Showing posts with label Kasper Holten. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kasper Holten. Show all posts

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dragons take over Covent Garden

The powerful and uncompromising Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones sings Walther von Stolzing in the Royal Opera House’s new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, alongside his fellow countryman Sir Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs. I went backstage to meet him…


Hughes Jones (left) and Terfel (right) in the rehearsal room
(c) Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda

Jessica Duchen: Gwyn, can you tell us about Kasper Holten’s new production, without giving the game away?

Gwyn Hughes Jones: No! Haha… I think people already know that it’s set in a club, a sort of music club. It reflects that idea of the application of rules to art and expression and how, if they’re not applied conscientiously, they hamstring the expressive sense of spontaneity, that creative evolution in art. We have to have rules in art because human beings have to have structure. Two plus two has to make four: we do need some kind of balance in nature and in the world. We can’t help ourselves. But it’s when rules take over and exist for their own sake that there’s trouble. I think this works for the piece: it doesn’t compromise it in any way. It’s always interesting to see the path directors take in their concepts of how to make a piece relevant to today. I’m sure that, as always, some people will like it and some people will not. We’ll see…




JD: You sang Walther at English National Opera not so long ago, in English, so this is your second Walther, but your first in German. What’s it like to make that change?

GHJ:  In a way, you start all over again. You can’t take anything for granted. The structure of the language is different, the inflection of the stresses are different, the way the language is used is slightly different too, so you have to be mindful of those things in preparation and delivery. I think singing these pieces in English is incredibly useful because you end up with a really broad palette of colour choice. Instead of having maybe one to three colours for a word, you have six or seven. Of course you still have to choose the right ones. But as someone who works in, if you like, the discipline of sound-painting, to have that choice of palette is always a very important weapon.

JD: Walther is a notoriously difficult role. What are the biggest challenges?

GHJ: It’s long. It’s high in some places. It’s not written in a friendly way. Nevertheless, you can look at some works of Puccini and Verdi and you see they, too, are writing for the kind of singer they have a right to expect. They don’t think we arrive without having had any kind of vocal education. These pieces play a part in stretching singers and not compromising them. I think the bel canto style was a hugely important influence on Wagner and this is reflected in all his works to some extent, but particularly in this piece. So it’s about having that elegance, it’s having the youthfulness – and one of the biggest challenges is remaining fresh to the very end.

One difficulty is this paradox that characters like Walther are young, but in real life you have to wait until you’re a fair bit older, a mature singer and a very physically strong and sophisticated singer, to be able to sing these roles to their potential. There is no other way. You will not find a 20-year old-who will sing Walther to its potential. So one of the challenges in this kind of repertoire is to keep the voice young, fresh and vibrant, so that when you come to your potential you can fulfil it for as long as possible. That’s why singers like Gigli, Björling and Pavarotti could keep that youthfulness and vibrancy in their voices for a very long time and that’s what made them convincing exponents.

Gwyn Hughes Jones as Walther with Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva in the new Meistersinger.
(c) ROH, photo by Clive Barda

JD: Do you have a regime for looking after your voice?

GHJ: It’s a lot to do with choosing the right kind of repertoire and I think the root of it goes to the beginning of my learning about singing. You have to be fortunate enough to work with good teachers, you need to work with people who know what they’re talking about and you need to be incredibly patient in your development. By all means, have targets along the way, have a long journey, but also work hard within a sense of context. You need to be sensible about repertoire choices and understand that if you do aspire to sing Wagner, if you aspire to sing the Verdi and Puccini spinto roles, then in the same way Wagner was inspired by Bellini, you have to sing that repertoire too: you have to immerse yourself in the bel canto style. You have to sing everything, but it is a process of building by small bricks. You build a very solid foundation, then build on that. You don’t just wake up one morning and find you’re a Heldentenor. It doesn’t work like that – and if people do do that, they don’t last very long.

JD: So it takes 30 years to be an overnight success…

GHJ: Yes, and to remain an overnight success, that’s the thing. It’s not about that initial splash. Spotting potential is the easiest thing in the world; allowing it to develop is something totally different. The onus is on us as individuals, but on the people we work with as well. So it is very challenging and you have to be incredibly patient too.

JD: How did you start to sing?

