Best of 2014: Classical and opera preview

Michael Church picks this years must-hear classical

The Girl of the Golden West

Opera North opens its new season with Puccini’s poignant tale of the California gold-rush under hot director Aletta Collins. Alwyn Mellor sings Minnie, owner of the Polka saloon, Robert Hayward incarnates the Sherriff Jack Rance, while Rafael Rojas is the seductive bandit Ramerrez. Opens 21 January, Leeds Grand Theatre; touring to 21 March

Phantasm

Early music at its most transcendent is what this award-winning viol consort purveys, and that is what we will get when they tackle Bach’s “The Art of Fugue”, plus Mozart’s arrangements of five fugues from the “Well-tempered Clavier”. Their hallmark is a vibrato-free purity of sound, which brings counterpoint into high relief. Wigmore Hall, London, 22 February

Manon Lescaut

More Puccini, with this new production travelling to cities including Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Southampton, and Llandudno. The charismatic Roman soprano Chiara Taigi will incarnate the flighty heroine, with tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as the man who inspires her altruistic end. Opens 8 February, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff; touring to 1 August

Maurizio Pollini

Recitals by this great Italian pianist are now rare, so his two appearances at the Southbank will be packed with fans. In this first recital he will play Chopin and Debussy, and on 2 April he will play Beethoven: typically, he has yet to announce the programme for that, but it’s bound to be riveting. Royal Festival Hall, London, 18 February

Don Giovanni

The Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień sings the title role, with Alex Esposito as his Leporello, in this new production. But what’s riding on it is the reputation of Covent Garden’s supremo Kasper Holten. His take will be Don the artist, whose wonderful illusions bewitch all. Royal Opera House, London, 1 to 24 February    

Thebans

ENO will offer a record number of premieres next season, but the most promising is a new opera from British composer Julian Anderson, with a libretto from the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, and under the direction of Pierre Audi. The ancient story of Oedipus is the armature, but expect powerful contemporary echoes. Coliseum, London, 3 May to 3 June

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