I return arrive in London on Monday morning, having spent the weekend in Paris. I’m here to conduct the Royal Opera House (ROH) production of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, which opens on 26 June. Albina Shagimuratova has also arrived on an early flight from Moscow – what a voice and presence. In a one-to-one session on harpsichord we discuss her role as Aspasia, especially the ideal tempi as her role is extremely virtuosic. I tell her my intention is not to ‘accompany her’ with the ROH orchestra, but to sing through her voice; she laughs.
Panic! The astonishing Georgian soprano Salome Jicia, meant to be singing the role of Sifare, doesn’t arrive due to visa issues. When will she be able to join us? We don’t know. Instead I have a private coaching session with Michael Spyres who makes my day. This man can do anything, like putty in my hands: unbelievable, and very rewarding! I can fully see him evolve the character of Mitridate from a polite king to a wild tyrant.
After a lovely breakfast in Primrose Hill (a wonderful discovery) with a French friend who lives in London, I head off to St John’s Smith Square, London’s best baroque venue. I’m there to welcome my ensemble arriving for that evening’s concert, which celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and will be broadcast live on Radio 3.
We have just been performing Monteverdi at Amsterdam Madrigals in Amsterdam and then at Brighton Festival. The concert is a whirlwind tour of Monteverdi’s key works, with extracts from madrigals and his operas Il Ritorno d’Ulisse and L’incoronazione di Poppea for two tenors performed by two lively singers: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders J Dahlin. All would have been perfect if it wasn’t for my missing score, which got lost in Paris somewhere! I am not sure what I would have done if this had happened in the 18th century, but luckily nowadays we have marvellous printers. In the three hours between the rehearsal, sound check and live concert I managed to prepare my score and, in spite of this temporary stress, I became completely absorbed in Monteverdi thanks to these wonderful singers with whom I have collaborated for years.
Our Georgian singer still hasn’t arrived, creating a difficult situation for stage director Graham Vick, who has to work with the understudy to finish his staging. Fingers crossed that she will arrive in time for our premiere on June 26.
Today I also lead my first rehearsal with the ROH orchestra, and I was very impressed by the orchestra’s calibre. They were especially generous in their flexibility to adapt to my historically informed interpretations of one of Mozart’s earliest operas. I have been exploring the music of Mozart and his overlooked contemporaries such as Salieri, Paisiello, Martin y Soler and Jomelli with my ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Now, after just a few minutes working with the ROH orchestra, I knew that this would be an unforgettable journey and I can’t wait to share Mitridate with the audience at Covent Garden.
After rehearsal I meet a close friend of mine for dinner at the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden. The food is excellent. It’s also election night, but I go to bed before the results are in.
I wake up to the results of the UK elections – a country again split in two – and then good news from the opera house: Salome Jicia has got her visa and is arriving in a few days. Relief all around.
The stage rehearsals with Graham Vick today are fascinating. We both place an important focus on the recitatives, which are where the drama actually happens, rather than leaving them as a boring moment en route to the arias. Albina Shaghimuratova is spectacular; her natural sense of dramatic tension and her work ethic is a model for other singers.
During an afternoon break I sit in on rehearsal for Verdi’s Otello with the celebrated Jonas Kaufmann in the lead role and Antonio Pappano conducting. All of us guest conductors are there: I find myself sat next to Maurizio Benini (conducting La Traviata) and Bertrand de Billy (conducting Elisir d’amore). I am impressed by Pappano’s energy and the sound he extracts from the orchestra and the choir – I couldn’t dream of anything more beautiful! As for the level of all solo singers, I can hardly believe my ears. I chat with my French colleague de Billy, who I’ve never had the chance to meet before, and we agree that Pappano is a magician.
On Saturday I return to Paris for the French legislative elections on Sunday evening. I spend the day checking over a draft of Les Talens Lyriques’ next season brochure.
I finish checking through the brochure, and take the chance to catch my breath before another busy week back in London.
Harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset is founder of baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques. He makes his debut at ROH on 26 June, conducting Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto.