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A couple of Australian tenors will headline this years BBC Proms. Heldentenor Stuart Skelton will sing Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio, while Steve Davislim will play the titular Tito in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito.
Stretching over eight weeks and drawing together the best soloists, conductors, and orchestras from all over the world – and promising a raucous closing ceremony more like a party than an evening at the recital hall – the BBC Proms has unveiled an eclectic 2017 season. With a number of works marked by the political, this year’s selections look to be both timely and engrossing. For listeners in Australia, concerts are often available to stream from the BBC website and as in the past a fair number of performances will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM.
Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra open the season with Beethoven, Adams and the first of this year’s Proms commissions from rising British composer Tom Coult, St John’s Dance. Award-winning pianist Igor Levit is the soloist in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, while the BBC Proms Youth Choir will help mark Adams’ 70th birthday with a performance of Harmonium.
As is traditional, the BBC Symphony Orchestra will also oversee Last Night festivities with the return of Sakari Oramo. Nina Stemme, arguably the greatest living Wagnerian soprano, is the headline soloist – audiences will get a taste of her highly praised Isolde in the Liebestod as well as the usual Rule Brittania. The programme also marks three of this year’s anniversaries: the centenary of Finnish independence and the 50th anniversaries of the deaths of Zoltán Kodály and Sir Malcolm Sargent, the Proms’ chief conductor from 1947 to 1967. John Adams’ Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance will also receive its London premiere.
As part of an Elgar symphonic cycle, Daniel Barenboim will conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin in Elgar’s Second and will also give the UK premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Deep Time, a co-commission with the BBC.
Schoenberg’s opulent cantata Gurrelieder will get an outing, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. Simon O’Neill returns to the Royal Albert stage as Waldermar, alongside Eva-Maria Westbroek as Tove and German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff making a welcome return to the concert platform as the Speaker.
Politics unites the three operas in this year’s Proms season: Beethoven’s Fidelio, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. Mussorgsky’s rarely heard ‘national music drama’ will be led by Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with a cast of exciting Slavic singers including Russian mezzo Elena Maximova as Marfa. In a departure from her usual pants roles, distinguished British mezzo Alice Coote is the scheming Vitellia in Mozart’s opera seria. She leads an all-star Glyndebourne cast under Music Director Robin Ticciati, with Australian tenor Steve Davislim as the titular Tito.
Limelight’s 2016 International Artist of the Year, pianist Stephen Hough, brings his acclaimed interpretation of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto to the Royal Albert Hall. Also on the programme are Haydn’s Symphony No 99 and David Sawer’s The Greatest Happiness Principle, performed by the BBC Philharmonic and conducted by Mark Wigglesworth.
Xian Zhang and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales will present Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Sir James MacMillan’s new choral work, A European Requiem. Both works touch on themes of freedom, hope, and unity in a troubled world. Zhang has assembled an impressive group of singers that includes tenor Simon O’Neill, mezzo Sonia Prina, and countertenor Iestyn Davies.
In more vocal highlights, Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts Berlioz’s Faust with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. American tenor Michael Spyres is the eponymous Faust and Swedish virtuosic mezzo Ann Hallenberg is Marguerite.
Soprano Renée Fleming continues to put retirement rumours to bed, appearing with regular collaborators Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. She will be performing Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and the Transformation Scene from Strauss’ Daphne, one of her finest recordings.
Other highlights of the season include the Proms debut of the Orchestra of La Scala under its Music Director Riccardo Chailly. Bringing Italy with them, they will perform two of Respighi’s Rome-inspired tone poems, the evergreen Fountains and Pines Of Rome. Meanwhile, Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will take a journey through Spain with Falla’s El amor brujo, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole with violinist Joshua Bell, and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No 3. Finally, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus will mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution with Prokofiev’s controversial October Revolution cantata and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. They will be joined by pianist Denis Matsuev for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 3.
The BBC Proms runs July 14 – September 9 at Royal Albert Hall, London.