Planet Opera: Finding Summer Opera Off The Beaten Path

Thursday, June 07, 2012 - 01:31 PM

The festival in Dalhalla, in Sweden, takes place in a setting of rock formations The festival in Dalhalla, in Sweden, takes place in a setting of rock formations (

With many opera houses soon shutting their doors for the summer, if they have not done so already, those of us who love the art form must look elsewhere. The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London will be presenting two monumental works, Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Verdi’s Otello, soon in the run-up to the Olympic games. Munich’s Bavarian State Opera is, as always, an unrivaled venue every July. Good opera will be available in Paris as well.

In the United States, apart from the always-excellent Santa Fe Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY, which has been ascendent recently under the leadership of Francesca Zambello, there are other worthy destinations. The San Francisco Opera is unique among the big companies in presenting a summer festival, this year from June 8 to July 8. It will offer Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Adams’s Nixon in China and Verdi’s Attila with Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role and Samuel Ramey, the unforgettable Attila of his generation, as Pope Leo I.

The Cincinnati Opera, under the vibrant artistic leadership of Evans Mirageas, is always worth a visit (right). This city on the Ohio River is particularly appealing in summer with its good food and opportunity to attend a Reds baseball game on a night you are not at the opera. Baseball and opera are both long-time passions there. Born in 1866, the Reds were America’s first professional baseball team. The opera company was founded in 1920, making it the second-oldest company in the nation. In a season running from June 14 to July 27, the repertory includes a double-bill of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi; Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; Verdi's La Traviata; and Astor Piazzola’s “tango operita” Maria de Buenos Aires, a work I am especially fond of that does not come around often.

Last year I wrote about about 15 major European opera festivals, all of which merit a visit this year, if you are able to. I will be sending you a couple of dispatches from the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.

There are other worthy festivals off the beaten path that merit your attention because they maintain a charming local flavor that is hard to find at the major destinations. The festival in Wiltz, Luxembourg (below) has quietly presented major artists in opera, classical music, jazz and theater since 1953. This year’s edition runs from June 27 to July 29 and will offer an open-air Aïda (July 6, 7) and a concert with five Italian tenors the next day. The festival has a rich and diverse program from beginning to end.

Since the opening of its new opera house, Copenhagen has raised its profile as a place worth visiting. But for a brief period in mid-summer (July 27-August 3), the Copenhagen Opera Festival goes out of doors to parks, gardens and squares all over the Danish capital. There will be 15 different programs, including performances of Maria de Buenos Aires, Die Zauberflöte, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Further north is Dalhalla in central Sweden. The name is the Nordic equivalent of Olympus and, of course, is related to the Wagnerian Valhalla. The amphitheater is made entirely of rock and sits on Lake Siljan in a setting of rock formations. The festival has had more opera in the past. This year includes concerts by the excellent Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman (July 7/8) and an opera gala on August 11.

For something genuinely local, consider the Steinvik Opera festival on a fjord 30 miles/50 km from Trondheim, Norway. The same work, Henning Sommerro’s Olav Engelbrektsson, is presented every year. This is the story of the local archbishop when the Danes occupied this area in the 16th century. Performances (August 9, 10, 11, 16, 17. 18) begin at 10 pm. There are 850 seats for an audience that will see 200 performers. The setting is a fortress whose ramparts are illuminated by flaming torches.

The Turku Music Festival, on the western edge of Finland, has scored a coup this year by securing the services of tenor Rolando Villazón to perform in a concert version of Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (August 15). Also in the cast are soprano Sandrine Piau and tenor Topi Lehtipuu, with Emmanuelle Haim conducting. The full festival runs August 9 to 18. 

In Germany, apart from Munich and Bayreuth, I would head to Leipzig, which is gearing up for the Wagner bicentennial in 2013. This year, though, is the 800th anniversary of the St. Thomas church, one of the most important musical landmarks in the world. Though opera is not part of its tradition, many of Bach’s cantatas were first performed here, making the church a destination for those who love vocal music.

Two of my favorite lesser-known festivals are, of course, in Italy. One is in Macerata in the central region of Le Marche. This city is one’s idea of what an Italian hill town is, complete with churches, piazzas, great food and wine, and an opera festival. This one takes place in the Sferisterio, a 200-year old semi-circular stadium with a high wall that was once used for handball (above). The wall makes for superb acoustics and the productions are grand. This year, on four weekends from July 20 to August 12, you can see La Traviata, La Bohéme and Carmen.

