 2016.

2014/15
The Royal Opera’s 2014/15 Season will open with a revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole in the main auditorium, followed by a new opera in the Linbury Studio Theatre by Philip Glass, based on Kafka’s The Trial, co-commissioned with Music Theatre Wales and Houston Grand Opera.

A new chamber opera by German/Danish composer Søren Nils Eichberg, working with librettist Hannah Dübgen, is commissioned for 2015 in the Linbury Studio Theatre. The opera is a taut thriller, which asks us to question what we can really trust – which emotions are real and which are virtual.

2015 – 2020
A new opera for children by Mark-Anthony Turnage, to be directed by Katie Mitchell, is scheduled for December 2015, also in the Linbury Studio Theatre.

The new operas already planned for this period include an adaptation of Max Frisch’s play Count Oederland by Judith Weir, working with librettist Ben Power.  This is a collaboration with Scottish Opera and Oper Frankfurt, scheduled for performance in the Linbury Studio Theatre. More new work in the Linbury Studio Theatre during this period is being developed and will be added to our plans and announced later.

For the main stage there is a commission from German composer Georg Friedrich Haas, based on Jon Fosse’s novel Morgon og Kveld (Morning and Evening) with libretto by the author. The Royal Opera will be collaborating with Deutsche Oper Berlin on this piece, which will open in London in November 2015 and in Berlin in April 2016.

Thomas Adès’s next large-scale opera, based on Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel, is a commission from The Royal Opera and a number of international partners including the Salzburg Festival. The librettist is Tom Cairns, who also directs. The Exterminating Angel will be performed at the Royal Opera House in spring 2017.

Another important main stage commission is currently being negotiated for late spring 2018.

There will be a new main stage opera from Unsuk Chin, who adapts Alice Through the Looking Glass with librettist David Henry Hwang for 2018/19. This follows the extraordinary success of Unsuk’s first opera Alice in Wonderland, which has now been produced around the world.                                              
2020
For the year 2020 The Royal Opera has challenged four leading composers from different countries in Europe to each create a large-scale new opera for 2020.  The vision is for four distinct operas, each one in part inspired by the composer’s response to a set of questions developed in collaboration with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek:What preoccupies us today? How can we today stage ourselves? What are the collective myths of our present and future?’

Each composer will work independently of the other teams but in collaboration with The Royal Opera’s artistic leadership.

The four composers invited at this stage are Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany).

All four commissions will have their premieres on the main stage during 2020.


New Relationships

From 2013, The Royal Opera is developing some new relationships to enable an increased engagement with emerging composers and librettists.

The Royal Opera will work with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in offering a range of training opportunities for emerging opera-makers including composers, writers and directors. This new relationship will begin with a conference about libretto writing to take place at the Guildhall School in April 2013.  Subject to validation, the conference will mark the launch of a new Masters Programme in Opera Making in association with the Royal Opera House and a new doctoral studentship in opera composition, the culmination of which will be a new opera for performance in 2016.

Also in 2013 we will be working with Sound and Music for the first time to deliver a seminar day on Saturday 16 March enabling emerging composers to think about writing for opera.

Opera development

The Royal Opera will continue to make a significant investment in artists and ideas as we develop works towards production. There will be an ongoing programme of opera development, including workshops and readings, some visible for the public, others not, depending on the needs for each project. Projects currently being developed include some of the commissions mentioned above, and work by Chris Mayo, Sasha Siem and Soumik Datta, as well as by digital artists Kleis&Rønsholdt and Tal Rosner.

The Royal Opera House has invited composers David Bruce and Elspeth Brooke to be composers in residence during the 2012/13 Season, with a view to the future development of participatory work and/or opera for young people. 

Partnerships with UK opera companies

We are keen to work with as many partners as possible on new work, enabling it to be seen by as wide an audience as possible across the UK.

As well as collaborating in the future with all the large-scale regional companies, The Royal Opera will continue to play a significant role in working with mid-scale touring companies. Plans are in place for Music Theatre Wales to bring their TMA award-winning production of Mark- Anthony Turnage’s Greek and Salvatore Sciarrino’s Luci mie traditrici to the Royal Opera House in autumn 2013 and to return with the Philip Glass co-commission described above. The Opera Group will bring HK Gruber’s Gloria: A Pigtale to the Royal Opera House in 2014.  Further projects in collaboration with other UK companies will be added for later seasons.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A last-minute trip to Valhalla

Where do you sit for Die Walküre? In the Gods, of course. And the single best thing about going to Wagner? No queue in the Ladies' Room. Though apparently there was a massive queue in the Gents. Now they know what it's like for us at almost everything else.

