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Opera returns, trios emerge and all-stars abound as the classical world comes back in full bloom

Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Tilson Thomas with the NSO, John Williams birthday concert and WNO’s 'Carmen’ are among the spring highlights

(Sonny Ross/Illustration for The Washington Post)

If there’s one striking feature of the spring classical music season — apart from the fact that there is a spring classical music season — it’s that we are experiencing, in seemingly full bloom, the return of opera. Fully staged productions, concert operas and even a chorus or two have found their way back to the stage, and I’m here for it. (And there’s more good stuff coming up than I could list here, so be sure to check out the Weekend section at the top of March for even more picks for spring.)

Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos

Don’t be surprised if you notice more trios taking the stage than usual. In times when travel and gathering in groups is fraught with not-exactly-new concerns, the trio represents an ideal workaround. Especially when that trio is cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who will perform a quartet of Beethoven trios to celebrate the release of their new recording, “Beethoven for Three,” featuring reduced-but-concentrated arrangements of Beethoven’s Second and Fifth symphonies.

Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos March 7 at the Kennedy Center.

‘Così fan tutte’

I can’t tell whether it’s good or bad that “Così fan tutte” feels right on time in 2022. On one hand, Washington National Opera’s staging of a beloved Mozart work for its grand return to full productions feels perfectly appropriate for a spring reawakening of the arts. On the other, this zestily orchestrated tale of two dudes lustily gaslighting their fiancees is sure to hit differently on this side of the #MeToo movement. Ethical dissonances aside, I look forward to the mellifluous main-stage debuts of soprano Laura Wilde (Fiordiligi), mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb (Dorabella) and tenor Kang Wang (Ferrando), as well as Andrey Zhilikhovsky as Guglielmo.

Così fan tutte March 12-26 at the Kennedy Center.

Hilary Hahn, Seth Parker Woods, Andreas Haefliger

Another power trio rolls in late March as violinist Hilary Hahn, cellist Seth Parker Woods and pianist Andreas Haefliger take on a program of Beethoven (his Violin Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 96), Zoltan Kodaly’s wrenching 1914 Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7, and “Be Still & Know,” a work by Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Carlos Simon.

Hilary Hahn, Seth Parker Woods, Andreas Haefliger March 29 at the Kennedy Center.

My spirits needed a lift. Violinist Hilary Hahn and the NSO delivered, in D major.

Michael Tilson Thomas and National Symphony Orchestra

The versatile conductor and artistic director of the New World Symphony is ramping up his concert schedule following his recovery from surgery in August for a brain tumor. On March 25 and 26, the 2019 Kennedy Center honoree will lead a program of Carl Ruggles’s “Angels,” Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and his own “Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind,” featuring soprano Measha Brueggergosman. And on March 31 and April 1, Tilson Thomas goes all-in on Mahler’s five-movement Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”).

Michael Tilson Thomas and the NSO March 25-April 1 at the Kennedy Center.


It wouldn’t be spring without a passion project, and soprano Joyce DiDonato intends to deliver with her multidisciplinary, multiyear project “Eden.” A collaboration with the historical chamber orchestra il Pomo d’Oro, “Eden” is springing forth as an album (out Feb. 25) and an internationally touring stage show including music by Handel, Ives, Gluck and Mahler, as well as a newly commissioned piece from the Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman.

Eden April 24 at the Music Center at Strathmore.


If you missed “Eurydice” and “ … (Iphigenia)” last fall, Washington Concert Opera is presenting another myth opportunity with a performance of Berlioz’s 1859 adaptation of Gluck’s “Orphée.” Berlioz has Orphée voiced by a mezzo-soprano, in this case Kate Lindsey, who sang the title role in WCO’s 2018 performance of Charles Gounod’s “Sapho.” Soprano Jacquelyn Stucker (singing Eurydice) and soprano Helen Zhibing Huang (singing Amour) will also join the WCO Orchestra and Chorus. (For superfans, Lindsey will appear in recital at Wolf Trap with pianist Justina Lee on July 8.) WCO concludes its season May 22 with Léo Delibes’s rarely performed “Lakmé.”

Orphée April 24 at Lisner Auditorium.

‘. . . (Iphigenia)’ is an opera in the form of a question

Awadagin Pratt and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

It’s a big, busy season for the BSO (among other things, Marin Alsop pops back in to lead Beethoven’s Ninth on April 7-10), but this particular program just feels like one you might call a corker. The orchestra welcomes pianist Awadagin Pratt to lead a new concerto by Jessie Montgomery and otherwise takes on Mozart’s majestic Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major (K. 543) and the unlikely bookends of Henze’s “Mänadentanz” from (“The Bassarids”) and Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” suite.

Awadagin Pratt and the BSO May 5-8 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore.


Nothing says spring like a free spirit, nothing says free spirit like “Carmen” and — if the sneak peek offered last November at Washington National Opera’s “Come Home: A Celebration of Return” was any indication — few can sing Carmen as soprano Isabel Leonard can. She’ll make her role debut alongside tenor Michael Fabiano making his WNO debut as Don José. Bass-baritone (and 2018 Marian Anderson Vocal Award winner) Ryan Speedo Green appears as Escamillo, soprano Vanessa Vasquez sings Micaëla and Francesca Zambello directs.

Carmen May 14-28 at the Kennedy Center.

‘Der Freischütz (The Marksman)’

Considered by many the first great German Romantic opera, Weber’s beguiling “Der Freischütz” will open Wolf Trap Opera’s season, 201 years to the date of its premiere. Lidiya Yankovskaya conducts and R.B. Schlather directs this rare staging, featuring sopranos Alexandria Shiner as Agathe and Sunwoo Park as Ännchen. Forthcoming productions on Wolf Trap’s summer calendar include Verdi’s “La Traviata” (July 15) as well as Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah” (Aug. 12-20).

Der Freischütz (The Marksman) June 18-26 at the Barns at Wolf Trap.

John Williams birthday concert

The program isn’t listed yet, but I’m hoping this close encounter with one of the most celebrated composers of our time goes beyond his impossibly nuanced-yet-earwormy work for the big screen and into his lesser-known concertos, symphonies and chamber works. French conductor Stéphane Denève will lead this all-star birthday bash featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Spielberg, Anne-Sophie Mutter and others. Please refrain from bringing your own popcorn.

John Williams: The 90th Birthday Gala Concert June 23 at the Kennedy Center.