Six of Europe's top opera venues to visit this autumn

The Bregenz Festival offers spectacular views of Lake Constance with the production mounted on a floating stage

Fancy watching opera at one of Europe’s top venues this autumn? Cathy Desmond selects six of the best, from Barcelona to a floating stage on Lake Constance

THERE has been much hand-wringing over the lack of a national opera house in our capital and it seems there won’t be one any time soon. If you are enamoured of Verdi, partial to Puccini and hanker for the grandeur of a big house, here are some suggestions for autumn classical escapades for opera buffs with connections out of Cork or Shannon. With a journey time of around three hours you could be popping your prosecco cork in the crush bar at your chosen destination in not much more time than it might take you to get to Dublin on a good day.

Seaside Barcelona

The Catalan capital with it’s seafront location and vibrant cultural life makes a great weekend destination. Even in winter the weather is usually mild enough to sit outside at the pavement cafés while quaffing the local cava. The opera house the Gran Theatre del Liceu is in the middle of the city’s major boulevard, The Ramblas, with The Café l’Opera opposite for celebrity diva spotting after the show. A sophisticated booking website allows you to preview the view of the stage from your seat. The language barrier is minimised by seat monitors displaying a simultaneous translation of the libretto. The season opens in mid-September with Il Barbiere di Seviile. Scottish director David McVicar’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata dominates the October schedule.

Over at the extravagantly ornate wonder, the Palau de la Musica Catalana , a recital by star tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, and violin and piano duo, Gideon Kramer and Martha Agerich stand out in the October schedule. For a jazz bar try Jamboree Jazz Club in Placa Reial with two sessions nightly.

Puccini in Pisa

Pisa is a great jumping off point for sojourns under the Tuscan sun. You can visit Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini which mounts a year round rolling series of song recitals of his greatest hits in the town’s eye wateringly beautiful churches.

Opera aficionados will want to make the excursion to his summer villa and final resting place, Torre del Lago, near the Italian Riviera resort of Viareggio. The town mounts an annual Puccini Festival with four productions presented on weekend nights in August in the open air lakeside Theatro dei Quattromila. Tuscan tenor Alessandro Luongo who featured in several Wexford productions in 2011 plays the role of Marcello in La Boheme. Combined with a trip to Florence for the art galleries, there should be sufficient to satisfy the most voracious culture vultures.

Austrian Lakeside Spectacular

If a lakeside venue rocks your boat, check out the Bregenz Festival (late July to late August). The festival in this small Austrian city offers spectacular views of Lake Constance with the festival opera production mounted on a floating stage. This year’s production of The Magic Flute, a last hurrah for festival director David Poutney promises to be unlike any other production of this standard repertoire.

Wonderbar Bavaria

Munich is an unpretentious sort of city as you would expect as the host of the world’s biggest beer bash. But there is more than beer brewing in the Bavarian capital.. Considered to be one of the world’s best companies, the Bavarian State Opera company launches a new season in mid-September at the National Theater in Max Jose Platz. The autumn programme features some stellar pairings. Anna Harterjos as Tosca opposite baritone Thomas Hampson as Scarpia will have aficionados licking their lips and Jonas Kaufmann pops up again (see Barcelona) in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut opposite favourite Met diva, Anna Netrebko. Irish fans will be cheered to note that there is a role for young Irish tenor Dean Power. Hailing from Clare, Power also features with star Irish mezzo Tara Erraught in Janacek’s The Makropulos Case. Still in her twenties, Erraught from Dundalk is a favourite at the company and has enjoyed an astonishly successful career with a string of lead roles at the company. Tickets for most of the productions start at €11 for a steilplatz or standing place

The main venue for symphony concerts is the modern red brick Gasteig complex. Concerts from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Munchner Philharmonic under their new director Valery Gergiev are scheduled alongside visiting ensembles.

For something more laid back after the show, head to Vogler’s Jazz Bar on Rumpfeldstrasse

London Proms

Much as we love the continental experience, London has many advantages over the European destinations. The Coliseum. home to the English National Opera is committed to presenting opera in English language. Ticket prices tend to be cheaper than at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The ENO season opens in September with Verdi’s Othello and a revival of Nicholas Hytner’s iconic production of Handel’s Xerses. Over at the ROH, there is a role for the distinguished veteran Placido Domingo in an early Verdi opera, Il Due Foscari . Young Irish soprano Rachel Kelly features in the cast. If you missed Enda Walsh’s new play, Ballyturk, at Galway Arts Festival, the production runs at the National Theatre on the South Bank Culture Centre between September and October. The riverside complex of theatres, halls and galleries is one of the best places to hang out with a daily programme of free foyer performances.

In August , most of the big concert action moves to the Albert Hall for the marathon series of BBC Proms concerts. The best chamber music venue is The Wigmore Hall near Oxford Street. John Gilhooly originally from Limerick runs an impressive operation with concerts scheduled every day. You might consider squeezing in a Sunday morning recital when patrons are invited to linger with a glass of sherry .

A Highland Fling

Edinburgh is perhaps best known for a gargantuan fringe festival when every English speaking comic who can string a few gags together decamps there. Also in August, the city is host to the Edinburgh International Festival when the capital’s six major theatres and concert halls, resound with top class music, theatre, opera and dance. Fergus Linehan takes over there as director in 2015. This year there are two fully staged operas.. The Russsian Mariinsky Company production Berlioz’s epic five act opera, Les Troyens, promises to be spectacular.

Add to the mix, nightly performances throughout August by military bands on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle as part of the Royal Military Tattoo and you have a perfect storm of festival activity.


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