Opera may be more than 400 years old by now, but it’s still very much alive in the world’s major houses. In North America, opera seasons are largely drawing to a close, with tickets not yet on sale for 2013/14. In Europe, on the other hand, most booking is open for next season, and so it’s time to get planning! As well as this, there’s a summer full of opera festivals to come, so read on for a few highlights from both next year’s European opera seasons, and the summer opera season too. Whether you’re hankering for Handel or Henze, Berlioz or Benjamin, there’s plenty to keep you entertained – and don’t forget that you can also explore for yourself, using our opera finder.

Old opera going new

Let’s start at the beginning. Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, 407 years young, is coming to the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 2014, in a new production from David Bösch with Ivor Bolton conducting. It’s one of a trio of new Monteverdi productions we’re listing for next season: Bolton is also in the pit for Zurich Opera’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea is coming to the Paris Opera in a new production by celebrated American director Robert Wilson.

Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse © Patrice Nin
Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse
© Patrice Nin
Of the later Baroque opera composers, it’s once again Handel who does best, with new productions of Orlando, Rodelinda and Alcina coming respectively to Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, English National Opera in London, and Zurich. Also in Zurich is a revival of their remarkable “project” Sale, which uses Handel’s music to fashion a very contemporary story, and stars Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter. On a similar note, the Staatsoper Berlin have a piece known as Aschemond by Helmut Oehring, which likewise uses old music (this time by Purcell: The Fairy Queen, to be precise) to very contemporary ends.

We have a trio of major opera composers to celebrate this year in Wagner, Verdi and Britten, but we’ll be in for something a little different in 2014: it will be 300 years since the birth of Christoph Willibald Gluck. He’s an opera composer maybe a little more read about than listened to, but perhaps this is about to change. Director Olivier Py’s new Alceste in Paris will have a cast including Sophie Koch and Roberto Alagna, and Mark Minkowski conducts two renditions of Orfeo ed Euridice – one at the Mozartwoche Salzburg with Bejun Mehta and Camilla Tilling as the title characters, and the other (using Hector Berlioz’s version of the score) with l’Opéra de Marseille.

Anniversary or no, the next opera season will be as swimming in Mozart as every year is, with tried-and-tested versions of Così, Don Giovanni, Figaro and The Magic Flute in plenty of locations around Europe. For something a little new, there are two new Magic Flutes coming to Europe, one from English National Opera and director Simon McBurney, and the other from the Paris Opera and Robert Carsen. There are also a couple of early Mozart rarities in Paris, if you head to the Cité de la Musique: Mitridate, rè di Ponte, which was written at fourteen, and Apollo et Hyacinthus, his first opera, written at eleven. If Mozart doesn’t impress you, on the other hand, head to Zurich for Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, an opera buffa from 1792 – the year after Mozart’s death.

From Berlioz to Strauss

Terry Gilliam with the score of Benvenuto Cellini © Richard Hubert Smith
Terry Gilliam with the score of Benvenuto Cellini
© Richard Hubert Smith
Even though the Paris Opera are focusing on Italian works next season, there is plenty of French opera to be found elsewhere, especially exciting if you’re a fan of Berlioz. Following on from his remarkable Damnation of Faust in 2011, Terry Gilliam is returning to ENO for another Berlioz opera, Benvenuto Cellini – whether or not any Nazis are involved (they were last time), it’s bound to be crucial viewing. Deutsche Oper Berlin, meanwhile, are staging two Berlioz operas: a new Damnation of Faust starring Elina Garanca and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, and a revival of David Pountney’s The Trojans. Other French opera picks include Edouard Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys with l’Opéra de Marseille, and Charles Gounod’s lavish Roméo et Juliette with l’Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège.

If bel canto is your thing, then maybe you should head to Wales. Seriously – Welsh National Opera’s autumn season this year contains a triple bill, all new productions, of Gaetano Donizetti’s operas on the Tudors: Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. For good measure, they’re reviving their Tosca too, and all four of these productions are touring the UK. Donizetti elsewhere includes productions of Lucia di Lammermoor in Paris, Marseille and Berlin, a new Maria Stuarda in Liège, and a new Elisir d’Amore in Berlin from Deutsche Oper. Donizetti’s contemporary Vincenzo Bellini does less well, but a new production of I puritani from Laurent Pelly will make its mark in Paris. The Rossini pick is a new Guillaume Tell coming to Munich next summer – baritone Michael Volle is in the title role, with major stars Bryan Hymel and Marina Poplavskaya offering support.

Nabucco at Stuttgart Opera, coming to WNO © A.T. Schaefer
Nabucco at Stuttgart Opera, coming to WNO
© A.T. Schaefer
But unsurprisingly, if we’re talking Italian opera, it’s Verdi who leads the way next season. There will be a pair of new Nabuccos from Deutsche Oper and WNO, and pair of new Aidas too, in Paris and Zurich. For sheer star power, check out soprano Diana Damrau’s Paris Opera debut in a new production of La Traviata, and it’s worth mentioning the trio of Plácido Domingo, Anna Netrebko and Aleksandrs Antonenko, who will be rubbing shoulders in the Staatsoper Berlin’s Il Trovatore. Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann team up for the Bavarian State Opera’s La Forza del Destino as well – there’s a ridiculous amount of choice if you’re after high-quality Verdi singing.

