Following a superb line-up of operas at last year's BBC Proms, this season promises to be equally strong, especially if you're a Wagner fan. The programme, which has just been announced, includes complete performances of seven of his operas. That's a massive 53.8% of his (extant) operatic output in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.
Verdi, whose bicenntenial it is too, and Britten (a mere centenarian) are less well represented. The latter at least gets one whole opera (Glyndebourne's Billy Budd), as well as 21 other pieces, including his final work for voice, the cantata Phaedra which will feature mezzo Sarah Connolly. Verdi does get a programme of arias and overtures and two other concerts featuring non-operatic works but Roger Wright, the BBC Proms Controller, said at the press launch for the season that they were just not offered anything substantial enough, in terms of a full opera, to include in the season. Surprising in this celebration year but an indication of how tricky it can be putting such a vast schedule together.
The cornerstone of the 2013 Proms will be Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, being performed as a full cycle for the first time in a single season. Daniel Barenboim will conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin, with a starry cast that includes Bryn Terfel as Wotan (Die Walkure), Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, Lance Ryan and Ian Storey's Siegfried (Siegfried and Gotterdammerung respectively) and Waltraud Meier as Waltraute/Second Norn. The cycle will be performed over one week, with a break before the final instalment for a performance of Tristan und Isolde (Peter Seiffert and Violetta Urmana, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra). This will reflect the order of writing the works, so it'll be interesting for those committing themselves to such a marathon to see if it sheds light on Wagner's musical development.
Two further Wagners follow a little later. There's a week's break before Tannhauser, which Donald Runnicles will conduct with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, followed three weeks later by Parsifal, with the Halle led by Mark Elder.
One further opera gets a full performance: Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, a work far too neglected and deserving of a staged revival in London, which Andrew Davis conducts on 16 August. The programme interweaves the Britten works, with those by other British composers such as Tippett, Bantock, George Lloyd and Imogen Holst, as a deliberate attempt to give a context for Britten's output.
Other notable operatic appearances are Joyce di Donato's Last Night debut, when she'll perform Rossini, Handel and Massenet arias. For those who haven't had enough Wagner, Anna Caterina-Antonacci will sing the Wesendonck Lieder on 22 August and the first ever free Prom will take place on 11 August, with Gerald Finley and Lisa Milne as soloists for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Simon Keenlyside will feature in the world premiere of Thomas Ades's Totentanz, a 45 minute song cycle, on 17 July.
The "Welt-Parlament" section of Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus ‘Licht', a big hit in Birmingham last year, will be performed by Ex Cathedra on 19 July.
Now that the programme is out, opera-lovers can plan their Summers, book their holidays and keep their fingers crossed that they get the tickets they want. Booking opens on Saturday 11 May and, of course, over 500 standing tickets (the proper way to experience the world's greatest music festival if you're young and fit enough) are available at the bargain price of £5 per concert. There will also be more opportunities to hear the Proms on radio and TV than ever before.
Full details of all programmes and dates can be found at the official BBC Proms website: www.bbc.co.uk/proms
- Simon Thomas