The Liceu has just announced its 2012-2013 season, and if they manage to pull it off, it will be one of the most exciting seasons in years.
It had seemed likely that next year’s programme would be shrunken, given this year’s problems with funding cuts. We almost lost much of the second half of the season, which was saved only by the heroic, if not happy, sacrifice on the part of Liceu employees. It might have seemed inevitable that there would be fewer first-class offerings in the coming season, but as it is, the company has taken exactly the opposite path. In all, it is offering 15 operas (some in concert version), four guest ballet companies, several recitals by distinguished singers and the usual important offerings for children, a far-sighted programme that offers simplified versions of adult fare to attract the audience of the future.
It is going to be a bit of a tight-rope act, because funding only just outstrips expenditure, according to the anticipated balance-sheet. Surprisingly, there is no honour roll of rich individual contributors to underpin the company’s brave efforts. In my ardent anti-establishment days (not quite ended yet!), I deplored this dependency on the rich and felt certain that it was the role of government to fund artistic activity. It pained me that so many institutions had to depend on “the kindness of strangers". The Metropolitan Opera in New York, for example, has pages and pages of individual donors in its programmes, a generosity closely associated with social climbing, but essential to the continued thriving of the company.
Isn't government support a more dignified way to go? Maybe, but alas, it is also much less realistic. Governments are overwhelmed with seemingly endless social needs: housing, health, education. The arts, so important to a civilised society, are way down the list. The Liceu receives contributions from governmental entities, companies, banks and services (though, tactfully, no figures are given), but a paltry 39 private individuals are listed as benefactors (again, without numbers). No wonder the Liceu is struggling.
Where would Bach, Mozart, Da Vinci and Michelangelo have turned for support, but for the Medicis, German nobility and art-loving bishops? Would they have ended up working in dad’s restaurant or shoe-making business, with no time for their art? And were those noble patrons, whose donations were so essential, true art lovers or were they the social climbers of their time? At this stage, who cares? We have our Don Giovanni, our Sistine Chapel ceiling, our B-Minor Mass and our Mona Lisa. So, please come forward all ye social climbers and enlightened benefactors and guarantee the survival of a magnificent opera house during this time of financial crisis—and beyond.
Now, with fingers crossed, here is next season’s exciting line-up.
September 1st-6th, 2012 (five performances). The Liceu is hosting a mini-Bayreuth Wagner festival, with concert versions of The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde. The last time these singers, orchestra and chorus came to the Liceu from its famous home territory was 50 years ago. The distinguished Sebastian Weigle will conduct the Bayreuth orchestra, with singers Ievgueni Nikitin, Ricarda Merbeth, Klaus Florian Vogt, Annette Dasch, Irene Theorin and Robert Dean Smith.
October 2th-20th (14 performances). Verdi’s Forza del Destino, with Violeta Urmana, Marcello Giordani, Ludovic Tezier. A co-production with the Opera National de Paris.
November 11th-18th. Donizetti’s L'Elisir d'Amore (four performances) and four more from May 27th-June 5th. Performers in the autumn will include Javier Camarena, and Nicole Cabell. In May, Rolando Villazon returns to the role in which he triumphed here in 2005. He was unbeatably enchanting then; he has had voice difficulties since then, but it will be well-worth checking out how he has recovered.
December 22nd –January 14th, 2013 (sseven performances). Dvorak’s Rusalka, a co-production with the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels and Oper Graz. I am deeply relieved that it is not the horrendous production from Salzburg that played at Covent Garden; we are being spared an idiotic pantomime spoof of a charming story that is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid. The generally restrained British audience booed the stage directors roundly on the first night. And another critic said it was wonderful as long as one kept one’s eyes closed. With Camilla Nylund, who has made the role her own, that is absolutely true.
January 4th and 7th. Bellini’s infrequently performed Il Pirata calls for first-class singers, and gets them in this concert version presentation with Mariella Devia, Gregory Kunde and Vladimir Stoyanov.
January 10th and 13th. Iolanta by Tchaikovsky. A one-act opera in concert version with St. Petersburg’s Marinsky Theatre orchestra and chorus, with Valeri Gergiev conducting and Anna Netrebko singing. Can it get much more exciting than that?
Well, maybe. How about February 4th-23rd, 11 performances of The Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach with Natalie Dessay (last seen at the Liceu in the 2006-07 season's production of Manon), singing all three of Hoffman’s very disparate loves! Her husband Laurent Naouri joins her, as does Vittorio Grigolo. There are two casts. (Note: If you haven’t seen Dessay and Naouri hamming it up in 'The Fly Duet', from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, look for it on YouTube. But, unless you are very broadminded, don't watch it with the children!)
March 1st-5th (four performances). Street Scene, a late work of Kurt Weill presented by Britain’s Young Vic and The Opera Group. Written after Weill took refuge from the Nazis in America, it is a sophisticated mélange of opera and American Broadway musical, with the book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elmer Rice and script by the black American poet Langston Hughes.
March 21st-27th and July 20th-29th. Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, with four different casts including Hue He, Roberto Alagna, Patricia Racette and Stefano Secco (see details in Liceu brochure). A co-production of the Liceu and Royal Opera House Covent Garden.
April 20th-May 2nd (eight performances). Wagner’s Ring opener, Das Rheingold, a production from Cologne, Germany, with Albert Dohmen, Kurt Streit, Andrew Shore, Mihoko Fujimura and Ewa Podles, among others. There are two casts.
May 18th-June 6th (six performances). Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia. Somewhat akin to Mozart’s Seraglio, at a time when Turkey and harems were in fashion, this production of the Bavarian State Opera of Munich features Nino Machaidze, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo and Marisa Martins.
June 21st-July 7th (10 performances). Lucio Silla, a very young work of Mozart set at the time of the Roman Empire but full of the familiar love entanglements of 18th-century opera and plays. A co-production of the Liceu and the Theater an der Wien and the Weiner Festwochen.There are two casts.
June 27th and 30th. Wagner’s Rienzi, in concert version, written when he was still young enough to be influenced by French grand opera, with Christian Franz, Michelle Breedt, Elizabete Matos and Peter Rose.
April 27th, 2013. Among the other intriguing offers is a one-time performance entitled Frirz Lang's The Nibelungen. This film, first presented in 1924 in Berlin, is silent, in black and white, with orchestral accompaniment of music by Gottfried Huppertz, some of which may be familiar since it was used as Nazi propaganda. The film was recovered by the Filmoteca of Catalunya and is considered an epic masterpiece, a Germanic partner to Abel Gance’s Napoleon.
September 13th-15th, 2012 (four performances) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Black American dance superimposed on the music of Handel.
October 24th-28th (six performances). American Ballet Theatre with its colourful and energetic version of Don Quixote, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Aleksandr Gorski.
November 22nd-25th (five performances). Ballet of the Prague National Theatre; a Christmas story set to the music of Tchaikovsky.
February 9th and 10th, 2013. Ballet of the Rhine, the combined cultural institutions of Dusseldorf and Duisburg, presents The Art of the Fugue, with dance ranging from classical to modern, in a performance that sets out to demonstrate the breadth of the language of movement.