I managed, with the help of an eagle-eyed and quick-moused pal, to get a last-minute return for the Wagner at Covent Garden last night. Amid all our yadda yesterday about dressing-down, seat prices et al, I can report that a) the amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House was very dressed-down indeed - Wagner is a long haul flight and you need to go for comfort rather than style; b) the rest of the audience didn't look excessively flash either; and c) you can see nearly six hours of opera with a world-beating cast like this one, a clear view of the complete stage and an excellent take on the house acoustic, for £61. I don't think that is overpriced, under the circumstances. Most people I spoke to had booked a year in advance. Everyone up there was a total Wagner nut, and the hush and stillness through the performance was something to marvel at.

Highlights of the evening appeared in unusual places. First of all, Sarah Connolly's Fricka: a nuanced, heart-rending, ruby-toned performance, exceptionally sophisticated and classy. Another call for someone, please, to award a recording contract, scandalously absent at present. Come on, people - Connolly is a national treasure. She's on disc. But not enough. [Connolly, left, not in character.] 

This, too, was the production's one real masterstroke: the tortured relationship between her and Bryn Terfel's Wotan is the heart of the story. Often Fricka is portrayed as little more than a backroom bully, a fundamental ideologist forcing Wotan's hand over a point of malign principle (it's a common enough problem) and you always wonder why he's weak enough to cave in (a common enough problem too). Here, though, there is still a great love between this long-married couple, on both sides. Connolly made you feel every twist of Fricka's shredded heart as the faithless Wotan cradles her with tremendous tenderness. Wotan lets her win because his love for her ultimately overrides his other amours. It makes sense out of the whole story.

It was more or less the only sense we got out of Keith Warner's production, which I have not attended before. It's cluttered, fussy and occasionally worrying: there's a distinct tendency for characters to trip over the red rope that is doing goodness knows what across the stage, and over the metal thingummyjig that rears up in the middle of the set, and then there's the ladder, from which Susan Bullock apparently had to be unhooked by a stage-hand on the first night - and will something elsewhere in the cycle make sense of the three-pronged fan under which Brunnhilde falls asleep? What's it for - repelling mosquitoes? On the top of a mountain? Most of the action appears to take place in a disused storeroom or perhaps a very messy study (a bit like mine) with a black office table, a leather chaise-longue and a huge heap of discarded books. I was constantly alarmed in case someone decided to do a Nazi-reference thing by setting light to it, though fortunately they didn't. If you're going to offer a concept Walküre, then clarity of that concept helps. This one, if it exists, eludes me. And according to Fiona Maddocks, the production has actually been streamlined since last time. [Above, Bullock & Terfel, pic by Clive Barda.]

The other unforgettable performance was Sir John Tomlinson's Hunding, who could dominate the stage with his first swing of the axe and the auditorium with his first note and all thereafter. A marvellous moment when he and Terfel's Wotan come face to face - these two legends together are not something you see every day. Marvels too from Terfel himself, of course, a Wotan incarnate; and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, creamy-toned, all-giving and ultimately transcendental as she blesses Brunnhilde. As the latter, a feisty Susan Bullock, tiny and ferocious. Simon O'Neill as Siegmund started strong, but threatened to fade out as Act 1 wrestled him and nearly won. Luxury singing from the Valkyrie gang and, below, Tony Pappano presided over a rich-toned and rhapsodic orchestra augmented by six harps plucking away in the stalls circle. 

At the risk of sounding heretical, though, I'm not convinced Wagner is Pappano's finest six hours. He has become incomparable in Italian repertoire - Il Trittico a year ago was one of the greatest evenings I've ever had in the ROH, and I mean it. But this was rather gentle Wagner: an interpretation that roused and glowed but didn't transfigure. It needs an extra hard-edge of ecstasy that simply wasn't there, despite the glories of the singing. 

Let's face it: we go to Wagner to get high. That's why people get addicted. And if you don't get the high, something isn't quite working. And the place it needs to be generated is in the pit. It's legal. But it shouldn't necessarily sound it.