Orpheus and Eurydice, Mats Ek’s production for the Royal Swedish Opera that is coming to Geneva © Mats Bäcker

For his second season at the head of the Geneva Opera – and the first actually of his making – renowned music and opera director Tobias Richter is determined to attract new audiences. Richter concocts a programme for the 2010-11 season that is meant to be seductive, even for people who have never attended an opera.

The director general of the Geneva Opera, Tobias Richter, states that he is “looking to appeal to the audiences of Geneva, Switzerland and the international community.”

“My aim is to build bridges,” he says, “with a harmony of vision that can be appreciated by all.”

The Geneva Opera’s forthcoming season (September 2010-June 2011), will include eight major operas, divided equally between works of a dramatic nature and those that are more light-hearted.

“The programme is aimed at the connoisseur, but it is also for those who are looking to discover opera for the first time,” Richter stresses.

But if one does not haunt opera houses, the difficulty is knowing where to begin. Swisster looks at the programme and proposes a completely subjective choice in four broad categories:

SOLEMN AND SUBLIME

Elektra by Richard Strauss – November 2010

The composer, with his librettist, the great poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, created an opera in one act that depicts the hysterical neurosis of Elektra at a time when the theories of Freud were sweeping across European nations.

Jeanne-Michel Charbonnet and Eva Marton sing the principal roles.

I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini – January and February 2011

Co-produced by the Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam, Bellini’s opera on the clash between Roundheads and Cavaliers during the English Civil war is also built around a central female figure who lapses into insanity. Watch the video of I Puritani.
Diana Damrau sings the role of the heroine, Elvira.

I Puritani, Mariola Cantarero (Elvira) in Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam production © Clärchen und Matthias Baus

The Sicilian Vespers by Giuseppi Verdi – May 2011

This much-awaited production of a seldom-played masterpiece by Verdi is the story of the French invasion of Sicily in 1282 directed by today’s opera darling, Christof Loy in another co-production with the Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam.
Loy’s recent production of Tristan und Isolde at Royal Covent Garden has won the prestigious 2010 Laurence Olivier award.

“At his best he presents intellectual concept with a glitzy, chic twist,” writes the The Times.

ODD AND EXHILARATING

Orpheus and Eurydice by Christoph Willibald Gluck – March 2011
Paris version by Berlioz

Orpheus and Eurydice, Royal Swedish Opera © Mats Bäcker

This is without a doubt the production not to miss for people looking for a bit of zaniness, searing tension and elastic romanticism. Mats Ek is the Swedish choreographer, cum theatre director, who revolutionized dance with his legendary and disturbing Swan Lake in the late eighties (watch Swan Lake video).

Mats Ek directs the Grand Théâtre de Genève Ballet company and Opera Chorus to combine dance with music in the story of the mythical bard, Orpheus and his wife Eurydice, a tree nymph.

Watch the Orpheus and Eurydice video from the original Stockholm production.

Néfes by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – February 2011

The German choreographer Pina Bausch who passed away prematurely last year leaves an artistic legacy of phenomenal importance. Named “The Queen of European Dance Theatre” by The Times, Bausch brought to dance an intense theatricality not unlike that of Ek’s (above).

Néfes is the revival of a coproduction with the Istanbul Theatre Festival, based on the impressions of a traveller in Turkey on the banks of the Bosphorus. Watch a trailer and discover the ample and jolting dancing that is Bausch’s hallmark.

ENTERTAINING AND BRUTAL

Punch and Judy by Harrison Birtwistle – April 2011 – in English

Punch and Judy, ENO, Andrew Shore as Punch (left) and Lucy Schaufer as Judy
in Harrison Birtwistle’s “powerful portrait of a serial killer” © English National Opera

The immensely successful production by the English National Opera of the contemporary British composer, Harrison Birtwistle’s first opera brings vitality and decadence to the stage of the Geneva Opera.

Qualified “a bruising, bloodthirsty pantomime” it tells the story of a “serial killer, whose unmotivated aggression is as comic as it is gruesome… The music hits the audience over the head, as Punch hits Judy. You may not enjoy the experience, but it certainly leaves a mark,” warns the Telegraph.

CHERRIES ON THE CAKE

The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Rossini – September 2010

The in-house production of Rossini’s iconic work by the Geneva Opera will be conducted by the worldwide Rossini authority Alberto Zedda and directed by Damiano Michieletto in two separate versions, one for soprano, and a lesser-known one for mezzo-soprano.

The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar – December 2010

Directed by the much sought-after Christof Loy (see the Sicilian Vespers above), this end-of-year extravaganza given in English, German and French, should be everyone’s cup of tea. With a star-studded cast of Annette Dasch in the title role and José van Dam as the baron, this light opera will have everyone waltzing out of the theatre during the Christmas season.

The lovely Annette Dasch will be the Merry Widow

The Love of Three Oranges by Sergei Prokoviev – June 2011

This lesser-known work by Prokoviev directed by the now-deceased Benno Besson, the celebrated Swiss theatre director of Brechtian influence is being resuscitated by Besson’s acolyte Ezio Toffolutti and promises to be a delight.

The Grand Théâtre’s (aka Geneva Opera) annual programme is completed by prestigious recitals and concerts, as well as additional dance productions on scores as far removed as those of Fauré, Bach and Schönberg.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, trained as a journalist, became an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London before moving to Switzerland, where she now covers the art beat and presides several associations.

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