Operatraveller’s Hot Operatic Tips for 2015 – 2016

As is customary at this time of year, it’s time to take a look at what we can look forward to in the upcoming 2015 – 2016 season.

In London, following a season notable for some outstanding performances in lesser-known repertoire, wall-to-wall revivals of Traviata and Bohème, and a disturbingly vocal conservatism from a minority of its public, the Royal Opera has presented a 2015 – 6 season remarkable for its variety and integration of new work alongside the usual warhorses.  Indeed, there is a highly tempting range of premieres or first London performances including Luke Styles’ Macbeth, Mark Simpson’s Pleasure, Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis and Georg Friedrich Haas’ Morgen und Abend.  Over at English National Opera, there is a welcome return from Calixto Bieito directing Forza, a very promisingly cast Tristan and several classic revivals.  However, I regret that performing everything in English, often in some lamentable translations, in an age of surtitles and in a city where almost 40% of the population was born overseas, can be seen as outdated.  Nevertheless, their enterprising spirit and the excellence of ENO’s chorus and orchestra mean that they still have much to offer.  On the other side of the Irish Sea, I should draw attention to Northern Ireland Opera’s staging of Turandot directed by Calixto Bieito which, when I saw it in Nürnberg last year, was one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences I have ever had.

Indeed, the focus on multiple revivals of the standard repertoire was a feature of many houses’ seasons in 2014 – 5 and what is noteworthy about 2015 – 6 is how many houses are offering innovative and stimulating programs.

In previous years I have chosen to concentrate on shows that I know I will be seeing.  At this point, I’m not sure I’ll get to see everything in this list but I certainly hope that I will.  And so here are some very personal thoughts on what I predict will be the must-see shows of 2015 – 16.

Roberto Devereux, Teatro Real, Madrid, September – October 2015
The vocal longevity of Mariella Devia and Gregory Kunde, both now in their 60s, really is the stuff of legends.  Paragons of style, they still have much to offer and Kunde’s Pollione at the Liceu earlier this year blew me away with its virtuosity and sheer stylistic panache.  Joined by Mariusz Kwiecień – who has repeatedly proven himself a superb bel canto singer full of Italianate style and elegance – in his debut in the role of Nottingham, this promises to be the first highlight of the new season.  Incidentally, Kwiecień reprises the role at the Met early in 2016 with Sondra Radvanovsky who gave us that historic Norma at the Liceu earlier this year.  Lovers of bel canto will surely wish to see both.

Don Carlos, Staatsoper Hamburg, October – November 2015.
Performances of Don Carlos are rare enough for this to qualify as must-see.  What is remarkable is that we’ll be getting two within the space of a month, in Hamburg and also in Bilbao.  The Bilbao is billed as being absolutely complete, including all of the ballet music.  Hamburg is directed by Peter Konwitschny who never takes a work for granted and they have assembled an interesting cast including Czech tenor Pavel Černoch, Netherlands soprano Barbara Haveman and Russian mezzo Yelena Zhidkova.  With Renato Palumbo in the pit, the opportunity to hear Verdi’s masterpiece in the original language is a very welcome one.

Alcina, Teatro Real, Madrid, October – November 2015.
A Handelian of indisputable distinction in a golden age of Handel singing, Karina Gauvin’s prise de rôle as Alcina in an extremely attractive cast, is a show I would certainly not want to miss.  Joined by Sonia Prina, Malena Ernman and Allan Clayton, this promises a genuine vocal feast.  I’m still very fond of the staging of La Calisto that David Alden did for Munich in which I saw Gauvin sing last year.  However, his more recent work, such as the ENO Otello, has been disappointing.  It will be interesting then to see what he does with the piece.

Moses und Aron, Opéra national de Paris, October – November 2015 / Teatro Real, Madrid, May – June 2016.
One can wait a lifetime for a staging of Moses und Aron and suddenly three come along at once.  Following Welsh National Opera and the Berlin Komische Oper, Paris and Madrid will be tackling one of the most challenging works in the repertoire.  Despite its difficulty, it always seems to bring out the best in its performers – certainly I was left stunned by the sheer virtuosity of the Komische Oper choruses this past April who made it all sound easy.  Both Paris and Madrid have fine choruses and they are surely up to the challenge.  The stage direction has been entrusted to Romeo Castellucci and I have no doubt that this will be unlike any Moses und Aron we have seen before.  His work fascinates some and infuriates others but I have found him to penetrate a work and leave indelible memories that return for weeks afterwards.  This is likely to be a major theatrical event of 2015 – 6.

 La Clemenza di Tito, Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw January 2016.
This year, the Polish National Opera is offering us a hugely stimulating and interesting season and this co-production with Brussels is undoubtedly a highlight.  Notable for the fine Charles Workman in the title role it also offers the peerless Anna Bonitatibus as Sesto.  Bonitatibus is one of those very rare singers, one who can make every single word count with her wonderful insight and beauty of tone.  Combined with several highly exciting Polish singers, this should be a real treat.

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris © Elliott Brown

Stiffelio, Oper Frankfurt, February – March 2016.
Another Verdi rarity and another prise de rôle, this time for the superb US tenor Russell Thomas in the title role.  Joined by the Raffaele of the thrilling Vincent Wolfsteiner and the exciting talent of Sara Jakubiak as Lina this promises much.  With the presence of Jérémie Rhorer, who will undoubtedly bring his excellent musicality and stylistic credentials to the musical direction, it’s clear that Frankfurt has assembled an extremely strong cast for the work.

