Top Ten Classical Music and Opera Events

What we're most looking forward to in opera and classical music this season

Philip Glass. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Atys, Brooklyn Academy of Music
Sept. 18

The show that BAM sees as having revived French Baroque in its 1989 run in Brooklyn returns to our shores. Atys, the late-1700s adaptation of Ovid, was a favorite of Louis XIV’s, France’s soi-disant Sun King. The show depicts the goddess of Spring and her nymphs—the perfect subject to watch with our September coat-and-scarf schmatte piled on our lap! (Watching an opera about the spring, let alone a Baroque opera in a time of austerity? It’s called escapism.) The opera, which has a gala performance Sept. 18 followed by four night performances, is co-produced with a number of French companies, including Opéra Comique and Opéra National de Bordeaux, and is to be directed by Jean-Marie Villégier, who is known for his work in France. If Roman Polanski can shoot Carnage in Paris and make it look like Brooklyn, Mr. Villégier can surely transport us to the Sun King’s France!

Opening Night of New York Philharmonic
Sept. 21

The New York Philharmonic opens its new season under conductor Alan Gilbert. While Mr. Gilbert is known for being less conservative than his predecessors, the opening night includes crowd-pleasing classics—not least of them the slimmed-down soprano Deborah Voigt, who remains as beloved as the solos she’ll perform. Composers represented at the opening night include Barber (The School for Scandal and Andromache’s Farewell), Wagner (Tannhauser) and Strauss (Salome). A black-tie gala, naturally, is to follow.

“Portals: A Multi-Media Exploration of Longing in the Digital Age,” SymphonySpace
Sept. 24

SymphonySpace plays host to a Philip Glass premiere in the form of Partita for Solo Violin, performed by Tim Fair as part of an evening devoted to “longing.” If you’ve been longing for ballerino-turned-Black Swan beau Benjamin Millipied to resurface (Natalie Portman’s Oscar speech seems so long ago!), you’re in luck: he directed and choreographed one of the films that will buttress the evening’s music. Other music to be played during the evening comes from composers old (Pulitzer honoree William Bolcom) and new (Nico Muhly, the wunderkind of the music world and apple of Mr. Glass’s eye).

Anna Bolena, Metropolitan Opera
Sept. 26

Glamour-puss soprano Anna Netrebko puts on the persona of a mad queen in 1500s England. (“Anna Bolena” is an Italianization of “Anne Boleyn.”) The good King Henry is played by Ildar Abdrazakov, who looks more like the sort whose philandering might actually drive Boleyn mad and less like, well, how the historical record has preserved the game-hen-loving lug. The production is by David McVicar, a Scottish impresario who has worked frequently at Covent Garden—making him the most qualified person in the production, from cast (Ekaterina Gubanova plays Jane Seymour) to composer Gaetano Donizetti to audience, to get involved in a story of great historical import to the Brits. (Then again, Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, so an Italian digging into British politics seems fair play.)

The Barber of Seville, Metropolitan Opera
Oct. 1

Peter Mattei, the Swedish baritone, returns to the stage as the Barber in Mozart’s masterful comic opera, directed by Bartlett Sher, who’s hopping back to opera from his theatrical endeavors (we miss his South Pacific, still!). The one to watch in this production may well be young mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, the onetime Manhattan School of Music Children’s Chorus chorister who debuted at the Met in 2007. This is her debut in the role, one she’s sharing with the more seasoned coloratura Diana Damrau—and if you think we won’t be checking out both stars’ performances on alternating nights to compare after postshow cocktails, you don’t know us, or any of the standing-room crowd.

Mariinsky Orchestra, Opening night of Carnegie Hall
Oct. 5
O.K., one more—late!—opening night, at Carnegie Hall. This year’s “all-Russian program” features Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, performing Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Yo-Yo Ma will be there too, placing his masterful (if un-Slavic) spin on the Russian evening. The evening’s honorary chairs, in a post-Cold War twist worthy of the Goodwill Games, are U.S. Ambassador to Russia John R. Beyrle and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey I. Kislyak (though the chairs of the gala are your Weills, Ziffs and Basses—some things never change!).

SONiC Festival, Miller Theater
Oct. 15

SONiC stands for “Sounds of a New Century” (guess that misplaced lowercase “i” is an iPod homage?), and the composers taking part in this nine-day festival at Columbia University’s theater fit the bill. All are under 40 and “emerging,” meaning they have all the ambition of, say, a Philip Glass, without the high profile or the Carnegie Hall price point. The group includes Timothy Andres, a mid-20s Yale grad with a debut album on Nonesuch already under his belt, and Guggenheim Fellow Amy Beth Kirsten. The festival is intended to recall Miller Theater wingdings in the 1940s and 1950s, during which Charles Ives and Aaron Copland unveiled new compositions. See you there, rising stars!

Satyagraha, Metropolitan Opera
Nov. 4

Our season of Glass continues with the revival of the 2007-08 season’s masterwork by old P.G. Once again, Richard Croft plays Gandhi in the opera, which depicts the Indian spiritual leader’s life of passive resistance. (The title, Satyagraha, refers to that same principle, and makes a charming name for a future celebrity baby.) Get ready for an evening of quasi-minimalism (Satyagraha is just a bit more built-out than Mr. Glass’s usual skimpy compositions). Though his music style is minimalist, Mr. Glass’s commitment to the opera, first performed in 1981, is maximal—he even co-wrote the libretto, which is in Sanskrit. (We’ve been meaning to take that Rosetta Stone class …)

Faust, Metropolitan Opera
Nov. 29

The classic story of selling one’s soul to the devil came to London in a modernized production last season under the direction of Canadian Tony-winner Des McAnuff; it now heads to the Met, where it will be feted with a “New Production Gala.” In Mr. McAnuff’s telling, Faust (played by Jonas Kaufmann, who’s also on deck to appear in next year’s Ring cycle) is an aged nuclear physicist, dealing with guilt after the bombing of Hiroshima. The themes of obtaining too much knowledge and its dangers, we presume, remain utterly the same.

Madama Butterfly, Metropolitan Opera
Dec. 5

More than three years after the director’s untimely death, Anthony Minghella’s staging of Madama Butterfly returns to the Met. The director, better known for films including The Talented Mr. Ripley and The English Patient, brought his refined aestheticism—as well as a film-set-like ability to choose among and delegate to eminently qualified collaborators—to the production, which premiered at the Met in 2006. It includes puppets by Blind Summit Theatre, which yield some of its most striking moments. In Minghella’s absence, another legend will oversee the evening: Plácido Domingo is to conduct.

Top Ten Classical Music and Opera Events