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New term / New season

It’s September, which means back-to-school in the world of education, but for classical music it’s a different start — that of the 2012-13 opera season. In the old days opera was a grand affair; the first night of a production meant black tie and opera cloaks. These days its far more relaxed, and you won’t be frowned upon if you’re wearing jeans at the Royal Opera House. Opera is loosening up and presenting itself in ways which are less daunting for the newcomer, while maintaining the high standards that keep people coming back season after season.

Two UK opera companies, who are excellent examples of this trend, are showing Oxford University Press works this season: English National Opera (ENO) and Glyndebourne Opera. English National Opera will show Vaughan Williams’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and will use OUP’s English translation for their production of Handel’s Julius Caesar. The film of Glyndebourne’s award-winning 2005 production of the same Handel opera will be shown throughout the UK this autumn.

English National Opera has a strong commitment to showing the best of English Opera, and their production of The Pilgrim’s Progress follows two previous stagings of Vaughan Williams’s operas – the light-hearted Sir John in Love in 2006 and the tragic Riders to the Sea in 2008. The Pilgrim’s Progress hasn’t been fully-staged in the UK since its premiere in 1951 at the Festival of Britain, so this new production — in what feels like another festival year for the UK — will be an exciting event for November 2012. The story of the opera follows the trials and tribulations of a Pilgrim on his journey ‘from this world to that which is to come.’ English National Opera prides itself on its young audience profile and accessible ticket prices, and to extend the reach of the music still further, the BBC will broadcast one of the evening performances live on Radio 3.

English National Opera’s policy is always to sing in English and their production of Handel’s Julius Caesar, although originally composed in Italian, is no exception. The company firmly believe that removing the language barrier opens opera up for new audiences. Glyndebourne Opera takes a different approach to this issue — always singing in the original language. That they are showing the same opera, in the same season, makes a fascinating contrast. Glyndebourne will show Handel’s Julius Caesar/Giulio Cesare in its original Italian, but will remove the sometimes daunting prospect of the imposing Opera House facade by showing their version on film. It will be in selected cinemas across the UK in October and November 2012. Filmed in 2005, Glyndebourne’s production of Guilio Cesare is a stylish and sumptuous opera which veers between dark comedy and tragedy, all wonderfully staged in a production which drew inspiration from the British Raj and Bollywood.

A clip from Handel’s Giulio Cesare via Opus Arte

Danielle de Niese in Giulio Cesare

Whether you prefer your opera in grand locations or your local cinema, in the original language or in translation, there’s something for everyone in 2012-13.

Image credits: (1) Masks with the theatre concept. Image by Elnur, iStockphoto. (2) Usher, opens red theater curtiain revealing stage lighting…some visible noise in background. Image by joshblake, iStockphoto.

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