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The Royal Opera in review: A look back on 2013 from Kasper Holten

The Director of Opera picks out his highlights of the year. Do you agree?

By Kasper Holten (Director of Opera, The Royal Opera)

30 December 2013 at 3.36pm | 10 Comments

It’s hard to sum up a whole year in a few words. Not only were there both successes and disappointments, but for those of us lucky enough to work at the Royal Opera House, there was also all the work backstage to put the productions together. In a way, this is the biggest highlight of all: being allowed to work at the Royal Opera House means working with talented and passionate colleagues, and constantly meeting a flux of some of the world’s leading artists coming to work with us.

That said, I’ve picked out a few of my highlights of 2013:

Les Vêpres siciliennes

Introducing Norwegian director Stefan Herheim to UK audiences was something I was hugely looking forward to, and with him and Antonio Pappano getting on like a house on fire for Les Vêpres siciliennes, it was every bit as exciting as I’d hoped for. I was also the very first ever live presenter for a Royal Opera live cinema relay when Vêpres went out to audiences around the world – a wonderful way of sharing our work with tens of thousands around the world.

Directing Eugene Onegin

Directing Eugene Onegin was very special. Getting to work with all the people on the stage, in the chorus and orchestra, I felt like I had finally really arrived at the ROH. Although many audiences and critics did not like the production, I was also lucky to get a large number of very positive and passionate responses. Dividing opinion is not necessarily bad, when we talk about artistic work. I enjoy engaging and discussing with our audiences, both when I agree and when I don’t.

Written on Skin

Maybe the highlight of the whole 2012–13 Season for me was the overwhelming success of the UK premiere of George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Written on Skin, which we co-commissioned. I have a passion for new music and it is always fascinating to watch a new work come to the stage, but it is rare for it to immediately capture the imagination of an audience in the way Written on Skin did.

Intense moments

During the autumn Wozzeck, Parsifal, Le nozze di Figaro and Elektra made for some very intense moments – and full houses! Simon Keenlyside’s troubled Wozzeck and Mark Elder’s impressive reading of Berg’s score were wonderful, while Christine Goerke, Adrianne Pieczonka and Andris Nelsons’s performances in Elektra are still ringing in my ears. Andris, Mark and Tony Pappano drew incredible performances from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who seems to be on better form than ever before, and the Royal Opera Chorus made us all so proud in Parsifal.

Outreach work making a difference

Some of the things that make ROH very special do not necessarily get noticed by the general public. The Learning and Participation team at ROH are fantastic, and although some of their projects make a very visible impact, they do great work ‘under the radar’ too. Following the work of the Youth Opera Company, and seeing older people from community centres and housing schemes coming to ROH for the first time to sing together were just two examples of how it feels like ROH can make a difference.

Taking on the Linbury

During 2013, The Royal Opera took over the programming of all opera work in the Linbury Studio Theatre, which feels like a natural and important thing for us to do. It was wonderful to have as potent a piece as Gerald Barry’s Importance of Being Earnest in Ramin Gray’s strong production to start off the new era.

Other notable mentions

Some other highlights deserve a mention: the incredible singing in La donna del lago, Richard Jones’s brilliant insights in Gloriana and Gerald Finley’s deeply moving Amfortas in Parsifal.

Here’s hoping that 2014 will offer many more highlights. The first new production of the new year will be my own take on Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and I can’t wait to get my hands dirty once again!

What were your Royal Opera highlights of 2013?

This article has 10 comments

  1. Jo D A-s W responded on 30 December 2013 at 5:38pm Reply

    ‎{RATING} (1-10) ★★★★★★★★★☆

  2. Stephen Diviani responded on 30 December 2013 at 6:15pm Reply

    My choices would be: 'Written on Skin' and, for the singing, 'Don Carlo' and 'La Donna'; 'Les Vêpres siciliennes', which looked ravishing and was thrillingly sung. The only dud (IMHO) was 'Parsifal'. And in 2014, I'm looking forward to 'Die frau ohne schatten', not to mention 'Manon Lescaut' and' Maria Stuarda'. And on that note: my thanks & a happy 2014 to all at the ROH!

  3. Julian Hopkins responded on 31 December 2013 at 8:58am Reply

    I've seen over 500 performances of opera in my life so far, of which over 200 have been at the ROH. I've only walked out on 3. Les Vêpres siciliennes was one of them and Parsifal was the other, They was travesties, concepts that were gross insults to Verdi and Wagner. Most of the performances I saw at the ROH in 2013 were excellent from a purely musical perspective, but nearly all let down by misguided and/or inept productions. Kasper Holten's appointment has so far been a disaster.

