Die Zauberflöte - Royal Opera House, 1 February 2011
While no performance of Die Zauberflöte ever really disappoints, this latest revival of David McVicar's bitty production is strangely deflated.
Booking for Covent Garden's Winter Season (December to March) starts today for Friends, and 20 October for all you other people.
Not much is massively tempting, though the first of Plácido Domingo's appearances this season is a must-see. He's already sung in Madrid - and been immortalised on DVD - in this striking Graham Vick production of Handel's Tamerlano, conducted for the Royal Opera House by Handel specialist Ivor Bolton.
Also worth catching - if there are any tickets left - is Plácido 'In Conversation' in the Linbury Studio on 26 February.
Kirill Petrenko is the conductor for Der Rosenkavalier, a dust down for the 1984 John Schlesinger production. A promising cast is headed by Soile Isokoski, Sophie Koch, Lucy Crowe and Thomas Allen.
Andris Nelsons makes his Royal Opera House debut in December conducting an even more ancient production, John Copley's 1974 La bohème, with Maurizio Benini and Paul Wynne Griffiths substituting in January. Though once should be enough for anyone. Mix'n'match casting includes Piotr Beczala, Hibla Gerzmava and Christopher Maltman. Yards of curtain fabric, acres of creaking boards, smocks akimbo, and even a spot of artistic nudity not mentioned on the ticket (in case you're taking granny).
Last year's disappointing Robert Lepage production of The Rake's Progress makes a swift and brilliantly-cast return. Toby Spence (the best Tom Rakewell in town - he was made for this role) is joined by Kate Royal, Kyle Ketelsen, and Stephanie Blythe as Baba the Turk. Lovely Ingo Metzmacher conducts and tickets are a bit cheaper than usual, with a top price of £110.
Even cheaper, with a top price of £50, is Prokofiev's The Gambler. Covent Garden take a step into ENO territory with a new English language production by Richard Jones. The cast includes Roberto Sacca, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson, Jurgita Adamonyte and Kurt Streit, and Pappano conducts. No doubt intended to draw in a new audience, as is a half day education event An Introduction to Opera on 20 February.
It's hard to make Mozart dull, but Jonathan Miller's painfully misguided assault on Così Fan Tutte does the trick. Not half as happening as it thinks it is, and it's doubtful if Charles Castronovo, Troy Cook, Sally Matthews and Nino Surgaladze can salvage it. Julia Jones waves the baton for female conductors.
Here first! - a full list of all the Royal Opera House's main stage productions for the 2009/10 season.
The 2009/10 Covent Garden season opens with neither bang nor whimper but with a credit-crunching concert performance on 7 September (repeated on 14 September). Makes a change from last year's Sun readers' special I suppose.
The opera in question is Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, and the conductor is bel canto genius Mark Elder. The cast includes potential Next Big Things Stephen Costello, Eglise Gutierrez and Luciano Botelho, plus the incomparable Alessandro Corbelli, the first of several welcome appearances this season.
The first staged opera of the season is Nicholas Hytner's lego-loving Don Carlo, with - OMG!- Jonas Kaufmann !!! in the title role. John Tomlinson joins him as the Grand Inquisitor, and the rest of the cast is lifted straight from the first run - Marina Poplavskaya, Simon Keenlyside, fans' favourite Ferruccio Furlanetto, Sonia Ganassi and Pumeza Matshikiza.The conductor is Semyon Bychkov.
This season's contribution to the 2013 Wagnerversary is a new Christof Loy production of Tristan und Isolde. Antonio Pappano conducts Ben Heppner, Nina Stemme, Matti Salminen, Michael Volle and Sophie Koch.
Neigh! Francesco Zambello's ghastly Carmen returns in October, with the latest Covent Garden favourite Elina Garanca back for the title role, fighting off Roberto Alagna, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, and a farmyard full of furry friends. Bertrand de Billy conducts. It's resuscitated again in June 2010 with a distinctly 'B' cast.
October also sees one of Richard Jones's more subtle and effective efforts back on stage - and attractively cast. The shouldn't-work-but-it-does double bill of Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole (Christine Rice, Yann Beuron, Christopher Maltman, Andrew Shore and Bonaventura Bottone) and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (Thomas Allen, Maria Bengtsson and Stephen Costello) is conducted by Pappano.
