The Royal Opera House presents a ballet- and opera-filled season launch
New season launches can be dull affairs for journalists. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with other members of the press, notebooks on lap, pens poised, and listening to someone intoning a list of concerts that we could simply have read ourselves from the press release can leave one thinking, “I should have stayed at the office and cleared out my inbox”.
Not so at the Royal Opera House’s 2010/11 season launch last Wednesday. Here was a hitherto untried format for the venue that not only engaged us in the forthcoming events, but had us positively salivating over them. The reason? In the intimate, contemporary setting of the Clore Studio, we heard and saw what its artists can do.
The talks were brief and insightful – chief executive Tony Hall introduced the key figures, and then there were speeches from the key figures themselves: David Gowland, artist director of the Jette Parker Young Artists programme, Monica Mason, director of the Royal Ballet, and Paul Reeve, Education director (music director Antonio Pappano was sadly in Japan, preparing for the Royal Opera’s first visit to the country in 18 years).
But following each speech were performances of the highest calibre. Representing the Jette Parker Young Artists were bass Lukas Jakobski, who kicked off the evening with a characterful, rustic performance of a Russian folk song, and soprano Elisabeth Meister, who rounded off the evening with an impassioned aria from Verdi’s La forza del destino. Both are appearing in the forthcoming opera season – and it was easy to see (and hear) why.
From the ballet world, we were treated to the Fairy Godmother’s solo from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, delightfully danced by first artist Francesca Filpi, and then a mind-boggling, limb-entwining pas de deux from Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, effortlessly danced to Joby Talbot’s hypnotic music by Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli. Finally, we were witness to the celebrated partnership (both on- and off-stage) of Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares, who danced a pointe-perfect pas de deux from Swan Lake.
What was particularly exciting was sitting at such close proximity to the dancers – we could hear them breathe, we could see the rivulets of sweat running down their faces, we could even see the bruise on Sarah Lamb’s thigh. All three performances were relevant, too, to the forthcoming programme – Cinderella closes the autumn 2010 season, Swan Lake features in the 2010/11 winter season and a world premiere of a new McGregor ballet is the highlight of summer 2011.
When it came to the Education department’s presentation, we were all unexpectedly moved – both to laughter and, in my case, almost tears. Great work is being done in Thurrock, of all places, in a joint venture between the Royal Opera House, the Arts Council and other partners that will see the opening of the UK’s first national centre of excellence for technical skills, crafts and production for the performing arts. To celebrate the opening of its new production workshop later this year, a community opera has been created by school children and local residents of Thurrock – the first performance is being given on December 6. And so we were given a glimpse of the community work that’s been key to the project’s success with a moving, and at times hilarious, fly-on-the-wall documentary highlighting the involvement of the young people of Thurrock. These were the real stars of the show – and I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to see some of them on stage at the Royal Opera House in years to come.
Sarah Kirkup is deputy editor of Gramophone. She plays flute and piano, and sings with her local church choir. Sarah is a fan of ballet and contemporary dance, and attends as many productions - particularly at Covent Garden - as she can.