Dream opera seasons (again)

I love dreaming up opera seasons! I’m not actually managing an opera festival, so I am not beholden to petty concerns about what will sell tickets. I enjoy creating seasons with a strong theme, ideally with the opportunity for musical variety within that theme. Few companies actually do this (probably for aforementioned practical reasons). There was a recent anniversary-driven slew of Shakespeare-related programming. But usually themes are presented as “summer of love” or “death and passion”. Seriously? That’s, like, 80% of operas.

Anyway, here are five dream seasons of mine. Please share your own in the comments!

Venice, Italy

The conceit here is simple: every opera must be set (at least partly) in Venice. Venice is a city for both dramatic tragedy and carnival romps, so that’s not too constrictive.

  • Rossini’s Otello (1816)
  • Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia (1833)
  • Verdi’s I due Foscari (1844)
  • Ponchielli’s La Gioconda (1876)
  • Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann (1881) 
  • J. Strauss II’s Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883)
  • Verdi’s Otello (1887)
  • Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers (1889)
  • Benjamin’s Prima Donna (1933/1949) (admittedly, this is a one-act, and I am not sure what to pair it with)
  • Britten’s Death in Venice (1973)

Trojan Journeys

When it comes to the Trojan war and its aftermath, there are a lot of operas with shared plot lines and characters. It’s sort of like its own superhero universe! That said, figuring out what order to put these in to create a sensible story would be a job and a half. Timelines overlap. People cross oceans. Character names get translated between English, Italian, German, and French.

  • Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640)
  • Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (~1689)
  • Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride (1779)
  • Mozart’s Idomeneo (1781)
  • Berlioz’s Les Troyens (1863)
  • Offenbach’s La belle Hélène (1864)
  • R. Strauss’s Elektra (1909)
  • R. Strauss’s Die ägyptische Helena (1928) (Wikipedia shade: “It remains the only major opera in the repertory with a role for an omniscient sea-shell”)
  • Tippett’s King Priam (1962)


This is not a serious suggestion. I imagine a tourist-trap low-budget opera company based in Seville doing these greatest hits in repertoire. If we wanted to be more interesting, we could throw in Verdi’s La forza del destino (1862) or Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (1782), but that’s not really the point.

  • Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (1786)
  • Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787)
  • Beethoven’s Fidelio (1805)
  • Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816)
  • Bizet’s Carmen (1875)

Nothing but Faust

This is a shorter list—ideal for a summer festival rather than a full season. If we want to cheat a little, we can make this a Goethe-themed season and tack on Massenet’s Werther (1892), because it’s one of my favorites. Apparently there’s also a Randy Newman musical of Faust (with the CD cast featuring Elton John and Linda Ronstadt)! What with the current trend for American opera companies to present musical theater, that could fit right in…

  • Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust (1846)
  • Gounod’s Faust (1859)
  • Boito’s Mefistofele (1868)
  • Hervé’s Le petit Faust (1869)
  • Busoni’s Doktor Faust (1925)


The options here are overwhelming. There’s a big gap in the eighteenth century… can anyone think of something good to fill it? (Not The Enchanted Island, please. No one ever needs to hear that again.) Bianchi’s La morte di Cesare could theoretically fit, but I know nothing about it—can anyone vouch for it?

  • Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen (1692)
  • Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830)
  • Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot (1836)
  • Verdi’s Macbeth (1847)
  • Nicolai’s Die lustigen Wieber von Windsor (1849)
  • Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict (1862)
  • Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (1867)
  • Thomas’s Hamlet (1868)
  • Verdi’s Falstaff (1893)
  • Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960)
  • Adès’s The Tempest (2004)

For more (excellent) dream opera seasons, check out Iron Tongue of Midnight.