London Opera and Classical Preview – May-June 2006

The London opera season reaches its climax in the next two months.

At the Royal Opera House, Angela Gheorghiu stars in the company’s first new production of Puccini’s Tosca in over forty years, and Plcido Domingo returns to the House in May in a new role.

Meanwhile, the ever-diverse English National Opera offers high-profile new productions of operas by Purcell and Jancek, and the audience-friendly summer season at Opera Holland Park kicks off with works by Puccini and Giordano.

Co-starring with Gheorghiu in the ROH Tosca are Marcelo Alvarez and Bryn Terfel, a dream cast conducted by Royal Opera Music Director Antonio Pappano (from June 16). Pappano also conducts an attractive alternative line-up of singers including Catherine Naglestad and Samuel Ramey, for which tickets are still available. Jonathan Kent‘s new production is surely the most eagerly anticipated operatic event anywhere in the world this year.

Domingo dons the long nose of Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac from May 7; Francesca Zambello‘s new production is from the New York Met, and is conducted by Mark Elder.

If you can’t queue up for day seats for that, try Willy Decker‘s Olivier-nominated double bill of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung (from May 26). Petra Lang takes the role of Judith in the former, whilst Angela Denoke is The Woman in the latter. With top prices at only 50 less than many a West End musical nowadays there’s no excuse for missing this potentially gripping revival of two of opera’s most psychologically probing works. And I can’t wait to see David McVicar‘s splendid production of The Marriage of Figaro in its first revival under Sir Colin Davis from 19 June.

Over at the Coliseum, Sir Charles Mackerras conducts Christopher Alden‘s new production of Jancek’s The Makropulos Case from May 18. Mackerras almost single-handedly brought Jancek’s operas back into the repertoire with a series of vivid recordings, and the rare opportunity to witness his interpretation of this intriguing opera is not to be missed.

ENO’s revival of Handel’s Ariodante from June 1 stars Alice Coote, the formidable Rebecca Evans and Patricia Bardon. The company’s reputation for Handel is far from exaggerated; go see this to find out why. Former ENO Music Director Paul Daniel conducts Nixon in China from June 14; John Adams‘ opera is directed by Peter Sellars. Perhaps most exciting of all is the prospect of the choreographer Mark Morris directing Purcell’s King Arthur (from June 26). Jane Glover returns to ENO to conduct this early masterpiece, which blends dance and opera to interesting effect.

At Opera Holland Park, a mixture of the familiar and the rare characterises a strong season. Giordano’s Fedora sets things in motion on June 6, in repertoire with Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. New productions of The Merry Widow and Cos fan tutte start on 29 and 30 June respectively.

“Domingo dons the long nose of Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac from May 7.”
– a key new production at the Royal Opera House.

The London Symphony Orchestra also dips its hands into operatic waters this month, with two concert performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Christine Brewer stars as Leonore, and Sir Colin Davis conducts a thrilling cast. Yuri Temirkanov conducts the LSO on May 4 and 7, the programmes including Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (with Helene Grimaud) and Mahler’s Titan Symphony.

An event not to be missed is the Hampton Court Palace Festival, which offers high quality performers in historic surroundings. The Festival opens on June 8 with one of the biggest opera superstars of all time: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. She will be singing Mozart arias in the year of his 250th anniversary, a return to the repertoire with which she made her name. Then on June 12, Glyndebourne Festival Opera presents a concert version of Die Fledermaus, using the costumes from the current production. Sir Thomas Allen stars in his only London opera performance this year.

It’s worth making the journey to Manchester on May 13 to hear the Hall Orchestra in its prime under current Music Director Mark Elder. In a thoroughly tempting programme, Elder juxtaposes Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony with scenes from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. The three soloists are of a quality of which the Royal Opera would be proud to present: Anne Schwanewilms as the Marschallin, Katarina Karnus as Octavian and Susan Gritton as Sophie. It promises to be a great night.

Further afield, Opera North‘s summer season is well worth catching, the tour visiting Norwich, Salford, Newcastle, Hull and Sheffield in May. Janis Kelly stars in Puccini’s poignant La rondine; Francesca Zambello‘s production is magical, and Opera North Music Director Richard Farnes conducts. A youthful cast takes on The Marriage of Figaro in an English translation by Amanda Holden, and Mary Plazas and Donald Maxwell are in the lavish cast for Kurt Weill’s operetta Arms and the Cow. More Puccini is offered by the enterprising Guildhall School of Music and Drama from June 8, with Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi.

The UK’s most inventive celebration of the Mozart anniversary takes place at the Barbican in an extended two-month Mostly Mozart festival. It really is an extraordinary programme of events. Complete operas in concert or semi-staged performances include Ascano in Alba (June 6), Il re pastore (June 24) and Don Giovanni (June 27). Other highlights include concerts with William Christie (June 9) and Paul McCreesh (June 14).

The English Concert under Andrew Manze present a concert dedicated to ‘The Mature Mozart’ at Cadogan Hall on May 28, and another including works by Bach and the UK premiere of Jonathan Dove‘s Kthen Mass (a homage to Bach) at the Spitalfields Festival on June 21. Plus the London Handel Festival reaches its conclusion with three performances of Tolomeo at the Royal College of Music on May 15-18 (given in collaboration with English Touring Opera).

“Opera North’s summer season is well worth catching, with operas by Puccini, Mozart and Kurt Weill.”

At the Barbican, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents the UK premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen‘s Wing on Wing and Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony on May 12. The previous day, Maxim Vengerov plays solo works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Mozart, and another great violinist, Midori, presents an eclectic programme on May 14.

Bach’s B Minor Mass is performed by the Bach Collegium Japan at the Barbican Hall on May 30, making a rare UK appearance, while modern opera is served by a semi-staging of Thomas AdsPowder Her Face on June 8, the composer himself leading the LSO. Solo recitals by Karita Mattila (June 12) and Alfred Brendel (June 16) and a visit by the Vienna Philharmonic under Bernard Haitink (June 13) are also key dates in the coming weeks.

The London Mozart Players offer Mozartian fare on May 13 at Fairfield Hall, Croydon; Sir James Galway conducts and plays the flute part in the Flute and Harp Concerto. Over at Cadogan Hall, the English Chamber Orchestra plays two Mozart piano concerti with Emanuel Ax on May 24, and on May 7 Peter Jablonski plays Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Royal Philharmonic.

And there are numerous highlights at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, though ticket availability tends to be limited. Yundi Li presents two of Chopin’s Scherzi and Liszt’s Sonata on May 15; Andreas Scholl sings Mozart, Haydn and Handel on June 8; Charles Mackerras celebrates his 80th birthday with the Philharmonia on June 20, the programme including Mozart’s final piano concerto with Alfred Brendel.

There’s so much on offer that it’s almost impossible to choose. London certainly caters for all musical tastes in the next two months.

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