GHJ: My parents were not academically musical, but they loved opera, my father loved singing and there was always plenty of music in the house. Also coming from Wales there was always plenty of great culture around, so I was never far away from great literature and great poetry in English and in Welsh, and great music too. It was a very common thing for me to hear operatic arias when I was very young, sung by schoolteachers or farmers. In Eisteddfods these are competition arias, so you’d turn up to an Eisteddfod competition and there’d be people singing the ‘Prize Song’ and ‘Vissi d’arte'... So there’s a sense that, yes, they’re great, great art, but also that it wasn’t an elitist thing by any means: they were extremely reachable. You saw people who were having a singing lesson once a week or once a month, singing these arias as well as they’d be sung at some of the greatest opera houses in the world. That always for me was an example to say, ‘Yes, why not?’. 

As someone who comes from Anglesey, whose father is an engineer, whose mother is a housewife, some people would say I have no business whatsoever doing this. And yet all these influences I had in my upbringing gave me the privilege and the opportunity to be able to pick these things, experience them, enjoy them and find a path.

JD: People always think there’s a mystique about the Welsh and singing, but is it perhaps more down to this musical tradition that is very egalitarian?

GHJ: I think it’s a big part of it. Our historical, cultural tradition involves hundreds of thousands of years of storytelling. In this culture before the Romans came to Britain, we didn’t write. And that oral tradition has always been incredibly strong – the old tales in Welsh are thousands of years old and he oldest piece of poetry in the Welsh language comes from the 6th century. As a nation that struggled for its existence, you keep these things very close to you and they’re the things that keep you believing, keep you defending your culture and your language. They are incredbily important to us along with the sense of struggle and telling the story of the struggle. We love our heroes, yet we’re extremely melancholic too. There is that range of expressive colour in our culture that all goes to arm this huge weapon we have, called singing or storytelling.

As Walther in the new production.
(c) Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda

JD: This is quite a Welsh dominated Meistersinger: you are Walther and the freshly-knighted Sir Bryn Terfel is Hans Sachs…

GHJ: I think it’s a great achievement for the background we come from: the Eistefodd tradition, the amateur tradition. It shows how incredibly rich that was. We both were given a kind of unofficial education outside school: we were being taught some of the most amazing ideas and shown some of the most amazing art and weren’t really aware that it was happening. That’s the most wonderful thing and it’s easy to take it for granted. But it’s not just the musical aspect, it’s the literary aspect too, it’s the poetry, the understanding of how people use words and why people choose certain words to describe something. Being immersed in that – this is the consequence! I think it’s something worth reinvesting in: not just keeping it alive but allowing it to go from strength to strength. And it’s difficult, because Wales is economically poor. So it needs as much support as it can get.

JD: Have you worked with Bryn much before?

GHJ: We did some concerts together in Wales years ago, and we did Falstaff together in Chicago, which was my American debut in 1999. But we haven’t sung together for a very long time. I could have had the chance to sing Walther with him as Sachs when Welsh National Opera did Meistersinger, but it so happened with that season that I was debuting two big Verdi operas and one Puccini within the six months previously and I didn’t think it was wise to take on the part. But then ENO asked me to take on the role and it came at just the right time. It’s about having the longer journey, seeing the bigger picture – you don’t compromise yourself. For every Meistersinger, you need to do a Tosca, a Butterfly, pieces that don’t put you out there to the same extent. It’s good sense.

JD: Do you see yourself doing more Wagner soon?

GHJ: I think so... Ironically, the first opera I ever saw was the Patrice Chéreau production of the Ring cycle on TV, when I was nine or ten years old. It was Dame Gwyneth Jones and it was something amazing. Even on TV, you could tell how amazing it was. Those costumes! Those giants! It made a huge impression. Also, the first classical music tape I bought was 'Ten Tenors sing 20 Arias', which included plenty of Wagner. I enjoyed listening to it, but it didn’t appeal to me anywhere near as much as the Italian repertoire, Verdi and Puccini – that was what I really wanted to do and the kind of singer I wanted to be. So I didn’t really entertain the idea of being a Wagnerian singer. I started out as a baritone and when I became a tenor there’s an idea of the kind of colour you carry through from being a baritone: people immediately say, “Oh, you’ll sing Florestan, you’ll do Walther and Lohengrin…” But I was thinking about Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, Chénier, all these pieces, and I didn’t see myself as being a Wagnerian singer.

As Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly
I listened to snippets of Wagner over the years and it didn’t appeal to me. Also the way it was performed didn’t appeal to me, because it seemed that everything I believed in was being compromised. There’s no point working to make the voice as expressive and beautiful a communicative instrument as possible when you’re battling against an orchestra and a conductor who don’t acknowledge that actually they’re accompanying, And in some instances, too, you find that not necessarily the actual decibel volume, but the colour of the volume can be overwhelming to voices, so you have to be incredibly careful with the way that you accompany. Even when they’re expressing emotions that are not beautiful, there still has to be a sense of continuity in that character and that expression. You mustn’t compromise that in order to be heard, because then it totally defeats the purpose. You miss the potential of the work in the first place. So I was reluctant, from hearing the way people were singing Wagner’s music, to entertain the idea of doing that.

But then I found people were saying, “Well, Walther is a lyric part, it’s an Italianate part,” and your ears prick up because you realise it can be done that way and actually it should be done that way. If you go back and listen to people at the beginning of the 20th century, they sing this music in a lyrical, Italiante way – Walther, Lohengrin, they have line, beauty, harmony. You realise that somehow, in the last 50 years of performing this music, something has been allowed to fall into the shadows. And the idea that it can be, needs to be beautiful, it needs to be expressive in the right way, that made me incredibly interested in doing it. So when Welsh National Opera did put on Meistersinger in Cardiff, I went to see it and finally thought that, yes, I could see myself singing it. When the offer did come to sing Walther, I jumped at it, because it had come at the right time.

Now I’m going to be doing Lohengrin in about three years in the US. Parsifal and Siegmund are certainly roles I’d do as well. I do regard myself as an Italianate singer, though, so they’re not my main mission. There is so much to do... I’m not really interested in saying I have done 200 roles. I don’t think you achieve anything except marks on the post that way. The more you do a piece, the more you realise that you actually don’t know it and the more you discover about it. To do the iconic roles that are the mainstream in every opera house in the world, to work those pieces to their potential – not just getting through them but producing work that is significant – that interests me a lot more than tallying the numbers. I’m far more interested in doing 350-400 performances of Tosca than having 200 roles under my belt.

JD: How did you turn into a tenor from being a baritone?

GHJ: I think it’s about the colours you have in your voice. It’s funny – learning how to sing is like forgetting everything you learned between infancy and adulthood. You have to go back to that point where you find the voice works at its most efficient. One of the biggest traps that young singers fall into is that they try to create a voice colour well beyond their years. You have to allow the voice to develop into these colours. It’s OK to sound young, it’s OK to sound not ready – it’s part of that long journey. So in the pursuit of that idea, I sang as a baritone because baritone music was what suited my voice.

I wanted to sing Verdi and verismo baritones, but I always suspected I didn’t have that baritonal colour of all the singers I admired – people like Piero Cappuccilli, Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill had this beautiful round colour. Even at that age I wasn’t interested in being a lighter baritone singing Verdi’s music because I didn’t think it was honest. It wouldn’t have the gravitas, that noble colour, that these lines demanded.

I came to study in London at the Guildhall when I was 18, with David Pollard. He said to me, “I won’t tell you you’re a tenor or you’re a baritone, I have my suspicions of where you’ll go but what we have to do is work to the potential. We have to get you singing, we have to find out where your voice is most comfortable.” So I started singing as a baritone, because that was the music that fitted my voice. I sang a lot of song repertoire, so even though I didn’t have to make any cast-iron decisions about the kind of voice I was going to be, I was getting an incredibly rich and intense education in repertoire. I sang everything from the beginning, Verdi from the beginning, to get the vocal culture in place.

Then I won the Kathleen Ferrier Prize in 1992, as a baritone, and people started asking if I was interested in working on contract at various companies. The repertoire I was offered, though, was far too challenging. It was understudy work, but it’s one thing to learn a role and quite another to go on stage and perform it, which as an understudy you would have to do, and it wasn’t a good idea.

Meanwhile with my teacher we were starting to look at excerpts of very iconic tenor music – the third act of La Bohème, the first duet between Cavaradossi and Tosca, part of Manon Lescaut, parts that could show unequivocally whether I was a tenor for that sort of repertoire. One day David sent me to William McAlpine down the corridor, a very brilliant Scottish tenor who was also a teacher at Guildhall, to see what he would say. I sang him one aria and he said: “Yep, no doubt!”

