The Festspielhaus Baden-Baden just announced its programme for the 2009-10 season.
Among those giving either Lieder Evenings or featuring in operas, there are Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Elina Garanca, Joyce di Donato, Katarina Dalayman, Roberto Alagna, Jonas Kaufmann, Ramón Vargas, René Kollo, Ben Heppner, René Pape.
Unfortunately, Ronaldo Villazón, who was to partner Anna Netrebko in Yolanthe by Tchaikovsky, withdrew from this role, even before his forthcoming operation was announced.
The season will start in earnest in October, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard conducting and playing the second half of his superb 'Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle', with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Thomas Quasthoff will give four recitals, also promoting the competition for young singers he initiated. During one of the concerts he will receive the annual Karajan Prize, which last year was awarded to Alfred Brendel.
One of the highlights is a revival of the 2002 production of Strauss' Elektra by Herbert Wernicke, under the baton of Christian Thielemann. Katarina Dalayman will sing Elektra, Jane Henschel will be Klytaemnestra, and René Kollo, returning to the operatic stage as Aegisth, will warm the hearts of his innumerable admirers, who remember him as the finest Wagner Heldentenor dominating Bayreuth in these roles for decades.
On the programme there is also a new production of Carmen directed by Philippe Artaud - the same who already presented Falstaff and Rigoletto at Baden-Baden. Teodor Currentzis will conduct.
Valery Gergiev brings the Mariinsky Theatre in excerpts from Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims, Boris Godunov and Die Walküre. In addition, Sir Simon Rattle will conduct an evening of excerpts from Tristan und Isolde.
Valery Gergiev will also conduct his own Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in works by Shostakovich, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff, with Sergey Khachatryan (violin), Denis Matsuev (piano) and Alexei Volodin (piano) as soloists.
Die Dreigroschenoper by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht will be revived by the Berlin Ensemble production and stage design by Robert Wilson. This latter will also direct a new Der Freischütz, in a production conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock, who has recently taken over from Dohnanyi the direction of the Hamburg Radio Orchestra, one of the most prestigious orchestras in the country.
The Vienna Philharmonic will appear for the first time under George Pretre. In addition the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Munich Philharmonic, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst and several of the leading baroque ensembles will make their regular appearances.
The Hamburg Ballet under John Neumeier, a Karajan Prize winner, and the Mariinsky Ballet are having every year extended season in Baden-Baden.
There is no summer vacation at the Festspielhaus. The following is a list of further outstanding events taking place. These include a piano recital by Arcadi Volodos; a concert performance of Werther by Massenet with Elina Garanca and the fine baritone Ludovic Tézier; Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Oslo Philharmonic; noted baroque-violinist Giuliano Carmignola; Thomas Hengelbrock conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra; a lecture and poetry reading by Alfred Brendel; Vivaldi's Judita Triumphans with the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon; Hélène Grimaud playing Bach and Beethoven; the SW Radio Orchestra under Sylvain Cambreling.
A Sunday matinee of special charm will be offered by Anne Sofie von Otter and Daniel Hope, the young violinist who spent his years of study under the benevolent eyes of Menuhin.
Thomas Quasthoff, who in his student years suffered the indignity of being refused by bigoted professors a place at higher musical education, will now have the satisfaction of presenting in four concerts the prizewinners of his own 'Lieder- The International Song Competition'. In addition, a gala-evening by Jonas Kaufmann will prove that explosive talent can spectacularly surface without having to rumble undiscovered for years in provincial stages.
Gidon Kremer is still faithful to his avoiding stardom that he could so easily achieve. In this season, he will appear with his Kamerata Baltica.
Renée Fleming, who's a diva without trying to be one, will give a Lieder Evening with compositions by Strauss, Messiaen and Brad Mehldau. The day after Fleming's performance, Cecilia Bartoli will present her 'Il Settecento in Italia' with Il Giardino Armonico. The entire programme is based on her most recent research work.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir in Haydn's Creation. I very much look forward to this concert.
Lorin Maazel, who appears every year in the Festspielhaus, is going to conduct the Philharmonia in Mahler's ninth. Moreover, the Tokyo String Quartet will play Schubert, Alban Berg and Brahms's third, with its meltingly beautiful viola solo in the third movement.
Christoph Eschenbach will play Mozart A Major Concerto and conduct Bruckner's fourth, the 'Romantic' Symphony. Eschenbach is a great Mozart pianist and a conductor who is steeped in the solid North-German musical traditions, privileging the communication with the orchestra rather than with the audience.
