It feels almost like yesterday that I compiled the equivalent list of top operatic tips for 2017 – 18. The years seem to be racing away from us. The 2017 – 18 season was a very satisfying one with a good range of repertoire available. If there’s one quality that stands out globally in 2018 – 19 it’s a certain conservatism in the repertoire programmed by houses. The London Royal Opera is a standout example in this respect with extensive revivals of Carmen and Traviata. That said, from a casting perspective, the Traviatas pairing Ermonela Jaho and Charles Castronovo as well as Angel Blue and Benjamin Bernheim actually promise to be the highlights of the season. Otherwise, I’m likely to be a very infrequent visitor to Bow Street next season. It does raise the question – can a house survive long term simply by reviving the same works season after season? Surely, there’s a point at which audiences crave something different, despite the undoubted interest of the casting. Especially so when the Royal Opera has doubled the price of some of the most affordable seats (the Upper Slips) hitting that core audience that goes night after night, that any house relies on. That said, there are theatres such as the Teatro Real, Opera Vlaanderen or La Monnaie – De Munt, to name just three, who do manage to offer stimulating seasons that provide a wide-ranging repertoire and fill the house night after night.
Over on St Martin’s Lane, English National Opera has a very interesting season planned, including a new Porgy and Bess, a staged Britten War Requiem and a world premiere by Iain Bell. It is perhaps no coincidence that these are particular highlights as these will be the works that won’t be translated. Elsewhere in the (dis)United Kingdom, Welsh National Opera is offering a new War and Peace featuring Jonathan McGovern and Lauren Michelle. Both Opera North and Scottish Opera are offering Kát’a Kabanová, while the centrepiece of Northern Ireland Opera’s season is a new Rigoletto.
The good news is that there is a lot of very interesting new work being premiered next season. And yet it also highlights the paucity of earlier repertoire on offer at major houses, something that I find extremely regrettable. The recent superb Poppea in Zürich proved that early opera can be a real hit with audiences and with critics alike.
And here are some very personal thoughts on what I think are likely to be the operatic highlights of 2018 – 19.
Król Roger, Narodowe Forum Muzyki, Wrocław. September.
This concert performance of Szymanowski’s masterpiece forms the opening concert of the celebrated Wratislavia Cantans festival, as well as a commemoration of the centennial of Polish independence. And what better way to celebrate than with a cast of top Polish singers, headed by the foremost interpreter of the title role today, Mariusz Kwiecień. Joined by the very promising tenor, Arnold Rutkowski as the Shepherd and Joanna Zawartko as Roksana, this will also be a terrific showcase for Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny’s NFM Choir, widely recognized as one of the finest around. Jacek Kaspszyk conducts. This will be a splendid opportunity to visit this stunning venue and experience Szymanowski’s music performed by his compatriots.
Moses und Aron, Semperoper, Dresden. September – October.
Performance of Moses und Aron are happily no longer the rarity they once were, despite it being one of the biggest challenges in the repertoire for any opera chorus. The Dresden chorus is another of the world’s best and getting to hear them, augmented by the Sinfoniechor Dresden and the Vocalconsort Berlin, take on this work will be a real privilege. The production will be the work of the great Calixto Bieito who will no doubt give us a fascinating exploration of the power of belief, challenging the audience to think for themselves. Alan Gilbert conducts with John Tomlinson and Lance Ryan in the title roles.
Věc Makropulos, Deutsche Oper, Berlin. November.
When I saw this production new, back in 2016, I left the theatre transfixed, shaken and deeply moved by the work of an overwhelming singing-actor in a staging that brought the work magically to life. I can’t say how much I am looking forward to reliving that experience with the great Evelyn Herlitzius as EM in David Hermann’s superb production. Those final moments, where EM faced death, looking out over all the EMs she had been in her life, all those she had loved and lost, was so unbearably moving and powerful. In fact I can feel my eyes welling up even now, just thinking about it. If you can, go.
Enrico di Borgogna, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo. November.
The publication of Anders Wiklund’s critical edition of Donizetti’s 1818 opera will give us the opportunity to see this rarity on stage, in the theatre named after the man himself. Silvia Paoli’s staging will feature the great Anna Bonitatibus in the title role as part of a very interesting cast of bel canto specialists including Sonia Ganassi, Levy Sekgapane and Luca Tittoto. The period instruments of the Accademia Montis Regalis will undoubtedly provide some revelatory sonorities under Alessandro De Marchi in the pit.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. November.
A period instrument Hoffmann is certainly something to get excited about. Marc Minkowski will conduct his Musiciens du Louvre in this concert performance, along with what the house describes as a ‘Traumbesetzung’. And that’s what it most certainly is with Charles Castronovo, one of the finest interpreters of the French repertoire, making his debut in the title role and Luca Pisaroni also doing so as his nemeses. The exciting French mezzo, Aude Extrémo is Nicklausse and la Muse with Olga Peretyatko taking on all of three of the ladies.
Fin de Partie, Teatro alla Scala, Milan. November.
Perhaps the most greatly anticipated premiere of the year, the 92-year-old Kurtág’s first opera. Based on Beckett, the one act work is set for four singers, Frode Olsen, Hilary Summers, Leigh Melrose and Leonardo Cortellazzi. Markus Stenz conducts Pierre Audi’s staging, a co-production with De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam. It will undoubtedly be fascinating to see Kurtág bring a lifetime of experience to his first work for the lyric stage, in his utterly unique compositional voice. The Scala has a strong track record of giving new music the best possible circumstances in which to be premiered.
Hippolyte et Aricie, Staatsoper Berlin, November – December.
