It’s little surprise that during the long Covid-lockdown, starved of the opportunity to attend live performances, people turned to streaming in their millions. Watching opera online has been a fixture for some time now – some houses even have their own streaming service – yet it wasn’t until last year that the benefits became so starkly apparent. For many of us, they were a lifeline onto an art form we hold dear. During the 2020-21 season, ARTE, the culture channel jointly financed by Germany and France, had 2.2 million views of its opera streams, which – despite competing broadcasts on many platforms – was double their previous season. 

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Many streams were from houses still closed to the public. The internet audience was no “add on” subsidiary – the singers were performing just for us, watching in our thousands at home, from Roberto Alagna as Lohengrin at the Staatsoper Berlin to Christian Gerhaher as Simon Boccanegra at Oper Zürich. Lotte de Beer’s controversial new staging of Aida at the Opéra de Paris clocked up 270,000 views during the six months it was available on demand from ARTE, while Barrie Kosky’s new Der Rosenkavalier at Bayerische Staatsoper had 196,000 views in a single month! 

European opera houses have – thankfully – reopened to audiences but there’s little doubt that people are not yet travelling as widely for culture as they did pre-pandemic. Streaming will continue to permit “virtual travel” and ARTE’s 2021-22 opera season, just announced, is ambitious. “Music is the most beautiful language in Europe,” declared Wolfgang Bergmann (CEO of ARTE Germany) at the online press conference, announcing a line-up of 12 new opera productions for the season, many broadcast live and all available on demand, where they are subtitled in six languages (French, German, English, Italian, Spanish and Polish). ARTE’s aim is to reach out to as wide a European audience as possible. All productions will be available throughout Europe and most of them worldwide. 

The season opens with a couple of productions that were postponed from last year. From the sumptuous Opéra Comique in Paris, Siobhan Stagg and Michael Spyres star as Leonore and Florestan in Cyril Teste’s new production of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. It should have a period punch, with Ensemble Pygmalion conducted by Raphaël Pichon. In Ireland, Wexford Festival specialises in exhuming operatic rarities. Its 2020 season – now deferred to October 2021 – focuses on operas with a Shakespearean theme. Alfredo Catalani is most famous for his opera La Wally, itself something of a rarity these days, but Wexford stages the even rarer Edmea, whose story is reminiscent of Ophelia, driven mad by love having been forced by her adoptive father to marry against her will. Julia Burbach directs. 

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Fidelio by Opéra Comique
© Opéra Comique | S. Brion

From the Prague National Theatre comes an opera rarely seen outside the Czech Republic – Smetana’s Dalibor. Jiří Nekvasil directs the opera in which a Czech knight supports an uprising to support the oppressed population and is sentenced to death. Smetana’s stirring score is well worth hearing. 

Jens-Daniel Herzog’s production of Capriccio at the Semperoper Dresden was streamed from an empty house last year, but gets its public premiere in November. Camilla Nylund again takes the role of Countess Madeleine who is torn between the poet, Olivier, and the composer, Flamand, torn between words and music. Christian Thielemann conducts, as he does the second Dresden broadcast this season – Aida in March. Katharina Thalbach, who sees Verdi’s opera as a score “rich in gold”, directs a new production starring Krassimira Stoyanova and Francesco Meli. 

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Dalibor from Prague National Theatre Opera
© Patrik Borecký

November sees the broadcast of Herbert Fritsch’s new production (just premiered) at the Wiener Staatsoper of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Russian mezzo Vasilisa Berzhanskaya sings Rosina, Etienne Dupuis is Figaro and Rossini legend Juan Diego Flórez, no less, is Count Almaviva. 

Known in German as Im weißen Rößl, Ralph Benatzky’s charming operetta is presented at Opéra de Lausanne as L’Auberge du cheval blanc in December. It’s a frothy plot about the head waiter of the White Horse Inn who is desperately in love with the owner, Josepha Vogelhuber, who mistrusts (almost) all men and only has eyes for the lawyer Dr Siedler, one of her regular guests. 

Palermo’s Teatro Massimo is an appropriate setting for Verdi’s Les Vêpres siciliennes about the 13th-century rebellion against the ruling French occupiers of Sicily. Emma Dante, from Palermo herself, directs, while Omer Meir Wellber conducts a cast including the irrepressible Erwin Schrott as Procida, who leads the uprising. 

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Capriccio from Semperoper Dresden
© Ludwig Olah

In February Katie Mitchell directs a new staging of Handel’s Theodora, starring Joyce DiDonato, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Tobias Kratzer combines the three operas of Puccini’s Il trittico into a single staging at La Monnaie (March) conducted by Alain Altinoglu. Christof Loy’s productions were seen a lot during pandemic and his familiar interiors will doubtless be on show in Helsinki, where Finnish National Opera stages Salome, featuring Sara Jakubiak in the title role. Ending the season on a light-hearted note, David Bösch directs a new Don Pasquale for Staatsoper Hamburg, with no less a comic genius than Ambrogio Maestri in the title role. 

Even if you can’t get to an opera house just yet – or not as many as you’d like – ARTE caters for armchair travellers royally.

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