The New Season Unfolds

Nights at the Opera

The beginning of September is always an exciting time. So much is new.  It heralds the approach of Autumn, but with the newness and promise we normally associate with Springtime. It is a time of great expectations after the drought of Summer, not that drought can be considered a dominating feature of these past two months… So this month’s column is focussing on the new, and not only at the opera. It also includes the new arrivals in Vienna, who may soon discover the magic and delight of the best opera performances in the world on their doorstep.

Now, the three great opera houses of Vienna are ready to fling open their doors and welcome us to the new Season. The fourth house, the Kammeroper, has a more limited role, but still it is one not to be missed. The principal house, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) begins its new ten month season  of virtually uninterrupted opera and ballet performances on Sept. 3 with Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi and Placido Domingo in the title role. Not to be missed, provided you manage to get a ticket.

Talking of tickets, newcomers should not be put off by fear of high ticket prices. Opera is expensive to stage at the level presented here, where literally hundreds of talented people are needed to stage a performance for our pleasure.  But take heart! About a quarter of all places in this great house cost €4 or less. Daily, students and lovers of opera come from all over the world, to “queue” or “stand in line” (depending on their origin) for several hours to attend what may well be a once in a lifetime experience of the summits of musical excellence.

Within this context, it may be worth pointing out that before the doors close again at the end of next June, it will be possible to see no less than 53 operas as well as ballet and concert performances by instrumental and vocal soloists. This season sees the premières of five new productions as well as the revival or new musical interpretation of six others.

Two of the new productions are making their first ever appearance in the Staatsoper, thus adding to the current policy of expanding the repertoire of the world-famous house. Thus there are 42 productions continuing for another season. Some favourite “leading ladies” have taken temporary leave, including  Aida, Elektra, Manon and her alter ego, Manon Lescaut, Medea, Gilda and Juliette to name but some.  The cast of singers includes operatic household names and many new faces and voices, which undoubtedly include some future legends.

One of the many interesting aspects of this season’s programme is the inclusion of both the French five act version of Don Carlos, a production with an iconic status almost rivalling that of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, alongside a new production of the Milan four-act Don Carlo which replaces the more traditional production.  Another interesting debate is over the status of Die Fledermaus – opera or operetta. One proposal was that it is opera in the Staatsoper and operetta in the Volksoper. This year’s Staatsoper handbook clears the matter up definitively. General Musical Director Franz Welser-Möst, who has won so many plaudits and much prolonged applause during his first year, has declared Die Fledermaus the only “operetta” in the programme of the Staatsoper.

So that settles it: 52 operas and one operetta this season, much more than at other great houses such as La Scala, Milan, Covent Garden, London or the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  But that is only the beginning.  No two performances are ever the same; changes in cast or conductor can give a work a quite new feel. So perhaps visits once a week may not be enough. One of the highlights of last season was Handel’s Alcina.  Last month it appeared again – on the huge screen at the Rathausplatz.  Musically and vocally it was first class.  Subtitles in German and English would have made it close to perfect.

In September the House on the Ring is presenting eight operas. Three of these are listed in the events pages (see p. 25), chosen this time as they are staged this season only in September. The Volksoper’s main opera this month is a production of Rigoletto in German, while over by the Naschmarkt, Theatre an der Wien is presenting Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw based on Henry James’ Victorian psychodrama (see story above).  More about these houses next month.

Intending operagoers really must arm themselves with the annual handbooks, chock-ablock with information about performances, seating plans, tickets, their prices and most importantly how to get them.  Enjoy the opera!

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