Allison Cook
© Robert Wolanski

When looking at the announcement of a new season from a major opera house, opera fans greedy for new experiences go straight for the premières: what’s new to tempt the palate, to point opera’s way into the future? In the Liceu’s 2018-9 season, there’s a clear answer: L’Enigma di Lea, the first opera by Spanish composer Benet Casablancas, who has had a distinguished career in other musical forms. Allison Cook, who recently impressed us in Turnage's Greek, sings the title role in a piece that promises intensity and spirituality.

Other opera fans zero in on the star casting, which takes you towards the other end of the operatic timeline with a concert performance next May of Handel's Agrippina. Joyce DiDonato sings the title role, Franco Fagioli is Nero, Kathryn Lewek (often seen delivering brilliant coloratura as the Queen of the Night) sings Poppea, while Marie-Nicole Lemieux is one of the top contraltos currently singing – all supported by rising stars Il Pomo d'Oro.

In October, Lewek stars in another concert performance: Leonard Bernstein's Candide, an operetta that is coming to the fore in 2018 because of its composer's centenary. Its sheer brilliance and fun won hearts in Los Angeles in January, and we can hope that despite the difficulty of categorising the piece, it will gain a permanent place in the repertoire. A third concert performance features Diana Damrau as Ophelia in Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet.

L'Italiana in Algeri in Turin
© Edoardo Piva-Ramella & Giannese | Teatro Regio Torino

As you might expect, the season's opening and closing productions are strongly cast, both with tenors who are strong local favourites. Bellini's I puritani opens proceedings with the inimitable bel canto of Javier Camarena, with Pretty Yende as Elvira set against the powerful baritone of Mariusz Kwieceń. Annilese Miskimmon's production (reviewed by us at Welsh National Opera) mixes the 17th century with the more modern Catholic-Protestant divide of Northern Ireland in the time of the Troubles. The season's last production provides a treat for Verdi fans with the not-frequently-enough-performed Luisa Miller: Sondra Radvanovsky takes the title role, singing opposite Piotr Beczała, who wowed us in Werther at the Liceu last year, with strong low-register support from Luca Salsi and the cavernous bass of Dmitry Belosselskiy. Set in the late 18th century, Damiano Michieletto's production is packed with symbolism.

With three of the ten staged productions, the genre most strongly represented is late ItalianThese range from the familiar verismo of Tosca (another starry cast of Monastyrska, Sartori and Schrott) and Madama Butterfly (the Caurier/Leiser co-production with Covent Garden) to the outrageously fantastical plot of the less frequently seen La gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli, famous for all the wrong reasons in the shape of Disney's hallucinogenic treatment of its “Dance of the hours”, but containing some great music and the chance to see Iréne Theorin. For a dose of truly gut-wrenching verismo – with credibility to outdo anything from the Italian school – head for Janáček's Káťa Kabanová, with Patricia Racette as the ill-fated heroine and Rosie Aldridge as her domineering mother-in-law.

Lotte de Beer's production of The Pearl Fishers
© Werner Kmetitsch

If you prefer the comic end of the scale and Candide doesn't take your fancy, your direction should be the commedia dell'arte silliness and featherlight, cheerful music of Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri: the highly experienced Riccardo Frizza conducts.

For a radical directorial take which looks at a romantic favourite from a completely new angle, you won't do better than Lotte de Beer's vision of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers as a reality TV show, to which we gave five stars in 2014 Vienna, with praise accorded not only to de Beer's concept but also to the loving detail that she paid to the acting direction. Another interesting directorial setting is Claus Guth's rotating stage for Handel's Rodelinda, which was acclaimed when first seen in Madrid last year: Guth casts the story as a set of memories from the (silent) point of view of Flavio, Rodelinda's son. Countertenors Lawrence Zazzo and Bejun Mehta reprise their roles from the Madrid production, Lisette Oropesa takes on the title role.

© James Rajotte

As usual, the opera season is augmented by a concert programme. Beczała and Theorin both give recitals, while an eye-catching concert on 17th November pairs Schubert's Unfinished Symphony with Anna Larsson singing in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. April 6th sees a star Handel pairing of countertenor Tim Mead and soprano Sandrine Piau. Those interested in music outside the Western canon should head for Naseer Shamma, one of the world's great masters of the oud, on November 4th. A sop to Wagnerians – unrepresented in the staged programme this season – is provided in the shape of Lorin Maazel's arrangements of The Ring Without Words in July.

The Liceu doesn't have its own ballet company, but four visiting dance companies are invited, ranging from classical ballet (the Compañia Nacional de Danza performing Don Quixote) to the flamenco-infused Zaguán and Alento from the Ballet Nacional de España, to modern programmes from the Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon's Kylián triple bill to a mixed programme from Barcelona's youth company IT Dansa.



You can see the full season's listings here.

This preview was sponsored by the Gran Teatre del Liceu.