For the opera and classical music centre of a city that doesn’t make it into France’s top ten – or even close – Opéra de Dijon sets itself some ambitious goals in terms of artistic novelty and diversity. Following on from 2013-14’s mini Ring Cycle and 2015-16’s programme which ranged from Cherubini to Britten by way of Rossini buffa, the 2016-17 season offers even greater eclecticism in its opera and concert programme.

Anima Eterna Brugge © Gilles Abegg
Anima Eterna Brugge
© Gilles Abegg

If you’re looking for grand romantic opera, don’t bother: you won’t find it in Dijon next season. Rather, you will have a choice of the ancient, the modern, the unusual and the star-studded. The starriest cast comes next spring with the completion of Dijon’s Monteverdi cycle: Emmanuelle Haïm and her Concert d’Astrée perform Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, with Rolando Villazón and Magdalena Kožená in the lead roles (Haïm and Kožená are also doing a concert of Charpentier and Rameau in December). Another highly rated Baroque ensemble, Les Traversées Baroques, performs L’Orfeo in September, while a third top period orchestra, Christophe Rousset’s Les Talens Lyriques, give five performances of Die Zauberflöte in March – the only top ten opera in the list, a new production sung in German that promises to be very period-accurate. In a bid to draw in new audiences, Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito receives a couple of free performances in June at Dijon’s Grand Théâtre.

Emmanuelle Haim © Marianne Rosenstiehl
Emmanuelle Haim
© Marianne Rosenstiehl
There’s Nabucco, but not as you know it. This Nabucco was written in the 18th century by Michelangelo Falvetti: Argentinian conductor Leonardo Garcia Alarcón has added traditional middle eastern instruments to the concert performance on 3rd May. For children, there’s Little Nemo – but also not as you know it: this Little Nemo is based on Winsor McCay’s 1905 cartoon character, a little boy who travels from his bed each night to the kingdom of Slumberland. Composer David Chaillou explains that “by exploring dreams, Little Nemo initiates young people into musical genres and the rich musical possibilities of opera.” (Chaillou, by the way, not the only composer to adapt the strip: Daron Hagen adapted it in 2011 for Sarasota Opera). In January, there’s an alternative take on the Orpheus myth in the shape of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, while opera buffa is represented in April by a two piano transcription of Puccini’s uproarious farce Gianni Schicchi, also at the Grand Théâtre.

Most eclectic of all is Kalîla wa Dimna, which will be first seen at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July 2016. The name may not be familiar in the English speaking world today, but in the 19th century, it and other variants of its ancestor, the Sanskrit Panachantra, were one of the most widely translated and read sets of stories of all time. Gazan composer Moneim Adwan blends Occidental form and Oriental music, fable and tragedy, Arab and French worlds.

Don’t be misled by the name Opéra de Dijon: the company actually stages more concerts than it does operas. Bearing in mind that (in spite of its unprepossessing exterior) the Auditorium de Dijon is a hall that’s both comfortable and acoustically excellent, the concert season is well worth a look.

Nicholas Angelich
Nicholas Angelich
There’s a big American theme this year. The high point of this is on December 9th, when John Adams conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in one of his most politically charged works of recent years, the violin concerto Scheherazade.2. Leila Josefowicz, for whom the work was written, is the soloist. Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna Brugge explore the lighter side of American music in a concert of George Gershwin favourites in March (pianist Bert van Caenegem spans jazz and classical, and expect to hear an authentically Gershwin-era-like Steinway), while Gershwin’s I got rhythm is the title of a clarinet-centred concert on January 7th. Quatuor Tana explore the more experimental side of American music on January 20th in a concert entitled “New York featuring Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 and works by Carter, Glass and Cage.

On the subject of American musicians: Nicholas Angelich’s recital on October 12th is not to be missed: the programme of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt has just been reviewed by Sylvain Gaulhiac, who was wowed by Angelich’s poised, no-frills ability to get straight to the heart of the music. There are also piano recitals by Roger Muraro and the acclaimed Radu Lupu.

The opera chorus will be kept busy not just with the operas but also with a series of choral concerts: look out for Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle in September (which opens the season), Haydn’s Creation in November and the Fauré Requiem in June, as well as Bach concerts both in the Auditorium and in the Église du Sacré-Coeur Saint-Jean-Bosco de Dijon. Important choral visitors are Philppe Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale Gent (Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem) and the RIAS Kammerchor (Bach’s Christmas Oratorio).

Made in America © Jaime Roque Delacruz
Made in America
© Jaime Roque Delacruz
The season features a handful of dance performances, of which two are worth noting. The Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève will perform Salue pour moi tout le monde, a narrative modern ballet recently created for them by choreographer Joelle Bouvier. Inspired by Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and set to the opera's score, the production blends beautiful contemporary dance, and clever designs to dramatic effect. To get the idea, see our review of Salue pour moi in April 2016 in Paris.

In line with the season's American theme, the Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon brings an all American postmodern programme to Dijon. Lesser known and not often performed in France, Merce Cunningham's “movement for movement's sake” approach to choreography is epitomised here in Winterbaum, presented alongside Dance, an iconic and exalting work by another postmodern pioneer, Lucinda Childs.

I haven’t had space to mention much of a full orchestral programme from several high profile visitors as well as local orchestras Les Dissonances and Orchestre Dijon-Bourgogne, plus several chamber concerts and recitals. It’s truly a season with something for everyone.

Click here for a full season listing.

This preview was sponsored by Opéra de Dijon