Waltraud Meier will give a recital of Schumann's and Richard Strauss' lieder. It is always fascinating to hear one of the greatest Wagner dramatic sopranos reducing her awe-inspiring volume to an unearthly piano, full of meaning and subtlety.
Ramón Vargas is also a regular guest at the Festspielhaus. He is another great tenor who was catapulted into world prominence through replacing in the last minute an ailing Pavarotti.
Radu Lupu, who refuses to record any longer, is not without eccentricities, like not sitting at his recitals on a conventional piano-seat, but on any odd kitchen chair. Yet, all this will not diminish the beauty of his very individual interpretations of the great standard works, to which he likes to limit his programmes.
Other highlights include the following: Maurizio Pollini, Hilary Hahn, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Fazil Say, who will give a real piano concerto ending with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue together with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Harding, a young Norvegian violinist; Vilde Frang, who is well on the way to become internationally known; Roberto Alagna who will offer a Sicilian evening. Moreover, Lang Lang, further enhancing his increasing reputation for attaching less importance to his phenomenal virtuosity than to a deepening maturity, will play Beethoven's 'Appassionata' and the Prokofiev Sonata in B Major.
Krystian Zimerman, another great artist who does not seek publicity or glamour, will play the second and third Chopin sonatas. Besides, Nigel Kennedy will combine this time Bach and Duke Ellington – whether they agree or not!
Anne-Sophie Mutter, a very frequent guest from the very beginning of the Festspielhaus, will play the Brahms Concerto, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Ludovic Morlot.
Mikhail Pletnev and his Russian National Orchestra will present the Capuçon brothers, in what is going to be a spectacularly virtuosic performance of the Brahms Double Concerto. Pletnev will also conduct Brahms' first symphony. Renaud and Gautier Capuçon have an extraordinarily capacity for virtuosity which greatly impressed me last year when I heard them performing in the Beethoven Triple Concerto.
Baden-Baden had a special place in the affection of Brahms. He spent his happiest years here, in a rickety little house on a steep hill, approached by dangerously slippery steps and without the aid of a solid railing, but it was within walking distance from the house where Clara Schumann looked after her big brood of children and received Brahms on most days. The two were conjoined in mutual admiration that, in the prudery of those times, never went out of control. Clara Schumann encouraged Brahms to complete his first symphony, already composed many years earlier because Brahms felt that, as he put it, he was standing on the shoulder of giants, and did not have the courage to publish it. It was in Baden-Baden that this work was completed and first performed in the nearby Karlsruhe, already at that time a great cultural centre.
Apart from the concerts and opera-performances listed here, there are many more events. As it is, being privileged to report on the activities in the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, I sometimes feel like a wasp caught in a jar of honey, but unlike wasps, I don't try to escape. And as for stings, I don't have any, only respect and admiration for this great cultural institution.
As for its architecture and structure, this house is unique: it's provided with hydraulically operated pit, large enough to accommodate a fully staffed Ring production, and full opera staging facilities with its own workshops. With an ideal acoustics that can lend intimacy even to instrumental solo recitals, the Festspielhaus further enhanced its popularity with many of the most highly reputed orchestras, singers and instrumentalists of world renown.
From the very first year of its existence, ten years ago, it gave a second home, as it were, to the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburgh. In fact, Valery Gergiev has a vital role in shaping the ambitious plans for staging new productions, or sharing some with the Metropolitan, Glyndebourne, Salzburg, Lyon, Paris or Munich.
It is a unique feature of the Festspielhaus, that it has no government subsidies at all and it relies entirely on its box office takings and on the constantly increasing support of private sponsors and an organized following of friends.
The house also manages to function with clockwork precision with a staff numerically hardly bigger than a more sizeable MacDonalds. Its beautifully produced and illustrated program-booklets, sometimes sixty or seventy pages strong, excellent catering facilities and a rose handed to patrons leaving the house, help to make every evening at the Festspielhaus a most agreeable experience. It is most remarkable that such standards of all round excellence can be found in a small provincial town of some 50,000 inhabitants, whose main industry seems to be soaking in the healing hot mineral waters bubbling up from the depth below the gently rolling hills, on which Baden-Baden is built.
This is not a complete list of all the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden events.
For further information visit http://www.festspielhaus.de/en/celebrate/.
Photos: Baden Baden Festspielhaus; Elina Garanca (Photo credits: Gabo /DG).
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