Last season, the wittiest, most inventive opera production here was Handel’s Agrippina, which Sam Helfrich staged for Martin Pearlman’s period-instrument BOSTON BAROQUE. Helfrich will be back for one of the wittiest and most challenging operas in the repertory, Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Nathan Berg sings the seductive hero/villain (Jordan Hall, October 13-14; 617.484.9200).
The BOSTON CONSERVATORY has a brilliant record of light opera and musical comedy. This fall the major production is Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe (October 25-29; 617.912.9240). The conservatory’s Piano Master series includes Craig Sheppard (Seully Hall, October 3), Janice Weber (November 7), and Anton Kuerti (November 28). Reserved tickets are free (617.912.9222).
The BANK OF AMERICA CELEBRITY SERIES brings Vladimir Ashkenazy back to Boston conducting the NHK Symphony Orchestra with controversial French pianist Hélène Grimaud in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 plus Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Debussy’s La mer (Symphony Hall, October 20; 617.482.2595). I’m especially eager to hear violinist Gidon Kremer and pianist Krystian Zimerman play Brahms’s three violin sonatas (Jordan Hall, November 5). Powerhouse violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is giving a Mozart program (Symphony Hall, November 14). And even if you’re not a ballet fan, hearing the Kirov Orchestra play Swan Lake for the Kirov Ballet ought to be a Tchaikovsky lover’s feast (Wang Theatre, November 9-12).
Director Peter Sellars first wanted to stage Handel’s ravishing Orlando when he heard Craig Smith conduct it at Emmanuel Church. EMMANUEL MUSIC is presenting Orlando again (October 28; 617.536.3356), with a cast that includes countertenor Jeffrey Gall, who sang the title role in the unforgettable Sellars/Smith production at ART in 1981. Later in the season, Emmanuel is doing two other Handel masterpieces based on Ariosto, Ariodante and Alcina. It’s also entering its third season of Schumann chamber and vocal works (November 5 + 12).
The CANTATA SINGERS, led by David Hoose, are suggesting parallels between Bach cantatas and some of the group’s impressive commissions, like Andrew Imbrie’s 1994 Adam (Jordan Hall, November 10; 617.868.5885) and John Harbison’s 1986 Pulitzer-winning The Flight into Egypt and his recent But Mary Stood (January 19).
The BOSTON CECILIA CHORUS and high-flying soprano Barbara Quintiliani join Steven Lipsitt’s BOSTON CLASSICAL ORCHESTRA for an orgy of Bach and Handel (Faneuil Hall, October 13 + 15; 617.232.4540).
Sir Roger Norrington doesn’t assume directorship of the HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY until after the New Year, but H&H’s fall dance card is full. I didn’t cotton to director Chen Shi-Zheng’s version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, but maybe his Monteverdi Orfeo, which H&H is producing with the English National Opera, with Laurence Cummings conducting, will be more convincing (Shubert Theatre, September 22-24; 617.482-9200). Grant Llewellyn leads Beethoven’s first two symphonies and Mozart’s heavenly Clarinet Concerto with Erich Hoeprich on period clarinet (Symphony Hall, October 27 + 29).
Audiences love the BOSTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA as much for Benjamin Zander’s pre-concert talks as for his illuminating musicmaking. “Mediterranean “Splendors” — Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique — (Sanders Theatre + Jordan Hall, October 19, 21, 22; 617.236.0999) is followed by Alexander Baillie in the Schumann Cello Concerto plus the Mahler Fifth (November 16, 18, 19). At the ISABELLA STEWART GARDNERMUSEUM, the Orion String Quartet and violist Ida Kavafian are playing Mozart’s sublime string quintets (October 15 + 29; 617.566.1401), and the Borromeo Quartet is participating in Brahms’s sextets (November 5). Two-thirds of the BOSTON MUSEUM TRIO — violinist Daniel Stepner and pianist John Gibbons — play Bach sonatas at the MFA (November 16; 617.369.3300).