~ As spring opera season approaches, music lovers are seeking ways to experience their favourite classics on the right stage.
Whether paying homage to St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater to experience the Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini classics to taking in the mountainous landscape backdrop at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, audiophiles understand that the authenticity of a performance is often rooted in the theatre’s history and location.
Frommer's has asked the editors of OPERA NEWS magazine, whose European Travel issue hits newsstands mid-April, to come up with the top 10 destinations that should be included on every opera lover's roadmap this year.
Here (in no particular order), are the first five top destinations for lovers of opera. In a forthcoming post, I will list the other five destinations.
GERMANY: International Handel Festival, Göttingen
Home to the world's oldest Baroque music festival, this tiny, half-timbered university town in Lower Saxony fêtes the glories of George Friedrich Handel's artistic output for two weeks each summer. A profusion of top-notch chamber concerts, late-night recitals and oratorio performances make use of the village's fetching historical venues, while opera presentations in the 500-seat Deutsches Theater boast the kind of cosy authenticity that is the stuff of dreams for period-instrument purists.
RUSSIA: The Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg
Named for its royal benefactress, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II, and inaugurated in October 1860 with a performance of Mikhail Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, the Mariinsky Theater remains a crown jewel in the cultural life of St. Petersburg. The beautifully restored welcomes Mozart, Verdi and Puccini favourites as well as once-forgotten operas by Russia's own Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov. During the summer months, the theatre glittering White Nights Festival draws operatic and classical music royalty - along with nearly one million Russians - to St. Petersburg for the motherland's largest public event.
IRELAND: The Wexford Festival, Wexford
This south eastern Irish town's opera festival, which runs through October and November, abounds with a distinctly Gaelic allure. A sense of discovery that's just as potent as the municipality's omnipresent aroma of burning peat proves to be this festival's calling card: emerging young stars take part in little-known operas, presented with remarkable musical and dramatic merits under artistic director David Agler. Away from the festival's presentations, one can find myriad opportunities to revel in Wexford's charms, from poetry recitations in Thomas Moore Tavern to incomparable suppers at Forde's Restaurant and - should the muse strike you – the Guinness International Singing & Swinging Pub competition.
THE UNITED STATES: New York City
From the Metropolitan Opera, to Carnegie Hall, to a thrillingly modernized Alice Tully Hall - and let's not forget about outer-borough venues like the unique Brooklyn Academy of Music - there's a reason New York remains the cultural capital of the world. The Metropolitan Opera, now operating under the auspices of its innovative general manager Peter Gelb, has become an increasingly accessible institution. Likewise, a revitalized New York Philharmonic, led by native-son Alan Gilbert, can tackle symphonic rep ranging from Bach to Schoenberg. Splendid Manhattan-bound classical and operatic fare need not be experienced within confines of the Upper West Side, though: Le Poisson Rouge, a trendy Bleecker Street nightclub presents some of the best jazz, contemporary-classical and chamber music the city has to offer, allows its patrons to quaff hearty hefeweizens or smoky pinot noirs in an atmosphere so easygoing as to make Brahms and Ellington seem like kissing cousins.
ITALY: Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Milan's operatic history - which dates back to the seventeenth century - is no less dazzling than the world-famous fashion houses that make this city one of the modern world's top destinations for cutting-edge design. [Teatro alla Scala has been the city's operatic pride and joy since the eighteenth century: the official opening of the La Scala season is almost always on December 7, the feast day of St. Ambrose, Milan's patron.] La Scala remains hallowed ground on which divas-in-the-making must prove their mettle, and where the world first heard Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Verdi's Otello, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Rossini's Turco in Italia and Bellini's Norma - and scores of other classics.
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Image courtesy Mariinsky Theater website