A bumper few days for Midlands opera-lovers begins tomorrow night in Malvern, when the Compagnia d'Opera Italiana di Milano returns to the town's Festival Theatre for a long weekend.
The opera on offer this time is Verdi's Rigoletto, lurid in its melodramatic twists and packed with favourite tunes. Performances begin every evening between Friday and Monday at 7.30pm, with the exception of Sunday, when there is a 2pm matinee instead (details on 01684 892277).
Another touring company making a welcome return to the region is the Chisinau National Opera promoted by Ellen Kent and Opera International. On Monday the company presents Carmen, Bizet's perennially popular tale of passion, jealousy and retribution, at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre, followed on Tuesday by Verdi's Nabucco, always contemporary in its theme of exile and homeland, with its famous "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" (7.30pm both performances, details on 0870 607 7533). On Wednesday CNO gives Carmen at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (7.30pm, details on 024 7652 4524).
Tuesday sees the longestablished Midland Music Makers opera company (2006 will be its 60th anniversary) opening its latest major production at Birmingham's Crescent Theatre. This year the choice is Tchaikovsky's heartbreaking opera of young love Eugene Onegin, and MMM has secured the collaboration of the prestigious Elmhurst School of Dance and Birmingham Conservatoire, whose students make up a 26-piece orchestra (7.15pm every night until Saturday, no performance on Thursday; details on 0121 643 5858).
And Tuesday also sees the return to the Birmingham operatic stage of the popular Lesley Garrett, starring in Welsh National Opera's new production of Lehar's The Merry Widow. This is Garrett's first fulllength operatic role in several years, but it seems like yesterday when I admired this sparky new kid on the block doing a tightrope-walking stunt as Esmeralda in Smetana's Bartered Bride for the same company.
Merry Widow is repeated next Thursday, with Rossini's Barber of Seville intervening on Wednesday, repeated next Friday. Welsh National Opera's week at Birmingham Hippodrome is completed with Verdi's epic Don Carlos a week on Saturday, but more of that in the next Preview (all WNO operas begin at 7.15pm, except Verdi at 5.30pm, details on 0870 730 1234).
This is a very busy week away from opera, too, with several chamber orchestras stepping to the fore, beginning tomorrow evening at Great Malvern Priory. Gernot Sussmuth conducts the European Union Chamber Orchestra in an attractive programme of Handel, Elgar, Haydn and Mozart, Jennifer Pike the soloist in his A major Violin Concerto (7.30pm, details on 01684 892277).
On Saturday Martin Leigh conducts the Birmingham Chamber Orchestra in a programme of Beethoven, Weber (Nikki Loveridge the soloist in his Second Clarinet Concerto) and Mendelssohn (the Scottish Symphony) at the Friends' Meeting House, Bournville (7.30pm, details on 0121 550 0956).
The same evening the Innovation Chamber Orchestra, one of the CBSO's many offshoots, is in residence at the elegant Ragley Hall, near Alcester, with a menu of Elgar, Boccherini, Holst, Vivaldi and Dvorak. The concert starts at 8pm, but a different sort of menu is also on offer with an optional pre-concert threecourse dinner "prepared with fresh, seasonal produce" at 6.30pm (details on 01789 762090).
Continuing the gastronomic diversion, the latest offering in this year's Birmingham Early Music Festival with its theme "The Food of Love" is Heavenly Delights and Earthly Pleasures, presented by Mediva (singer and various medieval instruments) at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University on Saturday. Music by Hildegard von Bingen frames readings by Patience Tomlinson of readings from the herbal book written by the prolific nun as well as from Carmina Burana, a collection of rather more earthy poems made by Hildegard's roistering contemporary monks (7.30pm, details on 0121 414 7333).
Also on Saturday Birmingham's breathtaking Oratory on the Hagley Road is the venue for Requiem of the Innocents by Joseph A Estorninho. Paul Brough conducts the St Cecilia Choir, soloists and Orchestra da Camera in this performance which begins at 8pm (details on 0121 733 7924).
Returning to the chamber orchestra thread, the Sinfonia of Birmingham performs a programme at the CBSO Centre, Berkley Street on Sunday, with two CBSO favourites as conductor and soloist. Michael Seal of the second violins, recently appointed as CBSO assistant conductor is on the rostrum, and Eduardo Vassallo is soloist in Shostakovich's Cello Concerto no.1 (7.30pm, details on 0121 767 4050).
The much-admired CBSO Youth Orchestra makes its first foray out of town on Sunday when it appears at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, in a matinee performance of John Adams' The Chairman Dances, Bartok's Piano Concerto no.3, soloist Joanna MacGregor, and Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. Paul Daniel, such a hero of this year's Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, conducts (3pm).
Sunday evening, meanwhile, that comfortable Arts Centre hosts a visit from the English Chamber Orchestra, featuring a world-renowned violinist who seems to have absent from our stages for far too long: Kyung-Wha Chung (8pm, all WAC details on 024 7652 4524).