Looking ahead: best London concerts and opera in 2024
It's a big year for Puccini opera and for rising stars, with music for every taste
Among the rising stars are the Oxford Bach Soloists, bringing together bright new talent and established singers in their London debut concert at St James's Piccadilly (Saturday 6 January), with Culture Whisper's favourite male singer of 2023, Nick Pritchard, as soloist.
When booking opens for the Royal Opera House spring season (Thursday 11 January), operas to look out for are Tim Albery's production of Wagner's dramatic The Flying Dutchman (Thursday 29 February to Saturday 16 March) and talented Italian director Damiano Michieletto's new take on Bizet's Carmen: early performances star thrilling mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina (Friday 5 April to Friday 31 May). Covent Garden's big January production is Richard Strauss's searing Elektra, starring world-class singers Nina Stemme and Karita Matila (Friday 12 – Tuesday 30 January).
Mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina sings Carmen at Covent Garden in April
English National Opera sings on through the turbulence of its move to Manchester, reviving the opera of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (Thursday 1 – Thursday 15 February). The cast includes Nadine Benjamin and Zwakele Tshabalala, reunited after their triumph in our opera of the year 2023, Blue, also at ENO.
On Wednesday 27 March, booking opens for the final Covent Garden operas of the season. Fans of Jonas Kaufmann will be earmarking Giordano's historical drama Andrea Chenier (Thursday 30 May to Tuesday 11 June), the final Royal Opera House production to be conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano in his role as music director, before his move to the London Symphony Orchestra in the autumn. There is a chance to say farewell at the Antonio Pappano Gala at Covent Garden on Thursday 16 May.
Away from the Opera House, music on a smaller scale at Wigmore Hall has magic a-plenty, and its intimate scale allows audiences and artists to build a special relationship. In a packed programme of almost daily concerts, our pick is the series by the bright young things of the Elias Quartet. They give four recitals of music by both Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny Hensel (Sunday 7 April, Thursday 30 May, Tuesday 18 June and Friday 12 July).
Sir Antonio Pappano leaves Covent Garden as musical director in July, crossing to the Barbican and the London Symphony Orchestra
The country-house opera season ought to be renamed the garden opera season, for all the beautiful theatres in which these summer productions are staged come with enviable landscapes.
First up, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, with Carmen (Thursday 16 May to Saturday 24 August) book-ending the season. Standout productions include Handel's Giulio Cesare, given a Bollywood swing, with soprano Louise Alder as Cleopatra and exciting Royal Opera counter-tenor Cameron Shahbazi as Tolomeo. Look out too for the new Merry Widow, with innovative conductor John Wilson sure to breathe new life into Franz Lehár's toothsome score. Public booking opens early in March.
Next comes London's own 'country house' – or garden – opera: Opera Holland Park. Our pick of the season, Puccini's Tosca in the highly acclaimed production by Stephen Barlow, with South African soprano Amanda Echalaz in the title role, playing a persecuted singer. With its gift for performing Italian opera, OHP also stages Leoncavallo's backstage tragedy Pagliacci, Puccini's Edgar, Wolf-Ferrari's comedy Il Segreto di Susanna and Rossini's The Barber of Seville. OHP breaks new ground with its first Handel opera, Acis and Galatea (Friday 19 July to Friday 2 August). Public booking opens on 6 March.
Soprano Louise Alder sings Cleopatra at Glyndebourne
At Garsington Opera, the stupendous garden often blends with the production on stage in the glass-sided theatre where shows run from daylight to sunset. Expect a perfect fit, then, with Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Sunday 16 June to Friday 19 July), one of six operas staged this year (29 May to 31 July). It stars counter-tenor Iestyn Davies as Oberon and Lucy Crowe as Tytania. (Here's hoping the red kites don't steal Davies's prawn salad this season.) Here too is a chance to catch two less often staged operas – Rameau's Platée and Verdi's Un Giorno di Regno. Booking opens on Tuesday 2 April.
Grange Park Opera stages four productions, including a new opera by Anthony Bolton based on Shakespeare's Tempest, and starring Simon Keenlyside as Prospero. Other productions are a double bill of Puccini's comedy Gianni Schicchi and Rachmaninov's Aleko, with Bryn Terfel, Donizetti's comedy Daughter of the Regiment, and Janáček's shattering drama Katya Kabanova. Call 01962 737373 for ticket availability.
As the mood lightens with summer days, relive the wit and elegance of Noël Coward and contemporaries in a recital by Culture Whisper's favourite male singer of 2021, tenor Nicky Spence, with soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Joseph Middleton. The trio have recently released a hugely entertaining CD, A Most Marvellous Party, and on Saturday 13 July they sing the comic and romantic songs live, at Wigmore Hall.
Soprano Mary Bevan goes to A Most Marvellous Party at Wigmore Hall on Saturday 13 July. Photo: Victoria Cadisch
But for the ultimate summer music take your pick from the scores of concerts in the BBC Proms. Most are staged at the Royal Albert Hall, with seats and standing places for music from all the BBC and international visiting orchestras and, in their centenary year, the BBC Singers, plus visiting choirs (Friday 12 July to Saturday 14 September). Anniversaries likely to be marked are the centenary year of the deaths of both Gabriel Fauré and Giacomo Puccini, and the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Holst: cue The Planets, a thrilling piece to hear live. Full programme to be announced at the end of April.
Also unveiled in April will be the 2024/25 seasons at the Royal Opera House and other big London venues, opening in September. Watch Culture Whisper for details.