Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes is not so much a revival as an outright resuscitation from the dead, as much of the original material was lost when the Covent Garden theatre went up in flames in 1808, while Tchaikovsky’s Cherevichki will also have new life breathed into it, in a flamboyant new production this Christmas.
Arne’s opera was regularly revived over a period of 50 years until it dropped out of the repertory. It has required a labour of love from Classical Opera Company’s Ian Page, spurred on by Padmore who is providing the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio for the staging, to piece together the recitatives and commission a new ending from Duncan Druce.
The production, now in rehearsal with director Martin Duncan, will have spectacular designs by Johan Engels. The opera is set in ancient Persia, with a convoluted plot about princes, murderers, loyalty, betrayal and many another recognisable operatic conventions. The music, poised between Handel and Mozart, is by the composer best-known for “Rule Britannia,” although he actually wrote around 100 stage works.
The excellent cast comprises Elizabeth Watts, Rebecca Bottone, Cailtin Hulcup, Christopher Ainslie, Andrew Staples and Steven Ebel and the enthusiasm oozing from the team suggest this will be an opera well worth re-assessing when it runs in the Linbury Studio later this month.
The Tsarina’s Slippers
Almost equally unknown but due for much larger-scale treatment will be the Tchaikovsky opera in the main house. The Royal Opera has gathered together an all-Russian cast, under conductor Alexander Polianichko, to be directed Francesca Zambello, who will bring her well-versed skills in spectacular stagings to the piece.
Zambello produced the work at Wexford some 16 years ago, under the directorship of Elaine Padmore and, a smash-hit then, both women have been dying to revive it ever since. A sneak preview of the sets and score at a recent press conference gave a tantalising glimpse of a show that could find a regular place in the Christmas repertoire in future. It has everything that more established seasonal fare (The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty etc) offers, including a strong dance element from the Royal Ballet.
The plot is based on a Gogol short story, typical Russian folktale fantasy material – trysts with the devil, flying witches and whirling Cossacks and a score, from the sound of it, that should be a lot better known than it is.
Christmas at the ROH
The Tsarina’s Slippers will be part of a whole programme of works aimed at the festive audience. The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty will vie for attention with Jonathan Dove’s The Enchanted Pig (a revival of The Opera Group’s lively production from a couple of years ago) and Les Patineurs/Tales of Beatrix Potter, with Der Rosenkavalier and La bohème thrown in for good measure.
Not much for the David Alden/Christof Loy fans there but all appropriate stuff for the Christmas period.
Artaxerxes opens on 30 October and runs in the Linbury for nine performances (ending 14 November). The Tsarina’s Slippers plays from 20 November to 8 December (six performances). To find out more about all productions mentioned and to book, go to www.roh.org.uk