Royal Opera Recycles, Tina’s Luck, Culture Mess: London Stage

Emma Bell, Andrew Watts and Anne-Marie Owens in the world premiere of ``Miss Fortune’’ by Judith Weir at the Royal Opera House in London. Tina goes to work in a launderette. Fate follows her and tries to destroy her chances of good luck. Photographer: Bill Cooper/Royal Opera via Bloomberg

When the Royal Opera House agreed to coproduce Rossini’s “La Donna del Lago” management hoped for something dazzling. Then Lluis Pasqual’s staging opened in Paris. It was dismal, and it was heading their way.

The singers, including Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato, were already booked for London. What to do?

At a March 14 press conference announcing the 2012-13 season, Kasper Holten, the Royal Opera’s new director, revealed the answer. They’ve ditched the Parisian production, which Bloomberg News’s Jorg von Uthmann -- like so many other critics -- found “1amentable,” and will concoct a new one under director John Fulljames.

The sudden extra cost? They’re going to recycle bits of old sets, Holten said.

He stressed that only structural and engineering elements would be re-used, and not decorative trappings. It will look new, he promised.

Tough times call for such ingenious solutions. Maybe some of Covent Garden’s own stinkers, like their recent ghastly “Rusalka,” could be euthanized and recycled in the future.

Lusty Nuns

There are five further new productions next season. Diana Damrau will star in Meyerbeer’s “Robert le Diable,” a five-act 1831 barnstormer, which is famous for its ballet of lustful dead nuns.

Laurent Pelly, who made a quirky and funny “Fille du Regiment” at Covent Garden, directs. Tenor Bryan Hymel, cheered loudly at “Rusalka” for his great singing in a lousy show, is Robert, a man who discovers that his father is the devil himself.

Richard Jones will direct Britten’s “Gloriana,” about Elizabeth I; Holten will mount Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”; and tenor Placido Domingo goes down the octave again as the baritone hero in a new staging of Verdi’s “Nabucco.”

Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel, Rolando Villazon and Angela Gheorghiu all pop up for revivals, some of them conducted by music director Tony Pappano, and Renee Fleming will sing concert performances of Strauss’s “Capriccio.”

Chief Executive Tony Hall said the company is still in good financial shape, and will probably finish the financial year in the black.

Lover’s Pie

There’s a U.K. premiere coming up too. George Benjamin’s opera “Written on Skin,” about a 13th-century husband who makes his adulterous wife eat her lover’s heart in a pie, will be seen in March 2013. Katie Mitchell directs, with Barbara Hannigan and Bejun Mehta starring.

It’s all good news for a company whose latest world premiere looks like it soon may end up on the recycling heap.

Judith Weir’s underwhelming “Miss Fortune” opened this week. Based on a Sicilian folk tale, it tells the story of Tina (Emma Bell), a young woman who loses her family wealth in a financial crash, and goes to find work in a sweatshop and a kebab van. Each time she tries a new job, Fate (countertenor Andrew Watts) sends his minions to hound her.

When Tina calls on Fate to leave her alone, he offers her a winning lottery ticket. Her only way of defying him is to throw the ticket away.

Recipes in Song

The story offers abundant opportunities for operatic outpourings. Why then does Weir ignore them? The duet between Tina and Fate -- surely a gift to a composer -- goes for nothing. Imagine two friendly neighbors comparing recipes for blanc mange in song. That’s how exciting it gets.

Tina’s climactic decision about the ticket is made dramatically dull by the fact that she already has met a tycoon who offers her love and wealth. The lucky girl doesn’t need the ticket. So why should we care if she chucks it away?

The music trundles along in an accessible-modern style, without creating many emotional thrills or spills.

It looks terrific in Chen Shi-Zheng’s production. Huge abstract shapes and clever lighting provide a sense of menace. A realistic kebab van descends from the flies and explodes.

The singers sound fine too. It just doesn’t add up to much. Rating: **.

Europe’s Cultures

The National Theatre has a misfire on its hands at the moment too. “Can We Talk About This?” is a verbatim piece based on multiple interviews about the failure of multiculturalism in Europe.

There are accounts of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and of the death threats made against the editor who published satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. “Honor” murders and forced marriages are discussed. Western liberal fears of being branded racist are highlighted.

It’s all familiar stuff. We know multiculturalism has led to separatism and scary double-think among liberals. It feels like preaching to the converted to have it rehashed in the lazy form of verbatim theater. The question should be: What can we do about it? How can fundamentalists who spatter death threats be persuaded to tolerate women’s rights, Koranic exegesis and Elton John’s hairdo?

Did I say lazy? Dramatically speaking, that’s true. Physically, it’s a different matter. The speeches are delivered by actor-dancers who writhe, run, twitch, climb up walls and stand on their heads. They move beautifully, even if they’re exhausting to watch.

What it all adds to the debate isn’t clear. Rating: *1/2.

“Miss Fortune” is in repertory at the Royal Opera House. Information: or +44-20-7304-4000. “Can We Talk About This?” is at the National Theatre, or +44-20-7452-3000.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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