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QUESTION TIME

By the Editor

This month we bring you details of the Royal Opera’s safe yet well-balanced 2010-11 season (see pp. 630-1), but they didn’t reach us via any of the traditional routes. For the first time since anyone can remember, the ROH dispensed with its annual season-announcing press conference. Now, lest anyone think I’ve got time on my hands, I’m not a fan of press conferences when the details can usually be relied on to arrive by post or email, and the Covent Garden specimens have been particularly dull of late (of course, it all depends on who asks the questions). They are not helped by the need to cater for both opera and ballet scribblers: at any given moment, almost half of the assembled crowd is obliged to listen to something in which it has little interest. When it comes to press conferences, then, Covent Garden is damned-if-it-does and damnedif-it-doesn’t, but surely it is better for it to swallow the accusations of boredom—better still, separate the opera and ballet segments—and set out its stall with maximum transparency? As a publicly funded body, it has a duty to be fully accountable, and this year it seems to have stepped back into the shadows.

Across WC2, English National Opera is about to hold its press conference revealing details of 2010-11 at the Coliseum, and we will publish those plans in our next issue. But who will be first to ask questions there about casting policy in the light of its recent macaronic Elixir/Elisir? When the Nemorino, John Tessier, fell ill, the company was unable to find a replacement within its ranks, and had to turn to the Latvian tenor Edgaras Montvidas (not long ago one of the Royal Opera’s Young Artists) who, being unfamiliar with the English translation, sang in Italian.

Reportedly, it was a triumph for all concerned (especially the Dulcamara of Andrew Shore, who used his knowledge of the original libretto to switch languages depending on whom he was addressing, adding to the audience’s enjoyment of his already richly comic performance), but one has to wonder what happened to the understudy. And why, when Alfie Boe—seemingly one of nature’s Nemorinos—was already in the house for his excellent Kudriash in Katya Kabanova, didn’t ENO employ this burgeoning talent as its backup? Doubtless there will be good answers to these questions—companies have to try all options in haste when a singer falls ill. Still, the situation did seem to leave the house rather exposed in the very month that John McMurray had written in these pages justifying why ENO’s ensemble company is a thing of the past. If a role as central as Nemorino can’t be filled from within ranks, it’s clear that the company hasn’t found a new and viable way of nurturing talent.

Though the understudy issue can be unpredictable—see, for instance, this month’s letter (p. 522) about a replacement trumping the originally-cast singer in Tamerlano at Covent Garden—houses should always assume that they’re going to need one. The physical and physiological essence of singing should never be ignored, and companies can’t afford not to budget for nature.

Finally, and on a less thorny note, we hear that when Mark Elder raises the baton at Glyndebourne’s season-opening Billy Budd on May 20, he will be conducting his 100th opera. Congratulations!

Opera, May 2010

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