© Marcin Białek | Wikicommons
Zurich Opera

prides itself on being at the cutting edge of contemporary opera production and its 2018-19 season, just launched, features new productions by leading directors. With a wide range of new stagings – often skirting works on the operatic fringes – and a healthy number of well cast revivals, there’s plenty to draw opera lovers to this fine city.

Barrie Kosky has enjoyed great successes in Zurich in recent years with his wonderful Eugene Onegin (previously seen at Berlin's Komische Oper) and an arresting production of Verdi’s Macbeth, which returns next season. The season opens with Kosky applying his magic touch to Franz Schreker’s mysterious opera Die Gezeichneten, while the excellent Vladimir Jurowski makes his Oper Zürich debut.

© Dominic Büttner

It centres around a deformed nobleman, Alviano Salvago, who creates an artistic Elysium on an island outside the city of Genoa where abducted young women are taken to be enjoyed by a secret society of aristocrats. Alviano himself is at the fringes of this society until he encounters Carlotta, who is fascinated by him and wishes to paint his soul. Schreker’s orchestral music has a richness and lushness to complement this decadent story and whenever it is staged, people always wonder why it’s not performed more often. One of those reasons is finding singers capable of tackling the demanding main roles. Zurich has secured Catherine Naglestad and John Daszak (who sang Alviano last summer in Munich’s new production). The work also featured at Komische Oper this season. Perhaps Schreker’s time has come.

Russian stage and film director Kirill Serebrennikov faces one of the thorniest classical operas in the repertoire. Così fan tutte is a cynical work, setting out to prove that “all women are like that” when it comes to fidelity – or infidelity towards their fiancés. Directors can either approach it as froth – surely a mistake – or delve into the unsettling consequences of Don Alfonso’s “experiment” with the two young couples. Serebrennikov has a couple of fine Russians in his cast: Anna Goryachova (the cheeky Carmen in Kosky's irreverent production just seen in London) and the splendid Andrei Bondarenko take the roles of Dorabella and Guglielmo, while Ruzan Mantashyan and Frédéric Antoun sing Fiordiligi and Ferrando.

Robert Carsen spreads magic wherever he goes – his Midsummer Night’s Dream is still delighting audiences 27 years on – and Hänsel und Gretel should make the perfect Christmas show for children of all ages. Less appropriate for children is Stephen Sondheim’s “black operetta” Sweeney Todd, the grisly tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s become a favourite role of Sir Bryn Terfel who stars in Intendant Andreas Homoki’s new production alongside the Mrs Lovett of Angelika Kirchschlager. David Charles Abell, who conducted Terfel in the role at English National Opera, is in the pit.

The end of the world is nigh in György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, as Nekrotzar rises from the grave to declare The Last Judgement. Rarely performed, it is full of grotesque, bleak humour and features some great comic turns. Tatjana Gürbaca, who has directed a number of productions in Zurich including Werther, stages Ligeti’s opera, while General Music Director Fabio Luisi conducts the pithy score, which includes 12 car-horns.

© Monika Rittershaus

There’s more familiar fare for the season’s other three new productions. Homoki offers a new staging of Nabucco, Verdi’s third opera and the one that set him on the path to operatic glory, not least because of the remarkably moving Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves which chimed with political events in Austrian-occupied northern Italy in the 1840s. Luisi – a natural Verdian – conducts. Jan Philipp Gloger directs Rossini’s comedy Il turco in Italia with a promising cast led by Nahuel di Pierro and Julie Fuchs as the rich Turk and the Italian woman with whom he swiftly becomes infatuated. Floris Visser stages a new production of Massenet’s Manon, starring Elsa Dreisig in the title role of the ingénue who knows how to wrap men around her little finger. Piotr Beczała is luxury casting as Des Grieux, the penniless student with whom Manon falls in love, but whom she abandons when tempted by the luxurious lifestyle offered by sugar daddy De Brétigny.

Among the well cast revivals, several star names stand out: Anja Harteros sings Leonora in Homoki’s yet to be seen production of The Force of Destiny; Sergey Romanovsky should be splendid as Nadir in The Pearl Fishers; house favourite Cecilia Bartoli returns as Semele; Diana Damrau and Venera Gimadieva share title role duties in Lucia di Lammermoor; Lise Davidsen sings Elisabeth in Tannhäuser; and Krassimira Stoyanova, Anna Stéphany and Sabine Devieilhe are dreamy casting in Der Rosenkavalier.

Zurich also has a vibrant ballet company. Christian Spuck choreographs Hans Zender’s orchestration of Schubert’s Winterreise, turning it from an abandoned lover’s despairing winter journey into a voyage inside the human mind. A new mixed bill pays homage to the great Jiří Kylián, including his wonderful Bella figura.

Few dancers or choreographers made such as impact as Vaslav Nijinsky. Marco Goecke has developed a new full-length ballet on his life, drawing on Chopin’s piano concertos and – inevitably – Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which Nijinsky choreographed into something that shocked at its 1912 Paris première.


Click here to view full Opernhaus Zürich listings.


Article sponsored by Zurich Opera and Ballet