But as I’d won the Ferrier as a baritone, a lot of people refused to accept that it was a good idea. I’d also won a lot of scholarships to allow me to study and those were as a baritone as well. But the way I saw it, I was awarded them because of the singer I was, not because of the voice type I was. That’s the point: you have to be allowed to discover and develop. People will always have opinions about the kind of singer you are, but in the end you have to decide where you want to go. And David said, “You have to make a decision: you can be a very, very good baritone, or you can be a better tenor. It’s up to you.” For me there was no question: this was the time to study, to make those decisions, as opposed to waiting another ten years when I might be already established in my career. 

As Cavaradossi in WNO's Tosca. Photo: Robert Workman

JD: And you’ve never looked back...

GHJ: No – there’s too much to look forward to! But you do look back, of course, because this is a career that requires absolute discipline: it requires you to be able to work right at the coalface, work in detail at things and not shirk those challenges. It’s correcting those weaknesses that allow you to build. You don’t want to take a step forward and then realise that the very thing your house is built on isn’t sturdy. So you have to work in that way, while at the same tine being able to step back and see how far you’ve come, and never lose sight of that. It’s difficult to strike that balance. We’re trying to be as good as we can be, and that’s always exciting.

JD: Is Wales still home?

GHJ: Yes indeed. It is my home and I’m obligated as a Welsh professional to work for Welsh National Opera. It’s a fantastic company. You have the potential to produce world-class opera there – you have a great orchestra, world class technical staff, a fantastic 2000 seat theatre, the opportunity to work with Carlo Rizzi, you have the opportunity to work with people who are at the best opera houses in the world and are regarded as the best in their field in the world.

JD: What’s next after Walther?

GHJ: Next I have some concerts between now and the summer at the National Eisteddfod – there are some works I’ve commissioned and as a Welsh artist I think it’s incredibly important to stimulate new compositions in Wales. In the autumn I do my first Radames in Aida and then the new year brings Forza. Next year is heavy on the Verdi and the Puccini, and then I come back to Lohengrin. You have to find a balance between the stuff that stretches and stimulates you and the stuff that stimulates you, but allows you to rest.

JD: I should let you rest too... Thank you very much for talking to us, Gwyn, and we’re looking forward to opening night. 


Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opens at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 11 March. Kasper Holten directs, Sir Antonio Pappano conducts and besides Hughes Jones and Terfel the cast includes Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser, Rachel Willis-Søresnsen as Eva and Allan Clayton as David. Details and booking here.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Kasper Holten is going home

Sad to receive the press release this morning informing us that Kasper Holten, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, is to leave his post in 2017, after his new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opens. Here's his letter.


Kasper Holten. Photo: Sim Cannetty-Clarke
Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you as I want to share with you that I have decided to leave my position at The Royal Opera in March 2017.

I love working at ROH – and with all the amazing colleagues here – and it feels very painful to let go of that in 2017. But when I moved to London, my partner and I didn’t have children. Now we do, and after much soul searching we have decided that we want to be closer to our families and inevitably that means we make Copenhagen our home where the children will grow up and go to school.

So when Alex offered me an extension of my contract for another five years beyond summer 2016, I have decided only to ask for an extension of seven months, giving the ROH time to plan for my succession and for me to continue the work as long as possible. I will therefore leave my position in March 2017 after Tony and I open our new production of Wagner’s Meistersinger here at ROH. But my work isn’t done yet, so please don’t do too many farewells quite yet!

I will continue to work hard for The Royal Opera until the day I leave, and Tony and I will put strong plans in place for The Royal Opera until 2020 and beyond, with a varied repertory and many exciting new commissions and productions.

It is with a very heavy heart that I send you these lines, but at the end of the day this decision has been inevitable for me. I am deeply grateful to ROH and to all of you for the amazing adventure it has been to work here – and will continue to be for a while yet!

Warmest regards

Kasper’


Kasper's resignation is part of a trend that I suspect is on the increase: the best  overseas professionals deciding to leave the UK for pastures a little more reasonable. London's insane housing prices, the shockingly dreadful state of our school provision system (I know nobody with children who has not gone through a nightmare or many when finding places to educate them), the distances that people have to travel between work and home and the time it takes to do so - these make family life in the capital an affair so stressful that one can't blame anybody who can move to a more civilised environment for wanting to do so. If we leave the EU, moreover, it's likely to become more difficult still to engage and retain the best European experts. 

