Andreas Homoki © Toni Suter + Tanja Dorendorf
Andreas Homoki
© Toni Suter + Tanja Dorendorf
In grey and white stone, the neo-classical façade of Zurich’s opera house is adorned with the busts of Weber, Mozart and Wagner. Weber’s operas rarely get a look in these days – although Herbert Fritsch production of Der Freischütz last season will surely get a revival – but Mozart and Wagner are both healthily represented in Zurich Opera’s new season. Andreas Homoki, the Intendant since 2012, and Music Director Fabio Luisi have built a strong season, with a range of new productions unveiled for 2017-18.

Homoki himself has six productions in the season, three of them new. The pick is Verdi’s La forza del destino – usually a rarity among his mature operas, but it’s had a few new productions in Europe in recent seasons. Zurich’s season brochure describes Verdi’s opera as “a merciless portrait of a broken society” indicating that perhaps Homoki will hold a mirror up to our own turbulent times. The relationship between Leonora and Don Alvaro is doomed from the start because of social differences, meaning her father would never accept him as her suitor. When their planned elopement goes wrong, ending with Alvaro’s accidental, but fatal, shooting of Leonora’s father, “the force of destiny” is unstoppable as Don Carlo, Leonora’s brother, seeks vengeance. The young cast is headed by Hibla Gerzmava as Leonora, Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee as Alvaro and George Petean as Carlo. Luisi, a safe pair of hands in Verdi, conducts.

© Dominic Büttner
© Dominic Büttner
Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment is a less complicated plot, a fluffy opéra comique and one that can be very funny, especially if battleaxes the Marquise de Birkenfeld and the Duchess of Krakenthorp are well cast. As the spunky Marie, raised since infancy by an entire French regiment, Homoki has cast the sparkling coloratura soprano Sabine Devieilhe, opposite charming Mexican tenor Javier Camarena, who garners plaudits wherever he sings the role of Tonio, popping out the high Cs in his aria like Champagne corks.  

Heinz Holliger’s new opera Lunea, directed by Homoki, has its genesis in a song about the 19th-century poet Nikolaus Lenau. The song was premiered in Zurich’s opera house by Christian Gerhaher and Holliger has now used it as the nucleus for his opera, which will not describe Lenau’s life, “but will shed light on texts, figures and situations from the cosmos of his life – through visions, flashes of insight and fantasy images.”

Of Homoki’s revivals, Der fliegende Holländer is the pick, with newly knighted Sir Bryn Terfel reprising the role of the Dutchman, while Piotr Beczała reprises the role of Prince Sou-Chong in Lehár’s The Land of Smiles, the staging of which premieres this summer.  

Barrie Kosky's production of <i>Eugene Onegin</i> at Komische Oper © Iko Freese |
Barrie Kosky's production of Eugene Onegin at Komische Oper
© Iko Freese |
One of Zurich’s new productions is a known quantity. Barrie Kosky’s staging of Eugene Onegin opened at Komische Oper last season and is terrific, taking place entirely in a green meadow. Our Berlin reviewer described it as “delicious for the eyes, ears and emotions”. Peter Mattei is one of the best Onegins in the world – this season alone he sings it in Paris and New York – and heads a fine cast in Zurich which includes Olga Bezsmertna and Ksenia Dudnikova as the Larina sisters.

It’s difficult second-guessing what Calixto Bieito has up his sleeve for Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, but one imagines he won’t skimp on the sex or the bloodshed. Eyebrows may be raised just by looking at the casting, with countertenors cast not just as Nero, but also as Amore.

Idomeneo isn’t always people’s idea of a favourite Mozart opera, yet it’s a deeply personal work where all the characters are in conflict. Idomeneo, King of Crete, is returning from the Trojan Wars when his ship is wrecked. Having sworn to Neptune that he will sacrifice the first man he meets if he is spared, Idomeneo washes up ashore where he is greeted by his own son, Idamante. Jetske Mijnssen directs Zurich’s new production with a cast headed by Joseph Kaiser and English mezzo Anna Stéphany as Idamante.

The key attraction of Sebastian Baumgarten’s new production of Weill’s satirical Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is surely Karita Mattila taking on the role of Leokadja Begbick, one of three fugitives on the make. Ted Huffmann directs a new Madama Butterfly, with Svetlana Aksenova as Cio-Cio San and Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu as Pinkerton. Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda includes the thrilling – but fictitious – encounter between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart and is a gift for talented singers. David Alden’s new production features Diana Damrau as Maria and Salome Jicia as Elizabeth.

Christian Spuck © Die Arge Lola
Christian Spuck
© Die Arge Lola
One of the highlights of the Zurich Ballet season is undoubtedly Christian Spuck’s new version of The Nutcracker, a ballet that celebrates its 125th anniversary in December. Tchaikovsky’s sugary confection belies its dark roots. ETA Hoffmann’s tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is disturbing and Spuck promises to “combine Tchaikovsky’s music with the demonic, humour, the bizarre and the diverse range of figures that inhabit Hoffmann’s story.” Whilst there are performances during December, the production plays throughout the season, so less of a Christmas fairytale than usual, perhaps.

Edward Clug choreographs a new full length work on Goethe’s Faust, to a score composed by Milko Lazar. The work focuses on the elderly scholar’s thirst for knowledge and his self-doubts, but Clug also explores the story of Gretchen’s sacrifice and the hellish world of the Walpurgis Night. The season also sees a revival of Clug’s Rite of Spring and Crystal Pite's Emergence.

Alongside opera and ballet, Zurich’s season also features a number of orchestral concerts and Liederabend given by some of the world’s top singers, including Sonya Yoncheva, Michael Volle and Pretty Yende. There’s also a special gala concert given by legendary coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova, which will doubtless draw her many fans to Switzerland’s first city.



Article sponsored by Zurich Opera and Ballet.