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A View of the Royal Opera's 2009/10 Season

The recession appears so far to have had little or no effect on the sale of opera tickets and the Royal Opera’s management team is determinedly pursuing its vision without regard to possible future difficulties.

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At an informal press reception to launch the 2009/10 season, music director Antonio Pappano told me that he and his colleagues were adamant that programming would not be affected by financial considerations.

The “riskiest” offering in the new season is Prokofiev’s The Gambler (February), to be conducted by Pappano, with Richard Jones directing. With an unfamiliar work and the composer’s general lack of populist appeal, it may not be at the top of many people's lists but I’ll be there for sure and I hope I’ll be joined by lots of the more adventurous among you.

Tchaikovsky’s The Tsarina’s Slippers is hardly well-known but should prove an easier sell and Massenet’s Manon, which might otherwise struggle, boasts a cast of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón (provided the latter is back in full voice by June), so there’ll be no problems shifting tickets there.

Sure-fire hits among the seven new productions include Tristan und Isolde at the start of the season starring Ben Heppner and Nina Stemme (again Antonio Pappano conducting and Christoph Loy directing). The two appearances by Placido Domingo – Handel’s Tamerlano and his baritone debut as Simon Boccanegra later on – will ensure further sell-outs. The latter is in the Elijah Moshinsky production, rather than the recently-revived Ian Judge one.

For my liking, there are too many revivals of recently seen standards - Carmen, La bohème, Così fan tutte; La Traviata and Le nozze di Figaro. One can’t blame the RO for including these bankers in their programme but even Angela Gheorghiu, in the second run of La Traviata in July, returning to the role that catapulted her to international stardom in 1994, won’t be enough to draw me back to this too oft-repeated production.

While I’m being grumpy, I won’t be welcoming back Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment either, although I acknowledge I’m in a small minority here. For those who did enjoy this hideously unfunny romp the first time (or have caught it on DVD since), the return of the original cast – Juan Diego Flórez, Natalie Dessay and Felicity Palmer - will have them running towards the box office while I flee in the opposite direction.

More appealing are the return of a number of productions that have only been seen once before: Don Carlo, which apart from the concert performances of Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix opens the season in September and boasts Jonas Kaufmann in the title role; the double-bill of L’Heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi; The Rake’s Progress; Bill Bryden’s The Cunning Little Vixen conducted by Charles Mackerras; Caurier and Leiser’s Il Turco in Italia; and David McVicar’s Salome.

Staying with Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, although getting on a bit (John Schlesinger’s production dates from 1984), is also a less-frequent returner and, with Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, is an attractive proposition. There’s one more new production in the main house: David McVicar, again, directing Aida in April, with Marcelo Alvarez as Radames and Nicola Luisotti conducting. It’ll be interesting to see what he makes of this work.

The Linbury Studio has an exciting line-up too, with Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes, in conjunction with Classical Opera Company, particularly intriguing. Details of the ROH2 programme will appear in a separate piece in due course.

The Royal Opera has got a good balance in the season and, along with ENO’s similarly appealing programme, will ensure that most London operagoers are going to get something of what they like over the coming 18 months.

Further details of the Royal Opera’s new season are at www.roh.org.uk

- Simon Thomas


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