A number of opera houses have been stoic in their response to the pandemic, keeping performers on the stage even if the audience was restricted to online rather than in the auditorium. One such is Opernhaus Zürich which managed to rehearse and stage a number of its planned new productions which were then streamed worldwide, such as Boris Godunov, Simon Boccanegra and Les Contes d'Hoffmann. It even made inventive use of technology to beam the orchestra and chorus from the safety of a rehearsal room 1km away into the pit. 

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Gianandrea Noseda
© Daniel Auf der Mauer

With much of Europe tentatively reopening after the crisis, Zürich Opera and Ballet have announced a typically bold 2021-22 season with a good number of new productions, the launch of a new Ring Cycle, a constellation of star singers and the arrival of new General Music Director Gianandrea Noseda

Noseda has a hard act to follow. The much-loved Fabio Luisi was a tremendous asset to the house and leaves the Philharmonia Zürich in fine fettle. But Noseda is no stranger to the operatic world. He was Principal Guest Conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre from 1997 - 2007 and Music Director at the Teatro Regio in Turin after that. Like Luisi, Noseda is outstanding in Italian repertoire and conducts two Verdi operas next season – Il trovatore and Falstaff – as well as pursuing his love of Wagner with a new Rheingold and the revival of Tristan und Isolde. Noseda also continues the tradition of orchestral concerts running through the season, where you can expect to hear Bruckner, Brahms and Dvořák resounding through the Opernhaus. 

Staging a Ring Cycle is the pinnacle of any opera house’s ambitions, requiring huge resources. Intendant Andreas Homoki undertakes the challenge which will begin, naturally enough, with Das Rheingold in April 2022, culminating in an autumn 2023 immolation (where Camilla Nylund and Klaus Florian Vogt are slated to make their respective role debuts as Brünnhilde and Siegfried). The Rheingold cast is led by experienced Wagnerian Tomasz Konieczny as Wotan, ruler of the gods whose terrible bargaining skills with giants Fasolt and Fafner have landed him in a pickle which takes 15 hours to unravel across the course of the cycle. 

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Andreas Homoki
© Daniel Auf der Mauer

Homoki is also at the helm of the first new production of the season – Richard Strauss’ biblical shocker, Salome. Anyone who saw Russian soprano Elena Stikhina in the title role streamed from La Scala this season will know they’re in for a treat. Conductor Simone Young’s fine cast includes Kostas Smoriginas as Jochanaan and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Salome’s slimy stepfather, Herod. 

Verdi’s Il trovatore boasts some of the best arias in all Italian opera. However, its credulity-stretching “oops, I threw the wrong baby on the fire” plot challenges the best of directors. Adele Thomas grapples with this convoluted tale of misidentification and vengeance. She is aided by a knockout cast. Enrico Caruso once claimed that casting Trovatore was simple: all you needed were the four best singers in the world! Two roles debuts – Piotr Beczała as Manrico and Marina Rebeka as Leonora – should add to the excitement, complemented by Quinn Kelsey as the Conte di Luna and fabulous Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena, the gypsy whose mysterious back story drives the plot. 

Following Maria Stuarda in 2018, soprano Diana Damrau and director David Alden are reunited in the next instalment in Zürich’s Donizetti Tudor queen trilogy, Anna Bolena. As King Henry VIII’s roving eyes wander to Jane Seymour, it’s curtains – or rather the axe – for his current queen. Jan Phillipp Gloger stages a new Nozze di Figaro, with a fine young cast that includes Louise Alder and Morgan Pearse as the soon-to-be newlyweds, and Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s hilarious updating of L’italiana in Algeri, arrives from Salzburg complete with Cecilia Bartoli and Ildar Abdrazakov in the lead roles. Jetske Mijnssen directs a new production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites, the tale of 16 nuns who bravely face martyrdom during the French Revolution. 

Pandemic postponements now moved to the 21-22 season include David Martone’s take on Pergolesi’s L’Olimpiade, Tomo Sugao’s Theater Winterthur staging of Haydn’s farce Il mondo della luna and the eagerly awaited world premiere of Stefan Wirth’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring, based on Tracy Chevalier’s hit novel about the artist Jan Vermeer. Another new opera to hit the Zürich stage is Leonard Evers’ new work based on Homer’s The Odyssey, aimed at a family audience. 

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Pergolesi’s L’Olimpiade
© Herwig Prammer

Star names in the new season include the first appearance for seven years of Anna Netrebko (as Lady Macbeth in Barrie Kosky’s production), Sonya Yoncheva and Joseph Calleja in Tosca, Ludovic Tézier as Simon Boccanegra, Elīna Garanča in Cavalleria rusticana, Lisette Oropesa in Lucia di Lammermoor and Bryn Terfel as Falstaff – a veritable firmament. 

Zürich Ballet highlights include Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas, which premiered at the National Ballet of Canada last year, and a new creation by Christian Spuck which marries dance with Monteverdi’s arias and madrigals in choreographic expression. Edward Clug’s balletic version of Peer Gynt also arrives in a new production from Vienna. 

Zürich audiences are spoilt for choice. It’s a new season to raise hopes and to gladden hearts.

This preview was sponsored by Zürich Opera and Ballet. Click here to view full listings.