Michael White’s classical news: Fernando Re di Castiglia; Utopia Ltd; La Traviata; Joyce DiDonato

Thursday, 31st March — By Michael White

JOYCE DI DONATO_2-credit Sergi Jasanada

Joyce DiDonato performs Eden at the Barbican April 5-6. Photo: Sergi Jasanada

IF you’re one of those train-spotting types who collect the experience of obscure operas, this coming week is yours – with three prime specimens on offer.

Possibly the most significant in terms of scoring points is the belated UK premiere of Handel’s Fernando Re di Castiglia (it dates from the 1730s) which comes courtesy of the London Handel Festival on April 6. Never completed, it was reworked into a different piece – which explains why you’re unlikely to have heard it before. But here it plays under conductor Leo Duarte at St George’s Hanover Square, the church Handel attended every Sunday morning in the latter part of his life. Details: london-handel-festival.com

If that fails to spark joy, there’s also Verdi’s early Oberto being done in concert at Cadogan Hall by Chelsea Opera Group, April 3: cadoganhall.com

And lovers of Gilbert & Sullivan will be pleased to see Utopia Ltd in a touring show from Scottish Opera that plays Hackney Empire April 1. Utopia was written as a reconciliatory effort after G&S had fallen out with one another, and it was a flawed collaboration: over-long and heavy-handed.

But the piece is an interesting mockery of Victorian colonial enterprise and the economic rules that supported it – not least the then novelty of limited liability companies whereby City businessmen to bust and avoid their debts.
The music may be weaker than in G&S classics, but the social criticism bites. hackneyempire.co.uk

The polar opposite of obscure is Verdi’s Traviata, which returns to the Royal Opera House in a now veteran production by Richard Eyre that, this time round, makes a determined stab at diversity – sharing out the title role between South African soprano Pretty Yende, American Angel Blue, and Armenian Hrachuchi Bassenz. April 2-18. roh.org.uk

• One of the truly great sopranos of our time, though, is the ever versatile Joyce DiDonato, whose energy, imagination and enterprise seem limitless. Only the other week she was singing everyone else off the stage in the Royal Opera’s Theodora. Now she’s back at the Barbican, April 5-6, for an unusual event that has her sing Wagner, Handel, Mahler – but on terms that aren’t a standard-form recital. With elements of stage design and lighting, it’s a one-woman show about the power of nature. She calls it Eden. And she does it with support from the period band Il Pomo d’Oro under cult conductor Maxim Emelyanychev. Altogether unmissable. barbican.org.uk

A legendary (and versatile) diva of a different sort is Meredith Monk: composer, singer, dancer, film-maker and all-round icon of American experimentalism. At the venerable age of 79 she is (God knows how) still touring, still pulling crowds.

And this Friday, April 1, she flies into the Festival Hall for an evening with the comparably venerable Ban-on-a-Can ensemble which has been an American flagship for all things musically avant-garde since the 1980s. A diary date for anyone with open ears. southbankcentre.co.uk

• And finally, a younger legend of more recent times: the pianist Igor Levit (above) who got very famous during lockdown with his daily podcasts, and now ranks among the hottest keyboard talents in the world. A strikingly direct, clear and compelling player, he’s at Wigmore Hall twice this week, April 4 & 6, with programmes related to Shostakovich. wigmore-hall.org.uk

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