Salome, Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw, March & June 2016.
Alexandrina Pendatchanska or Alex Penda as she is also known, is one of those singers who takes absolutely nothing for granted.  She is an all or nothing singer, sheer theatrical dynamite and her performances as Salome promise much.  Her recent Donna Elvira in Paris, demonstrated a singer of great psychological insight with endless breath control and musical daring.  I am fascinated to see what she does with Salome.

Béatrice et Bénédict, De Munt – La Monnaie, Brussels, March – April 2016.
While their main house is being renovated the forces of De Munt – La Monnaie will be performing in a variety of venues in the city.  For Berlioz’ opéra comique, directed by Richard Brunel, they have assembled a fine cast of francophone singers from Belgium, Quebec and France.  As is the custom in Brussels the show has been double-cast and audiences can enjoy Julien Dran and Sébastien Droy and Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Michèle Losier in the title roles and Sophie Karthäuser and Anne-Catherine Gillet as Héro.  Jérémie Rhorer and Samuel Jean share conducting duties.

Salome, Elektra, Die ägyptische Helena, Die Liebe der Danae, Der Rosenkavalier, Deutsche Oper Berlin, April 2016.
Even though the Strauss anniversary was a few years ago, over the course of five consecutive evenings, the Deutsche Oper is offering us a major overview of his music.  Casting some of the finest exponents of their roles today – Evelyn Herlitzius as Elektra, Anja Harteros as the Marschallin, Daniela Sindram’s Octavian – this will be a major must-see for all lovers of his music.  Performances of die ägyptische Helena and die Liebe der Danae really don’t come around very often and this is a major opportunity to become acquainted with them.

Mefistofele, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, May 2016.
As I discovered during my visit to the Osterfestspiele earlier this year, Baden-Baden is a beguiling place in which to appreciate fine performances and this Mefistofele has been fabulously cast.  With appearances by Erwin Schrott, Charles Castronovo, Alexandrina Pendatchanska and Angel Blue, this is a luxury cast to bring Boito’s chef d’oeuvre to life.  Stefan Soltesz conducts.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin © Leo Seidel
The Deutsche Oper Berlin
© Leo Seidel

Oedipe, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, May – June 2016.
The Royal Opera has assembled a terrific cast for the first London performance of a production that originates in Brussels.  With the outstanding Johan Reuter, a singer of superb musicianship and insight in the title role, the fabulous Saguenay contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and several fine British singers including Sophie Bevan and Sarah Connolly, this will surely be one of the highlights of the Royal Opera’s season.  The excellent conductor Leo Hussain leads from the pit.

Olympie, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, June 2016.
Spontini’s opera is certainly rarely performed offering as it does a real challenge for the soprano in the title role.  I have no doubt that Karina Gauvin is up to that challenge and after her success as Vitellia at this same venue, this promises to be a significant further debut for this wonderful singer.  Joined by Charles Castronovo, one of the finest singers in the French repertoire today, and the superb Cercle de l’Harmonie conducted by Jérémie Rhorer, this should be a worthy cast to match the challenges set by Spontini.

Daphne, Staatsoper Hamburg, June 2016.
Another Strauss and a revival of Christoph Loy’s production of Daphne with a very tempting cast.  I have been following Eric Cutler’s career with great attention and with his easy lyricism and fine musicality, his assumption of Apollo should be something very special indeed.  The cast also offers Agneta Eichenholz in the title role and Peter Lodahl as Leukippos with Michael Boder in the pit promising a highly musical and engaging performance of yet another rarely-performed work.

Don Carlo, San Francisco Opera, June 2016.
San Francisco Opera has planned a spectacular summer season for 2016.  The North American premiere of Bieito’s Carmen, Karita Mattila’s debut as the Kostelnička and this Don Carlo notable for the appearance of the wonderful Krassimira Stoyanova as Elisabetta, Mariusz Kwiecień’s glorious Posa and the fascinating Filippo of René Pape.  Verdi bookends Stoyanova’s 2015 – 6 season starting with her prise de rôle as Aida in Munich in September.  Kwiecień’s Posa is for me one of his finest roles, finding an inner truth in the character combined with his trademark warm tone and easy line.  Joined by the youthful Carlo of Michael Fabiano and Nadia Krasteva’s exciting Eboli they will be led by Nicola Luisotti surely one of the very best Verdi conductors around right now.  This has all the ingredients for a very special evening.

La Juive, Bayerische Staatsoper, June – July 2016.
I’ve said before here that Calixto Bieito is one of the greatest directors of the lyric stage currently operating and I’ll say it again.  He never takes a work for granted and seems to always penetrate to its heart completely winning over the spectator with his insight.  I am fascinated to see what he will do with La Juive and the Bayerische Staatsoper have certainly assembled a cast of strong singing-actors including Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak and John OsbornBertrand de Billy conducts the excellent Munich forces.

The Nationaltheater, home of the Bayerische Staatsoper © Wilfried Hösl
The Nationaltheater, home of the Bayerische Staatsoper © Wilfried Hösl

As always, there are things I haven’t been able to include – the highly exciting role debut of Jonathan McGovern as Pelléas with English Touring Opera, the opportunity to see all four Ring operas over four consecutive evenings in Leipzig, the Iolanta/Bluebeard double bill in Warsaw – there really is so much to look forward to in 2015 – 16.  Now what are you most looking forward to?


  1. I’ve been keeping note of Eric Cutler since his Met debut as the First Prisoner in FIDELIO in 2000. He sang Apollo–very well–at La Monnaie last September.

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