Rare de­lights

A con­duc­tor’s dreams come true at the Royal Opera, re­veals Geoffrey Smith

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts - Edited by Jane Watkins

Last spring, launch­ing the Royal Opera’s 2016–17 sea­son (020–7304 4000; www.roh.org.uk), Sir an­to­nio Pap­pano de­scribed Norma as ‘a piece I’ve been dy­ing to do all my life’. an icon of the bel canto reper­toire, it’s been a star ve­hi­cle for such cel­e­brated Covent Gar­den di­vas as Maria Cal­las and Joan Suther­land. Yet, de­spite its qual­ity and stature, Bellini’s mas­ter­piece re­mains a rel­a­tive rar­ity in per­for­mance, largely due to its vo­cal chal­lenges, hence the sense of ex­cite­ment last week as a dy­namic stag­ing in­au­gu­rated the Royal Opera’s au­tumn bill.

Con­ceived to show­case anna Ne­tre­bko be­fore her be­lated with­drawal, it now fea­tures the bril­liant young Bul­gar­ian Sonya Yoncheva, in the em­i­nent com­pany of tenor Joseph Calleja as Norma’s er­rant lover and mezzo So­nia Ganassi as her ri­val.

In­ten­si­fy­ing the amorous con­flict is the up­dated set­ting by the rad­i­cal Cata­lan theatre com­pany La Fura dels Baus, evok­ing con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious ex­trem­ism, and, in the pit, Mae­stro Pap­pano and the orches­tra spin out the time­less beauty of Bellini’s bel canto lines. Run­ning un­til Oc­to­ber 8, Norma is joined un­til Oc­to­ber 11 by a bel canto com­edy clas­sic, Rossini’s The Bar­ber of Seville, in the lat­est re­vival of the glee­ful, muchloved pro­duc­tion by Moshe Leiser and Pa­trice Cau­rier. Head­ing the cast as the fiery Rosina—pur­su­ing her man amid a flurry of vo­cal fire­works—is ar­gen­tinian mezzo Daniela Mack, mak­ing her Royal Opera de­but.

How­ever, a more prob­lem­atic mix of com­edy and ro­mance takes to the Covent Gar­den stage to­mor­row, Septem­ber 22, in a new pro­duc­tion of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Once a Cin­derella work be­cause of its ironic view of love as a mov­ing tar­get, prone to self-de­cep­tion, it has be­come a sta­ple of the mod­ern reper­toire, per­fectly suited to our scep­ti­cal, know­ing age. Jonathan Miller’s pre­vi­ous stag­ing rev­elled in the spec­ta­cle of four bright young things thrown into con­fu­sion by their emo­tional as­sump­tions and the Ger­man di­rec­tor Jan Philipp Gloger takes the idea of masks and role play even fur­ther by set­ting his new Così in a theatre.

as ever, the one con­stant among the vexed re­la­tion­ships is Mozart’s divine mu­sic, seem­ingly in­dif­fer­ent to whether what the words ex­press is ‘true’, as it’s al­ways beau­ti­ful. Con­nois­seurs will rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to hear it con­ducted by the gifted Se­myon By­chkov, in his first Mozart opera at Covent Gar­den, un­til Oc­to­ber 19.

ENO gets its sea­son off to a high­volt­age start on Septem­ber 30, with Mozart’s most com­plex char­ac­ter, the wickedly charis­matic Don Gio­vanni (020–7845 9300; www.eno.org). Shame­lessly amoral, driven only by sex­ual ap­petite, the Don should be vil­lainy epit­o­mised and yet he’s per­pet­u­ally fas­ci­nat­ing to au­di­ences, just as he is within the opera, a de­monic, ro­man­tic life force, ex­empt from all re­straint. It’s as if the emo­tional am­biva­lence of Così fan tutte had been taken to its ul­ti­mate level and the dan­ger­ous con­se­quences still cast a mes­meris­ing spell.

Run­ning un­til Oc­to­ber 26, it’s di­rected by the ever-in­ter­est­ing Richard Jones, with a starry cast that in­cludes Christopher Purves as the Don, Chris­tine Rice as the smit­ten Donna Elvira and Mary Bevan the win­some Zer­lina. On the podium will be the com­pany’s es­teemed for­mer Mu­sic Di­rec­tor Mark Wig­glesworth.

Join­ing it from Oc­to­ber 3 will be a re­vival of Puc­cini’s Tosca, which, al­though un­fairly de­rided as a ‘shabby lit­tle shocker’, is sure to pull in the au­di­ences un­til De­cem­ber 3.

Out­side Lon­don, the new op­er­atic sea­son prom­ises the same va­ri­ety, qual­ity and flair. In Cardiff, Welsh Na­tional Opera’s (WNO) Shake­speare 400 trib­ute has got un­der way with a gritty ver­sion of Verdi’s Mac­beth, fol­lowed by the UK pre­miere of an­dré tchaikowsky’s three-decades-old set­ting of The Mer­chant of Venice and, fi­nally, as a blithe con­trast, Cole Porter’s

Los­ing my re­li­gion: Sir An­to­nio Pap­pano de­scribed the rarely per­formed Norma as ‘a piece I’ve been dy­ing to do all my life’

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