December 2009 Preview

Highlights of the coming month in the Classical and Opera world

4 December 2009

Roger Norrington

It's coming on Christmas - a time of year when music plays a particular part of society's events - so why not take yourself to a concert?

The problem is, it's also the time of year when musical fakes tend to creep out of the woodwork. Orchestras that nobody's ever heard of (and which probably don't exist for the rest of the year, being formed out of freelancers - who, don't get me wrong, are quite entitled to the work) give concerts of so-called 'light classics'; people like Katherine Jenkins stage recitals, in large arenas, that purport to be 'opera' but are usually soupy crossover events; and you might come across a candlelit concert of baroque- or classical-period music given in a twentieth-century venue and performed in a twentieth-century style. Of course, there are many excellent, 'proper' Carol concerts up and down the country, and all hail to them. But it's interesting, and a little sad, that December is usually the month where we struggle to find things to review, because the professionals move out and the temps move in. I know everyone needs a holiday, but this really should be the busiest time of year, not the quietest.

Still, there are some things to enjoy - revivals of La boheme and Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden; the ongoing Messiah at ENO; Otello at the Barbican. For something different, try the LSO's celebration of the 70th birthday of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekala. In my view, Vladimir Jurowski has the true spirit of what a Christmas concert should look like: on 6 December, he'll conduct the LPO in music by Mendelssohn, Bach and Vaughan Williams, plus Honneger's Une cantate de Noel (preceded by a free pre-concert concert of Britten's Ceremony of Carols). The Philharmonia has a similar affair with Christopher Warren-Green and Mary Plazas on 12 December, while from 28-30 December they'll also be performing Peter and the Wolf for families. It should be fun.

Traditional English Christmas concerts can often be found at St John's Smith Square, a venue which comes into its own at this time of year. For instance, on 7 December the Choir of Christ's College, Cambridge, are giving a good, honest Carol concert consisting of traditional Carols, plus excerpts from Bach cantatas, Handel's Messiah and Mozart's Exultate jubilate. It's topped off by Howells' A Spotless Rose and Lully lulla by Leighton. And it's all for charity. A similarly appetising event is offered on 14 December by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, with carols introduced by Howard Goodall. And as part of the 24th annual Christmas Festival at St John's, you could catch Ex Cathedra (17 December), Roger Norrington and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge (16 December), a concert of Henry VII's Christmas music (15 December) and The Cardinall's Musick (18 December). These sorts of events are what Christmas is all about.

By Dominic McHugh, Editor

Photo Credits: Chad Ehlers/Getty


Agnes Kory, Co-Founder

Radu Lupu I am planning to attend the concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Friday evening 11 December at the Royal Festival Hall. I am going because of the great Radu Lupu who will be the soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (known as the 'Emperor' in English speaking countries).

I have not yet come across the Finnish Jukka-Pekka Saraste, the conductor for this concert (which also includes Brahms' Symphony No. 1), so this is an additional impetus for going.

Photo: London Philharmonic Orchestra.



Stephen Graham, Concerts Editor

mackerras December is obviously given over largely to larger repertory productions, but the major halls of London still find room in their busy schedules this month for some high-quality non-seasonal fare. On 3 December Lorin Maazel conducts the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall in a programme of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, whilst the same orchestra return a week later under the baton of Charles Mackerras for excerpts from Wagner, and again three days after that, again with Mackerras, in Beethoven. The LPO under Jurowski offer a Christmas-themed programme on the 5th, whilst the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment perform at the Southbank on the 5th and the 9th, honouring the Bernstein season at the venue first, then concluding their Haydn series with a performance of The Creation. The London Sinfonietta perform a new work from Richard Barrettm alongside music by Jonathan Harvey at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the 3rd.

Kings Place have as strong a programme as ever. Claire Booth performs Pierrot Lunaire under Ryan Wigglesworth on the 11th, and returns the next night to take part in a night of solos and sequenzas from Berio. Two John Dowland concerts (9 and 12), along with performances of the complete Bartok Mikrokosmos (11 and 12), are also included in the 'Transition Projects' series to which the aforementioned belong. Elsewhere, the frequently-startliing live performer Joe McPhee has a two day residency at Cafe Oto (on the 11th and 12th) which really should not be missed!

Photo: Sir Charles Mackerras.


Hugo Shirley, Deputy Editor

Davis There's still plenty going on in December before the programmes morph into a tinselly succession of sing-a-long Messiahs and carol services, and a good place to kick off the month is with French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky. He features as part of the Barbican's Great Performers on 2 December, in a programme of Handel and J.C. Bach, while those wanting to catch him on a budget, he is the latest in a series of high profile artists to give a free concert at the gallery at Foyles Bookshop: he sings there, accompanied by Jennie-Helen Moston, on 1 December, 6.30pm (reservation recommended).

