Casting: Stemme withdraws from ROH Boccanegra as Chenoweth signs up for ENO Candide

London opera news

3 January 2008

Nina StemmeThe Royal Opera has fallen victim to yet another star singer withdrawing from a major production.

Following on from Bryn Terfel's departure from The Ring Cycle, Rolando Villazon's from L'elisir d'amore and both Christopher Maltman and Elina Garanca's from the forthcoming Ariadne auf Naxos, Swedish soprano Nina Stemme has announced that she will not now perform the role of Amelia Grimaldi in the ROH's May 2008 revival of Simon Boccanegra.

According to the press release, 'after careful consideration [Stemme] has decided not to add the role to her repertory' – the same reason given by Garanca when departing from the role of the Composer in Ariadne.  

The news is a huge blow to the company. Stemme's appearance as Amelia in The Royal Opera's November 2005 revival of Un ballo in maschera was a season highlight and she was to have been by far the most exciting piece of vocal casting in the Boccanegra performances. Her replacement has yet to be announced, but assuming that major international interpreters of the role of Amelia such as Mattila, Fleming and Gheorghiu aren't available to take over at short notice, the interest in this production will now rest almost entirely on the conducting of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, a novel and exciting choice for a Verdi opera, and the production of Ian Judge, seen in its complete form for the first time in London.

Kristen ChenowethMeanwhile, down on St Martin's Lane has come the good news that Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth will take the role of Cunegonde in English National Opera's forthcoming production of Bernstein's Candide.

Chenoweth previously sang the role in concert with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop, an excellent performance which was preserved on DVD. The Broadway star has appeared in the musicals Wicked, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Strike Up the Band, The Apple Tree and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won her Tony Award; she's also known for her appearances in the later series of the hit US TV show The West Wing. She joins British tenor Toby Spence (who plays Candide) for the twenty-three performances, which begin on 23 June 2008. Read our interview with Spence on this production here.

No further casting has yet been announced, but Rumon Gamba will conduct. Robert Carsen's production comes to London via Paris and La Scala, Milan, where its updating from Bernstein's satire on 1950s McCarthyism to the political sphere of the present day caused so much controversy that the production was briefly cancelled before being reinstated in a slightly modified form.

Candide is the latest in a series of musicals staged by ENO in an attempt to broaden its appeal and, presumably, bring in a huge profit. The critically-slated July 2007 production of Kismet survived thanks to an advance box office of more than £1 million, due mostly to the casting of West End favourite Michael Ball in the lead role. Before that, On the Town had broken all box office records for ENO in its original 2005 run, which was extended. Can Bernstein prove a winner for the company in 2008?

By Dominic McHugh