When Bryn Terfel pulled out of Wagner's Ring cycle last year, the Royal Opera House issued an unusually terse statement, expressing "shock and surprise" at his decision.
But yesterday the Welsh bass baritone was welcomed back to Covent Garden with open arms as the ROH announced he would be singing the title role in its forthcoming production of The Flying Dutchman, the first of Wagner's great operas, which opens in February 2009.
A week into the eight-week rehearsal period for what was to be the first full staging of the Ring cycle in London for more than a decade last autumn, Terfel pulled out, citing a "particularly stressful family situation". His youngest son had broken a finger.
The ROH released a statement which spoke of the "disappointment" that Terfel's withdrawal would bring to audience members, who had paid up to £212.50 a ticket for each of the four instalments.
Antonio Pappano, the ROH's musical director, who conducted the cycle, let bygones be bygones yesterday: "All singers at some point in their careers have blips. I don't think this was more than a blip. We wish him well. He's a great artist."
He added: "In the heat of the moment there was a strong reaction, because we had a strong reaction on the day. Time heals those kinds of things and we're continuing to plan with him."
But, at the unveiling of the 2008-09 season, Mr Pappano promised that the ROH would not be focused entirely on big-name stars and that the orchestra would "get out of the pit".
In November, to mark the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, he is to conduct a concert performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall. The tenor Ian Bostridge will take on the part of the English soldier, while the American baritone Thomas Hampson will sing the German soldier. The production will be repeated in Birmingham next year. Next March, the musical director will also conduct Verdi's Requiem in Covent Garden and Birmingham.
Tony Hall, the ROH chief executive, announced that the top ticket prices would rise from £195 to £210, although this will only affect three productions – The Flying Dutchman, La Traviata and Tosca. While overall prices will rise with inflation, 40 per cent of the seats in the main house will cost £30 or less, amounting to 260,000 seats over the course of the season – 43,000 more of the cheaper seats than in 2007-08.
Other highlights include the return of Juan Diego Flórez, the star of last year's La Fille du Regiment. He is starring in The Barber of Seville as well as singing the part of Corradino in the rarely heard opera Matilde Di Shabra. The role made him an overnight sensation when he sang it at the Rossini Opera Festival in 1996. Ian McEwan's first opera libretto, for Michael Berkeley's new opera For You, will have its London premiere at the ROH. The opera explores the sexual jealousy which tears apart the comfortable household of an ageing but charismatic composer.
Mr Hall also revealed more details about the ROH's plans to show up to 14 of its productions a year in cinemas around the UK, having struck a deal with its musicians to make high-definition digital recordings after 18 months of talks. The first two films, The Marriage of Figaro and Sylvia, starring Darcey Bussell, will be screened in around 40 cinemas from next month, with tickets priced at £10-12.Reuse content