Kasper is an often brilliant director, a dynamic and inspiring character and always a joy to interview. We'll miss him, but understand his decision.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Leaping into the unknown - with Georg Friedrich Haas

Haas's new opera Morgen und Abend premieres on Friday 13 November at the Royal Opera House. Quite a date for a big, risky premiere, no? I had a good chat with Kasper Holten, the ROH's director of opera, about why taking a risk by staging the new and edgy is more important than ever before, and also had a chat with soprano Sarah Wegener about singing microtones. Article is in today's Independent.

The book Morning and Evening by the Norwegian playwright and author Jon Fosse, by the way, is extraordinary, startling, poetic, sonorous. Read it. Fosse has prepared the libretto for Haas.

Here is Klaus Maria Brandauer, the great Austrian actor who stars in the first part of the performance, on his role.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Down the King's head with Karol, Tony and Kasper

(NB: contains spoilers. If you haven't seen the ROH Król Roger yet, and you're going to, and you don't want to know what they do with it, look away now and come back afterwards...)

There's a live streaming tonight of Karol Szymanowski's opera Król Roger (King Roger) from the Royal Opera House. Highly recommended. A gift of an excuse to do this opera has appeared - namely the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień, of big, oak-dark tone and native ability with the language - and in Tony Pappano's hands the score doesn't only seduce, but blisters and burns. I went in last week (reviewing for The JC) expecting honey and rosewater, but found neat chilli vodka instead. You can see the streaming on the brand-new Opera Europa platform - 15 of Europe's leading opera houses clubbing together to stream productions free to all - or on the ROH's own Youtube channel. It will be available on demand for 6 months afterwards.

Kasper Holten's production is, first, clever, and second, clear. The score and the action - inspired by Euripides, but written by the composer's cousin and travelling companion, the poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz - are sensual and heady for a good reason; the composer's inner conflicts, as a gay Catholic in the early 20th century, are given full rein to express themselves, as is the musical lure of the exotic near east and north Africa, where matters at the time were less repressive. Holten takes us inside the King's head, and I don't mean that Islington pub.

The first act finds the stage dominated by a giant head. In act two, the face turns to the back and we see its inner workings: three levels, connected by iron staircases. The superego at the top, somewhat underpopulated; the ego, strewn with piles of old books; the id, beneath, a mass of seething, writhing dancers, hemmed in, struggling to get out. In act III the question arises: what happens when they do? And who are they? And who, then, is the Shepherd?

Szymanowski's shepherd - sung here by the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, with a range of expression that carries him from rose velvet in the centre to knife-edge iron at the top when the drama demands - is (like Korngold's Stranger from Heliane, oddly enough premiered a year later) a newcomer in a repressed, traditional world. He arrives preaching love and hedonism; the Queen is enchanted by him; the King is filled with conflict, his adviser Edrisi warning him to be cautious and the church powers encouraging the stamping out of this unorthodox approach to life. Roger tries to condemn the stranger to death; Queen Roxana begs him not to.

But Roger is as mesmerised by this beautiful, tempting man as everyone else is. Szymanowski's music proves to us that the attraction is sexual; and in the drama, Roger's relationship with Roxana is clearly in trouble. But Holten remembers that Roger is a king and that his populace are all too keen to follow the newcomer instead. So who is this charismatic political upstart in his raw silk coat? A smouldering bonfire in the centre of the stage at the start of act III soon leaves us in little doubt as the populace bring out books to burn. This opera was premiered in 1926, and the costumes here are in the style of that time or shortly after.

Sometimes subverting an opera's intrinsic story is a mistake, on those occasions when you feel the solution is imposed on questions that were never there in the first place. But this is different. This is one of those lightbulb moments that you didn't necessarily see coming up, but that makes complete sense - and makes the production as vital an experience as the opera is in the first place.



I haven't written anything about the general election here because I simply don't know what to say other than "well, I didn't vote for them...". (Our local MP is a popular, independent-minded Tory, Zac Goldsmith, a vocal opponent to Heathrow expansion. Nobody else stood a chance round here.) I like the idea of the "northern powerhouse" and especially of faster trains thereto. But I dread the deepening of the already insane inequalities in our society; I dread what will happen to the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country; and I fear an EU referendum that may leave us an isolated, powerless island on fantasy-fangled ideological grounds, even though the country's business leaders think we would be stark raving bonkers to take such a course. And I don't like to think what will happen to the arts. Last time round, a number of small companies and organisation either went under or had to find radical ways to reinvent themselves. This time, I think that may well start happening to bigger ones. And the BBC is going to face a huge upheaval next year when the licence fee arrangement is due for renewal or revision.

