Going to an opera performance on a lazy summer day is one of life’s true pleasures, and so we’re sharing below our “top 5” for summer 2016 …
What we are looking for? Great quality performances in beautiful outdoor settings over the summer months.
With this in mind … be prepared to go to Europe …! These are most definitively worth travelling for.
And it’s often to places close to Paris and London that we turn … the summer music tradition is very much alive in most European countries. (Brexit has only made the London tickets cheaper …)
This year we love:
- Verona’s Arena for a Verdi experience
Attending an opera in a Roman amphitheatre that dates back thousands of years is an unforgettable experience. Admittedly, the performance is almost always of one of the “traditional” Italian operas at this festival – this year is no exception, with Carmen, Turandot, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata and Aida. The cheapest tickets on the stone steps (un-reserved seating) cost €22, and if one wants to splurge, the most expensive seats (poltronissima gold) go for €189. This year, Aida – perhaps the opera that defines the Verona Opera festival – with its grand staging kicks off the festival in end-June and is performed throughout July and August as well.
Bring something to eat as the performances start at 9pm and typically finishes at midnight or later! Pick up a candle as you enter the Arena as these will be lit up as dusk falls and the performance begins, creating a beautiful atmosphere. Here is a good description of the seating positions.tp
P.S. There is no need to go through agents – one can book directly online: http://www.arena.it/arena/en/pages/prices-seating-plan-arena-verona.html#.UknlqNJCD4g
P.P.S. As we are on the theme of opera, I’ll mention that a Maria Callas exhibition is hosted over this spring and summer at the Arena Museo Opera (at Palazzo Forti). It is worth noting that Verona was where Callas made her Italian debut and also lived for a while in the early years. This is where the exhibition is: http://www.mostracallas.it/
- La Traviata at the Choregie’s d’Orange in the south of France
Well, the Choregie’s d’Orange is these days one of the best summer music festivals with a lot of the top performers presenting, and opera is only a part of the varied programme. However, this year they are almost surpassing themselves by staging La Traviata with the wonderful Diana Damrau partnering up with the legendary Placido Domingo, for 2 performances, on 3 and 6 August. And while you are there, try to catch the concert performance of arias by Sonia Yoncheva, one of the hottest sopranos of the moment, on 5th August (oh – did we almost forgot, she’s partnering up with Saimir Pirgu, perhaps one of the hottest tenors around …)! You will not be disappointed, that’s all we can say! It will be beautiful setting, beautiful music, beautiful singing.
The opera performances are at the Theatre Antique, built in the 1st century and one of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire, today a UNESCO world heritage site. Marvel at the spectacular theatre with its magnificent and amazingly well-preserved stage wall (37 metres tall and decorated with slabs of multicoloured marbles, statues, friezes and columns), and ponder upon Verdi served up by none other than Damrau and Domingo. Tickets can be bought directly online: http://www.digitick.com/nos-spectacles-festival-classique-provence-alpes-cote-d-azur-css5-choregiesorange-lgen-pg1-rg4748.html and the programme is at http://www.choregies.fr/?lang=en.
- “Opera on the lake” – Nessun Dorma and the three riddles at the lake Bregenz
No more Roman theatres, we suggest jumping over to the eastern shore of Lake Constance, in Austria, for the renowned Bregenz Festival. Featuring a different opera every second year, the operas are performed on the vast open-air floating stage at the edge of the lake. This year’s Turandot is performed from 21 July to 21 August; listening to Nessun Dorma against the dramatic backdrop of the modern stage and the expansive lake behind it is great nourishment for the soul! Enjoying music at the Italian lakes (well, the Austrian side of it) is certainly a great summer thing to do. Buy tickets direct online: https://bregenzerfestspiele.com/en#
- La Boheme with Angela Gheorghiu at Torre del Lago
This is the fascinating opera festival at Puccini’s home-town, and this year (it’s the festival’s 62nd year) it will be graced by the fascinating and acclaimed lyric soprano, Angela Gheorghiu who is doing 2 out of the 3 performances of La Boheme, on 16 and 22 July, together with the famed tenor Ramon Vargas. Gheorghiu is of course reprising the role of Mimi, with which she famously made her international debut in 1992 (we were there at the Covent Garden performance, and while we couldn’t find an online video of her performance, we found a 1992 performance of her singing Mimi at a concert performance here)! It is of interest that this year, the festival is staging Puccini’ Turandot as well as Busoni’s Turandot.