In terms of opera, it's difficult to know what to expect from Colin Davis's LSO Otello with its unconventional cast of Torsten Kerl (Otello), Gerald Finley (Iago) and Anne Schwanewilms (Desdemona), but there are still plenty of tickets if you want to find out (3 and 6 December, in concert at the Barbican).

At the Royal Opera House we'll have the chance to hear the RLPO's Kirill Petrenko's take on Der Rosenkavalier (from 7 December) while another exciting conductor, Andris Nelsons, should go some way to livening up an otherwise routine revival of John Copley's venerable Bohème (from 19 December). Other concerts to look out for include a flying visit from Mariss Jansons and his Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Barbican (Smetena, Martinu and Brahms on 12 December; Mahler's 'Resurrection' the next afternoon) and Sir Mark Elder, as the Haydn anniversary draws to a close, leading the OAE in his Creation (9 December, RFH).  

Photo: Sir Colin Davis.


David Laviska

Garanca December is the month when most arts organizations are celebrating the holiday season and impending New Year with festive concerts and suitable seasonal programming.  In cities spanning the east coast of the United States, Handel's Messiah can be found in dozens of performances, but opera is scarce.  Most of the regional American opera companies are dark this month, but two of the larger houses – Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera - are still going gangbusters with star-filled operas and, in the case of the Met, major premieres of new productions.

In the great city of Chicago, a run of Janacek's wrenching Kat'a Kabanova continues from November, starring Karita Mattila, Judith Forst, and the up-and-coming tenor Brandon Jovanovich, with Markus Stenz conducting.  On 5 December, they offer the season premiere of Lehar's ever-popular Merry Widow, starring the unlikely Elizabeth Futral in the title role, with Roger Honeywell and Stephen Costello, all coordinated by Emmanuel Villaume in the pit.

The big news, however, is at the Met in NY, where no fewer than four productions will be premiered this month, including a brand new Bartlett Sher production of Offenbach's complicated Les Contes d'Hoffmann on 3 December.  The cast has changed so many times over the last year that it's hard to keep up, but as of 1 December, it includes tenor Joseph Calleja as Hoffmann (apparently still fighting a recent respiratory illness), Alan Held as the villains, Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse, the charismatic Anna Netrebko as Antonia and Stella, newcomer Kathleen Kim as Olympia, and mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova as Giulietta.  Every cast member mentioned here is a "replacement", excepting Netrebko.  If he remains healthy, James Levine will conduct what surely must be a major gamble for General Director Peter Gelb.  In addition to the Hoffmann premiere, Strauss' Elektra will return to the Met stage (10 December) starring Susan Bullock in her Met debut, alongside Deborah Voigt and Felicity Palmer, under the direction of Fabio Luisi

On 14 December, last year's edgy production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel returns, this time starring Miah Persson and Angelika Kirchschlager, who will be inspired to run off into the woods by Rosalind Plowright and Dwayne Croft as the parents. 

Last, but not least, a second new production debuts on New Year's Eve: Carmen, starring Elina Garanca, Barbara Frittoli, Roberto Alagna, and Mariusz Kwiecien.  The director for Bizet's seemingly indestructible crowd-pleaser will be Richard Eyre and Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct.  Both the Offenbach (19 December) and Bizet (16 January) will be transmitted to cinemas throughout the US and the world in live, HD broadcasts.

Photo: Elina Garanca.


Mike Reynolds

Isokowski I can't remember instantly how many times I have seen it over the years, but John Schlesinger's much-loved (and very traditional) production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House is my December treat, particularly because of the casting: Soile Isokowski is the most wonderful Strauss singer and her portrayal of the Marschallin should be worth….well, vaut le detour, as the French say. Sophie Koch as Octavian and Lucy Crowe as Sophie should be quite something as well.  

In November I heard Lucy Crowe in an extract from Act Two of Rosenkavalier, singing the silver rose duet with Katarina Karneus at a British Youth Opera gala evening (both are BYO alumni) and the appetite was whetted.  

The last revival I saw was conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, but the baton for this revival is in the hands of the young Kirill Petrenko.   What will he make of Strauss's extraordinary, infuriating, impossible but gorgeous and luxurious score? The premiere is on 7 December and we shall find out! 

 Photo: Solie Isokowski.



Have your say: discuss this article in our Forum.