What a difference a day makes. Only six months ago we were looking forward to a full and vibrant season of opera. Singers were booked years in advance and theatres were flourishing. Then, overnight, everything changed. Something we took for granted, the ability to sit in a dark room and have an overwhelming experience with hundreds of strangers, became instantly verboten. Theatres have shuttered, some never to open again, singers have lost engagements, and even management companies have gone to the wall. Yet in this bleakness, there are some green shoots of recovery. The recent Salzburger Festspiele has proven that it is absolutely possible to create opera at the highest possible standard, with a full orchestra and chorus, and to allow the principals to do what we long to be able to do to our friends and loved ones – hug each other. Hopefully, this will be the start of a new beginning for the art form and that it will flourish once again.
Of course, there are still black clouds on the horizon. For those who live in the UK, there is no imminent reopening date for theatres and artists are about to lose their rights to work. Those who have made their home in that country may not even be able to travel beyond its borders in January 2021. Still, as is customary every year, I have compiled a list of shows that look particularly exciting in the upcoming season. Naturally, there’s a caveat here in that one can’t be entirely sure if they will, in fact, take place. But one thing is sure – that those who work in theatres are currently doing everything possible to make it happen. One can only hope for, and wish them, every success.
La rondine, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. September 2020.
The Maggio was one of the first Italian theatres to reopen and with Denis Krief’s staging of Rondine, they welcome the wonderful US soprano Ailyn Pérez to their stage. She is joined by an Italian cast of established and upcoming singers, including Roberto Aronica as her love interest, with Roberta Mameli and Francesco Castoro as Lisette and Prunier. Marco Armiliato conducts. Rondine is a glorious piece and I only wish it were done more often.
Pierrot lunaire – La voix humaine, Staatsoper Hamburg. October 2020.
In a season where we’re likely to see a lot of performances of La voix humaine, this one stands out for not only being coupled with Pierrot lunaire but also for including the incomparable Anja Silja as one of the narrators in the Schoenberg. She will be sharing duties with Marie-Dominique Ryckmans and Nicole Chevalier. The staging will be confided to the exciting young director Luis August Krawen and to the Staatsoper’s intendant Georges Delnon. The house music director Kent Nagano conducts.
Die Vögel, Bayerische Staatsoper. October – November 2020.
A rarity for this new production at the Bayerische Staatsoper with Braunfels’s 1920 ‘lyric-fantastic play. The staging is confided to Frank Castorf, who never leaves audiences indifferent, and conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, a conductor who excels in this repertoire. As always, the depth of quality in the casting at this house is unrivalled – Wolfgang Koch, Günter Papendell, Caroline Wettergreen, Michael Nagy, and Charles Workman are among the cast.
Rusalka. Teatro Real, Madrid. November 2020.
Having been one of the first houses in the world to reopen, the Teatro Real will be presenting this new production by Christof Loy of Dvořák’s opera. As always with the house, the run has been double-cast, and the first cast is especially interesting. The remarkable Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian sings the title role, while the superb US tenor, Eric Cutler, takes on the role of the Prince. None other than Karita Mattila and Katarina Dalayman sing the Foreign Princess and Ježibaba respectively. Ivor Bolton conducts.
L’Olimpiade, Oper Zürich. November – December 2020.
This should be very interesting. Billed as a ‘Film-opera-project’ after Pergolesi, the staging has been confided to Magyar director, David Marton, who will merge Pergolesi’s music with documentary films specifically created for this production. The cast is mouth-watering, featuring some of the finest singers of this repertoire around. The great Anna Bonitatibus will be joined by the sensational Vivica Genaux, alongside Delphine Galou, Carlo Allemano and others. The house’s own period instrument orchestra, Orchestra La Scintilla, will be conducted by Ottavio Dantone.
La Fille du régiment. Festival Donizetti Opera. November – December 2020.
The Festival Donizetti Opera is a wonderful occasion to visit the beautiful city of Bergamo, birthplace of the great man himself. There’s always a very special atmosphere at this festival, which in a few short years, has become a must on the calendar of music lovers around the world. This new production of Fille features the thrilling Basque tenor, Xabier Anduaga, as Tonio alongside rising Catalan soprano, Sara Blanch, as Marie. Donizetti specialist Paolo Bordogna sings Sulpice. The staging is confided to Luis Ernesto Doñas, while Corrado Rovaris conducts the festival’s youthful orchestra and chorus.
Die tote Stadt. Oper Köln, December 2020.
This is something of a homecoming for Korngold’s opera, having been co-premiered in Cologne a century ago. This special new centennial production will be directed by Tatjana Gürbaca, a director who always provokes discussion. Burkhard Fritz sings Paul, while the great Aušrinė Stundytė takes on the dual roles of Marie and Marietta, sharing the role with Kristiane Kaiser. Gabriel Feltz conducts the house forces.
Béatrice et Bénédict. Opéra de Lyon, December 2020 – January 2021.
