Once again we have arrived at that time of the year where we look forward to what the coming season holds. As I have done for the last few years, I have come up with a list of shows that look exceptionally promising and will be sharing these with you shortly. Before doing so, given that I am currently based in London, England, I thought I would share some brief thoughts on what the upcoming season has to offer in these islands.
The first impression of the seasons planned at the two major London houses is that on paper both seem to be offering precisely the same kind of repertoire they have in any other year. Certainly the casting has much of interest but given that the Royal Opera had trouble selling the last run of Traviata and had to resort to heavy discounting, did they really need to add another run this season? And in asking this I mean no disrespect to the fine artists cast in the next run. Fortunately there are some rarities and new works – I am particularly looking forward to seeing Barrie Kosky’s Royal Opera debut with The Nose and the UK premiere of Adès’ Exterminating Angel with a starry cast. At ENO, regrettably the number of shows has been reduced even further and they still seem unwilling to even look at their language policy, one that I maintain seems particularly redundant in a city where 40% of the population was born overseas. Nevertheless, I am very much looking forward to the new Lulu, a new commission from Ryan Wigglesworth and the UK premiere of Yardbird.
Outside of London, Welsh National Opera will be home to Rebecca Evans’ prise de rôle as the Marschallin, a role that I have long wanted to hear her sing, and across the Irish Sea, the audacious and courageous Northern Ireland Opera will be presenting new productions of Don Giovanni and Powder Her Face. There is a vibrancy and excitement to the work of this company that I find absolutely exhilarating, and while I regret deeply that there was no way I could include the Don Giovanni in my travel plans, I would encourage any serious operagoer to look at the stupendous work they do. Indeed, if you can’t make it across to Belfast, you can get a flavour of the work they do as Welsh National Opera will be staging NI Opera’s production of Macbeth in their fall season, featuring the Irish soprano, Miriam Murphy as the Lady for part of the run. WNO also deserve praise for giving us the opportunity to see Le vin herbé and André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice. WNO proving that it is possible to create a stimulating season combining repertoire and unfamiliar works.
Back in London, the Wigmore Hall’s season reads like a who’s who of some of the greatest singing talent around today – appearances by Violeta Urmana, Karina Gauvin, Soile Isokoski, Barbara Hannigan, Christian Gerhaher, Luca Pisaroni, Bernarda Fink, Karita Mattila and so many, many more. But if there’s one event in the Wigmore schedule that I would consider unmissable, it’s the great Anna Bonitatibus performing her award-winning program of music inspired by Semiramide.
And so here are some very personal thoughts on what I predict have the potential to be the must-see shows of the coming season.
La Favorite, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, October – November 2016, July 2017.
A rarity but one that contains some magnificent music, getting to see La Favorite in French is reason enough to go to Munich. The Bayerische Staatsoper has assembled a starry cast with three of the finest bel canto stylists in the world and three who have also had much success singing in French in the last few seasons. Elīna Garanča’s full, voluptuous and silky mezzo would seem to be an ideal match for Léonor. Matthew Polenzani’s take on the vertiginous role of Fernand should certainly be worth hearing and Mariusz Kwiecień’s proven easy line and bel canto instincts are always a pleasure to hear. The director Amélie Niermeyer is a new name to me and I look forward to seeing her work.
Les Troyens, Lyric Opera of Chicago, November – December, 2016.
A massive undertaking for any opera company, this run of Troyens will be the first time that the work has been staged in Chicago and for it they have assembled a very promising cast. The role of Cassandre should be an ideal fit for Christine Goerke and, based on some clips I have seen of her Eboli, her French is also excellent. Casting Sophie Koch in her prise de rôle as Didon is also a real coup for Lyric Opera. Joining them are Brandon Jovanovich as Énée and Lucas Meachem as Chorèbe with the fine mezzo Okka von der Damerau as Anna. Andrew Davis conducts Tim Albery’s staging. This will undoubtedly be the operatic event of this fall in North America and a landmark in Lyric Opera’s history.
Iphigénie en Tauride, Opéra National de Paris, December 2016.
