La liberté!” exclaims Laurent Joyeux, director of Opéra de Dijon. Freedom indeed will be the keyword for the Burgundian house’s 2018-9 season. Far from being insignificant, this military theme permeates every production of the season, starting with Jenůfa by Leoš Janáček on 26th September. With this major work the opera house commences a cycle of performances dedicated to the Czech composer, three years after a run of the majestic Káťa Kabanová. Jenůfa overall, is about women’s freedom and about women having ownership over their own hearts – and their own bodies. The entrusted director is Yves Lenoir, who is well-accustomed with the Dijon stage and returns to Dijon two years after directing an adaptation of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo set in a world inspired by Andy Warhol. Jenůfa’s casting showcases the unique talents of the house’s artists; there are the Czech virtuosos, with Stefan Veselka at the head, followed by Sabine Hogrefe and Daniel Brenna, five years after performing together in Wagner’s Ring, whilst the soprano Sarah Jane-Brandon takes the lead role with her rich and colourful tone.

The five other opera productions navigate a range of styles and eras. In November there will be a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, directed by the politically active Marie-Ève Signeyrole. Containing the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, a timeless anthem for political and patriotic freedom, the opera will be set in today’s Middle East amidst continuous news channel broadcasting and bombings. The conductor is Roberto Rizzi-Brignoli, who brought the same brilliant work to life at Rome’s Teatro dell'Opera last year.

February welcomes La finta pazza by Francesco Sacrati, performed by the renowned Leonardo Garcia Alarcón and his Cappella Mediterranea as they take up residence in Dijon this season and revive this Venetian Baroque opera. This founding masterpiece of the operatic genre recounts the adventures of Achilles and the princess Deidamia before he leaves for the Trojan War. Mariana Flores, with her powerful and expressive voice, will undertake the role of the heroine, facing the challenge of portraying the opera’s most famous scene where Deidamia feigns madness. Jean-Yves Ruf will be the director of the opera’s French première, after it was forgotten about for three and a half centuries.

The highlight of the opera season follows in March, with a new production of Les Boréades, the most famous work by Dijon composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. In the opera, Queen Alphise is in love with the peasant Abaris who overthrows Borée’s tyrannic power, a plot which directly criticises the monarchy and its privileges. This ode to freedom has a stellar cast led by one of a kind director Barrie Kosky alongside the brilliant conductor Emmanuelle Haïm, who is also artistic director of the Concert d’Astrée ensemble. With their crystal clear voices, Mathias Vidal and Hélène Guilmette perform the leads in this monumental production.

French singing fans will want to keep their eye on the promising Antoinette Dennefeld this year, member of the fabulous Domino noir troupe from the Opéra-Comique’s previous season. She has managed to bag the lead role in Carmen for May’s 2019 production, directed by Adrien Perruchon. The opera season finishes off with a French production of Koma by Georg Friedrich Haas, which was much praised by critics at Schwetzingen Festival for its sensory experience. Through the main character, Michaela’s coma, illness and death are portrayed in a fresh way with incredible sound and captivating lighting.

Every year the main opera performances are joined by a more modest season of dance and a packed season of concerts, this year with over thirty events. Amongst the distinguished guest performers of the season are piano virtuosos performing their favourite repertoire; Andreas Staier will perform two recitals dedicated to Franz Schubert’s late works, the enigmatic Boris Berezovsky will follow with an all-Russian Romantic programme, whilst Murray Perahia leads The Academy of St Martin in the Fields from the piano in a concert entirely devoted to Beethoven. Younger audiences will also get to experience their fair share of piano as Claire-Marie Le Guay will perform the original version of The Story of Babar by Francis Poulenc in January, along with French actor Pio Marmaï.

The main musical feature is at the end of January with a series of concerts which emphasises the links between music of the past and present. There will be echoes of Heinrich Biber’s fascinating Rosary Sonatas in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Natural Durations, extracts from Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, resounding in Salvatore Sciarrino’s sonatas, as well as a surprising collection from the Venetian Baroque composer, Biagio Marini, adapted by the innovative, non-Venetian Luigi Nono, in a concert with peripatetic musicians. The run of events is worthy of being called a festival, with its permanent fixture being the composer and pianist, Brice Pauset, who is also well-accustomed to the Dijon stage. He will be accompanied by Académie des Cosmopolites and the pianist Jean-Pierre Collot.

For the remainder of the season, the theme of freedom will go hand in hand with diversity. Guest ensembles will cover a varied array of musical styles, from medieval sounds played by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, to contemporary composers showcased by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, via Classical and Romantic pieces played on period instruments by Anima Eterna Brugge.

Rounding-off this non-exhaustive overview of the Opéra de Dijon’s festivities, Les Dissonances continue their residency in the Burgundian capital performing daring symphonic concerts without a conductor, including Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 and Shostakovich’s Eleventh. The orchestra will delve further into their exploration of Russian ballets with Stravinsky’s Firebird, after a remarkable Rite of Spring performance last year. No longer under the conductor’s baton, the musicians will explore their freedom as the focal point of the 2018-9 Dijon season, promising great musical encounters to come. 

Click here for the full season. 

Article sponsored by Opéra de Dijon.


Translated from French by Melanie Webb.