As our most prestigious classical-music institution, the BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ought to be every year’s headliner, and once again, under the adventuresome direction of James Levine, it is. One thing he’s brought to Boston is opera at the international level — not fully staged opera, but opera in concert. I’m guessing that the high point of the fall season will be one of the key works in his ongoing Beethoven/Schoenberg series, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, which hasn’t been heard here since Sarah Caldwell produced its American premiere in 1966. John Tomlinson and Philip Langridge sing the fraternal title roles. I’m especially glad to see that baritone Sanford Sylvan is returning from his recent health problem (Symphony Hall, October 26 + 28; 617.266.1492).
CURTAIN RAISER: Renée Fleming does the opening-night honors with the BSO in Samuel Barber’s setting of James Agee’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915.
Levine will also conduct Bartók’s disquieting one-hour opera Bluebeard’s Castle, with Albert Dohmen and Anne Sofie von Otter as Duke Bluebeard’s too inquisitive wife. The evening will be fleshed out by Brahms’s First Symphony (November 9-10).
Opera star Renée Fleming will do the opening night honors with Levine leading her in Barber's touching setting of James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and some Gershwin songs. Also on the program are superstar flutist James Galway in William Bolcom's Lyric Concerto, along with Dvorák's New World Symphony (September 29). John Harbison's Lolita-inspired Darkbloom will be added the following night.
Levine returns for Schoenberg’s hymn to reborn love and forgiveness, Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), with two piano concertos, the Schoenberg and the Beethoven Fourth, played by Daniel Barenboim (October 5-7), who will have just given six free Norton Lectures at Harvard (September 25-29 + October 3 @ 4:30 pm; 617.496.6013). Two weeks later (October 19-21), Levine’s back to lead Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Peter Serkin) and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. He’s also down for the Beethoven and Schoenberg violin concertos (with Christian Tetzlaff), surrounding them with string-orchestra performances of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge (November 2, 4, 7).
Assistant conductor Ludovic Morlot will lead Lynn Harrell in the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, with Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (October 12-14). Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos leads Yefim Bronfman in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, plus Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (November 24-25 + 28), and guitarist Pepe Romero joins him on a program of Spanish music (November 30 + December 1, 2, 5). Then David Robertson arrives before Christmas to conduct Dawn Upshaw and others in John Adams’s Nativity oratorio, El Niño (December 7-9). College students, be sure to look into the BSO’s bargain College Card.
Although most of the productions by our resident opera companies will take place after the New Year, OPERA BOSTON offers Gil Rose conducting Mozart’s late La clemenza di Tito (Cutler Majestic Theatre, October 20, 22, 24; 617.451.3388), and BOSTON LYRIC OPERA schleps out Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, conducted by Keith Lockhart and directed by Colin Graham, with soprano Kelly Kaduce (Shubert Theatre, November 3-14; 617.542.4912). And you don’t want to miss touring TEATRO LIRICO D’EUROPA’s version of Verdi’s Rigoletto (Cutler Majestic Theatre, October 27-29; 617.824.8000).
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).