Rolando Villazon / Lucy Crowe / Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh - Royal Festival Hall, 3 May 2010
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Solomon) Fatto inferno (Rodelinda) Pastorello d'un povero armento (Rodelinda) Concerto grosso in B flat, Op.3 No.2 Più che penso alle fiamme del core (Serse) Se pietà di me non senti (Giulio Cesare) Crude furie degl' orridi (Serse) Scherza infida (Ariodante) Oboe Concerto No.3 in G minor Ciel e terra (Tamerlano) Da tempeste (Giulio Cesare) Bajazet death scene, Oh, perme lieto - Fremi, minaccia, Figlia mia, Tu, spietato (Tamerlano) Encores: Ombra mai fu, Doppo notte
It's hard to know what to think, let alone to say, about this bizarre evening. And as a longtime admirer of Rolando Villazon, it gives me no pleasure to write what I'm about to. And no, I'm not just talking about the village-idiot haircut.
A bulging diary forces me to skip Covent Garden's nth revival of Der Rosenkavalier later this month, but I did find time for Friday's general rehearsal.
What a disappointment.
The tired old tinselled macaroon production is the least of the problems, even making allowances for the unfinished nature of the rehearsal product. I haven't heard the ROH orchestra play this badly all year. Scrappy ensemble, poor intonation, deranged brass - it would shame a school band. The curtain-down preludes were a real trial. Were there any orchestra rehearsals at all beforehand? It certainly didn't sound like it. Kirill Petrenko really has his work cut out to knock it into shape before Monday's opening.
And I was disappointed in Soile Isokoski's Marschallin. I can understand why she wanted to conserve her voice for most of the rehearsal, but charisma doesn't wear out if it's exercised. Her presence barely registered. And her makeup was positively unkind - couldn't they at least give her some brows?
Sophie Koch's Octavian too failed to sparkle, though at least she sang out. As to why a seventeen year old boy might be interested in knocking off a flour-faced gran (and vice versa) the production imparts no clues. It's rare that any of the characters even look at each other outside the comic knockabouts, and so the Marschallin's beautifully-written soul-searching passes unexplored.
So the sideshow became the star - the delightfully oafish Baron Ochs of Peter Rose, whose less than elegant singing works in this case to the character's advantage. Thomas Allen's Faninal too was wonderfully drawn in the few lines allotted.
But it was Lucy Crowe who left the most positive impression overall, a Sophie as defiant and spirited as Baron Ochs claims. Some of those top notes sounded dangerously squeezed, but the rest was liquid silver, and her stroppy charm made a long four and half hours pass less slowly.
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.
Dido and Aeneas / Acis and Galatea - Royal Opera House, 31 March 2009
It was uncharacteristically brave of the Royal Opera House to unleash a choreographer (Wayne McGregor) and the forces of the Royal Ballet on a pair of operas, but it turned out to be a surprisingly successful experiment.
Perhaps not so brave, actually - his Dido and Aeneas had already aired at La Scala. It was the less bold of the two, conventionally staged against a minimal, monumental set, with precisely-drilled dancers doing little more than filling in the gaps between the singing. That it never really got up any steam dramatically is a problem lying partly with Purcell's now fragmentary score, much of which has been lost over the centuries. But the dancing, which could have been used to paste the scraps together, instead seemed to emphasise the disjunctions.
But there was some fine singing, especially from Sarah Connolly as the tragic Queen Dido and Lucy Crowe as her spirited maid Belinda. Iestyn Davies made an impressive Covent Garden debut too, singing sweetly from above through the hole in the roof. Eri Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza made a striking pair of conjoined-twin witches - a coup de théâtre that unfortunatly served mostly to emphasise the dry formalism of all around it.
The way Christopher Hogwood and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment fleshed out the score emphasised the sheer originality in Purcell's writing.
Tunes were more to the fore in Acis and Galatea - which includes some of his best ones, like Love in her eyes sits playing, Love sounds th’alarm and the charmingly silly Happy we!
The simple pastoral nymph-meets-shepherd tale was garnished with stuffed sheep and tangled branches, and some all-too-rustic singing as well. The title roles grated under the foghorn tenor of Charles Workman and Danielle de Niese's unwieldy vibrato. Matthew Rose as Polyphemus and Paul Agnew as Damon coped with Handel's demands far more gracefully.
But why couldn't the ROH use British singers for the principal roles too? - it's not as if they're thin on the ground. Kate Royal not only sings ten times better than de Niese, she's an accomplished dancer too - and the list of great English tenors, starting with John Mark Ainsley and Mark Padmore, just goes on and on.
Perhaps it was just as well that the dance element was more prominent in this half of the evening. Each singing role, including the chorus, had a dancing double, a soul perhaps, expressing the feeling behind the words. Dancing Acis and Galatea (Ed Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson) entwined in sinuous and utterly entrancing pas-de-deux. Behind the lumbering Polypheme was his exquisitely graceful alter-ego Eric Underwood. The dancers' nudey body stockings - part alien, part newborn - emphasised both their vulnerability and their other-worldliness.
It was all too easy to forget this was an opera and concentrate on the movement - more fluid and literally expressive than McGregor's other work, but stamped with his trademark quirky articulations. It was certainly more compelling than the curiously static singers and their fugly costumes (drag-queen Heidi for de Niese, shaggy tramp for Workman). De Niese did at least redeem herself in a beautifully-executed closing dance with Ed Watson, an emphatic reminder that this production is at heart a dance piece with singing tacked on.
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