Friends booking opens tomorrow (public booking 5 July) for the first chunk of the Royal Opera House's 2011-12 season. As soon as the details were announced, people were complaining how boring it looked. That was my initial reaction too, but when it came down to working out what I wanted to see, everything seems to have some compelling attraction or other.
First up is Il trittico, which opens on 12 September. For many of us, this will be a first and perhaps only opportunity to catch the whole triptych together, which has to be reason enough for booking. To Richard Jones's previously-seen (and brilliant) Gianni Schicchi are added completely new productions (again by Jones) of Il tabarro and Suor Angelica. A generally inspiring cast list includes Eva-Maria Westbroek, Anja Harteros and Anna Larsson, and Pappano conducts.
Angela Gheorghiu dons her blonde wig for Faust, opening on 18 September. She'll be substituted by Malin Byström on later dates. Or perhaps all dates, who knows? But with a cast including Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (ZhengZhong Zhou some dates) perhaps her inevitable absences won't bite quite as hard. David McVicar's re-historicised production is conducted by Evelino Pidò.
La traviata opens on 3 October for the first of three budget-inflicted runs. Marina Poplavskaya, Ailyn Pérez and Ermonela Jaho are the principal Violettas, with Anna Netrebko slipping in for just two dates (17 and 20 January). All worth a listen I think, and I'll also be interested to find out how Patrick Lange fares conducting the second run (his Covent Garden debut). Richard Eyre's production is smarter than it might first appear, and stands up to repeated viewing.
Tim Albery's dour Der fliegende Holländer returns on 18 October with Jeffrey Tate conducting. It's good to see Anja Kampe returning to the role she created, though the rest of the cast (Falk Struckmann, Stephen Milling and Endrik Wottrich) is not quite as all-round sparkling as the first run. But at least It Is Wagner.
The biggest draw of the season has to be the Plácido Domingo Celebration on 27 and 30 October. No explanation required - if tickets haven't already sold out (I'm not sure how many the ROH hold back for Friends and public sales) then they will do, instantly. Count yourself lucky if you get one.
La sonnambula, which opens on 2 November, has curiosity value if little else, and I'm glad to see pricing is sensibly at the lower end of the scale. The doughty Daniel Oren conducts Eglise Gutiérrez and Celso Albelo.
Finally, the world premiere of Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness (based on the Joseph Conrad story) is on 1 November. Can they recreate the upper reaches of the Congo in the Linbury Studio? We shall discover.