The Bayerische Staatsoper – in English, the Bavarian State Opera – is just about the biggest repertory house in the world. The sheer number of different productions – 43 for the 2015/6 season – makes it possible for them to provide something for everyone. For those seeking new thrills, there are seven new productions; for those who prefer old faithfuls, all the top ten operas are included. If it’s great singers you’re after, how about this for a list: Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Bryn Terfel, René Pape, Petra Lang and Joseph Calleja are just six out of dozens of big name singers to tempt you into Munich’s National Theatre. And the picture is completed by a veritable battery of top flight conductors brought in by music director Kirill Petrenko.

National Theatre, Munich © David Karlin
National Theatre, Munich
© David Karlin

Many will look to the new productions as their point of reference for what the house is capable of, and here also, the 2015-6 season strives for variety. It includes a newly written opera (South Pole), new Wagner and Verdi productions (Meistersinger and Ballo in Maschera), a taste of the French baroque (Les Indes Galantes), a little played Russian opera (The Fiery Angel) and  the only opera by a composer mainly celebrated as a librettist (Mefistofile).

Arrigo Boito is perhaps best remembered for the libretti of Verdi’s late operas Otello and Falstaff. But Boito was also a composer in his own right and although he only completed one opera, it’s a darkly fascinating one: Bayerische Staatsoper are opening the season with their first ever production of Mefistofele, with bass star René Pape in the title role.

Long gone are the days when operatic subjects were limited to Greek gods and royal palaces: Miroslav Srnka’s South Pole demonstrates that today’s opera can take a subject from the unlikeliest walks of life. Srnka and librettist Tom Holloway tell the tale of the two attempts to reach the South pole by Roald Amundsen (which succeeded) and Robert Scott (which failed), seeking to understand the motivation to achieve the impossible for the sake of what is “just a white speck in the middle of a white landscape”. Kirill Petrenko conducts, Thomas Hampson and Rolando Villazón sing the two explorers.

Prokofiev’s 1919 The Fiery Angel isn’t exactly on the average opera-goer’s “most familiar pieces” list: it’s a dark story of obsession, hallucination and demonic possession which remains largely unperformed because of its difficulty: as Neeme Järvi has put it in an interview for Gramophone, “You need remarkable singers … and a great conductor of the symphonic repertoire who can make a symphony out of the opera – but in the opera house”. Vladimir Jurowski takes up the challenge, and he’s certainly got two great singers to help him in the shape of Evgeny Nikitin and Evelyn Herlitzius.

Opera’s most celebrated bad boy Calixto Bieito tackles one of the most successful Paris Grand Operas of the early nineteenth century: Halévy’s La Juive. What Bieito will make of the pot-boiling Eugène Scribe libretto can only be left to your imagination, but Halévy’s music is richly colourful and the vocal line-up is as appetising as you could ask for in this kind of repertoire. In 1835, the main roles were sung by two of the notable singers of the age, Cornélie Falcon and Adolphe Nourrit: in this production Roberto Alagna and Kristine Opolais will attempt to fill their shoes, with a supporting cast including Aleksandra Kurzak and John Osborn.

Johannes Erath is in more familiar territory with Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, conducted by the veteran Zubin Mehta who describes Ballo as “a perfect score from beginning to end”. A vocally formidable love triangle is provided by Anja Harteros (singing Amelia for the first time), Simon Keenlyside and Piotr Beczała.

David Bösch directs Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, an opera in which the confrontation between traditional rulebook and artistic endeavour are set in a particularly local context – Meistersinger received its original world première in Munich. Petrenko directs, the hugely experienced Wolfgang Koch sings Hans Sachs, while Walther is sung by Jonas Kaufmann.

There are two new productions outside the main house. Benjamin Britten’s hilarious comedy of manners Albert Herring is being performed at the rococo Cuvilliés-Theater, whose more intimate space is more appropriate to the chamber opera format. On the opposite side of the river (at the Prinzregententheater) and at the opposite end of the operatic age range is Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. It’s a work originally labelled a “ballet héroique”, so it’s only fair to expect a production in which dance predominates: choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is also responsible for the overall stage direction. Rameau’s energetic music should thrill, and French Baroque specialist Cyril Auvity leads the cast.

So what about the “standard” rep productions? The obvious thing for you to do is to scan down the list to find any particularly tasty pieces of casting, but just in case the list is too long for you, here are half a dozen entries from the scan I’ve done for you.

In October, the lengthy cast list of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos sees the Kaufmann/Harteros pairing as well as Alice Coote as the Composer. And if you can’t get to Munich, there’s a chance to see the same production on 12th October in Paris, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

In January, Don Giovanni pairs Erwin Schrott and Alex Esposito as the philandering Don and his servant (a pairing we’ve seen before at Covent Garden, amonst others), with Marina Rebeka and Véronique Gens as the two ladies; Eri Nakamura should provide lightness of tone and charm as Zerlina.

March sees a great sounding cast for Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, with Catherine Naglestad as Senta, Michael Volle as the Dutchman and Klaus Florian Vogt as Erik (the second round for the July festival looks equally strong, with Johan Reuter as the Dutchman).

But several of the top castings are the second batch of dates that the productions receive for the June/July festival. Look out for Turandot (with Nina Stemme in the title role, Maria Agresta as Liü and Johan Botha as the Unknown Prince), and for Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia (with Edita Gruberová as Lucrezia, Pavol Breslik as Gennaro and John Relyea as the Duke). But my top pick for starry cast list has to be the three performances of Tosca, with Kirill Petrenko conducting Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros and Bryn Terfel – a cast list that has to be one of the operatic hot tickets of the year.

Add operas by everone from Berg, Bellini and Beethoven to Poulenc, Rossini and both Strausses, with plenty in between, and you truly have a season for everyone.


This season preview was sponsored by Bayerische Staatsoper