Tuning up for fun and games at the Cultural Olympiad

They are in athletic mood at the Proms and in opera, but you might need your thermals...

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The Independent Culture

Political engagement is a dominant theme this month as the London Philharmonic Orchestra explores creativity and compromise in the music of Prokofiev: Man of the People? at the Southbank.

Two dictators glower over Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall as Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic contrast John Adams's portrait of Mao Zedong, The Chairman Dances, with Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony. The Kronos Quartet plays George Crumb's response to the Vietnam war, Black Angels, at the Hackney Empire, while Esa Pekka-Salonen and the Philharmonia open a season of pivotal works of protest with Dallapiccola's anti-fascist opera Il prigioniero at the Royal Festival Hall.

The UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream at the Barbican heralds a strong year for contemporary opera. At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Andrew Watts and London Sinfonietta have a little fun with Olga Neuwirth's ultra-hip, high-camp Hommage à Klaus Nomi in February. English National Opera has new works by Wolfgang Rihm and Detlev Glanert, while Birmingham Contemporary Music Group provides the year's most intriguing and improbable premiere: Gerald Barry's The Importance of Being Earnest, at the Barbican (26 April) and Birmingham's Symphony Hall (28 April).

There are ghost stories and fairy tales, morality tales and musicals. ENO brings Richard Jones's staging of The Tales of Hoffmann to the Coliseum from early next month, while the Royal Opera House has Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito's production of Dvorak's Rusalka. In March, Northern Ireland Opera takes The Turn of the Screw to Newtownabbey, Coleraine, Omagh and Belfast, while David McVicar returns to Scottish Opera with a new production of The Rake's Progress. Broadway comes to Salford and Leeds as Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé collaborate on Bernstein's Wonderful Town with the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and Opera North takes a spin with Rodgers and Hammerstein in Jo Davies's new production of Carousel.

Visiting VIPs include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which returns to the Barbican in the spring with three great conductors, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (22 April), Mariss Jansons (12 May) and Bernard Haitink (20 May). Full of wunderkinder and entirely conductor-free, Spira Mirabilis plays Beethoven at the Southbank. In Coventry Cathedral, Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra mark the 50th anniversary of the first performance of Britten's War Requiem, with Kristine Opolais, Mark Padmore and Thomas Quasthoff singing music written for Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Better not pack away your thermals. Summer starts with Melly Still's Glyndebourne production of Janacek's furry heartbreaker, The Cunning Little Vixen. Opera Holland Park's season opens with the unearthly sound of the glass harmonica in Lucia di Lammermoor, while Grange Park Opera has Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit for Antony McDonald's new production of The Queen of Spades. In Suffolk, this year's Aldeburgh Festival brings a new production of Oliver Knussen's enchanting Maurice Sendak double-bill Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Where the Wild Things Are, while East Neuk Festival features the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing in a potato barn.

There's no getting away from the Olympics. Vivaldi's opera L'Olimpiade headlines the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in May, and enjoys a full staging at Garsington Opera in June. The BBC Proms marks the opening ceremony of the games with a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by Daniel Barenboim and the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, while the Royal Opera House offers four complete sequences of Wagner's Ring Cycle in the autumn.

Blissfully free of any association with athletics, Thomas Zehetmair and Northern Sinfonia follow up their peerless Schubert cycle with a twin cycle of Brahms and Schumann symphonies for their 2012/2013 season.

Watch out for...

One of the most expressive and perceptive Baroque specialists around, harpsichordist and conductor Christian Curnyn, above, directs the Early Opera Company in a double bill of Charpentier's Diane et Actéon and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at London's Wigmore Hall, 12 January, and Handel's Rodelinda, at the Iford Festival in early August.