Zurich Opera and Ballet present seasons packed with new productions of dark works that are dominated by myth, magic or sacrifice. From Greek myth to magic bullets to giving up the one you love, it’s a powerful season destined to move Swiss audiences.

Zürich Opernhaus © Dominic Büttner
Zürich Opernhaus
© Dominic Büttner
Ancient Greek myth has been a fertile furrow for opera composers to plough over the centuries. Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was one of the earliest operas, while gods, nymphs and minotaurs continue to fascinate composers today. The story of Medea, who murders her own children in revenge for Jason’s infidelity, has inspired several operas. Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medée, to a French libretto by Thomas Corneille, premiered in 1693. It mixes classical tragedy with the occult, as Medea resorts to witchcraft to conjure a poisoned robe to kill Jason’s new lover, Creusa. The opera was well received at the time, but is barely known to audiences today. However, next season it is championed by that maestro of French Baroque William Christie in a new production by Andreas Homoki, who has already teamed up with Christie for Charpentier’s David et Jonathas at Aix-en-Provence. French mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac tackles the role of the murderous Medea, while Belgian tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen sings Jason.

The story of Electra and Orestes, who plot revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon, is one of Euripedes’ great dramas. It inspired Richard Strauss to write one of his greatest works – Elektra. German composer Manfred Trojahn takes up the story at the point where Strauss ends Elektra. His opera Orest deals with the guilt suffered after Elektra’s brother has committed these two murders. It ends with Orestes' murder of Helen of Troy, and an uncertain future. Premiered in Amsterdam in 2011, amid “splashes of gore”, it is a powerful piece of music theatre, set in six scenes. Opening with a scream, Trojahn’s music also takes up where Strauss left off, often violent with stratospheric writing for sopranos, while whispering voices taunt Orestes’ conscience. Hans Neuenfels directs a new production, with baritone Georg Nigl in the title role.

Christian Spuck, Christian Berner, Fabio Luisi and Andreas Homoki © Frank Blaser
Christian Spuck, Christian Berner, Fabio Luisi and Andreas Homoki
© Frank Blaser
Away from Greek myth, dark deeds continue as we delve into a world of magic. In Weber’s opera Der Freischütz, which opens the season, Max falls prey to the wicked Caspar in order to help forge six magic bullets – bullets that will always hit their target – so he can win a shooting contest and win the hand of Agathe. Unbeknown to Max, Caspar is in league with the devil – the ‘black hunstman, Samiel. Herbert Fritsch’s new production is set to channel the world of Gothic Romanticism through his own colourful style. Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who triumphed in last year’s Operalia competition, sings the role of Agathe, completing a strong cast.

More demonic magic is at play in Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, an especially tempting prospect when Calixto Bieito is the director. The opera tells the tale of Renata, who resorts to sorcery to try and track down her missing lover, but ends up in a convent, accused of demonic possession and condemned to burn at the stake. Bieito isn’t one to shy away from sex and violence – expect a challenging production but one that reveals Prokofiev’s work as a gripping drama. Gianandrea Noseda, an expert in Russian opera, conducts.

Bieito always evokes strong audience reactions. Perhaps the strongest reaction to any new work came in 1913 when Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris. The avant-garde music and the choreography caused uproar – a near riot in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The ballet tells a brutal story, a depiction of an ancient Pagan rite to mark the arrival of spring, whereby the elders choose a sacrifice who dances herself to death. It still has the power to shock. Edward Clug choreographed a new version for Maribor Ballet, which takes place on a watery stage. In a version specially revived for Ballett Zürich, it receives its Swiss première. It is paired with a new version of another Stravinsky ballet – Petrushka – choreographed by Marco Goecke.

Sacrifice doesn’t always require dark deeds behind it. In Massenet’s Werther, Charlotte has to give up hopes of love with the romantic young poet as she has already promised her dying mother to marry the faithful Albert. Unable to live without her, Werther shoots himself, expiring in Charlotte’s arms while her young brothers and sisters sing Christmas carols outside. Star tenor Juan Diego Flórez takes on the role of the doomed poet, in Tatjana Gürbaca’s production.

© David Karlin
© David Karlin
Another one who nobly gives up love is Pasha Selim in Mozart’s Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Belmonte arrives in Turkey to rescue his love Konstanze from the pasha’s harem, his attempts repeatedly foiled by Osmin, overseer at the pasha’s palace. Maverick conductor Teodor Currentzis, whose Mozart on disc has ruffled several feathers, is in the pit for David Hermann’s new production. Pavol Breslik sings Belmonte, while Russian star-in-the-making Olga Peretyatko sings Konstanze.

After sacrifice comes loss. Verdi’s Requiem is perhaps the greatest masses for the dead ever composed, with its searing Day of Judgement (Dies irae) a musical highlight. Ballett Zürich and Oper Zürich combine forces under choreographer Christian Spuck and conductor Fabio Luisi for a theatrical interpretation of Verdi’s massive score, which should prove a highlight of the Zurich season.


This article was sponsored by Zurich Opera and Ballet.