What's this got to do with King Roger (apart from another King Roger having abdicated from the Proms while the going was good)? This: it shows us what we don't have - specifically, a charismatic leader whose personal magnetism and honeyed promises can lead huge swathes of the population to follow him into dangerous paths. And if we don't have this, says the production, perhaps it's just as well. It's possible that one, of sorts, may emerge in due course - and it may not be who you think - but maybe we should count our blessings that no Szymanowskian shepherd of any one of those many political hues has yet walked through the gates of Westminster.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can't help loving that man...

It's Don Giovanni. Why on earth do we find him irresistible? Clue: clever librettist plus divine composer, but there are darker factors at work too. I had some interesting chats with Mariusz Kwiecien (who sings him in the ROH's new production next week) and the great Gerald Finley about the Fifty Shades of Don Giovanni and my piece is in the Independent today.

Meanwhile, here is another of the all-time greats - Simon Keenlyside - in what's perhaps the defining moment of the whole opera...as staged by Calixto Bieito. Covent Garden's new production opens on Saturday night, directed by Kasper Holten. Anything could happen!






Friday, January 11, 2013

How to handle financial cutbacks, c/o Royal Opera House

Clonk: the collective sound of critics' jawbones crashing on to red carpet yesterday as the ROH's music director, Tony Pappano, and head of opera, Kasper Holten, announced their plan for the years ahead at Covent Garden. Here is a lesson for us all in how to handle a lousy financial climate.

"If you let the crisis into your heart, you risk becoming the crisis," said Kasper Holten. So you don't. Instead, you grab fate by the throat and you concentrate on NEW WORK and COMMISSIONING.

There may be no shortage of Toscas and Traviatas ahead as well, but the single most important thing will be to focus on the new. Embracing the fact that they now have direct control over the Linbury Studio as well as the main stage (I'd feared it might be calamitous to take away the Linbury's own planners - but possibly not), Tony and Kasper are plunging headlong into what we can only call the vision thing.

There's risk. My goodness, there's risk. How do you convince audiences that this is the way forward, especially in such financially straitened times? What's important, says Kasper (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist) is not to fail to take risks - because if you don't push the boat out, if you don't encourage new creations and you don't keep the art form vital and living, then what is subsidy for anyway? He wants these new works to become the source of excitement for the audience. He wants them to be the hottest tickets in town. It won't happen overnight, he acknowledges - but the crucial thing is to dare to do it.

There's inspiration. There's collaboration - notably with Music Theatre Wales and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the latter not least to encourage improvement in the art of libretto writing. And with Opera North and Aldeburgh Music, there's a project to commission first operas from emerging composers. There will be new pieces from key British figures - notably Tom Ades for the main stage - but many more, including Luke Bedford and the extraordinary sound artist Matthew Herbert in the Linbury.

Nor is it just best-of-British: there's a true international focus. Unsuk Chin is writing Alice through the Looking Glass for the main stage. Gerald Barry's acclaimed The Importance of Being Earnest will be given in the Linbury.There's a new opera by Philip Glass. There's a big "cycle" of four new commissions for 2020, intending to engage with the strongest, deepest currents of life today - and Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany) will write them.


Verdict? I think it's completely amazing and wonderful. If this great Dane and the inspirational Tony Pappano can together bring fresh air sweeping into the Royal Opera House, then for goodness' sake let's open the gates, let it in, bring it on and cheer for a bit of risk and creativity at last, right at the top of the British musical establishment.

At the very least, the ROH might be a good setting for the next series of Borgen.

Incidentally, I have recently written an in-depth feature about Tony Pappano and it is the cover story in the February issue of Opera News from New York. It's not flagged up online yet, but subscribers seem to have their copies already, so do please get hold of one and have a read (here's the site).



Here's the whole press release from the ROH so you can see exactly what they're doing.