Francesco Zambello steps into Tchaikovsky's The Slippers in November. The new production will be conducted by Alexander Polianichko and features some serious talent fresh from the Mariinsky - Olga Guryakova, Vsevolod Grivnov, Larissa Diadkova, Vladimir Matorin and Maxim Mikhailov.
John Schlesinger's elderly Der Rosenkavalier is dusted off in December. Kirill Petrenko conducts and the cast includes Soile Isokoski, Sophie Koch, Thomas Allen and Lucy Crowe.
Littering the December and January schedules is the inevitable La Bohème. This time Andris Nelsons conducts most of the double-cast performances, which begin with Piotr Beczala and Hibla Gerzmava and end with not a few tbc's.
Robert Lepage's intermittently effective Rake's Progress returns in January 2010. Ingo Metzmacher, Toby Spence (a Tom Rakewell tdf), Kate Royal, Kyle Ketelsen and Stephanie Blythe promise much on the musical side.
Female conductor alert! Top Lisboan Julia Jones wields the baton over Jonathan Miller's Cosi fan Tutte in January. The cast includes Charles Castronovo and Sally Matthews.
A new Richard Jones production of Prokofiev's The Gambler in February is conducted by Pappano, with a cast including Roberto Sacca, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson and Jurgita Adamonyte.
Plácido Domingo's first appearance of the season is as a tenor. Graham Vick's acclaimed production of Handel's Tamerlano (recorded in Madrid and available on DVD con Plácido) makes its first visit to Covent Garden in March with Christianne Stoijn, Sara Mingardo and Christine Schäfer. Baroque specialist Ivor Bolton conducts.
Bill Bryden's family-friendly The Cunning Little Vixen returns in March with Emma Matthews, Christopher Maltman and Emma Bell, though the presence of Charles Mackerras on the podium has to be the main draw.
Caurier and Leiser's lovely Il Turco in Italia is back in April, with Maurizio Benini conducting, and Aleksandra Kursak, Colin Lee, Alessandro Corbelli, Thomas Allen and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo in the cast.
Aida is subjected to the David McVicar magic in April. His new production is conducted by Nicola Luisotti and features Micaela Carosi, Marcelo Alvarez and Luciana D'Intino. Bare naked elephants?
The last of the Big Three, Richard Eyre's subtly intelligent La Traviata, makes its annual appearance in May and July. This time her name's in the programme - Our first Lady of the Camellias is the fabulous former Netrebko sub Ermonela Jaho. Joining her in her long-awaited return to Covent Garden in May are Saimir Pirgu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. July's 'B' Violetta is Angela Gheorghiu, who makes do with James Valenti and Zeljko Lucic. Yves Abel conducts.
Laurent Pelly's now-legendary La Fille du Régiment returns in May with the unbeatable original cast of Juan Diego Flórez, Natalie Dessay, Alessandro Corbelli and Felicity Palmer back in place. Bruno Campanella conducts.
What would tempt Sir Colin Davis back into the pit? How about David McVicar's Le Nozze di Figaro? Erwin Schrott, Camilla Tilling, Maruisz Kwiecen. Annette Dasch, Soile Isokoski and Christine Schäfer head the strong cast.
Antonio Pappano conducts Laurent Pelly's new Manon, coming to Covent Garden in June with the announced cast including Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. Anyone fancy a bet?
In one of those rare operatic fairy stories, June sees a baritone with less than a year's experience thrust into a leading role at Covent Garden. Yes, it's Plácido Domingo again, and this time he's Simon Boccanegra. Antonio Pappano conducts a strong cast including Marina Poplavskaya, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Joseph Calleja. It's the 1991 Elijah Moshinsky production by the way, not the Ian Judge one seen last year.
The season ends in July 2010 with the first revival of David McVicar's controversial Salome. Angela Denoke takes the central role, with Johan Reuter as Jokanaan. Hartmut Haenchen conducts.
No link yet, but more details expected on the Royal Opera House website sometime next week.
Idomeneo - Europa Galante/Biondi - Barbican, 14 May 2008
Technical excellence isn't everything. Musically, this concert performance of Idomeneo was rough as a badger's behind. Fabio Biondi, conducting a breakneck pace with violin in hand, failed on several occasions to bring his small band in on time, or to hold them together. Intonation was frequently doubtful in the string section; near-criminal in the brass. But enthusiasm goes a long way, and Mozart in any case demonstrated his usual resistance to the assaults of imperfect execution. The sheer verve of the performance gave it a warmth and charm that more polished approaches often lack (and awww just look at the harpsichordist's score, above).
