It brooks little argument that a new production of Wagner’s Ring is one of the most massive undertakings that an opera company can undertake. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there’s palpable excitement at Opernhaus Zürich about a new Ring from their Intendant Andreas Homoki and their Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, whose release is spanning three seasons: Das Rheingold soon after this is published  in April 2022, Die Walküre and Siegfried during the 2022-23 season and Götterdämmerung in November 2023.

Opernhaus Zürich
© Andrin Fretz

The excitement is all the more so because Wagner lived in Zurich for nine years, including the spell when a great deal of the tetralogy was written: it was here that Wagner met the Wesendoncks, here that Die Walküre was first heard (with Franz Liszt sight reading the intricate score on piano), and Homoki explains that the sword-making scene in Siegfried results from the composer’s irritation at the incessant hammering of the tinsmith who lived across the road from his house in Zürich’s Zeltweg. Homoki’s stagings often split the crowd and he promises that this reading will be unusually Back to Basics for current opera fashion: rather than dream up a rich set of “new meanings and interpretational meta levels”, Homoki says he wants to “tell the story as simply and directly as possible” – amen to that. Further interest will be added by role debuts from Camilla Nylund as Brünnhilde and Klaus Florian Vogt as Siegfried.

Of course, theres more to opera than Wagner, much of it being opera that Wagner might well have despised, such as Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, the last of Zurich’s series of his “Three Queens” operas. Bel canto specialist Enrique Mazzola conducts; Inga Kalna and Stephen Costello take on the challenging roles of Elisabeth I and Devereux. Wagner would not even have known about the far earlier Eliogabalo, an “audaciously frank” account of the sexually rapacious Roman emperor Heliogabalus, written by one of the pioneers of opera, Francesco Cavalli, but far to racy for the 17th century Venetian censors and never performed in his lifetime. Eliogabalo's world premiere was as recent as 1999; Zurich Opera are presenting a new staging by another director who splits the crowds, Calixto Bieito, who will “explore the question of what masculinity means today”.

The opera season’s one world premiere is a children’s opera: a new version of Alice in Wonderland by Italian composer Pierangelo Valtinoni, staged by Nadja Loschky: both have created successful children’s operas for Zurich in the past. But there are a clutch of other new productions spanning the full breadth of operatic styles, from the baroque to the 21st century, from the horrific to the satirical. Zurich’s International Opera Studio presents Handel’s Serse with a young Swiss director, Nina Russi, and an experienced baroque specialist conductor, Markellos Chryssicos. They also celebrate Wolfgang Rihm’s 70th birthday with four performances of his chamber opera Jakob Lenz, which the composer described as “an hour and a half of extreme chamber music”. Back on the main stage, there’s the Swiss premiere of George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence, one of the most intense operatic depictions of political and sexual power play that you’re ever likely to see. But if you’d rather lighten up with some political satire, go for Offenbach’s Barkouf, the riotous story of what happens when the Great Mogul puts a dog in charge of the city of Lahore. Finally, the most awaited new productions vocally will be Turandot in June, with Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and Piotr Beczała and Rosa Feola making role debuts as Calàf and Liù, as well as Julie Fuchs and Benjamin Bernheim providing Gallic authenticity for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Il trovatore
© Monika Rittershaus

Amongst the many revivals, look out for Bernheim singing Lensky in the Barrie Kosky production of Eugene Onegin, Fuchs singing Norina in Don Pasquale and another top French singer, Sabine Devieilhe, in Delibes' Lakmé. Cecilia Bartoli is sure to provide historically informed bel canto in Rossini’s La Cenerentola; for stratospheric coloratura, look no further than Jessica Pratt’s Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte. September’s Il Trovatore promises a top Verdian cast including Anja Harteros as Leonora and Stefano da Colla as Manrico and the starriest revival cast will be Radvanovsky, Jonas Kaufmann and Sir Bryn Terfel in Robert Carsen's production of Tosca.

The 2022/3 season is no less momentous for Ballett Zürich: it will be Christian Spuck’s last season as Artistic Director after an eleven year tenure in which he has been credited with turning the company into one of Europe’s finest. Four of his works will be danced in the season to celebrate. The “opulent feast” that is Spuck’s take on Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina has become a standard repertoire piece in companies around the world; it comes back home to Zürich in March. Monteverdi blends hit numbers from the Venetian master such as the Lamento della Ninfa with a variety of other music into what our reviewer described as “a study in melancholy and lost love, ably contrasted with sequences of real jubilation”. The ever-popular seasonal Nutcracker is presented in Spuck’s reworking of the Petipa/Ivanov original. Finally, there’s an all-new Spuck work  to be danced as part of a triptych entitled “On the Move” together with choreographies by Louis Stiens and Hans van Manen.

The Nutcracker
© Gregory Batardon

Scheduled to take over as Ballet Director and chief choreographer  in 2023/4 is Cathy Marston, who is no stranger to Switzerland as she danced for Ballett Zürich early in her career and subsequently spent six years as director of Bern Ballett. The Zurich audience will get a sneak preview of Marston’s work in April in the shape of The Cellist, based on the life of Jacqueline du Pré. It was Marston’s first main stage production for London’s Royal Ballet and was premiered there in 2020; the enthusiasm with which that premiere was greeted will make it one of the hottest tickets of the Zurich season – another will be the season’s opener on 30th September: Nachttraüme, a new piece by Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau, based on a 1932 work by Kurt Jooss, Der grüne Tisch, which depicted the First World War as a dance of death.

The season is completed by a substantial programme of concerts and recitals. The singers in recital are out of the top drawer: Olga Peretyatko, Juan Diego Floréz, Javier Camareña and Sabine Devieilhe are just some of the big stars on display, with a joint recital from Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak in May. Rachmaninov’s 150th birthday is being celebrated a few weeks early on 12th February in a concert of the Third Piano Concerto and The Bells with Gianandrea Noseda conducting and a collection of all-star soloists.

You can see the full listings for Zurich Ballet and Opera's 2022-23 season here.
This preview was sponsored by 
Opernhaus Zürich.