PRESS RELEASE
10 JANUARY 2013
NEW OPERA AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

The Royal Opera’s artistic directors, Antonio Pappano, Music Director, and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera, today outlined their artistic plans for new operas to be presented at the Royal Opera House from 2013 to 2020. More than 15 new operas will be presented, both on the main stage and in the Linbury Studio Theatre. Four composers will also be given an unprecedented challenge to work on an epic operatic event for 2020.

Pappano and Holten talked of The Royal Opera’s plans to extend the established tradition of commissioning British composers, and also include work by leading international artists such as Luca Francesconi, Kaija Saariaho, Georg Friedrich Haas and Unsuk Chin.  The aim is to continue relationships with a number of the companies who have already worked at the Royal Opera House, as well as to introduce a whole new roster of national and international co-commissions and collaborations.

More projects will be added to the plans over the next few years, especially for the Linbury Studio Theatre from 2015.

Kasper Holten commented ‘New work is not and should not be at the periphery of our programme, but right at the core of what and who we are. And this is something we do, not because we must, but because it is something that we are passionate about. We hope that opera audiences will share our curiosity and come with us with open minds along this journey.  There is not and should not be a guarantee of success for every single piece, only for innovation and risk-taking. But we can guarantee that we will put all the forces of The Royal Opera behind them all, whatever the scale, and whether the new work is aimed at adults or young people. To have a smaller theatre inside a major opera house is a rarity, and the combination of the Linbury Studio Theatre and our large stage gives us a unique platform for developing new work, which will only be strengthened through national and international partnerships.’

Antonio Pappano added: ‘Our efforts are being focused on working with the composers who really excite us, both for the Linbury Studio Theatre and for the main stage. We have worked hard to find the composers we feel have a real flair and passion for opera, and we are very excited about being able to roll out our vision for new work on all scales.’

2012/13
Alongside the current revival of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur and the highly anticipated UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which The Royal Opera has co-commissioned for the main stage, The Royal Opera will produce the UK stage premiere of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest in a production directed by Ramin GrayTim Murray conducts the Britten Sinfonia and the cast which includes Ida Falk Winland, Stephanie Marshall, Hilary Summers, Paul Curievici, Benedict Nelson, Simon Wilding and Alan Ewing, who reprises his role as Lady Bracknell from the concert performances at the Barbican last year. The production will be staged in the Linbury Studio Theatre.


2013/14
There will be a number of new productions created specially for the Linbury Studio Theatre in the 2013/14 Season.

Acclaimed Australian composer Ben Frost adapts Iain Banks’s cult novel The Wasp Factory in a production that he himself directs. This opera has been commissioned by Bregenz Festival’s Art of our Times programme, and is a co-production with the Royal Opera House, Hebbel-am-Ufer, Berlin, Holland Festival and Cork Midsummer Festival. 

For Christmas 2013, Julian Philips is composing a new opera for family audiences to a libretto by Edward Kemp, which will be directed by Natalie Abrahami, with designs by Tom Scutt.

We are working with the British electronic pioneer, composer and sound artist Matthew Herbert to make a new piece in 2014 inspired by the Faust story. Running alongside The Royal Opera’s revival of Gounod’s Faust, Matthew’s production integrates cutting-edge technology into the fabric of the musical score.

Composer Luke Bedford and Scottish playwright David Harrower will create a companion piece taking a very different route through the Faust legend.  Both works are for the Linbury Studio Theatre.

The Royal Opera will present the first UK performances of renowned Italian composer Luca Francesconi’s Quartett, based on the play by Heiner Müller, which is itself inspired by characters from Les Liaisons dangereuses. Quartett had its world premiere at La Scala, Milan, in 2010 and will be shown in a new version in London by The Royal Opera.  The Royal Opera’s new production is co-produced with London Sinfonietta and Opéra de Rouen, and directed by John Fulljames.

During the 2013/14 Season The Royal Opera will launch an annual collaboration with Aldeburgh Music and Opera North to commission first operas from composers who have a flair for operatic creativity that, with careful nurturing, could develop into the composition of major operatic works.  The project is supported by Arts Council England as part of a wider programme of work, led by Aldeburgh Music, to celebrate the legacy of Benjamin Britten.  In the first year of the project, we will commission two operas that will be produced in Aldeburgh, Leeds and the Linbury Studio Theatre in March 2014. Further commissions will follow in 2015 and 2016.

