Opera + Classical Music Features

Classical Preview: Q1 2023

It’s that time of year again; “Winter, the paragon of art, / That kills all forms of life and feeling / Save what is pure and will survive” (Roy Campbell).

Despite the miserable weather there’s plenty of life to be had on the musical scene in the UK, and our team has chosen the pick of classical events to look forward to between now and the end of March.


Opera North

Those who live in or near Leeds have a lot to look forward to in terms of music to cheer the soul in the coming months – and of course we extend a very warm welcome to those brave individuals who decide to venture north of Watford Gap to join us up here in Yorkshire

Opera North brings us three mouth-watering productions over the next few months, commencing with a strongly merited revival of the house’s stunning version of Puccini’s Tosca, with Giselle Allen and Robert Hayward reprising their roles as Floria Tosca and Baron Scarpia. First night is 21 January, and the reviews from previous performances suggest it’s not one to miss, with critics searching for superlatives. As well as the run in Leeds, it will travel to Salford, Nottingham, Newcastle and Hull.

Next up is Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, with the first night on 4 February. Originally a co-production with Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera, David Pountney’s classic production is set to introduce a whole new generation to Janáček’s glorious music and this iconic staging. Touring venues are as Tosca.

February also brings a production new to Leeds, a co-presentation with Gothenburg Opera of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos; first night is the 16th and touring venues as the others, with the exception of Hull. This one has so many reasons not to miss it – Hanna Hipp, who was such a superb Octavian in Garsington Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier, sings the Composer, and Elizabeth Llewellyn makes her company debut as Prima Donna / Ariadne. Rodula Gaitanou’s production promises to be one of those rare modern updatings which actually makes sense, given that it’s set around a bustling Italian film studio in the 1950s. We can’t wait.

– Melanie Eskenazi

• More at operanorth.co.uk.


Royal Festival Hall & Milton Court

On 22 January the Chinese-American composer Tan Dun’s 2018 work Buddha Passion will receive its UK premiere at the Royal Festival Hall. This isn’t the composer’s first setting of a work echoing the 18th century Lutheran tradition – in 2000, his Water Passion after St Matthew was one of several modern takes on the Easter story commissioned to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. Buddha Passion, though, while following a similar choral/soloist/orchestral form, takes its inspiration from cave paintings of the Buddha’s life and teachings found in the city of Dunhuang.

The work is a fusion of Chinese and Western music, and includes lush choruses and passages from a Western-style orchestra, as well as traditional Chinese instruments and throat singing, with texts (by the composer and from several Tang Dynasty poets) in English, Chinese and Sanskrit. Bracketed by two scenes from either end of the life of the Buddha (his attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and his entry into Nirvana) are four short Chinese parable tales exemplifying the tenets of Buddhism.

Under Tan Dun’s baton, the London Philharmonic Orchestra are joined by the London Philharmonic Chorus, the London Chinese Philharmonic Choir, Sen Guo (soprano/female indigenous singer), Huiling Zhu (mezzo), Kang Wang (tenor), Shenyang (bass/baritone), Batubagen (indigenous male singer/Dunhuang xiqin) and Yining Chen (pipa/dancer). This is very much a must-hear work from the composer of the music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and promises an evening of fascinating blending of musical cultures.

Also on musicOMH’s contemporary music list for January is the world premiere of a new work by Shiva Feshareki, a piece that merges live ambisonic turntablism with acoustic instrumentation provided by The Hermes Experiment (an unconventional quartet made up of soprano, clarinet, harp and double bass). Along with works by Oliver Leith, Stevie Wishart, Mira Calix and Jethro Cooke, the as yet unnamed Feshareki piece will be performed on 26 January at the Barbican’s Milton Court.

– Barry Creasy

• More at tan-duns-buddha-passion & the-hermes-experiment-shiva-feshareki.


