The Teatro San Carlo in Naples offers a new season containing some mouthwatering casts for its nine operas, ballet off the beaten track and concerts with a roster of conductors and soloists.

Opening in 1737, it is the oldest venue in Europe to continuously offer opera to the public, decades before La Scala or La Fenice. The opera house was commissioned by Charles VII of Naples and seats an audience of over 3,000.  The early years of the house saw the great success of the Neapolitan School of composers all over Europe – composers from Porpora and Vinci to Cimarosa and Jommelli.

Niccolò Jommelli
Niccolò Jommelli

With a nod to its illustrious past, San Carlo presents Jommelli’s L’isola disabitata (The Desert Island) this season – ironically, at the Palazzo Reale. It is a real rarity of an opera, composed in 1761, based on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, which was also set by Haydn (among other composers). The plot concerns Costanza, abandoned (or so she believes) by Gernando on a desert island, along with her sister, Silva. Gernando and his friend, Enrico, have in fact been taken captive by pirates. Gernando discovers an inscription in a rock which leads him to think Constanza is dead, but disaster is averted and a happy ending ensues. San Carlo has assembled a fine quartet of singers, led by Raffaella Milanesi as Costanza, to revive this Baroque opera. Rinaldo Alessandrini, who has performed this opera before, conducts.

Gluck’s opera La clemenza di Tito (not to be confused with Mozart’s) premièred at the San Carlo in 1752, and Gluck personally went to direct a revival later in his career. His most famous opera, however, was Orfeo ed Euridice, charting Orfeo’s quest to bring his wife back from the Underworld. Karole Armitage’s production, which includes her choreography for the San Carlo Ballet, returns in May. Roles are double cast, with Orfeo shared between the excellent mezzos Daniela Barcellona and Sonia Prina.

Verdi’s middle period operas Il trovatore and La traviata bookend the season, both splendidly cast. Artur Ruciński is a singer whose star is in the ascendant and his virile baritone should be perfect for portraying the vengeful Conte di Luna in Trovatore. Lianna Haroutounian, who’s made her reputation stepping in for other singers, here takes on the role of Leonora – in love with the troubadour of the title (here taken by the experienced Marco Berti). Ekaterina Semenchuk completes the cast as Azucena, the gypsy seeking revenge for her mother’s death burnt at the stake. Nicola Luisotti conducts the opening night on 12 December.

Carmen Giannattasio in  <i>La traviata</i> © Teatro di San Carlo
Carmen Giannattasio in La traviata
© Teatro di San Carlo

Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio already has a reputation as a great Violetta, so her performances in La traviata should be unmissable, where she sings opposite the Alfredo of Ismael Jordi and Roberto Frontali’s Germont père.

Other casting highlights in Italian fare include Lise Lindstrom whose fearless, laser-like top notes make her the perfect Turandot (opposite Carmen Giannattasio’s Liù). Serena Malfi (whose ROH debut as Rosina wowed our reviewer last month) takes on another Rossini role – Cinderella in Paul Curran’s production in June. Veteran conductor Nello Santi is at the helm for the revival of Andrea Chénier, the poet caught up in revolutionary France. Ambrogio Maestri’s stars as Gérard, the servant turned revoultionary leader, who is torn between love and political duty.

The only non-Italian opera on show at the San Carlo is Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, presented in Lluìs Pasqual’s production, conducted by Zubin Mehta. Torsten Kerl and Violeta Urmana take the title roles, with Stephen Milling as King Marke.

Apart from The Nutcracker and a starrily cast Giselle – boasting Sergei Polunin, no less, as Albrecht – San Carlo Ballet strays away from the standard favourites with some unusual selections. Juxtaposing Vivaldi and Piazzolla, 8 Seasons, choreographed by Argentinian Mauricio Wainrot, features the corps de ballet in a fantastic journey through the seasons in Venice and Buenos Aires.

Boris Eifman Ballet's <i>Anna Karenina</i> © Kudryashova Hana
Boris Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina
© Kudryashova Hana

Tchaikovsky is famed for his trilogy of full length ballets, but that hasn’t stopped choreographers plundering his other scores to create new ballets. John Cranko famously used a number of piano miniatures to create a ballet version of Eugene Onegin (as opposed to the composer’s popular opera based on Pushkin). Boris Eifman did the same in 2005 to compile a score for another Russian classic, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The Ballet Eifman Company brings it to the San Carlo for two performances in October.

Italian choreographer Fabrizio Monteverde’s Otello (2009) is performed at the Palazzo Reale. Using Dvořák’s concert overtures Othello and Carnival, plus Slavonic Dances and chamber works, Monteverde created a contemporary take on a Shakespearean classic.

L’isola disabitata is not the only Jommelli in the San Carlo season. The Chorus includes his Miserere and Confirma hoc Deus in the Duomo di Napoli, while Rinaldo Alessandrini also programs his music alongside Mozart in a May concert.

Jeffrey Tate, a former music director of the San Carlo, returns from a concert including Britten and Pärt, while Zubin Mehta conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony.

Of the season’s star soloists, the return of David Garrett to play Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 is hotly anticipated, as is the visit of Yefim Bronfman to play Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto. Evelyn Glennie performs Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto and Julian Rachlin tackles Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Violin Concerto. Vladimir Ashkenazy also makes an appearance, in a chamber recital with his son, clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy, and viola player Ada Meinich.

For rich variety, the San Carlo season holds plenty of promise.