Fortunately, there isn’t a total absence of early opera next season and this promises to be one of the biggest highlights. The Staatsoper has assembled a starry cast to perform Rameau’s first opera – Anna Prohaska, the very fine Flemish tenor Reinoud van Mechelen, Magdalena Kožená, Adriane Queiroz, Gyula Orendt, Elsa Dreisig. Simon Rattle conducts the outstanding Freiburger Barockorchester in a staging by Aletta Collins. This may well be one of the most anticipated early opera productions next season.
Fidelio, L’atelier lyrique de Tourcoing. December.
Period instrument performances of Fidelio are something of a rarity and the opportunity to get to see Beethoven’s opera performed by La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, is an extremely tempting one. This pair of concert performances also mark the debut of the fabulous Véronique Gens in the title role. I must admit that the prospect of hearing that aristocratically beautiful voice in this music is extremely exciting. She will be joined by an interesting cast of French and international singers, including Donald Litaker as Florestan. The conductor has not yet been announced.
Ariadne auf Naxos, Semperoper Dresden. December.
It’s hard to imagine a more tempting trio of Krassimira Stoyanova, Daniela Fally and Daniela Sindram in the central female roles of Strauss’s masterpiece. Particularly so when they are due to be conducted by that renowned specialist in the German repertoire, Christian Thielemann, at the head of that ultimate Straussian band, the Staatskapelle Dresden. This is a house that has Strauss at its core. The production is the work of David Hermann, a director who I’ve always found to be interesting and insightful. I have been very unlucky with Stoyanova who has withdrawn from everything I was due to see her in since 2015. I’m very much hoping that this Ariadne will break the trend.
La rondine, Deutsche Oper Berlin. February.
Back in 2014, I saw Ermonela Jaho and Charles Castronovo in a Bohème that was so vivid and so immediate, I thought I was going to need counselling afterwards. It was, and will forever be, one of my greatest ever evenings in a theatre. The opportunity to see them both in another Puccini is one that I definitely intend to make the most of. Jaho is such a vivid singing-actor and Castronovo’s rich, Italianate tenor will be a perfect match for Ruggero, in this revival of Rolando Villazón’s staging. Italian specialist Stefano Ranzani, who conducted the best Cav & Pag I’ve heard so far, leads from the pit. This promises to be unmissable.
Der Rosenkavalier, Den Norske Opera, Oslo. March – April.
Another tempting central trio for a Strauss masterpiece and this time, three outstanding Norwegian singers for this glorious reflection on the passage of time. Marita Sølberg, the owner of a highly classy soprano is the Marschallin, while the lovely Mari Eriksmoen makes her role debut as Sophie. The exciting young mezzo, Adrian Angelico, already making a name for himself in the high-lying Strauss mezzo roles, is Octavian. Joana Mallwitz conducts David McVicar’s staging, imported from Scotland.
Les bienveillantes, Opera Vlaanderen, Antwerp and Ghent. April – May.
With this setting of Jonathan Littell’s controversial 2006 World War Two novel, Catalan composer, Hèctor Parra, will be making his operatic debut. Directed by his compatriot, Calixto Bieito, this promises to be a gripping and devastating evening. The Opera Vlaanderen has certainly assembled a fine cast to do justice to Parra’s work – Rainer Trost, Rachel Harnisch, Nadja Michael, David Alegret and Günter Papendell are among the singers participating. Peter Rundel conducts.
Alceste, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. May – July.
Munich has assembled a mouth-watering cast for this very promising production of Gluck’s opera. In the title role, Dorothea Röschmann, not a singer I immediately associate with the French repertoire although she is owner of a beguiling soprano. Joining her are Charles Castronovo as Admète and the excellent Michael Nagy as both the Grand-Prêtre and Hercule. The electrifying Italian, Antonello Manacorda, conducts – what he achieves in the pit is frequently revelatory. The production is the work of Sidi Lari Cherkaoui who will also be responsible for the choreography.
Otello, Deutsche Oper, Berlin. June.
The title role in Otello is rightly seen as the Everest of tenor roles. Having sung it in concert in Atlanta and Hollywood, the exceptional US tenor Russell Thomas, who always gives so much pleasure in the Italian repertoire, now prepares to take it on in a staged production. There will be two opportunities to see what promises to be a very important stage debut – one in Toronto in April and this latter one in Berlin in June. In the German capital, he will be joined by Yu Guanqun, who already proved herself a lovely Desdemona in València a few years ago, and George Gagnidze as Jago. Paolo Arrivabeni conducts Andreas Kriegenburg’s production.
Salome, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. June – July.
For their big new production of the annual Festspiele, the Bayerische Staatsoper has entrusted Strauss’ opera to the outstanding stage director, Krzysztof Warlikowski. He always brings so many influences to his productions from so many different art forms and this promises to be a Salome unlike any we’ve seen before. Marlis Petersen takes on the title role with house favourite Wolfgang Koch as Jochanaan. The outgoing music director, Kirill Petrenko, conducts.
Tosca, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. July.
Seeing opera in Aix in July is one of the biggest pleasures for any operagoer. There is something so magical about this town as well as seeing fine performances under the Provençal stars. The 2019 edition of the festival also marks the first under Pierre Audi’s direction. Daniele Rustioni brings his Lyon forces to the festival with the magnificent Angel Blue making her debut in the title role in Christophe Honoré’s staging. Also worth seeing will be a staged Mozart Requiem by Romeo Castellucci with Raphaël Pichon conducting his Ensemble Pygmalion.
As always, there was so much I would have liked to include. What are you looking forward to?
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