The Royal Opera & English National Opera

Wagnerians are in for a treat. Tim Albery’s 2010 staging of Tannhäuser returns to Covent Garden on 29 January with a mouthwatering cast, conducted by Frankfurt’s outgoing music director, Sebastian Weigle. All eyes will be on Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen who sings her first major Wagnerian role for company, when she takes on the mantle of Elisabeth – a role she’s sung to huge acclaim in Bayreuth. I’ve been lucky enough to hear her Sieglinde in Berlin, and Ariadne at The Metropolitan Opera, New York. The voice is phenomenal, like a force of nature, so her appearances at Covent Garden are sure to set the pulses racing. 

Stefan Vinke, every major opera house’s go-to Siegfried, takes on the arduous title role, one his voice is more than ably equipped to tackle. And with Gerald Finley as Wolfram, Mika Kares as Herman and Ekaterina Gubanova as the temptress Venus, this promises to be the cast of one’s dreams.

Not to be outdone in the Wagner stakes, down the road English National Opera unveils the second installment of its new Ring Cycle, The Rheingold, following on from The Valkyrie last season. Billed as a co-production with the Met, the rumour factory has been in overdrive – fuelled by one former critic in particular who should know better – as to whether it’ll ever make it across the pond. Time will tell. Having been a fan of Richard Jones’ work, his first (Scottish Opera) and second (Royal Opera) stagings of The Valkyrie were probling, insightful and theatrically daring. That’s why I was so disappointed with this his third stab at the work. Nevertheless, I have high hopes for The Rheingold, and am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the company gets to complete the Cycle over the next couple of seasons. The outpouring of goodwill towards the company in light of Arts Council England’s butchery has been a joy to behold. Let’s just hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

– Keith McDonnell

• More at tannhauser-by-tim-albery & the-rhinegold


London Handel Festival

Many a music lover will regard the London Handel Festival as one of the highlights of the year, and the programme for 2023, which runs from 19 February to 18 March, looks a particularly enticing one. As always, there are evenings that present a single work (Alexander’s Feast appears on 23 February), and others that enable us to see the composer’s creations in a new light (In the Realms of Sorrow from 28 February to 3 March sees a radical new staging of four of his most profound and exquisite cantatas). The season also includes the International Handel Singing Competition (which runs between 21 February and the gala final on 16 March) as well as come & sing events (19 February) and guided walks (18 March). 

One of the absolute joys of the festival is the opportunity to enjoy rarities that come around very infrequently, and all eyes this year are likely to be on Handel’s opera Scipione, HWV 20 on 18 March. It premiered in 1726 at The King’s Theatre, Haymarket when Handel was well into his period of domination of the London opera scene, only this had not yet persisted so long that any real competition or (perceived) flops had crept in. These were not the 1730s when he had to compete for audiences with the rival Opera of the Nobility, and so this is the opportunity to hear him writing with the confidence of one who is riding the crest of a wave, and not the desperation of someone who is anxious to secure a hit. Handel did revive the opera in 1730, but after this it did not receive another UK production until 1967. While it has received a few more outings in recent years, in line with a more general revival of interest in the composer’s operas, the opportunities to hear it are still few and far between and so should be taken whenever they arise. 

The three act opera seria, with a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli, was composed while Handel was in the middle of writing Alessandro and is based on the life of the Roman general Scipio Africanus (236/235-183 BC). The opera’s slow march is the regimental march of the Grenadier Guards and is played at London Metropolitan Police passing out ceremonies. It will be performed in concert at 16.00 at St George’s, Hanover Square on 18 March by the Early Opera Company, conducted by Christian Curnyn. James Laing plays Scipione, Mhairi Lawson sings Berenice and Catherine Carby assumes the role of Lucejo. The cast is completed by Jorge Navarro Colorado (Lelio), Matthew Durkan (Ernando) and 2020 International Handel Singing Competition audience prize winner Jessica Cale (Armira).

– Sam Smith

• More at early-opera-company-present-scipione & london-handel-festival.

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Classical Preview: Q1 2023
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