Whilst powdering my nose in the amphitheatre toilets at Covent Garden, a rather greasy looking man – think Grigolo in ten years’ time without recourse to a shower, sidled up to me, coughed, looked me up and down and then slipped me a brown envelope with the words “top secret” scrawled all over it in yellow crayon. I thought he looked far too young and respectable in his filthy laminated mac to be a Tory MP, so who the devil could he be and what on Earth was in this envelope? And why hand it to me? I had no time to inspect the contents there and then as I noticed a fellow critic shamelessly waving his doodahs at every passing geriatric in the hope of breaking his dry spell of 42 years. I had no intention of being his sacrificial lamb. And besides, I heard a rumour that Nelly Miricioiu might be stepping in to provide Perez with her missing E-Flat.
When I got home that evening, down an E-Flat but up a dead, elderly soprano, I rummaged through my man-bag and fished out that filthy man’s offering. Naturally I teased out the contents using the first thing to come to hand (some Callas commemorative pasta tongs issued by EMI to celebrate the 1000th reissue of the same old tat); God only knows what could be inside. My mind raced – Domingo’s birth certificate from 1897, Gheorghiu’s marriage licence to Andrew Watts, Alfie Boe’s humility or maybe Corelli’s testosterone stained undergarments. Alas it was a very lengthy document. Immediately I noticed the ROH and ENO logos at the top and the alarming header: A National Season! This was serious stuff. Feeling a trifle wan, I put it down on the chaise longue, fortified myself with a snowball, took a deep breath and read. By the end of it I was aghast, traumatised and feeling very queer. Was this some monstrous joke, driven by anarchical fantasists with a penchant for ruinous casting? I fear not, as I have since had it confirmed by none other than John Berry’s former char lady, that a blockbusting £111 million pounds is being proposed for this catastrophic undertaking. Apparently the genesis of this bowel-shattering proposal emanated from a quick-witted suggestion from Jeremy Hunt in 2011, after Tony Hall begged and howled for an increase in the Jette Parker fondant fancy budget. The solution to providing more fondant fancies was clear; the ENO would have to be amalgamated with the ROH, thereby saving the tax payer countless millions in subsidies. Of which, £500 would be set aside for additional cakes, whether fancies or otherwise.
The details of this union are sketchy, as this appears to be a briefing document for discussion with the joint board of trustees, but dear readers, I shall allow you to judge this chimeric abomination for yourself. A word of warning, some of the information revealed is most disturbing, so do have a brandy or five on hand to ease the digestion of this news
A National Season
Confidential: For discussion with the joint Board of Trustees
The following comments reflect the initial thoughts about some of the content of the “national season”. Much work is still to be done, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have only just confirmed the amalgamation, with the ENO due to close its doors in 2016. Whilst there is much work still to be done, our preliminary plans include:
New Commission: The Critics’ Opera
Nico Muhly is to be commissioned to create the world’s first modern-baroque-verismo opera-pasticcio, weaving together the music of Handel, Vivaldi, Vinci, Hasse, Broschi, Ponchielli, Judith Weir and the composers own. Nello Santi is to conduct the orchestra of the ENO.
Stuffed to the gills with eunuchs, misfits, the bitter and the dispossessed, Muhly promises us an opera never to be forgotten as our revered critics trade places with the professionals. Allegedly, many of them can do it better, so they are to be put to the test.
Stephen Jay-Taylor as Farinelli will perform the world’s longest and quietest pianissimo. Expect no trill.
Hugh Canning as Lucrezia Agujari (La Bastardella) will demonstrate his remarkable top C above top C and little else.
Mark Pullinger as Sensesino will weep on his knees upon hearing Farinelli’s astonishing pianissimo and immediately retire whilst wordlessly humming Tatiana’s letter scene from Onegin in the manner of Emma Calve.
Rupert Christiansen, La Miserabla himself, will as Moreschi bring us the last, rasping gasps of the castrati, lamenting all performances in English. New composition by Muhly to be sung in Urdu.
Alan Blyth as La Divina, will be dug up and mercilessly crack at every given opportunity, glottalising why Callas was the best at everything, even those roles she did not sing.
Tim Ashley as himself will sing a newly composed aria di tempesta by Judith Weir called “Stormy Seas Upon my Polished Dome”. Optional blacking up.
Igor Toronyi-Lilac as Iestyn Davies will perform “Ombra Pallide” as a madrigal. A microphone will be supplied.
Nicola Lischi will perform arias from Ercole su’l Termodonte and bring his own posing pouch.
George Hall, a person, not a place, will sing “Suicidio” in the manner of Alfred Deller.
Faye Courtney as Dame Hilda Brackett will sing Isolde’s curse, whilst taking furniture abuse to new heights.
