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Turmoil at the Royal Opera House as choreographer pulls out of Giuseppe Verdi's Les Vêpres Siciliennes


One of the showpiece productions of the forthcoming Royal Opera season is in turmoil after artistic differences saw the Royal Ballet pull out of Les Vêpres Siciliennes just months before opening night.

One of Giuseppe Verdi’s lesser-known operas, it has never been performed at Covent Garden and was due to have a 40-minute ballet sequence during the four-and-a-half hour show, which opens on 17 October.

But after what the Opera House called “artistically differing approaches to the project” between the director Stefan Herheim and choreographer Johan Kobborg, Mr Kobborg has left the production, along with 32 dancers from the Royal Ballet, the Royal Ballet School and the Royal Danish Ballet.

Kasper Holten, the director of opera at Covent Garden, said: “Stefan and Johan couldn’t quite find a language together that would work. It just wasn’t possible to find a way that would satisfy all parties.”

The production, which will be conducted by musical director Antonio Pappano, was one of the most anticipated of the season and marks Mr Herheim’s Opera House debut. “We knew from the beginning this would be an ambitious idea and you don’t know how it will work out until you try it. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but it won’t discourage me from trying again another time,” Mr Holten added.

Andre de Jong, who worked with Mr Herheim on Eugene Onegin in Amsterdam, has been brought in as a replacement choreographer. The ballet sequence will be cut considerably and freelance dancers will perform.  A statement released last night stressed there would “still be a strong element of dance in the production”. Mr Holten said: “It’s a disappointment; we’d been looking forward to working together on this. It is unfortunate it has finally come to this at a very late point.”

Mr Holten said the experience had not affected the relationship between the two companies, or with his opposite number Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet. “Kevin and I are the best of friends and we both share disappointment but we will look for other projects. It’s not his fault and it’s not mine.

“One of the great pleasures for me starting in London was that Kevin was appointed about the same time. It felt like a wonderful opportunity for us to share views.”