    • Susan responded on 31 December 2013 at 5:20pm

      Yep! Bang on. Musically brilliant, largely, but . . . down with Regietheater!

    • naomi layish responded on 2 January 2014 at 9:02pm

      Hear hear! Holten is an utter disaster, though not by far the only director determined to impose his own jejune ideas on an opera, while ignoring (or insensitive to) both the music and the libretto. All opera lovers should unite and present a petition to Pappano: Sack Holten!

  4. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 31 December 2013 at 1:13pm Reply

    I entirely agree with Kasper Holten that Les Vepres Siciliennes and Eugene Onegin were highlights of 2013.Each of the performances my wife and I were privileged to attend were quite thrilling and received a fantastic ovation at the end.

    It is also a treat that these performances are available on DVD and we await the release of Les Vepres.

    Kasper (if I may, please,) we now eagerly await your new production of Don Giovanni,but might I please ask we could look forward to your talents as director with a new production of Il Trovatore ?

    Many thanks and all good wishes to all at the ROH for 2014 and the continues planning for 2014/2015.

  5. Tony Boyd-Williams responded on 31 December 2013 at 4:19pm Reply

    Apologies! in my recent comment ,I should have said "...continued planning ".

    I should also (and I am sure I speak for many ) have confirmed I consider Kasper Holten is a splendid Director of Opera .He and Sir Antonio Pappano show inspired vision and leadership.

  6. Jacky T responded on 31 December 2013 at 6:53pm Reply

    "La Donna del Lago" was my highlight: exquisite singing from such an amazing team of soloists, and wonderful music - Rossini at his most melodious. I very much hope there will be a dvd for sale as I’d love to be able to enjoy it again and again.

  7. A. Saxton responded on 5 January 2014 at 1:29pm Reply

    I saw several productions in the cinema in 2013, as I find the business of queuing for tickets tiring, and the prices often beyond my budget. I am dismayed to see that there is no cinema screening of 'Die Frau' planned, and would most urgently press for a TV showing. The BBC's record of TV transmissions in 2013 was dismal - Wagner 0, Verdi 0, Britten 1. PLEASE can we have at least this major work on a screen somewhere, for Strauss's major anniversary?

  8. For me the shining star of the whole year has been the Parsifal! And I know it will remain one of those I will always remember and think back to with great emotion and fondness (like the ROH Ring or the Macbeth and Carlo a few seasons ago or a certain Paris Werther, etc). It was the House at its very best, brilliant casting, interesting production, amazing orchestra, chorus+ Tony P!

    A close second is actually the Onegin ;-) Much talked about, it’s left a lasting impression and I’ve thought back to it again and again. I thought it was incredibly touching and felt the singers were perfect for the production and vice versa. It was one of the few operas I still feel I couldn’t get enough of, one I could have seen 10 more of at least! Hoping for a revival in the near future.
    Up there is also the Nozze, spruced up a bit by the director himself and musically simply brilliant, singing as good as it gets! And also up there is Gloriana, a work I didn’t know before and R Jones at his best, again well cast – an altogether excellent theatrical experience. In all 3 cases music, singing and drama came together as one in great harmony and with great impact.

    I enjoyed the Minotaur slightly more than Written on skin and in both cases would like to see them again and felt the ROH can be proud of both productions&performances. And it was an incredible pleasure to finally see this staged Wozzeck live in a packed house and with thunderous applause :-)

    On the disappointing side were all the Verdis… I wish I could say at least one was at the level of the Parsifal, but it was not the case. Bar the Carlo - which has a few years now, the Carsen Falstaff and the McVicar Aida I don’t think I’ve seen many new productions of Verdi operas to really do the composer and the work justice in the last years. The Nabucco we’ve had this year is one of the worst productions I have ever seen, boring beyond belief. The Vespri for me was mostly an irritating disappointment from a production point of view (didn’t stop me from falling for the music though).

    We’ve had I think from the pit thanks to mainly Antonio Pappano but also Nicola Luisotti the best of Verdi. I think the ROH orchestra and the ROH chorus play and sing some of the best Verdi one can hear today :-) (like that incredible Va pensiero). Sadly the singing on stage has not really been at the same level (except for highlights from Ferruccio Furlanetto, Liudmyla Monastyrska, Jonas Kaufmann and Dimitri Platanias). And the fact that no Verdi really drove me to a standing ovation this past year at the ROH is my biggest sadness.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to see Elektra and it looks like I’ve missed something really good.

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