International superstars, the finest Australian Baroque ensembles and a fully staged Orlando are among the highlights.

Coming from nowhere, or so it seemed, last year’s inaugural Hobart Baroque Festival turned out to be a complete hit with a full scale production, courtesy of the Royal Opera House, of Haydn’s L'isola disabitata and a dazzling vocal display from David Hansen, known by many as simply “the guy who sings high”.

This year looks set to raise the bar even higher with the first presentation in Australia of a production from the Glimmerglass Summer Festival – in this case, Handel’s delightful Orlando. Known as “America’s Glyndebourne”, Glimmerglass, in upstate New York, have an enviable reputation for early music stagings replete with authentic period costumes et al. In this beautiful production by director Chas Rader-Shieber (also shown to great acclaim at New York’s Lincoln Center) the knight Orlando and his love-bewitched companions wander through a lush forest governed by both the wise counsel of the magician Zoroastro and the reckless arrows from Cupid’s bow.

Glimmerglass' Orlando

Trumping that, however, might well be the exclusive Australian debut of 23-year-old Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva. Hailed as one of the most exciting coloraturas on the scene, Limelight enthusiastically reviewed her last album, Alleluia, describing “her technique as rock solid, her coloratura dazzling in its speed and pinpoint accuracy,” and commented on the “rapt, slower arias in which Lezhneva is able to play her trump card: a smooth, silvery tone like extruded moonbeams.” Lezhneva will perform with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. You can read Limelight’s interview with her here.

Julia Lezhneva

The other exciting debut will be the appearance of the brilliant Barcelona-born countertenor Xavier Sabata, a star soloist with Les Arts Florissants and Le Jardin des Voix. Sabata had an unlikely start to his musical career, studying saxophone at the Barcelona Conservatory and acting at the Institut del Teatre. He also worked on the voice with the likes of the late Montserrat Figueras and Christoph Prégardien. With the Orchestra of the Antipodes he performs Bad Guys, his acclaimed album of arias that Handel wrote for some of the nastier characters in his operas. Not to be missed.

Xavier Sabata

Other highlights include the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Timo-Veikko Valve playing Bach’s Cello Suites and a unique collaboration between Melbourne-based early music whiz kids Latitude 37 and MONA who present an evening of Ottoman baroque music followed by an Ottoman banquet no less. 200 lucky guests will get to experience the individual sounds of such ancient instruments as the oud and the kanun (an ancient traditional instrument related to the zither) followed by an Ottoman Banquet especially created by MONA’s renowned team of chefs.

Finally, Hobart Town Hall takes centre stage for five recitals of Baroque music from five Tasmanian soloists including Jennifer Marten-Smith playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations and young Launceston countertenor Nicholas Tolputt in arias and songs by Purcell, Handel and Mozart.

Hobart Baroque runs from March 28–April 5, 2014.