The first quarter of 2009 sees an unusually high, and very welcome, number of new opera productions in London.
Between them, the two main houses have seven, with just three revivals. There are two UK premieres and the return of both Bryn Terfel and Jonathan Miller to the London opera scene.
Jonathan “I’ll never direct another opera” Miller is back at English National Opera with a brand new production of La boheme (from 2 February). Basing the look on the photographic world of Brassa, Cartier-Bresson and Kertezsz, he promises something that will steer a course between the overly traditional and “eurotrash” conceptual approaches, both of which he despises. Alfie Boe stars as Rodolfo with a new name, soprano Melody Moore, as Mimi.
The Royal Opera’s programme kicks off (20 January) with a Linbury Studio production of The Beggar’s Opera, in the Britten realisation. This is followed a week later (27 January) by the premiere of Korngold’s sumptuous Die tote Stadt. Willy Decker’s production comes from Salzburg, now with Gerald Finley and Nadja Michael in the leading roles. It’s a potentially magical night.
Finley pops up again at the Coliseum in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic (25 February), the story of J Robert Oppenheimers development of the nuclear bomb. He’ll be back at the Coliseum later in the year as Balstrode in Peter Grimes, so London is being treated to a rash of appearances this year from this fine baritone.
Back at the ROH, Bryn Terfel returns in Der fliegende Hllander, his first performances there since dropping out of The Ring, two years ago. The new production by Tim Albery also stars Anja Kampe and opens on 23 February.
Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi opens at Covent Garden on 2 March, with Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and Mark Elder conducting. At the end of the month, a double-bill of Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas debuts, directed and choreographed by the Royal Ballet’s Wayne McGregor with Christopher Hogwood waving the stick and a starry line-up of Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe and Iestyn Davies.
In the Linbury Studio, opening on 14 February (what could be better for St Valentine’s Day?) is John Fulljames’ premiere production of George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill doubled with Birtwistle’s 1969 Down by the Greenwood Side.
All told, it’s a varied programme and these new productions are joined by revivals of Nicholas Hytner’s boomerang Magic Flute (ENO from 24 January), Jenufa (ENO, 12 March) with Amanda Roocroft repeating her Olivier Award-winning performance and David McVicar’s Rigoletto returns to the ROH (10 February), with Leo Nucci in the title role.
Moving away from the main opera houses, there is plenty else on offer during Winter and early Spring. English Touring Opera begin their 30th birthday celebrations in March, with the launch of a Spring tour of The Magic Flute and Katya Kabanova at Hackney Empire.
Staying east, Transition Opera have a fascinating offering with a multi-media Venus and Adonis (John Blow’s 1687 masque) at Wilton’s Music Hall, starting on 11 February. This enterprising group, run by early music specialist Christian Curnyn with soprano Claire Booth and Ryan Wigglesworth as associates and Netia Jones as Artistic Director, has a number of other really interesting projects lined up later in the year. These include a Stravinsky project and Handel’s Apollo and Dafne, both using interactive video and film.
Opera North make their annual visit to Sadler’s Wells with the David Sawer/Armando Iannucci satirical operetta about cosmetic surgery. It plays for two evenings (17/19 Feb) in rep with two Gershwin musicals. At Guildhall School of Music and Drama, there will be an unusual outing for Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s The King Goes Forth to France, last seen in London at Covent Garden in 1987.
All of this is packed into the first three months of the year and there’s a host of concert performances around the capital during the same period. The Barbican sees three visits by the Mariinsky, under Gergiev, over the weekend 30 January-1 February, with Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades and two lesser-known works: Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon (1875) and the contemporary Alexander Smelkov’s The Brothers Karmazov (UK Premiere). In March, Jir Belohlvek will conduct Martinu’s Julietta, with Magdalena Kozena.
On the South Bank, offerings range from Chelsea Opera Group in Cilea’s soupy Adriana Lecouvreur (15 February) at the QEH, Rossini’s Ermione with the LPO (15 February) and Vladimir Martynov’s 3-act opera La Vita Nuova (18 February), based on Dante and with Mark Padmore as the Italian bard.
And still they keep coming! On 17 February Cadogan Hall has London Lyric Opera’s Fidelio, hard on the heels of the group’s recent debut performance at the Barbican with Der fliegende Hllander. Still at Sloane Square, I Fagiolini’s programme on 5 March boasts a performance of scenes from a Banchieri comedy rejoicing in the title The mad old git. Classical Opera Company celebrate Haydn’s anniversary with a Haydn Week at Kings Place, four concerts exploring highlights of the composer’s operatic output.
It’s an astonishing line-up of operas in the capital during a three month period. Everyone will have their own “must-see” events. For the record, mine are Die tote Stadt, the Benjamin/Birtwistle double-bill and Julietta but I intend to take in a lot more besides. I hope you’ll join me.