One female conductor 'not acceptable ratio', admits Royal Opera House

Company vows to do better as Ariane Matiakh only woman on list for main stage in 2019-20

The Royal Opera House has acknowledged that it is not acceptable to have only one female conductor on its main stage in its next season and vowed it will do better.

On Tuesday, the company announced a 2019-20 season featuring 17 new productions and six world premieres across the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.

For its main stage opera productions it has 19 confirmed orchestra conductors. But the only woman is the French conductor Ariane Matiakh, who will conduct some of the performances of a revival of Richard Jones’ La Bohème in January and February.

The Royal Opera’s director of opera, Oliver Mears, was asked if that was a good ratio. “No it is not an acceptable ratio at all … of course,” he said. “But this is something which is a long-term project. It’s not going to happen instantly and in the following years we have a much better ratio of female conductors and it is something which is is an absolute priority for us.”

All arts organisations in the UK are under intense – and, many would say, long overdue – scrutiny to translate words and aspirations on diversity into positive action.

In March, the National Theatre provoked anger when it announced a tranche of productions from May to October that only featured plays written by men. The theatre’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, who has made a commitment to a 50/50 gender representation for living writers and directors by 2021, later admitted in an interview: “We dropped the ball.

In classical music, change has proved particularly slow. At the last count by the Royal Philharmonic Society, only 22 of the 371 conductors represented by British agents were female – about 5.5%.

The music website Bachtrack did a statistical analysis of classical music in 2018, which included five women in the list of the top 100 busiest conductors. JoAnn Falletta was highest placed in the list, at 19, followed by Marin Alsop (39), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (44), Karina Canellakis (80) and Susanna Mälkki (86).

The lack of female conductors came as Mears announced a season that will have new productions of Handel’s Agrippina – the first ever at Covent Garden – and Britten’s Death in Venice.

There will also be a “long overdue” new production of Janáček’s Jenůfa, which will feature the rising opera star Asmik Grigorian in the title role. Mears said the Lithuanian soprano would be making “one of the most exciting house debuts there has been in recent years … I think she is going to knock everyone’s socks off; she is an extraordinary performer”.

Mears stressed a commitment to work for family audiences, with a new production of Gerald Barry’s “bonkers and bizarre” Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. It is less than an hour long so will be performed twice at every matinee and evening slot, with a halving of ticket prices.

It will prove, if proof were needed, “that opera does not have to be long and boring”, said Mears.

Other new main stage opera productions will include Donizetti’s Don Pasquale starring Bryn Terfel, Beethoven’s Fidelio and Richard Strauss’s Elektra. Revivals include David McVicar’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Keith Warner’s production of Verdi’s Otello and Christof Loy’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

One of the most eye-catching learning projects is one that emerged from a meeting between the Royal Ballet’s director, Kevin O’Hare, and the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, the MP for Doncaster North. It will include an aspiration to work with every school in Doncaster, staging a mass participation event in the town and performing a show there.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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