At a time of financial difficulty, the Liceu is, nonetheless, presenting a full and venturesome season, weaving together old masterpieces, some warhorses beloved by audiences, old and almost forgotten works, the preservation of which seems to be a continuing goal, and at least one brave new presentation. The Liceu can hold its head high as it continues to earn our respect. Now is the time to book tickets.
The 2015-2016 season opens in early October with Verdi’s Nabucco, with Ambrogio Maestri (the brilliant interpreter of Falstaff) as the king Nebuchadnezzar, who, in love with a Jewish girl, wishes to free her people. His jealous sister Abigail (Martina Serafin), seeks to betray him. The setting for this production is the 20th-century Holocaust, which may work well. The conductor, Daniel Oren, has offered lively performances in the past, not only in his steering of the orchestra, but also in his own hyper-balletic activity on the podium. Endearing, if a trifle distracting.
In November comes Hector Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, directed (surprisingly and no doubt in a lively manner) by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. What he will do with the story of two competing sculptors, in love with the same woman and vying for the same commission at the court of Pope Clement VII, will be interesting to see. And given the charm of the music and the undoubted originality of the staging, it is probably a very good bet.
December brings the Christmas present of a beloved warhorse: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Elena Mosuc and Juan Diego Florez, who is singing the role of Edgardo for the first time. I am leery of the staging, which, set in what looks like a glass office tower, appears to be anything but traditional. But I will keep an open mind.
January and February bring a clever and unusual pairing and, I hope, well-merited praise to the Liceu, which is offering both the well-known Otello by Verdi and the infrequently performed Otello by Rossini, which will undoubtedly be a first-time experience for many of us. It is a coup and a brave move to present both versions and I am impressed by the Liceu. Verdi’s Otello will be sung by Aleksandrs Antonenko and the Rossini by Gregory Kunde. Whereas the Verdi has been heard 156 times at the Liceu, and was last performed here in 2006, the Rossini was last seen here in 1877. What a treat is ahead of us!
In February and March, Wagner’s Ring Cycle moves on to Götterdämmerung, the final act in the presentation by stage director Robert Carsen. I think Carsen is a director one loves or hates, but either way the opera stands majestically. Lance Ryan is scheduled to sing Siegfried (fingers crossed that he makes it this time) and once again Irene Theorin will undoubtedly be a magnificent Brunhilde. Josep Pons conducts.
The very new Written on Skin, composed and conducted by George Benjamin and considered a 20th-century masterpiece, makes its Spanish debut for one performance on March 16th. It tells the tale of spousal strife and tragedy resulting from the husband’s decision to write the family history. It will be performed in a semi-staged concert version. Originally performed in Aix-en-Provence at the opera festival, it has been enthusiastically received in London and New York and will feature the original cast, which has traveled with it throughout. Not to be missed.
Another worthy warhorse, Verdi’s Simone Boccanegra, with a five-star cast including Placido Domingo, Davinia Rodriguez, Ramon Vargas and Ferruccio Furlanetto, opens in April, conducted by Massimo Zanetti.
Also in April, but only for two performances, on the 15th and 16th, is the first-ever presentation at the Liceu of George Frederick Handel’s Serse, a concert performance first heard in 1738 and considered the most Mozartian of Handel’s operas. Serse, or Xerxes in English, King of Persia, battles his way through a complex love situation (so what’s new?) to a happy ending (maybe that’s what’s new!).
A Victorian take (with costumes designed by Christian Lacroix) on I Capuleti I Montecchi, Bellini’s version of Romeo and Juliet, runs through the second half of May, with Elina Garança singing the role of Romeo (yes, Romeo), and Patricia Ciofi as Juliet. Last seen at the Liceu in 1985, and a co-production of the Bavarian State Opera and the San Francisco Opera, this should be an exciting event.
June and July bring back La Boheme, which was recently and excellently performed at the Liceu and always brings in enthusiastic audiences. The staging is by Jonathan Miller, as it was in 2012, and Tatiana Monogarova, Mathew Polenzani and Nathalie Manfrino will sing the roles of Mimi, Rodolfo and Musetta.
The season closes with Mozart’s Magic Flute, from the Komische Oper in Berlin (so bound to be excellently sung, original and possibly disconcerting!). Definitely on my list.
And, as a final note directed at all parents of young children: DO take your kids to the special Saturday performances for youngsters. They are the best introduction to opera that I have encountered. No wonder you see a good percentage of young adults at the Liceu, something that the New York Metropolitan Opera can only dream of.