Top Ten from ‘11–‘12!

Nights at the Opera

June is, in some ways, the most significant month in the annual opera calendar, the month where past and future meet. There is a certain anxiety as the season draws to a close and two months of darkness in the great houses looms.But first, there are the month’s operas to be enjoyed, made all the more precious by the approaching season’s end. This includes the last premiere of the season on 16 June, (“Bloomsday” to fans of James Joyce and his Ulysses!), when the Staatsoper presents a new production by Daniele Abbado of the Italian (four-act) version of Verdi’s Don Carlo. 

Coming on the heels of the rather zany, but now very popular Konwitschny production of the five-act French version of Don Carlos from 2008 – converting the ballet into a dream sequence starring a pizza home delivery service, and an auto da fé (“heretics” burning at the stake) that becomes interactive as the audience moves around the house – what are we to expect this time?

Both versions have Ramon Vargas as Don Carlo and both versions are focussed on the sets of relationships, their struggles and conflicts.This new production has a star cast and hopefully will be as successful as the old one which premiered in October 1989, when the musical director was Claudio Abbado.

June is also the time for planning visits to the many festivals in July and August and even beyond. One of the great little festivals, which stages three relatively unknown works annually, is the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland. This year it runs from 24 Oct. to 4 Nov. ( Ticket sales begin on 5 June.

Another special summer pleasure is the Opera Festival of Verona in the ancient Roman arena, a wonderful experience on a balmy evening. Sales have already begun (

Secondly, as one of the great procrastinators of all times, I keep reminding myself that now is the time to make bookings for next season. Some performances will be sold out already, but really, it is worth browsing the yearbooks and applying now!

Thirdly, June is a good time to reflect on the season past. In most cities, picking the ten best operas is not particularly difficult. In fact I know of some where finding 10 at all would be difficult!

Here in Vienna, the choice has to be made from about a hundred. The answer is to pick your opera of the month for each month of the season. My 10 would be:


September: The Turn of the Screw (Th. an der Wien): Robert Carsen’s production of Britten’s opera based on Henry James’ nightmarish piece of Victoriana was both gripping and lasting.

October: La Traviata (Staatsoper): New, with Natalie Dessay as Violetta and Fabio Capitanucci as Giorgio Germont, maestro de Billy gave the whole performance un certain je ne sais quoi..

November: Salome (Volksoper): A very striking production and unforgettably energetic performances made this Salome one to talk about.

December: La Bohème (Staatsoper): A season without Bohème is unthinkable; produced by Zeffirelli and Ramon Vargas is singing.

January: Iolanta/Francesca di Rimini (Th. an der Wien): Hadn’t seen these before; am glad I did. Strange bedfellows, but it worked very well.

February: Carmen (Staatsoper): A great opera (but only in French). More Zeffirelli. Most of all, Carlos Alvarez made this an easy choice.

March: Das Wunderkind/ Der Bajazzo (Volksoper): A brilliantly produced double bill about theatre and reality.

April: Werther (Staatsoper): Ludovic Tezier (baritone) as Werther is reason enough.

May: La Clemenza di Tito (Staatsoper): A totally weird staging, memorable for a graffito tryptich (of the producer?). A night for a sight-restricted seat!

June: Don Carlo (Staatsoper): Toi,toi,toi…  merde!… Break a leg!

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