Gran Teatro Giacomo Puccini is in a beautiful and peaceful setting overlooking a lake too but it’s a very different feel to Bregenz; it’s right in Tuscany, for a start. Consider staying in Lucca (an ancient town famous for its still-intact Renaissance-era city walls and its embroidery, amongst other things) – there’s an organized shuttle minibus to the operas. The Puccini villa at Torre del Lago (Puccini created this from an old watch tower and it is where he wrote many of his operas) is worth a visit too – www.giocomopuccini.it/en. There are also music events related to Puccini in various churches in Lucca – more information here.
Puccini Festival information and tickets at: http://www.puccinifestival.it/en/
- Picnic at Glyndebourne! (and try singing nuit paisible?)
Do Glyndebourne of course! Synonymous with summer operas and picnic on the grass during intervals, Glyndebourne has become such an institution it runs from late May to late August! In fact, it’s has already opened with the Cunning Little Vixen, to generally good review.
It’s a fun place with a relaxed, family atmosphere. But the opera programme is serious and top-notch, with a range of new and lesser known works always mixed with the more known ones. Glyndebourne can be quite an education in itself.
Well, we remember our first ever Glyndebourne picnic – it is the “dinner interval” of 80 to 90 minutes when the spirit of the place comes alive, and the opportunity to have (or continue with) a picnic and generally frolic on the perfectly-maintained grounds in one’s best gowns is a marvelous one!
We’ve saved it for last but we would take a risk and recommend a not-much performed opera this year, Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict. A new Glyndebourne production, directed by one of France’s most sought-after directors of both theatre and opera who has done a few Glyndebourne productions in recent years, and 23 July to 27 August. We pick it also because it is the opera’s Glyndebourne premiere, because the cast includes Stephanie d’Oustrac who did a wonderful Carmen (another French opera) at Glyndebourne last year, and because the duet-nocturne (“nuit paisible”) in Act I is one of our most favourite pieces of French music, described by one critic as “a marvel of indescribable lyrical beauty” (a concert rendition of this with the Orchestre National de France [and French soprano Nathalie Manfrino] at the Theatre de Champs-Elysee can be found here). There is a British connection too: the composer, Hector Berlioz selected the two young characters from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and the material revolves around a witty love-hate duel.
OK, we’ve managed to boil it all down to the “top 5” but we are aware we weren’t able to include Les Azuriales in Nice, Opera Holland Park in London, or the Opera en plein-air in Paris (which tends to mount performances in various locations, including castles and parks, in and around Paris), and many others. Most of these don’t have top international star performers but younger, emerging singers. It’s worth making a further note on the Opera en plein-air in Paris: they have been hosting some of the performances in the Chateau de Vincennes, just outside Paris, and also the Jardin du Luxembourg, right in the centre of the city, for some years, which was very popular. Recently they have started performing also in one of the courtyards at the Hotel National des Invalides, which is grand and worth catching! 2016’s opera is La Boheme, and you can buy tickets online at: https://operaenpleinair.fnacspectacles.com/recherche/rechercheRapide.do?codgrp=FESTOPE16A or http://www.ticketmaster.fr/en/manifestation/opera-en-plein-air-la-boheme-de-puccini-ticket/idmanif/364438
While on this topic, we may sneak in a mention of Placido Domingo singing a concert performance of Massenet’s “Thais” on 16 August, in Salzburg, with Sonya Yoncheva as the non-open-air event not to miss.
P.S. The tradition of music performances in the open-air during summer is a strong one in Europe. We remember some of the smaller (and cosy) performances in the small towns in the Amalfi coast one summer. Even Rome has a series of relatively small summer opera performances at the Terme di Caracalla – see www.operaroma.it.