Don Carlo – Verdi – Grange Park Opera

In an ambitious tilt at major opera houses, Grange Park Opera has revived its 2016 staging of the immense and dramatic Verdi opera, Don Carlo, which was premiered in 1867.  The original five act French libretto was shortened somewhat to a four act Italian version, which was on show in the Woods in Surrey and in this respect Jo Davies’s modest plain sets were more suited to this country house production.  

Andrea Chenier – Giordano – Royal Opera House

Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, often regarded as the poor relation of the 19th century Verismo operas, had its first revival at the ROH since David McVicar’s 2015 controversial new production.  This opera, first performed in 1896 at La Scala Milan, is a story based on the life of the French poet, Andrea Chenier, who was executed during the French revolution in 1794. 

Phaedra – Henze – Linbury Theatre – Royal Opera House

Hans Werner Henze died at the age of 86 in 2012.  He was a German Atonal Composer and left Germany for Italy in 1953 due to an intolerance toward his left wing politics and homosexuality.  He became a member of the Italian communist party and indeed wrote a Requiem in 1968 for Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh.  He even spent a year teaching in Cuba.  Whilst his father enrolled him in the Hitler Youth, it was clear that music was his forte and after the Second World War he became a Conductor at the Wiesbaden Staatstheater. 

Devotion and Desire – National Opera Studio

Once more the National Opera Studio comes up trumps in its joint production, with the Welsh National Opera, of ‘Devotion and Desire’.  This programme was directed by Emma Jenkins, whose career started as a staff director at the English National Opera, but has also more recently included work with the WNO, where she has directed the NOS residency for the last three years. 

La forza del destino – Verdi – Royal Opera House

The starry eyed opening of Christof Loy’s new production of Verdi’s La forza del destino was triumphant with the world’s greatest singers in the title roles - Anna Netrebko as Leonora, Jonas Kaufman as Don Alvaro and Ludovic Tezier as Don Carlo.  This was casting as good as it gets and a really exciting evening was enjoyed by all that were present. 

Billy Budd – Britten – Royal Opera House

It is incredible when in an all-male opera the keenest applause at curtain call is reserved for a lady – the female Director, Deborah Warner.  She directs a new production for the ROH, in conjunction with opera houses, both in Madrid and Rome, where this production has already premiered.   It is the ROH’s first new staging of this work since Zambello’s 1995 staging.  Warner is becoming a bit of a Britten specialist with her brilliant Death in Venice for ENO in memory, with others to follow suit.  Here she brings the 1797 timeframe up to the modern era, with costumes by Chloe Obolensky and sets by Michael Levine to match.  The abstract staging is based around moving platforms all surrounded by rigging, which at appropriate times move to produce varying levels on the stage, reflecting the different decks of the ship, HMS Indomitable. 

Mirga Leads Tchaikovsky – LA Philharmonic – Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall

It was an unexpected privilege to witness the performance of the outstanding Moldovan Violinist, now in her early forties, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto under the baton of the Lithuanian Conductor, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla.  They played together like a matching glove, always outstandingly in time and complete with their musical colour, but it was Kopatchinskaja’s night. 

Elisabetta I – Rossini – Hackney Empire

It is outstanding that the English Touring Opera reaches more towns and cities in the UK than any other opera company.  There is nothing easy in the repertoire that ETO performs (this year Elisabetta 1, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Verdi’s Macbeth, next year Mozart’s Seraglio and Kurt Weill’s The Silver Lake, A Winter’s Tale), but with all its work it brings opera to the people outside the main cities, which is hugely important and beneficial for the country as a whole. 

Akhnaten - Philip Glass - English National Opera

Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, written in 1983, is an opera in three Acts based on the life and religious convictions of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhnaten.  The opera was commissioned and premiered in Stuttgart Germany and the American premiere was directed a year later in Houston by the Australian Opera Director, David Freeman.  The English premiere was staged in 1985 by ENO, who now stage its new 2016 production in partnership with the LA Opera.  The Egyptian and Hebrew texts are all taken from original sources, as indeed is the juggling whose source had been discovered as graffiti on the wall in an Egyptian tomb.

Cyprus High Commission – St Martin’s Embassy & Cultural Institute Series – St Martin-in-the-Fields

Cyprus is a small country with a long history and incredibly rich culture.  The majority of Cyprus is still under Greek Cypriot control, although there is a large part of the island’s cultural heritage currently under Turkish occupation since July 1974.  Civilisation in Cyprus goes back 10,000 years and there are indeed still signs of pre-historic permanent settlements.  Cyprus has had a close relationship for more than two centuries with Greece, particularly its influences.  During the Byzantine period there was also a strong Roman influence. The island was owned and controlled by the Latin state of Jerusalem, the Venetians, the Ottomans and the British and it wasn’t until 1959 that Archbishop Makarios was elected the first President of the Republic of Cyprus.  As a result of the Turkish invasion in 1974, Lefkosia (formerly Nicosia) is currently the only divided capital in the world.  

Un Ballo in Maschera – Verdi – Israeli Opera – Tel Aviv Israel

Most major and minor cities in Germany have an opera house that becomes the focal point of artistic development in the community.  Some cities in Germany are themselves bigger than the whole country of Israel, which has a population of 6.5m of which 2.5m are Arab and 4.5m Jewish.  Israel itself has its own Opera House, with the current Arts Centre being opened in 1994 after the new Israeli Opera was established in 1985.

Katya Kabanova – Janacek – Royal Opera House

Born in 1854, Leos Janacek was a Czech Composer whose music was inspired by Slavic folk music and contemporaries such as Dvorak.  Although his first opera, Jenufa (dedicated to the memory of his young daughter) was first performed in 1904 in the city of Brno, it wasn’t until a revised version of Jenufa was performed in Prague in 1916 that Janacek first received great acclaim - at the age of 62.  A year later he met a young married woman (38 years his junior), who inspired him for the remaining years of his life, until his death in 1928.