As for Puccini, it’s interesting to see some of the slightly less familiar pieces receiving the attention of directors. There are several new takes on La Fanciulla del West, for instance, with Nikolaus Lehnhoff bringing this important late work to the Paris Opera for the first time, and Barrie Kosky directing in Zurich. There’s also a new Manon Lescaut from WNO, thoughtfully coupled with Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude, a contemporary take on the same story. If you’re after a brand new La bohème, Madama Butterfly or Tosca, this isn’t the season for you – but if you’re after a revival of any of these, you’ll be fine.

There isn’t nearly as much Wagner in Europe as you might expect next season, although choreographer and director Sasha Waltz’s Tannhäuser comes to the Staatsoper Berlin in April 2014, and will certainly be worth a look. There’s also a Ring cycle in the same city from Deutsche Oper, with Simon Rattle for the September run, and Donald Runnicles in January.

Aside from Gluck, the other operatic composer to be celebrating in 2014 is Richard Strauss, born 150 years ago. The Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse is celebrating with his little-known Daphne, soprano Camilla Tilling in the title role, and there is a new Die Frau ohne Schätten from director Krzysztof Warlikowski in Munich as well. Robert Carsen’s new Elektra for Paris Opera will see the magisterial Iréne Theorin as the revengeful heroine – but if it’s commanding female leads you want, then Zurich is the place to be, for Nina Stemme’s Salome.

Thebans, pigeons and anti-operas

Looking at the rest of the 20th-century repertory on display, it’s as varied a selection as you’d expect. Welsh National Opera have perhaps the most remarkable plans, daring to take on Schoenberg’s tough, unfinished masterpiece Moses und Aron. They are performing a second unfinished 20th-century work next season, too, though they are offering a completion of this one: Debussy’s La chute de la maison Usher, in scholar Robert Orledge’s new edition, comes to the UK for the first time alongside a world première called Usher House by Gordon Getty. These two takes on the grim Edgar Allan Poe story promise dark, creepy fireworks.

While there’s less Britten on the bill than we’ve become accustomed to this year, Christopher Alden’s Billy Budd (also seen last year at ENO) will be travelling to Deutsche Oper Berlin, and his children’s opera The Little Sweep is off to Toulouse. Another children’s opera – albeit one also described as a “horror opera” – can be found in Zurich, where Marius Felix Lange has written a new piece on Oscar Wilde’s short story The Canterville Ghost.

But lest you think it’s all about the children, the rather darker themes of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten will be coming to two cities next season: both Zurich Opera and the Bavarian State Opera are giving new productions of this grim wartime story from 1965. Last year our reviewer described yet another production of Die Soldaten as similar to Alban Berg’s expressionistic Wozzeck, but “writ much larger”. Don’t go expecting smiles and sunshine, but do go.

Contemporary pieces vary too, and there’s much to be excited about, including Beethovenfest Bonn’s production of George Benjamin’s hugely successful Written on Skin with a different cast to that heard in Aix, London and Munich. World premières include Phillipe Hurel’s Les Pigeons d’Argile in Toulouse and Jean-Claude Petit’s Colomba in Marseille, as well as Julian Anderson’s Thebans for ENO, which has a libretto by playwright Frank McGuinness. It’s this highly-rated composer’s first opera, and is bound to be an interesting new look at Sophocles’ trilogy of plays on the Oedipus story. ENO are also putting on Thomas Adès’ infamous, hilarious Powder Her Face in a new space in north-west London.

One of the most avant-garde offerings next season will be Morton Feldman’s Neither at the Staatsoper Berlin, presented in a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s play Footfalls, and directed by Katie Mitchell. Neither, whose text is by Beckett, has been described as an “anti-opera”, as both Feldman and Beckett disliked conventional opera. Maybe this just goes to show: everyone is catered for next season, whatever your tastes.

Summer festivals

Can’t wait till September? No problem. There is always plenty of opera going on over the summer as well, often in different venues to the rest of the year. Opera venues don’t come much more different, for instance, than Aldeburgh Beach, where Aldeburgh Festival are performing Britten’s Peter Grimes as part of the centenary celebrations, this month. For somewhere a little more exotic than the east coast of England, on the other hand, Les Azuriales Opera Festival will bring some top-quality young singers to a gorgeous venue in the south of France this August.

Fireworks at the Opera Festival of Quebec
Fireworks at the Opera Festival of Quebec
The Versailles Festival offers unparalleled Baroque splendour, and some remarkable opera too – where better to hear Lully? – and for a similarly traditional experience in the UK (albeit with fewer masked balls), it’s worth a look at Opera Holland Park and Grange Park Opera’s schedules too. A visit to the Festival d’opéra de Quebec, meanwhile, will complement all of next season’s Berlioz very nicely: director Robert Lepage, famous or possibly infamous for his Ring Cycle at the Met, is directing The Damnation of Faust there. Edinburgh International Festival are also welcoming Opéra de Lyon for Fidelio; Opera Frankfurt for Dido and Aeneas and Duke Bluebeard’s Castle; and Scottish Opera for Olga Neuwirth’s remarkable take on Berg’s Lulu, known as American Lulu. Wherever you’re heading in the months ahead, we hope you’ll find time for some opera.