Coming Up on World of Opera

MODEST MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov

Finnish National Opera, Helsinki

Week of 11/22/14

Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus Michael Güttler, conductor

CAST: Matti Salminen (Boris Godunov); Jyrki Anttila (Shuysky); Koit Soasepp (Pimen); Mika Pohjonen (Grigoriy, the Pretender); Ann-Marie Heino (Fyodor); Anna Kristina Kaappola (Kseniya); Niina Keitel (Marina); Hannu Niemela (Rangoni); Hannu Forsberg (Varlaam); Aki Alamikkotervo (Misail); Evgeny Akimov (The Holy Fool)

Deeply rooted in the country's colorful history, Mussorgsky's epic may be the most famous of all Russian operas. Bass Matti Salminen does a star turn as the tormented title character, in a first-rate production from Finland.

W. A. MOZART: Idomeneo

Vienna State Opera

Week of 11/29/14

Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

CAST: Michael Schade (Idomeneo); Chen Reiss (Ilia); Margarita Gritskova (Idamante); Maria Bengtson (Elettra); Pavel Kolgatin (Arbace); Carlos Osuna (High Priest of Neptune)

Idomeneo is a masterpiece that’s only beginning to gain its rightful place in Mozart’s canon. The opera does have an outlandish plot -- complete with conniving gods and a carniverous sea monster -- but it’s also blessed with some of Mozart’s most beautiful music and a troupe of opera’s most touchingly human characters.

P. I. TCHAIKOVSKY: The Queen of Spades

Philharmonie, Munich

Week of 12/6/14

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Mariss Jansons, conductor

CAST: Misha Didyk (Herman); Larissa Diadkova (Countess); Tatiana Serjan (Lisa); Alexey Shishlayev (Count Tomsky); Alexey Markov (Prince Yeletsky); Vadim Zapletchny (Chekalinsky); Tomasz Slawinski (Surin); Makhail Makarov (Chaplitsky); Oksana Volkova (Pauline)

Gambling has gotten lots of folks in trouble, but few more dramatically than the unfortunate character Herman in Tchaikovsky's opera. Based on a chilling story by Pushkin, the operatic version is no less disturbing than the original.

GIOACHINO ROSSINI: The Voyage to Reims

Belcanto Opera Festival, Bad Wildbad

Week of 12/13/14

Virtuosi Brunensis Poznan Bach Chorus Antonio Fogliani, conductor

CAST: Alessandra Marianelli (Madame Cortese); Sofia Mchedlisvili (Countess di Folleville); Laura Giordano (Corinna); Marianna Pizzolato (Marchesa Melibea); Maxim Mironov (Count di Libenskof); Bogdan Mihai (Chevalier Belfiore); Mirko Palazzi (Lord Sidney); Mysketa Gezim (Don Alvaro); Bruno Pratico (Barone di Trombonok); Bruno De Simone (Don Profondo)

This score by Rossini is alternately called a dramma giocoso and a "scenic cantata." Either way, it's right at home in the theater, and contains some of the composer's most brilliant vocal writing.

JOHN ADAMS: El Niño

2014 Spoleto Festival USA

Week of 12/20/14

Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra Westminster Choir Joe Miller, conductor

CAST: Erica Brookhyser (Mezzo-Soprano); Daniel Bubeck (Countertenor 1); Brian Cummings (Countertenor 2); Caitlin Lynch (Soprano); Steven Rickards (Countertenor 3); Mark Walters (Baritone)

John Adams, Pulitzer Prize-winner and arguably America's best-known living composer, describes El Niño as, “my way of trying to understand what is meant by a miracle." This sweeping setting of the Christmas story is both compellingly contemporary and filled with ancient traditions, including medieval carolers, Latin American poets, and an ethereal children's chorus. As the New York Times put it, "El Niño bears so many gifts that the senses stagger under the load."

GAETANO DONIZETTI: The Elixir of Love

Royal Opera House, London

Week of 12/27/14

Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus Daniele Rustioni, conductor

CAST: Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino); Lucy Crowe (Adina); Bryn Terfel (Dr. Dulcamara); Levente Molnár (Belcore); Kiandra Howarth (Giannetta)

There's not a lot to be taken seriously in this comic romp by Donizetti -- unless, of course, you count the music! It's some of Donizetti's finest, and takes the opera beyond the world of farce to a place where simple confidence leads to life-changing revelations.

G. F. HANDEL: Julius Caesar in Egypt

Royal Theater, Turin

Week of 1/3/15

Teatro Regio Orchestra and Chorus
Alessandro de Marchi, conductor

CAST: Sonia Prina (Julius Caesar); Jessica Pratt (Cleopatra); Jud Perry (Tolomeo); Sara Mingardo (Cornelia); Maite Beaumont (Sesto); Guido Loconsolo (Achilles)

Not too long ago, many people were surprised to learn that Handel was among the most acclaimed opera composers of his time. By now, he's quickly becoming a favorite of our own time, as well. This colorful drama is one of the many Handel operas being heard more and more often in the world's theaters.

GIUSEPPE VERDI: Simon Boccanegra

Teatro La Fenice, Venice

Week of 1/10/15

La Fenice Orchestra and Chorus
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor

CAST: Simone Piazzola (Simon Boccanegra); Giacomo Prestia (Jacopo Fiesco); Maria Agresta (Maria Boccanegra); Julian Kim (Paolo Albiani); Luca Dall'Amico (Pietro)

Verdi himself once described the story of this brooding masterpiece as "too sad, and desolate," and then made a complete revision of the score before he was satisfied. Now, it's counted among his most powerful and compelling dramas. It comes to us from one of opera's most glamorous destinations, La Fenice in Venice.

P. I. TCHAIKOVSKY: The Maid of Orleans

Bolshoi Theater, Moscow

Week of 1/17/15

Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Tugan Sokhiev, conductor

CAST: Anna Smirnova (Joan of Arc); Arseniy Yakovlev (Raymond); Igor Golovatenko (Lionel); Oleg Dolgov (King Charles VII); Andrey Gonyukov (Dunois); Stanislav Trofimov (Archbishop); Petr Migunov (Thibaut d'Arc); Irina Churilova (AgnËs Sorel)

This neglected gem is Tchaikovsky's moody, Romantic take on one of history's most compelling and inspiring stories -- coming to us from the legendary theater that staged world premieres of several Tchaikovsky operas.

GIOACHINO ROSSINI: Aureliano in Palmira

Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro

Week of 1/24/15

G. Rossini Symphony Orchestra
Chorus of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna
Will Crutchfield, conductor

CAST: Jessica Pratt (Zenobia); Lena Belkina (Arsace); Michael Spyres (Aureliano); Raffaella Lupinacci (Publia); Dempsey C'Rivera (Oraspe); Dimitri Pkhaladze (Gran sacerdote); Sergio Vitale (Licinio)

This story of romantic intrigue among warring leaders of the ancient world is rarely heard in modern opera houses, though it is home to some of Rossini's best-known music: Its rousing overture was later recycled to kick off his comedy, The Barber of Seville.

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