George Hall reflects on the productions that ignited the stage and those that proved damp squibs
Without missing a season, Garsington Opera moved to a new venue at Wormsley in Berkshire for its summer festival. The site and the new theatre, designed by Robin Snell, were adjudged complete successes, and with two of the three festival offerings – Il turco in Italia and Vivaldi’s La verita in cimento – well received, all seems set fair under Anthony Whitworth-Jones’ artistic direction.
At Grange Park, the big event was a musically solid and dramatically thoughtful production of Tristan und Isolde – a major achievement for Wasfi Kani and her 13-year-old festival. Glyndebourne also opened with a big Wagner – Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, staged by David McVicar – though neither this bold venture nor the second new staging, Handel’s Rinaldo in the hands of Robert Carsen, convinced everyone. At Buxton, artistic director Andrew Greenwood left following another successful season, consisting of Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan, Handel’s Saul and Mignon.
The big event at Covent Garden was the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole, directed by Richard Jones and conducted by Antonio Pappano. Loved by some, loathed by others, this new work was brilliantly performed, whatever its intrinsic quality, and made a media splash. Later in the year, Puccini’s Il trittico was a success – again with Jones and Pappano at the helm. Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride and Massenet’s Cendrillon – both rarities that proved very worthwhile – showed the imagination that has characterised the Royal Opera under Elaine Padmore’s leadership. She left this year, to be succeeded by the Danish director Kasper Bech Holten, who arrives from the Royal Danish Opera with an impressive track record.
Down the road at ENO, John Berry’s ongoing policy of commissioning virgin opera directors came a cropper with Mike Figgis’ disastrous Lucrezia Borgia, though Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust and (especially) Benedict Andrews’ The Return of Ulysses (presented at the Young Vic) were considerably better. Nico Muhly’s much touted new opera Two Boys turned out to be a damp squib. But with productions of Weinberg’s The Passenger and Rameau’s Castor and Pollux, the repertoire was consistently challenging and many of the productions – especially Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Simon Boccanegra and Christopher Alden’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – were stimulating.
Things have been slower down in Wales, where Welsh National Opera played safe at the box office and presented a limp and witless Cosi fan tutte. Music Theatre Wales, however, enlivened the principality with a knockout new staging of Turnage’s Greek, which was recognised as a modern classic.
Scottish Opera is still short of the funds it needs and deserves to mount a full-scale season, but it put on a respectable staging of Handel’s Orlando (under Harry Fehr) and made a major success out of Strauss’ Intermezzo, with music director Francesco Corti in the pit.
In Leeds, Opera North pursued its sure and steady course with its usual varied repertoire, including the UK premiere of Weinberg’s The Portrait (disappointing), a vivid From the House of the Dead (directed by John Fulljames) and a tepid Queen of Spades from Neil Bartlett.