Mezzo-soprano Michelle De Young
For opera lovers, the offerings last fall were at best a little thin. But this winter, it seems, everyone's doin' it. So instead of telling you about James Levine conducting the Birtwistle premiere with violinist Christian Tetzlaff at the BSO (March 3-5 and 8, Symphony Hall) or the Takács Quartet in the Celebrity Series (February 18, Jordan Hall) or the Discovery Ensemble's fascinating Wagner/Schreker/Schumann program (March 17, Sanders Theatre), I'm going to confine my list of recommendations to the numerous exciting opera productions and opera singers that are in store for us.
BSO=BOSTON SYMPHONY OPERAS | Why not start 2011 with what's sure to be one of the most exciting programs of the year? James Levine will be leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra in two of the greatest vocal works of the 20th century: Stravinsky's ritualistic Oedipus Rex sung in Latin, with no less than Frank Langella in the pivotal role of the narrator, and Bartók's haunting Bluebeard's Castle (January 6-8). Mezzo-soprano Michelle De Young sings the leading female roles in both, tenor Russell Thomas is Oedipus, and dark-voiced Albert Dohmen will be the brooding Bluebeard (as well as both Creon and the Messenger in Oedipus). Later in the season, the brilliant and startlingly original young British composer Thomas Adès makes his BSO debut conducting music by Tchaikovsky (an overture), Sibelius (incidental music), and himself (excerpts from an extraordinary opera), all inspired by, or based on, Shakespeare's The Tempest (March 25-26).
Symphony Hall, 301 Mass Ave, Boston | $29-$108 | 617.266.1492 or bso.org
SYNGE-ALONG | As part of their ambitious season devoted to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, David Hoose and the Cantata Singers will be looking at the composer in the context of British vocal music — with pieces by Elgar, Finzi, and Holst, as well as Vaughan Williams himself — followed by Vaughan Williams's moving setting of Synge's great one-act play about fate and doom among Irish seafarers, Riders to the Sea.
Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St, Boston | January 14 | $17-$52 | 617.868.5885 or cantatasingers.org
SOPRANO POWER | The Celebrity Series of Boston is presenting soprano Christine Brewer, whom we're more familiar with as a soloist in major BSO performances, in a solo recital. An ideal combination of power and delicacy, she's singing mostly lieder and art songs, but she's opening with Gluck's great aria from Alceste, "Divinités du Styx," calling for the gods of the underworld to release her husband from death. Included in a sequence of nostalgic parlor songs is Idabelle Firestone's "If I Could Tell You," the theme song for The Voice of Firestone, a radio (and later, television) show featuring famous opera singers. Pianist Craig Rutenberg accompanies.
Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St, Boston | January 15 | $50-$70 | 617.482.2595 or celebrityseries.org
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN | The latest production in Boston Lyric Opera's Opera Annex series is its new production of Viktor Ullmann's Emperor of Atlantis, the dark yet comic piece he composed at Terezín in 1943 (he died soon afterward at Auschwitz). Stephen Lipsitt conducts at Calderwood Pavilion. BLO returns to the Shubert Theatre with Handel's satirical and ravishing Agrippina (it could have been called "Naughty Nero"), in a production borrowed from Glimmerglass and New York City Opera. Gary Thor Wedow makes his BLO conducting debut, and the stars are Caroline Worra as one of antiquity's monster mothers, the Met's brilliant and adorable coloratura Kathleen Kim as Poppea, and counter-tenor David Trudgen as the young Nero.