Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: Could Its Troubles Be Over?
the past few years, the Royal Opera House (ROH) has been plagued
by debt, scandal and bad publicity. But the appointment of the
latest American Arts Administrator, Michael Kaiser, as chief executive
in 1998—the third such appointment within one year—seemed to put
the ROH back on track.
house reopened two years ago after a major, $400 million renovation,
which provided improved seating and spacious lobbies, as well
as the Vilar Floral Hall with its spectacular views. Administrative
problems nevertheless continue. Kaiser recently resigned to take
up the position of Director of the Kennedy Center in Washington,
making London’s loss Washington’s gain. But judging by a recent
the artistic future of this venerable theatre appears to be on
a very firm footing.
last opera. In the plot, Princess Turandot offers her suitors
a chance of solving three riddles. She will marry the man who
succeeds, but failure means death. Although his aged father, Timur,
and the slave-girl Liu try to dissuade Prince Calef, he tries
his luck and successfully answers the riddles. However he tells
Turandot that if she discovers his name before dawn, he is prepared
to die. The next day, Liu and Timur are captured. Liu tells her
captors, including Turandot, that she knows Calef’s name but even
under torture fails to reveal it. She then commits suicide. This
action has a dramatic effect on Turandot. She embraces Calef and
they are reconciled.
Puccini died just after scoring the suicide of Liu. His friend
and pupil, Franco Alfano, was given the task of completing the
score. However at the premiere at La Scala in 1926, Toscanini
laid down this baton at the conclusion of Liu’s aria, because,
as he said, turning to the audience, “This is where the maestro
laid down his pen.”
Andrei Serban originally staged this very accomplished production
1984 and Jeremy Sutcliffe directed the current revival. The sets
by Sally Jacobs are spectacular. Adding immeasurably to the overall
effect was the brilliant lighting by Mitchell Dana. Despite being
17 years old, the production remains timeless, fresh and invigorating.
This was also a vocally strong performance. The British soprano
Jane Eaglen, who took on the challenging title role of the Ice
Princess Turandot, has developed an extraordinary career with
very challenging soprano roles including Norma, Brunhilde and
Isolde. Although her role in Turandot
calls for her to sing only for 18 minutes, it is very demanding,
the voice requires athletic flexibility and a huge range. In the
aria “In questa regia” (Within this Palace), her soaring, powerful
soprano was there, along with beautifully rendered, quieter, lyrical
The Welsh tenor Dennis O’Neill was Prince Calef. Vocally he was
most impressive and his “Nessun dorma” ended with a triumphant
flourish. The Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas made her
Royal Opera debut as Liu, a light lyrical role sung with great
effect. She floated her lines in the great Italian tradition.
The bass Willard White sang Timor and managed to bring out the
pathos of the role. Rumanian conductor Christian Badea coaxed
the best from this fine orchestra (the strings in Act II were
especially lovely). This orchestra has a rich tradition, and over
the past 40 years Georg Solti, Colin Davis and currently Bernard
Haitink have served as directors.
London has seen many remarkable changes in its cultural landscape
over the last few years with the construction of the Globe Theatre,
the new Tate Gallery, the National Library, the redesigned British
Museum and now the Royal Opera House. Judging from this operatic
performance at the ROH, the vocal arts are also in top form.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.