Despite its artistic excellence, the Paris Opéra has recently been beset by some serious labour disputes which have resulted in a significant number of shows being cancelled. However, this Iphigénie looks most certainly worth risking a trip for. When I saw Véronique Gens as Iphigénie in Vienna back in 2014 her ability to fuse text and music led to an unforgettable evening. This time, joined by Stanislas de Barbeyrac and Étienne Dupuis – another fine singer from la belle province making an impressive career in Europe – in a staging by the great Krzysztof Warlikowski we have the ingredients for an exceptional evening. Bertrand de Billy conducts.
Der fliegende Holländer, Teatro Real, Madrid, December 2016 – January 2017.
The Teatro Real’s season is exceptionally interesting this year offering an ideal integration of new and unfamiliar work alongside the standard repertoire. I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of watching singers who make me feel that I am learning something new about vocal production when I see them and Ricarda Merbeth is one of those. One really gets a sense of the hours of practice that have gone into the way that she negotiates a role and her Senta really is exceptional. Joined by the youthful Erik of Benjamin Bruns and Samuel Youn’s Holländer, the evening will be conducted by the fine conductor from Granada, Pablo Heras-Casado. The staging by Àlex Ollé of La fura dels Baus also promises much.
Carmen, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, January 2017.
This concert performance marks Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s prise de rôle as Carmen and one I think that will be unmissable. There’s something about the magnetic personality and vivaciousness of this fabulous Saguenay contralto that I think ideally matched to the role. It’s a daunting assignment, given how well-known the work is, but one for which I think that she certainly has what it takes. Joined by Michael Spyres, another singer who has established a strong reputation in the French repertoire, as Don José and Vannina Santoni as Micaëla, the TCE has assembled a fine cast of francophone singers to join them. Simone Young conducts the Radio-France forces.
Lohengrin, De Munt – La Monnaie, Brussels, January – February 2017.
I must admit that the two opera productions I have seen by Olivier Py – the Munich Trovatore and the Paris Alceste – have been revelatory, so I certainly have high hopes for this new Lohengrin. The other attraction is another prise de rôle, that of Eric Cutler in the title role. This fine US tenor is going from strength to strength and the way his bright voice opens up at the top really is a thing of wonder. As often in Brussels, the production is double-cast and he will be sharing the role with the Montréalais Joseph Kaiser who will also most certainly be worth seeing. Annette Dasch and Amanda Echalaz share the role of Elsa while Sabine Hogrefe and Elisabeth Meister are Ortrud. Lothar Koenigs conducts. This production has been postponed to a future season due to issues with the renovation at the house.
Lulu, Staatsoper Hamburg, Hamburg, February 2017.
This Lulu in Hamburg really does promise much. One of the most remarkable singing-actors and musicians of our time, Barbara Hannigan, in the title role with an exceptionally-promising cast including Anne Sofie von Otter, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Matthias Klink and Peter Lodahl. Lulu should also be an ideal work for Kent Nagano with his implicit analytical ability to penetrate a score and illustrate its structure. The staging is the work of Christoph Marthaler who should certainly provide a show that will stimulate and challenge.
Otello, Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna, February 2017.
This may be a repertoire evening at the Wiener Staatsoper but it also marks an important prise de rôle – that of Véronique Gens as Desdemona. The thought of that astonishingly beautiful voice making her first entry on ‘mio superbo guerrier’ is one that I find most exciting. She will be joined by the veteran Peter Seiffert in the title role and Carlos Álvarez who I have previously seen as a very fine Jago. Marco Armiliato conducts a staging by Christine Mielitz.
Yevgeny Onegin, Lyric Opera, Chicago, February – March 2017.
When Ana María Martínez sang Elisabetta in Don Carlo in San Francisco this June I remarked at the time that it felt like golden age singing – her breath control, complete command of her instrument and dramatic insight were something very special indeed. Her Tatyana therefore is most eagerly awaited and Lyric Opera have again assembled a dream cast to join her. Mariusz Kwiecień’s Onegin is a known quantity, known of course for being one of the leading interpreters of the part today with his seductive stage manner, his ability to show the character’s journey and his handsome, warm baritone. The prospect of Charles Castronovo as Lensky, a singer of such great security and warmth of tone is a most enticing one. Alejo Pérez conducts Robert Carsen’s staging (though I must profess that with this cast I wish they’d had imported Warlikowski’s). This will certainly be worth a visit to the windy city and if you time it right you can also catch the great Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma with Russell Thomas at the same time.
