LONDON Britain's Royal Opera House has recruited tenor Placido Domingo to help ride out the recession next season with a historic double in which he sings tenor in Handel's "Tamerlano" and baritone in Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra."
The Spanish singer marks his 26th role with the opera house when he appears in Tamerlano in March, 2010, and debuts as a baritone at the venue in Simon Boccanegra three months later.
"I have felt very much at home at Covent Garden ever since I first appeared there in 1971, and I am a great admirer of (music director) Tony Pappano and his accomplishments with the Royal Opera," Domingo said Wednesday as the season was announced.
"It will be a joy for me to return there next season and present my two most recent roles to the London public," he added in a statement.
With a reputation for expensive ticket prices and high production costs, the Royal Opera House is braced for a tough season in 2009/10.
But despite planning the repertoire before the global financial crisis struck, it stuck to the original program.
"There are a lot of opera houses all over the world with big decisions about having to change repertoires," Pappano told reporters. "We felt that was, for us, not the way to go."
Royal Opera House chief executive Tony Hall said the company's reputation could suffer if audiences felt it was taking less risks and resorting to tried and tested hits.
"The worst thing that happens is that people get cynical about what you do."
Hall said he hoped the opera house, also called Covent Garden after the area of London where it is located, would break even by the end of the current season.
"So far audiences are really holding up," he said.
MAY BE A "BUBBLE"
But he was cautious about the future, saying ticket prices would not be raised at the start of next season and that they would be reviewed every three months.
And while corporate funding had been hit by the credit crunch, individual donors had helped make up for the shortfall.
"We may be in a bubble. I hope we're not. This season strikes me as a fantastic season to roll out in a recession."
One area of concern for Pappano was how the weakness of the pound versus the dollar and euro meant singers were feeling the pinch when appearing at Covent Garden.
"They are not thrilled about it. They joke about it in rehearsals."
He also noted staff at the Metropolitan Opera in New York had taken a 10 percent pay cut to help cope with the recession.
Among the highlights of 2009/10 at Covent Garden are seven new opera productions including two from Russia -- Tchaikovsky's "The Tsarina's Slippers" and Prokofiev's "The Gambler."
Star performers Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon also appear in a new production of Massenet's "Manon."
The Royal Ballet will stage three world premieres on the main stage in 2009/10 as well as six full-length works -- "Mayerling," "The Sleeping Beauty," "The Nutcracker," "Romeo and Juliet," "La Fille Mal Gardee" and "Cinderella."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)