A Czech season at Opéra de Dijon © Gilles Abegg
A Czech season at Opéra de Dijon
© Gilles Abegg

The new season at Opéra de Dijon begins with a celebration of Jean-Philippe Rameau, marking 250 years since his death. Rameau was born in Dijon in 1683, where his father worked as an organist in several of city’s churches. Rameau returned to Dijon in 1709, after studying in Milan and working in Paris, to briefly take over his father’s job as organist.

Ed Lyon as Mercury in <i>Castor & Pollux</i> at ENO © Alastair Muir
Ed Lyon as Mercury in Castor & Pollux at ENO
© Alastair Muir

He is commemorated next season with performances of possibly his finest opera Castor et Pollux, a co-production already seen at English National Opera and the Komische Oper Berlin, directed by Australian director Barrie Kosky. The Concert d’Astrée is conducted by Baroque expert Emmanuelle Haïm, with Pascal Charbonneau and Henk Neven as the twin brothers, both in love with the princess Télaïre (Emmanuelle de Negri). The love triangle is squared by both Télaïre and her sister, Phoebe (Gaëlle Arquez), both being in love with Castor. This is a production which has already provoked much discussion among audiences. Performed by such experts in the Baroque field, it should make for a musically satisfying experience.

Haïm is also at the helm for “a day of sheer madness” as Rameau is celebrated on 14 September with an afternoon and evening packed with musical events, participatory workshops and dance classes in “Let's celebrate Rameau!”.

Few have done more for French Baroque than William Christie and Les Arts Florissants with their all-singing, all-dancing productions. They bring their own particular brand of joie de vivre to Rameau in presenting Daphnis and Eglé, an heroic one-act pastorale, and the ballet La Naissance d’Osiris. Soprano Sophie Daneman, who has performed many times with Les Arts Florissants, directs.

Two important themes feature in the opera and concert season. In March, Résistance explores music written by composers of Jewish origin detained in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása and Gideon Klein were all deported to the Theresienstadt, where they continued to compose. Erwin Schulhoff was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp, where he died in 1942. All five composers are programmed during the season.

Ullmann’s opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis) is subtitled “The Disobedience of Death” and was composed in 1943. During rehearsals in 1944, the Nazi authorities interpreted the opera as a satire on Adolf Hitler and prevented it from being performed. It didn’t receive its première until 1975, in Amsterdam. Schulhoff, Haas and Klein are performed in string quartet recitals by the renowned Pavel Haas Quartet and the Bennewitz Quartet. Krása’s children’s opera Brundibár runs just before the Résistance season opens, performed by the Maîtrise de Dijon at La Minoterie.

Tatiana Monogarova © Eugene Beregovoy
Tatiana Monogarova
© Eugene Beregovoy

Czech music is a strong thread running throughout the season, culminating in a spring series celebrating Bohemia and Moravia. Any season featuring Czech music is incomplete without the presence of Leoš Janáček or Antonín Dvořák and the music of both features strongly. Janáček’s opera Káťa Kabanová, inspired by Ostrovsky’s play The Storm, is a harrowing tale of an unhappily married woman who, wracked with guilt after committing adultery, confesses to her husband before throwing herself into the Volga.

The opera is heavily inspired by Janáček’s fixation with the much younger (and married) Kamila Stösslová. Laurent Joyeux, whose production of The Ring at Dijon Opera was highly praised, directs.

Moscow-born soprano Tatiana Monogarova, who is a famous interpreter of Tchaikovsky heroines (Tatyana, Lisa and Iolanta), here takes on the title role of Káťa. Mezzo Katya Starke takes on the role of her spiteful mother-in-law, Kabanicha. The Czech Virtuosi, described as ‘a Moravian version of Les Dissonances’ (a favorite Dijon orchestra, which performs without a conductor), is in the pit.

For its concert season, Dijon Opéra has mustered a fine roster of period instrument performers. Smetana, Dvořák and Janáček are supplied by Anima Eterna, conducted by Jos van Immerseel. They should bring fresh insights to the old warhorses which are Vltava, the “New World” Symphony and Janáček’s Sinfonietta. More period instrument Dvořák comes when Philippe Herreweghe and Orchestre des Champs-Elysées tackles the Stabat Mater. Mozart, who had strong connections with Prague, features in an exciting programme entitled Classics in Prague from Concerto Köln, where his “Prague” Symphony sits alongside a piano concerto by Dussek (performed by Andreas Staier) and a symphony by Rosetti.

Performances of Jakub Jan Ryba’s Christmas Mass are enormously popular in the Czech Republic. The Chorus of Opéra Dijon presents this much-loved work on 6 December.

Czech Chamber works include Dvořák from the Pavel Haas and Artemis Quartets. Both of Janáček’s string quartets – works of searing intensity – feature in a recital by Les Dissonances Quartet, while his piano masterpiece In the mists is performed by Dénes Várjon.

Czech composers spanning the centuries are represented, from Zelenka (performed alongside Vivaldi ‘in Bohemia’) to Mysliveček and on to Bohuslav Martinů and Petr Eben. Dijon is certainly an outpost of Prague next season!