The Royal Opera House's new 2003/2004 season has a distinctly theatrical flavour to it, including, as previously tipped (See The Goss, 10 Sep 2002), the company's first main stage foray into musicals with Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, as well as the world premiere of a new opera based on Shakespeare's The Tempest.

ROH music director Antonio Pappano has previously been quoted as saying he was a big fan of musical theatre and that he saw his role to expand the remit of the Opera House, which is often accused of being rather stuffy and expensive. In the introduction to the season, he admits that Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim's 1979 bloodbath about the demon barber of Fleet Street, is a "surprising but welcome addition to our repertory". Describing it as a "fantastic piece of music theatre", he says "I have always been in awe of its power to mesmerise audiences".

A co-production with the Lyric Opera in Chicago, where it opened in November 2002, Sweeney Todd will run in repertory at Covent Garden from 15 December 2003 to 1 January 2004. It will be directed by Neil Armfield, designed by Brian Thomson and conducted by Paul Gemignani. The cast features Thomas Allen as Sweeney and Felicity Palmer as his pie-making partner in crime, Mrs Lovett.

The Tempest - a new commission by the Royal Opera, co-produced with Royal Danish Opera and Opera du Rhin Strasbourg - receives its world premiere on 14 February 2003. The new opera by Thomas Ades, who also conducts, is based on Shakespeare's classic, with a libretto by Meredith Oakes. The production is directed and designed by Tom Cairns.

British baritone Simon Keenlyside will sing the role of the island magician Prospero, with British tenor Ian Bostridge as his savage servant Caliban and American soprano Cynthia Siden, making her Royal Opera debut, as Ariel.

More traditional operatic fare, the season's seven other new productions will be Orlando, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Aida, Arabella, Faust, Lucia di Lammermoor and Peter Grimes.

- by Terri Paddock