He has the mind of a maverick and the skills of a battle-hardened professional. That goes some way to explaining the “special” tag hanging above every opera production by Richard Jones. Jones invariably gets under the skin of his chosen repertoire: in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, his recent Shostakovich staging at London’s Royal Opera House, or the nightmarish Queen of Spades he directed years ago for Welsh National Opera, since seen all over the world. It’s not just his knack of reimagining every piece in modern theatrical terms, uncovering social and sexual taboos along the way; it’s his habit of winning the confidence of his cast, getting every singer to act as if lives depended on it.
That’s why, when I was looking through the opera calendar for the coming months, three events leapt off the page – all new productions directed by Jones. First up is Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels (January 23-February 10). The nightmarish scenario of this opera, reeking of psychological and sexual repression, seems tailor-made for Jones, to be relied on to reveal the seamy side of life without gratuitously setting out to shock.
We will barely pause for breath before Jones’s next production for the Royal Opera – a comedy double-bill of Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (March 30-April 24). For those who doubt Jones’s comic aptitude, his scratch-and-sniff The Love for Three Oranges for English National Opera 15 years ago gave evidence of a wittier style. This double bill has the added attraction of Bryn Terfel as Puccini’s scheming Schicchi and Christine Rice as Ravel’s seductive Concepción. Antonio Pappano conducts.
Then the pièce de résistance: the opening of the Glyndebourne season with Verdi’s Macbeth (May 19). This reunites Jones with the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, inspired collaborator on Jones’s WNO Queen of Spades and Hänsel und Gretel. Verdi’s first Shakespeare opera has a distinguished history on the Sussex Downs, having been staged there in 1938, 1947 and 1964. The Jones-Jurowski production promises to be a worthy successor.
It’s but a short hop from there to the reopening of London’s Royal Festival Hall in June after its structural and acoustical overhaul. On a recent tour I got the impression that all the time and money spent on the rebuild had been well invested. The reopening will provide an international showcase for the Hall’s resident orchestras. It will also give the South Bank Centre competitive edge over the Barbican.
Two other events I have my eye on: a new Meistersinger at Bayreuth in late July and a new James MacMillan opera in Cardiff in September. Meistersinger marks the Bayreuth directing debut of Katharina Wagner. If this production is successful, Katharina – still in her 20s – can be anointed successor to her 87-year-old father Wolfgang, who will then retire confident he has staved off claims on the Bayreuth inheritance from rival members of the Wagner clan.
I have no idea what MacMillan has in store for Welsh National Opera’s audiences, but the idea that one of Britain’s hard-pressed regional companies is still gamely putting on new work makes me want to uncork another bottle of champagne.