The Royal Opera gets things going on 10 September with two concert performances of Donizetti’s last work, Dom Sebastien, roi de Portugal, sung in the original French. Conducted by the Verdi specialist Mark Elder and featuring a star-studded cast including Renato Bruson (making an extremely rare London appearance), Simon Keenlyside and Vesselina Kasarova, this rare outing promises the best possible chance of reclaiming an undiscovered masterpiece.
The season proper begins with a revival of Piero Faggioni’s classic production of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West. Royal Opera Music Director Antonio Pappano conducts Jose Cura and Andrea Gruber in what is one of Puccini’s lesser known works – let’s hope the refurbished production lives up to its reputation: set designs are by Kenneth Adam, well-known for his work on James Bond films such as Dr No and Goldfinger. Nielsen’s delightful comedy Maskarade from 1905-06 at last gets its ROH premiere, helpfully sung in English. Don’t be put off by the unfamiliarity of the title – the score is a real gem and this could turn out to be the ROH highlight of the autumn.
Later on, the centenary of Michael Tippett’s birth is commemorated with Richard Hickox conducting John Tomlinson and Amanda Roocroft in Graham Vick’s vivid 1996 production of The Midsummer Marriage. Tickets are relatively cheap for this, and it’s one of the composer’s most accessible efforts, so this could be a good alternative if you can’t get seats for the next part of the Royal Opera’s Keith Warner/Antonio Pappano Ring Cycle, Siegfried. And Mark Elder returns in December with a much-needed new production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Over at ENO, all eyes (and ears) will be focussed on the stage premiere of Gerald Barry’s setting of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. It’s not a happy tale to say the least, but with Richard Jones directing the results may be powerful. It runs in tandem with their warhorse production of The Magic Flute, starring the sumptuous Janice Watson in some performances. October brings Poulenc’s greatest work in any genre, Dialogue of the Carmellites, with the brilliant Felicity Palmer and Josephine Barstow, and later Cheryl Barker takes the title role in Strauss’ masterpiece Salome. Mary Plazas plays the title role in ENO’s first new production of Madam Butterfly in years, the great Katarina Karneus makes her UK Handel debut in Nick Hytner’s timelessly witty Xerxes, and the climax is an unmissable new production of Britten’s Billy Budd with John Tomlinson and Simon Keenlyside – the autumn operatic highlight, I predict.
Three major concert series stand out from the LSO’s Barbican season. Russian specialist Valery Gergiev starts a year-long Shostakovich symphony cycle – hopefully shedding the overall failure of his ROH Kirov summer season – whilst Bernard Haitink makes the journey through all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies, which will be recorded for the orchestra’s in-house label. Best of all, perhaps, is the orchestra’s series of choral works with Principal Conductor Sir Colin Davis. The season opens with two unusual Sibelius pieces on 18 September, Pohjola’s Daughter and the Kullervo Symphony, a truly delectable programme which should shed light on the composer’s achievement in writing for large-scale forces, and later Anne Sophie von Otter and Ben Heppner bring starry names to the cast of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.
The Barbican’s Great Performers series brings us Sir Charles Mackerras leading Beethoven’s Fidelio on 8 October, celebrating the conductor’s 80th birthday; Christine Brewer and Thomas Moser star. The American soprano Renee Fleming follows her triumphant summer appearance in Otello with a solo recital on 3 November, and Yuri Temirkanov brings his virtuosic St Petersburg Philharmonic in a programme of Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Brahms two weeks later. Yo-Yo Ma, Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta make high-profile visits in December, the latter with the Vienna Philharmonic performing The Rite of Spring and Mozart’s poignant Flute and Harp concerto.
Ever innovative, the BBC SO kicks off in October with a weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Hall dedicated to contemporary composer Xenakis, and later comes to the Barbican with Schoenberg’s Erwartung sung by Susan Bullock (14 October). On 22 October the orchestra celebrates its 75th birthday in a stylish concert of Beethoven, Strauss and Stravinsky, also featuring a UK premiere by Elliott Carter. Pierre Boulez celebrates his 80th birthday with a typically eclectic programme on 4 November, but best of all, perhaps, is Chief Conductor Designate Jiri Belohlavek’s performance of Mahler’s ninth and most poignant symphony on 3 December.
Elsewhere, the Wigmore Hall’s season includes recitals by veteran singers Ann Murray (12 September) and Felicity Lott (17 December); the ever-inspired Bampton Classical Opera brings the rarely heard Haydn opera L’infedelt delusa to St John’s, Smith Square on 20 September; the English Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 45th birthday with Colin Davis at Cadogan Hall in a programme of Mozart, Haydn and Bartok on 19 October; and to come full circle, the London Philharmonic joins forces with Opera Rara in a one-off concert performance of another Donizetti rarity, Il diluvio universale or The Great Flood, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
A particularly eclectic autumn season in London, then, for classical music and opera lovers, which will no doubt provide plenty of surprises along the way.