This new production of Berlioz’s comic opera by the ever-insightful Damiano Michieletto should be a must-see. Particularly so, as the house has engaged a fine roster of francophone singers under the direction of the house’s youthful music director, Daniele Rustioni. The cast includes the excellent Québécoise singers Michèle Losier and Hélène Guilmette as Béatrice and Héro, while French tenor Julien Behr sings Bénédict. The fine Swiss mezzo Ève-Maud Hubeaux (a glorious Brangäne in Brussels last season) sings Ursule, and the promising Walloon baritone Ivan Thirion sings Somarone.
Cardillac. Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, January 2021.
This new production, co-produced in collaboration with Cologne and Madrid, will be directed by the house’s chief, Mariusz Treliński. It stars the outstanding Polish bass-baritone, Tomasz Konieczny in the title role, alongside a cast of notable Polish singers, including Izabela Matuła, Wojtek Gierlach, and Pavlo Tolstoy. The quality of the house forces is excellent. This is a difficult time in Poland, particularly for LGBT+ people, and there is something to be said for visiting the country and showing solidarity with the Polish LGBT+ community.
Die Frau ohne Schatten. Staatsoper Berlin, January 2021.
Claus Guth’s staging of Frau ohne Schatten has acquired quite legendary status among Straussians and for its latest revival, the Staatsoper Berlin has engaged quite an exciting cast, under the direction of Simone Young. The exciting young Lithuanian soprano, Vida Miknevičiūtė sings the Kaiserin, while Eric Cutler once again takes on the Kaiser, having sung it gloriously in Hamburg back at the start of 2019. The experienced Wolfgang Koch and Elena Pankratova sing Barak and his wife, while the inimitable Michaela Schuster brings her celebrated Amme to the house. Together with that outstanding orchestra, and a remaining cast of house stalwarts, this should be a must for Straussians.
Jenůfa. Staatsoper Berlin, February 2021.
When the great Evelyn Herlitzius sings the Kostelnička something incredible happens. She sings and acts the role like a woman possessed, leading audiences to forget they’re in a theatre, such is the vividness of her portrayal. The opportunity to see this portrayal in a new staging by Damiano Michieletto and conducted by experienced Janáček interpreter, Simon Rattle, will surely be one of the highlights of the season. Joined by the wonderful Finnish soprano, Camilla Nylund, in the title role, with Ladislav Elgr reprising his noted portrayal of Števa alongside the veteran Hanna Schwarz as the grandmother, this promises to be a very special evening.
Henry VIII. La Monnaie – De Munt, April – May 2021.
This is a rare opportunity to see Saint-Saëns’s homage to grand opera staged by the always interesting Olivier Py. As always, the house has assembled an interesting cast of established and upcoming talents. The great Véronique Gens is cast as Catherine d’Aragon, while Nora Gubisch is Anne de Boleyn. Laurent Naouri sings the title role. The house’s music director, Alain Altinoglu, conducts.
Werther. Opéra Orchestre Montpellier, May 2021.
This Werther will be notable for Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s prise de rôle as Charlotte. There is something in Lemieux’s artistry when she sings in her native language, her desire to find colour and depth to the text, to bring the character alive through her sheer magnetism on stage, that promises much for her Charlotte. Joining her will be the extremely promising guatemalteco tenor Mario Chang. The production, by Bruno Ravella, will be conducted by Lemieux’s compatriot, Jean-Marie Zeitouni.
Capriccio. Semperoper Dresden, May 2021.
Another treat for Straussians. Following their notable collaboration on Ariadne auf Naxos back in 2018, the Semperoper has once again reunited the great Krassimira Stoyanova with Christian Thielemann, for this new production, by Jens-Daniel Herzog, of Strauss’s ‘conversation piece’. And what a cast the Semperoper has assembled around them! House favourites, Christa Mayer and Georg Zeppenfeld as Clairon and La Roche, with fine baritone Christoph Pohl as Olivier and Daniel Behle as Flamand. In that peerless acoustic with that Straussian orchestra par excellence, this should be a night to remember.
La damnation de Faust. De Nationale Opera Amsterdam, June 2021.
For its final production of the season, the Nationale Opera has invited the outstanding interpreter of French music, François-Xavier Roth, at the helm of the incomparable Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, to join forces with the great Calixto Bieito for this retelling of Berlioz’s dramatic legend. John Osborn, who has won plaudits with his interpretations of the high-lying French tenor roles, appears in the title role, while Anna Stéphany sings Marguerite. Kyle Ketelsen, who has also received acclaim in the French repertoire, takes on his nemesis.
Normally, at the end of this annual preview, I would draw attention to how I rely on your support to continue providing interesting and stimulating content. Given the current circumstances, with so many theatres closed and so many artists, many of whom have encouraged the site over the years, losing engagements, I don’t feel comfortable requesting your support at this time. What I would like to do, is to encourage you to see how you can support your favourite artists and venues through these difficult times. The last years have been especially uncertain, and one might have hoped that we might finally be finding our feet. Sadly, the world had other plans for us. What the last few months have proven, is that we genuinely need art and live music. We need that experience of the power of the unamplified human voice, of the ability of master director storytellers to make us feel and experience new things, and the impact of an orchestra in full flight. We need these things more than ever.
At this point, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for the upcoming season. To wish you health and happiness and to hope that we will all be back in theatres very soon. In the meantime, what are you looking forward to this season?