As millions of visitors know well, there are countless weighty reasons to spend a few days in Barcelona. Built on a centuries-old tradition, the city has one of the most interesting cultural and musical offerings in Europe. This spring, we find a programme that is a veritable explosion of vocal quality. It’s an offering spread between three emblematic places in the city: the historic opera house, the Liceu, that jewel of modernist architecture that is the Palau de la Música Catalana and the modern venue of L'Auditori. For the aficionado, no visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stop at all three panels of this musical triptych.

Gran Teatre del Liceu
© Paco Amate

This year, the Liceu celebrates its 175th anniversary and has spared no effort to fill the spring evenings with a fine selection of celebrities from the universe of the voice. To start, in early April, the theatre has planned a gala featuring some of the greatest voices of today, in a tasting menu composed by three emblematic opera scenes offered in a semi-staged version. The extraordinary versatility of Sondra Radvanovsky, considered by many the best soprano of today, will embody the insidious treachery of Lady Macbeth. The best bel canto will be on display thanks to Lisette Oropesa's Lucia di Lammermoor. Her scene of madness is hard to match, for it wisely combines vocal lightness and psychological depth. And to complete this treat of a night, there's a peak of vocal prowess and dramatic intensity. Accompanied by the handsome voice of one of the Metropolitan's favourite tenors, Joseph Calleja, Iréne Theorin, who is a great fan of the theatre, will offer the scene of the riddles from Turandot.

Also at the Liceu, Wozzeck presents a perfect opportunity for those seeking a more intense experience which borders at times on the brutal. The highly versatile Matthias Goerne will play this tortured character. Far from exaggerated vocal hyperbole, the German baritone has constructed this role through a solid delivery, combined with exquisite diction, the result of many years of experience singing Lieder. The acclaimed Salzburg Festival production and the solid baton of resident conductor Josep Pons promise a production of all-round artistic quality. 

Another must-see of the season will come in June with Mozart and Die Zauberflöte. Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel is at the helm of the Liceu orchestra, a man with enough charisma outside the orchestra pit to have inspired a major television series, Mozart in the Jungle. On stage, an impeccable line-up of singers is headed by Javier Camarena in the role of Prince Tamino. The Mexican, responsible for the return of encores to the main theatres of the world, is arguably the best lyric-light tenor of today. He is sure to delight us with his perfect legato, his ease with the high notes and the fascinating golden colour of his instrument. 

Further into the summer, the Liceu will close its season with Norma. It will feature renowned singers in the demanding title role, a veritable tour de force of bel canto: Marina Rebeka and Sonya Yoncheva. The impressive staging by Àlex Ollé, a member of La Fura dels Baus, will ensure a stunning visual spectacle, enhanced by the most innovative audiovisual means. 

Opera superstars seem to be an endangered species, and the charismatic Jonas Kaufmann may be one of their last specimens. His worth as a Wagnerian singer is unquestionable, but the Palau de la Música Catalana will show us his other side, as a Lieder singer, with a programme based on songs by Schumann and Brahms. We can expect to hear syllables sculpted to serve the literary expressiveness of the texts, in an atmosphere of intimacy. At his side will be Diana Damrau, one of the leading dramatic coloratura sopranos of our century, and pianist Helmut Deutsch, an undisputed Lieder specialist who brings decades of experience accompanying the legends of the genre.

Palau de la Música Catalana
© Palau de la Música Catalana

The Palau will also offer us a double journey into Baroque art and historically informed performance, that way of understanding early music that seeks to recover modes and ways of interpretation lost in the passage of time. Philippe Herreweghe, one of the founders of the movement, will bring Bach's St. Matthew Passion. We will enjoy his style of interpretation, vital, agile and emotive, free of any temptation to bombastic grandeur. The archaic sounds of the instruments will suggest a journey through time, accompanied by the magnificent voices of his Collegium Vocale Gent. 

In contrast, Jakub Józef Orliński will recreate the more relaxed and contemporary side of baroque music. Don't be surprised if you find a large contingent of young people in the audience for this concert of Vivaldi and Handel: Orliński is not only a singer, but also a skater, breakdancer and possessor of a statuesque figure that he does not hesitate to show off whenever the opportunity arises. He has one of the most interesting countertenor voices of recent years: it’s a voice type which can often sound artificial but which in Orliński’s case is soothingly natural.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists will unveil the beauty and emotion of the religious compositions from the German Baroque period. Works by Schein, Schütz and Bach will showcase the skills of these iconic ensembles, known for their technique, warmth and ability to connect with the audience.

Max Richter is an essential contemporary creator who has successfully bridged the gap between classical music and popular, between soundtracks and concert halls. On this occasion, we will meet him as a performer of his own work. With The Blue Notebooks, a compendium of his best-known piano works including the multi-versioned piece On the Nature of Daylight, he will bring us his interpretation of minimalism, a vision wrapped in chords of nostalgic reflection.

© L'Auditori

Let us now move on to the third of Barcelona's music hotspots, the modern L'Auditori. If at the Liceu we can delight in the great productions and at the Palau in a unique collection of some great soloists, the programme at L'Auditori is an excellent opportunity to delve into the field of choral music. Here are some recommendations.

With Jordi Savall, a key figure both in the recovery of the viola da gamba repertoire and in early music in general, we hear a historically informed approach to Mozart's Requiem. He will perform it together with two of the ensembles he conducts, the famous orchestra Le Concert des Nations (a pioneer in the use of original instruments in southern Europe) and the impeccable choral ensemble, La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Savall will also introduce us to the mysterious charm of the viola da gamba in a more intimate experience in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi. It is highly recommended to listen to the maestro in this programme of "tears, laments and madness" with his preferred instrument, and to experience its attractive and disconcerting resemblance to the human voice.

The vocal feast will continue with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. This is one of the most demanding works in the repertoire, both because of the size of the orchestra and choir required, as well as the technical difficulties of the score. On this occasion, no less than three choirs will join forces to tackle the triple challenge imposed by the work: physical endurance to withstand the continuous effort, perfect coordination to avoid getting lost in the maelstrom of fugal passages, and versatility to overcome the extremes with which Beethoven mercilessly punishes the performers. 

L’Auditori is also home to the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (OBC), who will present us with two interesting offerings, led by its Principal Conductor, Japanese Kazushi Ono: Bruckner's Seventh and Mahler's Second Symphony, the "Resurrection", where we can immerse ourselves in spiritual reflections on the final destiny of mankind, trusting the good work of the Orfeó Català to work the miracle that usually happens at the symphony’s end.

Patently, Barcelona’s offer is extensive and attractive. The prospective visitor will have to research the dates that maximise his or her own preferences, something for which the Bachtrack search engine will be an invaluable help. But we’ll permit ourselves a couple of recommendations: first, towards the end of May with Wozzeck, and Bruckner's Seventh, and secondly, at the end of June with the classicism of Zauberflöte and the irresistible topicality of Max Richter's work. The programmes on offer are well worth the trip. The choice is yours.

This article was sponsored by Barcelona Obertura.

Translated from Spanish by David Karlin