2014/15
The Royal Opera’s 2014/15 Season will open with a revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole in the main auditorium, followed by a new opera in the Linbury Studio Theatre by Philip Glass, based on Kafka’s The Trial, co-commissioned with Music Theatre Wales and Houston Grand Opera.

A new chamber opera by German/Danish composer Søren Nils Eichberg, working with librettist Hannah Dübgen, is commissioned for 2015 in the Linbury Studio Theatre. The opera is a taut thriller, which asks us to question what we can really trust – which emotions are real and which are virtual.

2015 – 2020
A new opera for children by Mark-Anthony Turnage, to be directed by Katie Mitchell, is scheduled for December 2015, also in the Linbury Studio Theatre.

The new operas already planned for this period include an adaptation of Max Frisch’s play Count Oederland by Judith Weir, working with librettist Ben Power.  This is a collaboration with Scottish Opera and Oper Frankfurt, scheduled for performance in the Linbury Studio Theatre. More new work in the Linbury Studio Theatre during this period is being developed and will be added to our plans and announced later.

For the main stage there is a commission from German composer Georg Friedrich Haas, based on Jon Fosse’s novel Morgon og Kveld (Morning and Evening) with libretto by the author. The Royal Opera will be collaborating with Deutsche Oper Berlin on this piece, which will open in London in November 2015 and in Berlin in April 2016.

Thomas Adès’s next large-scale opera, based on Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel, is a commission from The Royal Opera and a number of international partners including the Salzburg Festival. The librettist is Tom Cairns, who also directs. The Exterminating Angel will be performed at the Royal Opera House in spring 2017.

Another important main stage commission is currently being negotiated for late spring 2018.

There will be a new main stage opera from Unsuk Chin, who adapts Alice Through the Looking Glass with librettist David Henry Hwang for 2018/19. This follows the extraordinary success of Unsuk’s first opera Alice in Wonderland, which has now been produced around the world.                                              
2020
For the year 2020 The Royal Opera has challenged four leading composers from different countries in Europe to each create a large-scale new opera for 2020.  The vision is for four distinct operas, each one in part inspired by the composer’s response to a set of questions developed in collaboration with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek:What preoccupies us today? How can we today stage ourselves? What are the collective myths of our present and future?’

Each composer will work independently of the other teams but in collaboration with The Royal Opera’s artistic leadership.

The four composers invited at this stage are Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany).

All four commissions will have their premieres on the main stage during 2020.


New Relationships

From 2013, The Royal Opera is developing some new relationships to enable an increased engagement with emerging composers and librettists.

The Royal Opera will work with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in offering a range of training opportunities for emerging opera-makers including composers, writers and directors. This new relationship will begin with a conference about libretto writing to take place at the Guildhall School in April 2013.  Subject to validation, the conference will mark the launch of a new Masters Programme in Opera Making in association with the Royal Opera House and a new doctoral studentship in opera composition, the culmination of which will be a new opera for performance in 2016.

Also in 2013 we will be working with Sound and Music for the first time to deliver a seminar day on Saturday 16 March enabling emerging composers to think about writing for opera.

Opera development

The Royal Opera will continue to make a significant investment in artists and ideas as we develop works towards production. There will be an ongoing programme of opera development, including workshops and readings, some visible for the public, others not, depending on the needs for each project. Projects currently being developed include some of the commissions mentioned above, and work by Chris Mayo, Sasha Siem and Soumik Datta, as well as by digital artists Kleis&Rønsholdt and Tal Rosner.

The Royal Opera House has invited composers David Bruce and Elspeth Brooke to be composers in residence during the 2012/13 Season, with a view to the future development of participatory work and/or opera for young people. 

Partnerships with UK opera companies

We are keen to work with as many partners as possible on new work, enabling it to be seen by as wide an audience as possible across the UK.

As well as collaborating in the future with all the large-scale regional companies, The Royal Opera will continue to play a significant role in working with mid-scale touring companies. Plans are in place for Music Theatre Wales to bring their TMA award-winning production of Mark- Anthony Turnage’s Greek and Salvatore Sciarrino’s Luci mie traditrici to the Royal Opera House in autumn 2013 and to return with the Philip Glass co-commission described above. The Opera Group will bring HK Gruber’s Gloria: A Pigtale to the Royal Opera House in 2014.  Further projects in collaboration with other UK companies will be added for later seasons.