Following the announcement that Swedish soprano Nina Stemme will no longer be making her role debut as Amelia Grimaldi in the Royal Opera's revival of Simon Boccanegra in May 2008, the company has now confirmed that she will be replaced by German soprano Anja Harteros for most of the performances, with Austrian soprano Natalia Ushakova taking over for one night on 13 May.
By taking over from Stemme, Harteros and Ushakova will both be making their Royal Opera debuts in this production in a manner not unlike that of Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho and Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber, who replaced the far more well-known Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky when they succumbed to illness on different dates in the January run of La traviata. Harteros is a respected name on the international opera circuit, having won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1999 and sung various roles in large houses, including the Boccanegra Amelia in San Diego (a part she will also sing in Berlin in March), and while Ushakova's career has so far largely been played out in the secondary houses of Germany, she has gained in prominence following appearances in Mazeppa under Rostropovich and as Mimi in Milan, as Violetta in Vienna, and various roles in Washington and Madrid. Nevertheless, it is still difficult not to be disappointed by Stemme's decision not to add the role to her repertoire, signifying as it does the departure of the main star from this revival.
In other London opera news, the Barbican has announced the programme for the Mariinsky Theatre's residency at the Barbican next year. On 30 January 2009, they will perform Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, a sure-fire winner, followed by two rarities: Rubinstein's The Demon on 31 January and the UK premiere of Alexander Smelkov's The Brothers Karmazov on 1 February. The Mariinsky Theatre's residency under Valery Gergiev is part of an exciting year for the Barbican's Great Performers series, which is previewed in more detail here.
Finally, two leading singers have announced appearances at this year's BBC Proms, on their websites. Although the season is not officially announced until the second week of April and therefore nothing can be taken for granted, Sir John Tomlinson's site mentions a performance of Boris Godunov at the festival on 17 August 2008, while soprano Violeta Urmana's online schedule includes the Verdi Requiem with Jiri Belohlavek on 31 August. This is exciting news on both counts, if it turns out to be true: Tomlinson's performances of Boris at Covent Garden four years ago were thrilling, while Urmana's prowess in Verdi is considerable. Interviews with Urmana and Tomlinson can be read here and here.