Friday, 11 January 2013

Broader view - Royal Opera House 2013-20

Yesterday, the Royal Opera House announced its new works and relationships for 2013-2020. I got the news out quickly (read more here). Now's the time for more reflection. First, the announcement covers only new works and relationships, it's not the whole programme for the next seven years. It's not replacing anything but extending ROH's involvement in other forms of opera. Second, it's not cost cutting, but a consolidation of ROH's position vis-a-vis the rest of the opera community in UK and beyond. No new Chief Executive  has been announced yet, but Kaspar Holten and Tony Pappano have been thinking ahead for quite some time, guided by Tony Hall's support. What's the long-term broader view ?

Not all opera is grand scale. So much repertoire - new and old - is better suited to smaller performance spaces. Late 19th century houses do not define opera. The Met mindset, for example, with its emphasis on expense and ostentation creates expectations which aren't necessarily in line with art. Obviously ROH is never going to abandon core repertoire, because large houses can, in theory, do it better than anyone else, and can afford the kind of top-quality singers that maker revivals such a pleasure. ROH has been instrumental in bringing good new work to the stage, like Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur, Thomas Adès The Tempest and George Benjamin Written on Skin. Not everything works as well as those do. But since when did every new opera emerge as a timeless classic ?  Thousands fall by the wayside, for every one that becomes standard rep. And vice versa. But the main thing is that ROH keeps the genre revitalized. They could also be doing more early music and baroque. As I've said many times, the Linbury is too small. Perhaps ROH will think "outside the building"?

Chamber opera carries less financial risk but it's also good from an artistic perspective, because it concentrates the mind.  If a composer can say something in intensive close-up, then he or she develops the skill to create something more ambitious. George Benjamin's Written on Skin wouldn'tbe possible without Into the Little Hill. Or Adès The Tempest without Powder her Face. Thank goodness we have Holten and Pappano to keep our minds focussed on opera as art form. How easy it would be to abandon ideals for short-term populist gratification.

Last year, Holten announced that ROH would forge closer partnerships with the smaller, independent companies, which are often cutting edge. That's John  Fulljames's background, impossible to underestimate. Already we've seen the shift from in-house productions to opted in imports such as from Music Theatre Wales who are so good that their In the Penal Colony inspired Philip Glass to write The Trial for them. MTW also has a partnership with Scottish Opera, which also has a programme supporting new opera. Earlier this year, ROH supported Scottish Opera's season, by giving them a presence in London. (read more here) .

Relationships with European houses and festivals are also very important. The Barbican has a connection to the Holland Festival, which is how we get so many interesting ventures via Pierre Audi.  The Welsh National Opera "British Firsts" series from 2013-18 connects to Amsterdam (read more HERE)  It's very interesting that WNO is doing Unsuk Chin's Alice through the Looking Glass in 2017 while ROH is doing it in 2018/19. Will they be different productions? Will the same score be used? The Santa Fe version this summer was reorchestrated, which might be an advantage as I found the original Munich version  rather too verbose. These days, joint productions offer economies of scale and extended coverage, so they are the way forward.  ROH is working with Oper Frankfurt and Deutsche Oper Berlin. The more I read about Georg Friedrich Haas Morning and Evening, the more I'm looking forward to it in London in 2015. 

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