Looking Ahead: Classical and Opera Highlights, London 2015
From Monteverdi to Kurt Weill, Culture Whisper selects the best classical and opera events of the New Year
Barbican Hall, 12th Jan
The Winterreise, emotional yet enigmatic, sparse yet endlessly surprising, stand at the peak of the entire lieder canon. For the past two decades, Ian Bostridge has continuously interpreted and reinterpreted these masterpieces. There can be few singers as steeped in their depths; Bostridge has even penned an excellent book on the subject. Thomas Ades accompanies, continuing his sensational series of collaborations with the tenor. There are innumerable cheerier ways to begin the year, but it’s doubtful that you’ll find one more wrenchingly powerful.
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, English National Opera
London Coliseum, 7th Feb – 10th Mar
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is one of Wagner’s greatest works, and his only comedy; it is also the longest single work in the romantic operatic repertoire. Consequently, it seldom reaches these shores. This production comes to the ENO after a stand-out run with the Welsh National Opera in 2010. Director Richard Jones – who won the Evening Standard Award for his Royal Opera Ring cycle – clips his signature surrealism to plumb the libretto’s thematic depths. A must-see for all opera lovers, devoted Wagnerian or otherwise.
Pavel Haas Quartet & Colin Currie
Wigmore Hall, 18th Feb
Pavel Haas, who studied under Janacek, was a composer of extraordinary promise; he was also a Jew in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, and met his tragic end in Auschwitz. Although only a small selection of his music survives, the quartet founded in his name have tirelessly promoted his string work, winning Gramophone awards in the process. This concert sees them take on his 2nd Quartet, along with infrequently played work from Czech masters Dvorak and Janacek. Percussionist-du-jour Colin Currie, fresh from his South Bank Centre season, will join them for the UK premiere of Jiri Gemrot’s Quintet, composed especially for these five players.
The Indian Queen, English National Opera
Coliseum, 26th Feb – 14th Mar
With his habit of creating productions that stray far from their composer’s intentions, Peter Sellars may just be the world’s most controversial opera director; his 1997 Le Grand Macabre caused Ligeti himself to complain. But The Indian Queen
should cause no such trouble. Composed by Henry Purcell in the late seventeenth century, this unfinished semi-opera is rarely performed. By filling the gaps with some of the composer’s best-known anthems, Sellars has crafted a celebration of Purcell’s short yet stellar career. This looks to be the baroque opera of the year.
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera
Royal Opera House, 10th Mar – 4th Mar
Everyone’s heard of the The Threepenny Opera, but this – also a collaboration between Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht – remains underperformed. Perhaps it strikes too close to the bone. Mahagonny is an untrammelled takedown of capitalist consumerism, almost medieval in its allegorical force. Weill’s music, which matches the bombast of romanticism with neoclassical, jazz and popular influences, contributed to the opera’s ban in Nazi Germany. And with a cast that includes Anne Sofie von Otter and Christine Rice, this is an opportunity too good to pass over.
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, with Mark Padmore
Royal Festival Hall, 2nd April
Spring 2015 promises to be a fine one for devotes of Bach, with Midori playing his solo violin works in March and Gwilym Simcock giving his keyboard masterpieces a jazz makeover in April. The most exciting event of all, though, comes at Easter. The irrepressible Mark Padmore leads an all-star cast through what might be the greatest of all choral works, with the impeccable Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment providing period-specific backing. Few tenors can match Padmore’s emotional ferocity and dramatic commitment; previous performances have seen him sing whilst lying on a gravestone.
Yevgeny Sudbin Recital
Royal Festival Hall, 13th May
Yevgeny Sudbin should need no introduction – based in England since 1997, the Russia-born, German-educated pianist already has a dazzling array of recordings under his belt. He is a virtuoso, but no fan of empty show. Reviewers have noted how he seems effaced beneath his playing, which abounds in delicacy, shading and thoughtfulness. For this performance, he will bring his expertise to a century and a half’s worth of solo piano music. Starting with a Haydn sonata and Beethoven’s late Bagatelles, he will run through works by Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns and Scriabin. Watch out for the latter’s Sonata No. 9, the ‘Black Mass’, which seems to teeter on the edge of oblivion.
Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, Les Arts Florissants
Barbican Hall, 24th May
Hailing from Caen, Les Arts Florissants are surely one of the world’s foremost baroque ensembles. Although all their visits to London are worth a catch, this one is essential. Over the course of an afternoon and evening, they will perform the two monumental sections of Monteverdi’s final completed collection of madrigals. Ranging from thirty-minute long odysseys to exquisite miniatures, they encompass the entirety of the Renaissance choral tradition and look forward to the baroque ahead. Paul Agnew, himself a renowned tenor, directs.
Dresden Philharmonic Residency
Cadogan Hall, 18th – 22nd Jun
Performances of Beethoven’s orchestral music can hardly be said to be scarce in London. Less common, however, are renderings that show the composer’s genius developing over the course of time. Over three nights, the Dresden Phil will play a successive series of Beethoven’s symphonies, from the fateful hammer blows of the 5th to the iridescent activity of the 7th. And, joined by Freddy Kempf, they will follow his piano concertos from the stormy 3rd to the matchless 5th. Together, the residency proffers a chance to see every facet of Beethoven’s mature large-scale work.
Falstaff, Royal Opera
Royal Opera House, 6th – 18th Jul
Sir John is back, and in love – although whether with a pair of married women or their husbands’ fortunes, time will tell. Verdi’s final work is the nineteenth century comic opera par excellence, all bawdy exuberance and rollicking melodies. After its 2012 premiere, Robert Carsen’s production was deemed the most important since Zeffirelli’s realist 1960s warhorse. Set in a mid-century grand hotel, Carsen’s splash of modernity allows the frantic comedy to boil to a feverish extreme.