Ian Bostridge was the motor behind the show, part of his Homeward Bound series running throughout the Barbican season. He's not a singer who melts readily into whatever character he's playing, and the role of Idomeneo would have benefited from more poise and warmth. But however dramatically questionable, his singing was often deeply affecting, and his (very difficult) second act aria Fuor del mar was perfectly judged and exquisitely sung.
Kate Royal provided some Grecian flavour to her part as Ilia in a draped cream goddess gown (marks deducted for visible bra straps). Her intonation was secure and her tone serenely radiant, notes cautiously but elegantly laid in place. The problem for me was her offputting habit of inflecting by gasping and panting in between notes, something that eventually became far more noticeable than the line it was disrupting.
Emma Bell, the fiery Electra, looked fabulous with her new short-fringed bob and red strapless gown. She made the most of her dramatically redundant but musically riveting role with a thrilling and well-received high-drama, mega-vibrato performance, more in the style of late Verdi than early Mozart. It may have been an anachronism, but it made perfect musical sense. Anyway it slotted in neatly with the various vocal idiosyncracies on display elsewhere.
The most conventionally Mozartean singing came from Jurgita Adamonyte as Idamante, poised, focussed and pure of tone. Despite being a late replacement for the advertised Christine Rice, she gave every evidence of thorough and intelligent study of the role, all her expressive choices seemingly the perfect ones.
The tenor Benjamin Hulett completed the list of principals as Arbace. He reminded me of Toby Spence in his straightforward and versatile vocal quality - also in the fact that he looks about half his age.
The weakest link was the chorus, who I understand were pulled together just for this performance. On the plus side, their enunciation was exceptionally clear and their ensemble near-perfect. But there was scarcely any sign of life from them until the last act, in dramatic contrast to the vigour of Europa Galante.
It was a strange and quirk-packed evening, far from immaculate technically, but for the most part entirely riveting. Proof perhaps that not everything needs to be perfect to be great.
Ian Bostridge sings Fuor del Mar with Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra:
Kate Royal / Roger Vignoles - Wigmore Hall, 16 February 2008
Brahms - Vier Gesänge Op 70
Debussy - Cinq Poèmes de Charles Baudelaire
Poulenc - Fiançailles pour rire
Strauss - Mädchenblumen, Ich wollt ein Straüßlein binden, Als mir dein Leid erklang
What has happened to Kate Royal's bewbs? Modestly corseted for her current role in Die Zauberflöte, it's hard to tell. Unfettered tonight in a stunning dove grey halter neck grecian gown they jostled for attention like a couple of genetically modified grapefruit. Even in the Wigmore Hall, temple of song, it was enough to arouse interval remarks about 'shapeliness' from elderly gentlemen. I don't recall anything particularly eye popping in previous appearances. Industrial-grade bra padding, or has she been shopping in the same place as Katherine Jenkins?
Unfortunately, they weren't quite spectacular enough to distract from some ropey singing in her first all-Brahms song group. Intonation and diction were accurate enough, but the higher notes elicited a sound like a fork being slowly drawn across a saucepan. She never looked or sounded comfortable. These lugubrious songs are not easy or immediately appealing. Though the group slotted well into the programme, billed as part of the Wigmore Hall's French season, Royal was simply unable to supply any real insight into their elliptical texts.
With her voice now warmed up, she produced a much more attractive sound for Debussy's five Baudelaire settings. But Baudelaire's perfumed eroticism eluded her. Imperfect French accentuated the effect of knee-clutching English reserve. Her approach to the Poulenc group was similarly buttoned-up, her only hint of abandon the occasional tiny gasp. Royal performed without a score and appeared to know the songs inside out, so it was disappointing that she felt unable to take the risks she has demonstrated in her operatic performances.
It was only in the closing Strauss group that she seemed to find the right balance between expression and control, that unexpected blend of ice and warmth in her shimmering silver tones finally ecstatic.
Her eagerly provided encore was Lia's aria from Debussy's L'Enfant Prodigue, an oddly long and doleful choice to send an audience home with. But it was delivered with all the insight and engagement her earlier Debussy group had lacked - a promise of what might have been and an indication that eventual success in this repertoire is not beyond Royal's grasp.