Duration: 11 Acts, of which 10 Acts will last 5 minutes and the final Act will be 7 hours.
New Commission: The Sue Pollard Story
Rufus Wainwright is to pen his latest masterpiece based on his muse Sue Pollard. A singular individual with a 9 octave vocal range, the formidable La Pollard is to be sung by three singers welded together in a gingham apron. Dame Katherine Jenkins will be joined by Eva Marie-Westbroek and Nuala Willis as the Janus-like fiery temptress. Wainwright promises us plenty of hosiery, enormous spectacles, wigs and a rampant and dangerous tryst upon Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor.
An Evening with Sir John Tomlinson and Placido Domingo.
A gala evening celebrating 252 years of combined singing on the international stage. Placido Domingo switches again, trying his hand at the male soprano repertory, whilst Sir John will attempt a wobble free rendition of “I am what I am”.
It is expected that this singular event will raise 1.5 million in ticket and sponsorship sales alone. 50% is to be spent on building a rest home for distressed countertenors in Glamorgan. The other 50% is apparently to be paid to someone called Sparafucile who is arranging a night time assignation with John Berry.
Celebrating the Art of Dame Emma Kirby
The much admired period instrument that is Dame Emma Kirkby has been under-appreciated by the stages of the ROH and the ENO for quite some time. We plan on some innovative casting decisions to showcase her remarkable voice. After some arduous consultation with Maestros Pappano and Gardner, who were concerned about her suitability for such roles, we decided that she should be cast as Belinda in Dido and Aeneas and third letter opener in Die Fledermaus. There was however, immediate and unanimous agreement that she should undertake the title roles in Elektra, Turandot and Norma. As an unprecedented feat, she will sing all three roles in succession across three nights. She will then have 9 months rest before a single concert performance of rare wordless Northumbrian cantatas from the reign of Henry II.
New Artists for New Times
Opera is continually lambasted as being elitist, an unavoidable problem when it’s such a superior art form only able to be appreciated by the witty, talented and supremely educated. Under the auspices of the ROH “Educating the Proles Programme” pioneered in Basildon, we have decided to mount productions that feature unusual populist casting. Dame Katherine Jenkins is to try her hand at Elsa, Eva and Elizabeth (Stuarda), Alfie Boe as FranknFurter will sing in our first ever staging of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Paul Potts will sing Edgardo opposite Sarah Brightman’s Lucia and Katy Price will sing Ariel in Ades’ The Tempest. The centrepiece of our “New Artists for New Times” festivities will be Susan Boyle as Tosca, Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi and Meatloaf as Scarpia. A trio, we surely agree will never be forgotten.
Norma: Contingency Planning
As you know Anna Netrebko is due to sing the title role in Bellini’s Norma in 2016. Despite much cajoling, bribing and threats, the voice of Russia is resolute in performing the role. This decision, a parting gift from the soon to be retiring director of casting, has to put it mildly, put the shitters up us. Trebs is of course the soprano du jour, so we have no choice but to accept this calamity waiting to happen. Emergency planning meetings have been held and the following ideas have been put forward to mitigate the expected disaster:
- All trills to be performed off stage by Bernard the Parakeet. As you know Bernard is 51 years old and was taught to mimic La Stupenda’s trills. He will be prodded to provide them at every available opportunity;
- Upstaging by the Adalgisa of Jamie Barton;
- Have five alternative Normas so dire or raddled of voice that Trebs sounds like a bel canto goddess in comparison. Candidates to date include: Carosi, Guleghina, Jones and the ghost of Leyla Gencer;
- Ruin her career by alternate casting with someone who can sing the role. Any suggestions?;
- Thrown into positive perspective by having Adalgisa sung by an elderly countertenor;
- Kneecap her on the way to rehearsals. Two enthusiastic Jette Parker recruits have offered to do the honours;
- See if the arsonists who burnt down La Fenice are free for a reprisal in London;
- Everyone gets a cold and coughs at her. Performances to be cancelled and substituted with Don Pasquale with Ewa Podles as Norina;
- Get the critics pissed on free (but cheap) vodka, with a reception taking place 4 hours before the start of the performance. Make it compulsory or say their press tickets will be axed. Once they are incapable of walking they can be allowed into the auditorium;
- Have Calixto Bieto direct it, so that the abomination that he stages detracts from the singing on display;
- Have the EU take out sanctions against her.
Reports of audience members killing themselves having attended 36 performances of La traviata with 11 different casts, is beginning to concern us. Yes we accept they are money-spinners, but we are murdering our financial buffer. According to the Guardian, suicide after attending multiple casts of a Verdi or Puccini opera is the biggest cause of death amongst opera goers after bowel failure. A moratorium on multiple castings is therefore requested.
by Antony Lias