Edward II, Deutsche Oper, Berlin. February – March, 2017.
A new commission and a world premiere from the Deutsche Oper. Swiss composer Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini’s Edward II is based on the play by Christopher Marlowe and promises to be a meditation on the role of homosexuality in society today. Scartazzini has a burgeoning reputation as a stimulating opera composer and the Deutsche Oper has gathered a fine cast to do his work justice. Michael Nagy takes the title role with Agneta Eichenholz as Isabella and Ladislav Elgr as Gaveston. Christof Loy directs what will be one of the most anticipated premieres of the season.
Der Ring des Niebelungen, Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden, April – May 2017
This promises to be very special – the opportunity to see the Ring in an intimate theatre with some exceptional singers. The great Evelyn Herlitzius as Brünnhilde, a peerless artist who completely becomes her character with theatre-filling sound, with the mighty Andreas Schager as Siegfried head a very promising cast in Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s staging. Herlitzius and Schager are surely two of the greatest singers before the public today and this really is an exceptional opportunity to see them in such an intimate theatre. Alexander Joel conducts. What is even more remarkable is that you can see the whole cycle for under EUR50.
Un ballo in maschera, Opernhaus Zürich, Zürich, June 2017.
This Ballo in Zürich really has been luxuriously cast. Sondra Radvanovsky sings Amelia, with Marcelo Álvarez as Gustavo and George Petean as Renato. Petean was excellent as Renato in Munich earlier this year, genuinely singing the role and his easy musicality gave much pleasure. Radvanovsky of course is an exceptional artist, the voice big and round and combined with her remarkable technique really do set her apart. Joined by the fabulous Ulrica of Marie-Nicole Lemieux who will no doubt make quite an impact, Fabio Luisi conducts David Pountney’s production.
Tosca, Den Norske Opera, Oslo, June 2017.
If ever there were an opera and a director made for each other it’s Calixto Bieito and Tosca. The relationship between the individual and the state has been a constant fascination throughout his career and this opera, with its themes of state oppression, torture and sustaining love in adversity is surely an ideal match for his ability to create a viscerally gripping evening in the theatre. The three principals are all new to me and I’m looking forward to hearing them – Svetlana Aksenova in the title role, Daniel Johansson as Cavaradossi and Claudio Sgura as Scarpia. Karl-Heinz Steffens conducts. If this Tosca is anywhere near as revelatory as Bieito’s Turandot was it will be mind-blowing.
Cavalleria Rusticana & I Pagliacci, Semperoper, Dresden, July 2017.
I’ll come straight out and say that Cav really isn’t a favourite opera but what merits its inclusion in this list is the opportunity to see the great Evelyn Herlitzius as Santuzza. She infrequently sings in Italian so this is a rare opportunity to see her outside of her usual German fach. The Turiddu is currently unknown but the remainder of the cast is very attractive with Carmen Giannattasio as Nedda and Vladimir Galouzine in his signature role as Canio. Stefano Ranzani conducts the staging by Philipp Stölzl.
Don Giovanni, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, July 2017.
Jérémie Rhorer is one of the most exciting young conductors out there whose music-making comes alive in a thrilling, even physical way. Together with his fine period band Le Cercle de l’Harmonie and a staging by Jean-François Sivadier, the Aix festival has assembled what looks like an especially promising cast. The Franco-Ontarian bass-baritone Philippe Sly in the title role, Nahuel di Pierro as Leporello join Pavol Breslik as Ottavio, Eleonora Burrato and Isabel Leonard as the donne and Julie Fuchs as Zerlina. Certainly if the show lives up to its promise it should be an outstanding experience.
So there are my top tips for the coming season. Now what are you looking forward to?
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