While the current live performance season in Belgium is close to non-existent (the audience size for concerts and stage performances is limited to 50), La Monnaie plans to start a fresh chapter with its 2021-22 season, with programming which – as General and Artistic Director Peter de Caluwe puts it – “breathes optimism and confidence”. In the hope that vaccination and health measures are effective, that gives us cause to expect some wonderful operatic experiences in Brussels next year – so let's take a bird's eye view of their upcoming season.

De Munt - La Monnaie Grote Zaal
© Simon van Rompay

If you love the great works of opera history and its tales of maltreated heroines, you'll have plenty to choose from: Lulu, Norma and Carmen will run (in that order) from November to February. These three great roles will be taken by Barbara Hannigan (returning to a production in whose premiere she starred at La Monnaie in 2012), Davinia Rodriguez (making her Brussels debut) and Stéphanie d’Oustrac. By the way, the 'B cast' of Bizet's opera is also worth the trip: Ève-Maud Hubeaux, who recently starred as an excellent Prouhèze in Le Soulier de satin in Paris, will be making her role debut as Carmen.

Lulu (staging by Krzysztof Warlikowski)
© Bernd Uhlig

The first of those three productions is a revival – the 2012 Lulu was directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski in 2012 – but the other two are new. Norma is directed by Christophe Coppens, who gave us a memorable Duke Bluebeard's Castle in 2018, a “remarkable success” according to our review. After the crystal palace that Coppens created for Bartók's ogre, Bellini's druids will find their way to a different radical universe: sets of brutal and brutalist concrete with a scattering of car wrecks. Making his debut in La Monnaie's orchestra pit will be young Italian conductor Sesto Quatrini, who recently made an impression at Glyndebourne and who de Caluwe says “will be back”. Bizet's opera will be completely revisited by Dmitri Tcherniakov, that famous rebellious bird of stage direction, who plans to use the story of Carmen to weave a tissue of roles in search of our deepest emotions. Is this a production as outstanding as his Tale of Tsar Saltan two years ago? You'll have to see for yourself.

Les Huguenots (staging by Olivier Py)
© Clärchen Baus

Undeterred by current health constraints, La Monnaie plans to tale on some operatic behemoths. As well as Parsifal, which will be played in concert under the baton of Alain Altinoglu, two productions are notable for the scale of their ambition. Olivier Py's Les Huguenots returns to La Monnaie for the first time since its premiere in 2011, which marked an important phase in bringing the works of Meyerbeer back into the limelight. The story of love and hatred set against a backdrop of religious war will feature a galaxy of top French singers (Karine Deshayes, Ambroisine Bré, Nicolas Cavallier, Alexandre Duhamel). Next, the La Monnaie audience will be treated to the rediscovery of Puccini's famous Il trittico, which has been missing from the Brussels stage for over a quarter of a century. Following La Monnaie's tradition of bringing together several different works under a common dramaturgical thread (as they did in the Da Ponte trilogy), Tobias Kratzer will be finding thematic links between the river barge thriller of Il tabarro with the convent mysteries of Suor Angelica and the madcap farce that is Gianni Schicchi, all the while adding references and allusions that will give the impression of following three parallel realities in a single evening.

Sarah Defrise, Amaury Massion, Is This The End
© Simon van Rompay

“A polyphonic universe of thoughts and mystery” is how La Monnaie are describing Zelle, an opera by composer, conductor and stage director Jamie Man whose world premiere will take place in March 2022. The work is inspired amongst other things by Noh theatre; it's a true ritual which burrows into the head of a woman suspected of the murder of her children. There's a particular focus on contemporary opera in Brussels next year, with two further world premieres in prospect. Initially scheduled for 2020-21, The Time of Our Singing will open the new season in September. Richard Powers' eponymous novel seems to have everything needed for an operatic adaptation: we can't wait to discover how Belgian composer Kris Defoort has treated this family saga, which starts with the meeting, in 1939 in the United States, of a German Jewish doctor and a young African-American woman who is a classical musician. What we do know is that jazz, hip-hop and a children's chorus are on the menu! In April, the Brussels audience will finally get to see the second part of Is this the End ? by Jean-Luc Fafchamps, Éric Brucher and Ingrid Von Wantoch Rekowski. Those who saw the first part – streamed in September 2020 – will rediscover the same characters, their wanderings, ghouls and gnomes in an immersive setting with a strong emphasis on video.

Two curiosities complete this appetising operatic programming: Mozart's Requiem staged by Romeo Castellucci and transformed into a hymn to life and nature, with Raphaël Pichon conducting, and the little known opera De Kinderen der Zee, a post-Wagnerian work by Belgian composer Lodewijk Mortelmans, who won the Prix de Rome in 1893 for his cantata Lady Macbeth.

Alain Altinoglu
© Tine Claerhout

Since 2022 marks the 250th anniversary of the the Orchestre Symphonique de La Monnaie, a number of concerts will be staged throughout the season, handing the baton to each musical director of the orchestra since 1980. While the present incumbent Alain Altinoglu will feature often on the podium, there will also be the chance to see Sylvain Cambreling, Sir Antonio Pappano and Kazushi Ono in programmes which will interleave the standard opera repertoire with overtures from operas which were first premiered at La Monnaie.

A fine series of recitals will enliven a season in which we mustn't forget dance. Most notably, there will be two new works by Anne Teresa de Keersmaecker, both danced by the choreographer herself, who will continue her exploration of the works of Bach in solo form in The Goldberg Variations and will take on one of Baroque music's steepest climbs, Biber's Rosary Sonatas. Violonist Amandine Beyer (who will also take part in the revival of the six Brandenburg Concertos) will be on stage for this peak of the repertoire: in the fifteen “mystery sonatas” which follow the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the performer is required to play on an instrument tuned differently from one piece to the next. We might be tempted, in these times, to detect a metaphor for the pandemic's ever-changing health protocols, but rather, let's wish La Monnaie continued optimism for next season and to see a swift end to health and safety measures.

Translated from French by David Karlin
This preview was sponsored by La Monnaie De Munt