In Puglia, just above the heel of the Italian boot, is the marvelous Festival della Valle d’Itria in the stunning baroque city of Martina Franca. This is one of my favorite cities in all of Italy, with whitewashed buildings, gorgeous piazzas, excellent food and palaces and courtyards perfect for performances of operas, concerts and recitals. Its opera festival (July 14-August 2) is distinct because it presents works that were thought to be lost or were entirely forgotten. This year are Hasse’s Artaserse, Marco Taralli’s Nûr, Bellini’s Zaira and Orfeo by Luigi Rossi and Daniela Terranova. 

Where do you plan to see a special or unusual opera performance this summer?

Music Hall in Cincinnati (Aimee Sposito Martini); Wiltz, Luxembourg (Flickr/benymarc); Sferisterio in Macerata, Italy


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Comments [6]


We're so very fortunate in our small State of Vermont to have a couple of great opportunities to see young performers learning their craft and art. This year our Middlebury Opera Company treated us to "Thais" with a terrific young cast of varying levels of experience. My wife and I just thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and growing skill that these young performers brought to our small, local house and the efforts of the organizers to make this a great opera experience.

Jul. 24 2012 09:15 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from REichard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

The Cleveland, Ohio arena, bigger than the Park Avenue Armory had Rise Stevens as Carmen in a full scale presentation of the opera back in the 1950s. I sang the Rhadames to Rina Telli's Aida in a Salmaggi Oudoor Opera performance at the Randall's Island Stadium, with 20,000 attendance. And the Met Opera regularly performs outdoors at Central Park in the Summer, with far greater attendance. Who can forget Hollywood Bowl or Berlin, Germany's Waldbuehner or Verona, Italy's arena , where the orchestra is augmented to 200 players and the thrilling experience exceeds many indoor events with even the same vocal artists. Using enormous arenas and stadiums and armories can engage the fullest of theater technical 'wonders' to enhance the experience of music listening and performing. Let's go for it !!! Using the armory on Park Avenue and the other armories in NYC for musical presentations, especially of the Stockhousen, Berlioz and Wagner epic masterpieces is a GRAND (opera) idea !!! 0ther GREAT venues during the summer months are the Salzburg Festival Hall, the Edinburgh Castle outdoor concerts, the Bayreuth, Germany Festival (exclusively Wagner operas), the Robin Hood Dell (Philadelphia), the Central Park Great Lawn concerts of the New York Philharmonic, the Garden of the Gods, Red Rock outdoor arena, The Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey, the Caracalla Baths (Roma, italy), Firenze, the G;lobe Theater (Shakespeare productions) in San Diego and the Delacorte Outdoor Theatre in Central Park for Shakespeare. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor and the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques. Websites:,, and where one may download, free, 37 complete "Live from Carnegie Hall" selections that I have sung in four concerts, three of them three hours-long solo concerts and one concert, a Joint Recital with the dramatic soprano Norma Jean Erdmann, in the main hall of Carnegie Hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, by opening up, downloading, from the "Recorded Selections" venue.

Jun. 30 2012 08:21 PM
Richard from New Mexico

What happened to our Santa Fe Opera ?

Jun. 26 2012 11:46 AM
Alessandra from Milano

Fred, all the places you mention sound wonderful, particularly the ones in Europe, some of which I know very well. However, I decided a few years ago that I will pass most live-opera experiences and stick to CD's, ever since I found myself closing my eyes unable to see a gang-boss Scarpia, an Alfredo in jeans and sneakers (recently in boxer shorts), and generally most characters clad in Garage-Sale rags (for no apparent reason).

Jun. 08 2012 07:54 PM
Fred Plotkin from New York

Hello Robert, "Maria de Buenos Aires" was written by the marvelous Argentine composer and performer Astor Piazzola. Yes, I too will also be attending opera in New York this summer. If you encompass the metro area there is a big choice and, if you reach all the way to Cooperstown, even more.

Jun. 08 2012 01:21 PM
Robert Poda from New York

Great article, Fred. Who wrote Maria de Buenos Aires, by the way? Haven't heard of that one. I will be spending the Summer in New York. There is a surprising amount of opera in the New York area if you pursue it.

Jun. 08 2012 12:36 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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