The arts in 1999: Classical

The one thing we all know not to expect this year is anything from the Royal Opera, which will be sitting on pounds 16 million of public subsidy, thank you very much, and delivering virtually nothing in return. It's what you might call a swindle; and it dumps the burden of servicing London's operatic needs on the shoulders of ENO who have stepped into the breech with a genuinely enticing season of new shows. The Big One is Parsifal (February) with a not-so-thrilling cast, but the promise of the ever-curious Nickolaus Lehnhoff as director and Mark Elder to conduct. The Ian Judge production of Boito's Mephistopheles (from March) should be a grand theatrical event. So - if she meets the challenge of it - should be Phyllida Lloyd's staging of the extraordinary mass-execution scene at the end of Poulenc's The Carmelites, which opens in May. And one thing I can guarantee is the new Semele (from April), because this ultra-stylish show by Robert Carsen has already played Aix and Flanders and attracted glowing reviews. Not least on this page.

On the London fringe, the Lyric Hammersmith's efforts to realise the implication of its name continue with the long-overdue English premiere (from January) of Vanessa, chief product of the long emotional/artistic partnership between Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti. Outside London, WNO have a new Peter Grimes (from February) which marks the return of one of the world's most eminent directors, Peter Stein, to Cardiff. Scottish Opera have a rarity in Delius's The Magic Fountain, from February.

For concert-goers, you're in luck if you like Haydn (who gets all 69 of his quartets played in a festival, January, at the RNCM, Manchester); Messiaen (subject of this year's BBCSO residency at the Barbican, January); Poulenc (whose centenary is the occasion for events throughout January and February); Rachmaninov (a three-week focus at the Festival Hall, from May, led by Ashkenazy); and Berlioz (a South Bank mini-fest under Valery Gergiev, May).

Soprano-fanciers will want to know that Cecilia Bartoli, arguably the hottest property in the business, appears at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, in January. But chief curiosity of the forthcoming season: Peter Sellars's staging of three Bach cantatas at the Barbican in April.

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