A few days after Troy and Carthage burn to a crisp for the last time in Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” at Covent Garden, they’re frying once more in the Albert Hall.
The successful sell-out Royal Opera production, featuring Anna Caterina Antonacci, Eva Maria Westbroek and Bryan Hymel, can be heard in a concert performance (July 22) as part of the 118th BBC Proms. With this massive 5½-hour grand opera conducted by Antonio Pappano, what is probably the world’s biggest music festival gets even bigger.
It’s just one of six complete operas in the season, which starts today. Also included are Britten’s “Peter Grimes” from English National Opera (Aug. 24), Glyndebourne’s beautifully sung “Le nozze di Figaro” by Mozart (Aug. 28), Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (July 15), “Nixon in China” conducted by the composer John Adams (Sept. 5) and Jane Glover leading Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Yeomen of the Guard” (Aug. 19).
The festival, founded in 1895, is traditionally a magnet for star names. Conductor Daniel Barenboim brings his electrifying West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, comprising young musicians from both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, to play a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies (July 20-27).
Pierre Boulez then joins the orchestra to conduct his own composition “Le marteau sans maitre” (July 26).
A fixture of the later part of the festival is the arrival of visiting orchestras. This year, for the first time, the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle (Aug. 30 and 31) and the Vienna Philharmonic led by Bernard Haitink (Sept. 6 and 7) give two performances each during a single season. The concert on Sept. 6 includes Murray Perahia playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.
Riccardo Chailly also brings his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to play an all-Mendelssohn program (Sept. 1) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 (Sept. 2), a Prom favorite.
The Academy Award-winning claymation duo Wallace and Gromit take part in an eagerly anticipated children’s Prom on July 29. A specially prepared new film of their attempts to get to the Albert Hall to perform the premiere of Wallace’s “My Concerto in Ee, Lad” is promised as part of the concert. Children won’t be the only ones being entertained.
John Wilson, a star of the world of light music and of recent Proms seasons, comes to the festival to conduct a semi-staged performance of “My Fair Lady” (July 14) with Anthony Andrews as Professor Higgins. Wilson and his orchestra then return for a concert of Broadway classics on Aug. 27.
Staying with the light-music theme, for the first time since 1914 the underrated tunes of English composer and matinee idol Ivor Novello get a hearing at the festival in a late-night Prom (Aug. 9).
Two major anniversaries are celebrated throughout the course of events. Debussy and Delius were both born 150 years ago, and their music appears in many programs. As well as “Pelleas et Melisande” (July 15), Debussy’s “La mer” (July 26) and “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” (Aug. 25) can be heard. Performances of Delius’s music include “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” (Aug. 27) and the Violin Concerto with Tasmin Little as soloist (Aug. 23).
In the first-ever free late-night Prom, the period-instrument band Le Concert Spirituel celebrate the recent royal regatta on the Thames for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with a performance of Handel’s “Water Music” and “Music for the Royal Fireworks” (July 18).
Four female conductors are making a welcome appearance. Marin Alsop conducts a piece by Joan Towers called “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” on Aug. 15. JoAnn Falletta leads the Ulster Orchestra (Aug. 4), Susanna Malkki conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra (Aug. 13) and Jane Glover conducts the Gilbert and Sullivan program (Aug. 19).
There are many lunchtime and chamber-music concerts, talks and educational events, and everything can be heard free for seven days after the performance on the BBC website.
For crotchety Olympics refuseniks like me, it’s like balm on a wound.
The Proms starts today and runs through Sept. 8 at the Royal Albert Hall and other nearby London venues. Information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms
Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)