Latvia's leading repertory theatre and internationally respected group will entertain fans with two passionate and dramatically different performances Seduction, betrayal, violence, jealousy and enchantment - audiences can experience all this and more when the Latvian National Opera performs two dramatically different, but equally passionate, operas in Hong Kong next year. Alcina, an opera by George Frideric Handel, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, by Dmitri Shostakovich, will take place in February as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2009. The Latvian National Opera, a repertory theatre which performs opera and ballet, was founded in 1918 and remains one of the Baltic region's leading opera houses. It is also one of the most active opera houses in Europe, performing about 200 shows and developing generally six new performances across both its art forms a season. Andrejs Zagars, appointed as company director in 1996, has helped build the company's reputation as an internationally respected group with high artistic standards. While the two operas share similar themes of love, longing, and infidelity, stylistically they are radically different. Alcina, a baroque opera written in 1735, highlights form and tonal authenticity, whereas Lady Macbeth, written in the early 1930s, is a turbulent tale with an emotionally charged performance. 'Twentieth-century opera demands remarkable actors because singers need to convince audiences with good acting that meets the standards of film and dramatic theatre,' Mr Zagars said. 'In baroque operas, where the accent is placed on form, everything can take place conditionally and theatrically. But in 20th-century works, we often find the characters in extreme emotional situations.' In Lady Macbeth, recommended for audiences over the age of 16, these extreme situations include rape, death, escape, sex, captivity and suicide. The story follows a lonely woman in 19th-century Russia who falls in love with one of her husband's workers and is driven to murder. The opera was banned by Stalin for 30 years when he watched it two years after it premiered. But, according to Mr Zagars, these heavy issues are not meant to shock, but rather to investigate the psychological workings behind human behaviour. 'Shostakovich's music expresses each character's emotional condition absolutely and precisely, in each and every situation. 'He achieves this by delving seriously and precisely into the action as well as the psychology and motives of the characters,' he said. 'During rehearsals with the soloists, we searched long and hard for ways to correctly guess the protagonists' psycho-physical condition, emotional capacity and - this is very important - their motives for action, so that in the music these characters could have a true, concrete and cinematically real life, instead of abstract, conditional suffering.' Some scenes in the opera are sexually charged but, again, Mr Zagars said these scenes were an important part of the storytelling and meaning of the work. 'There aren't many musical works where the composer has precisely depicted erotic scenes or real sexual passion in the score,' he said. 'In Lady Macbeth, these scenes fit very organically into the dramaturgy of the story and the music.' The company produced the opera in 2006 to commemorate the composer's centenary anniversary, and the size of the production - a 200-strong orchestra and chorus - adds to the dramatic impact of the work. While Lady Macbeth aims for hard-hitting emotional impact, Alcina showcases precise craftsmanship, lavish sets, beautiful music and powerful vocal performances from its main stars. Emma Bell, a soprano at the forefront of her generation of singers who has performed across the globe, including with the English National Opera, Paris National Opera and Komische Opera Berlin, takes the lead role of the sorceress Alcina, who seduces heroes, lures them to her enchanted island and transforms them into wild animals she can control. The plot revolves around Ruggiero and the efforts of his betrothed to free him from Alcina's power. Ruggerio is played by Christopher Ainslie, a specialist in Handel's opera and oratorio. Alcina is the world's most frequently performed baroque opera, a style of opera that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, but was largely dismissed in the 20th century, and is once more enjoying a resurgence. Mr Zagars said the stories, locations, and protagonists that were typical of the baroque style gave directors, set designers and costumes designers a myriad possibilities for interpretation. 'The events that unfold in baroque opera's abstract, mythic and oftentimes conditional environment give free reign to creative expression, imagination and experimentation without demanding that the action be limited to a specific era.' There is also a growing number of musicians and singers who are looking to formulate an accurate and authentic baroque performance, and as more baroque ensembles are formed, directors are finding like-minded colleagues to help them create stunning productions, he said. 'Many singers are now turning to baroque music, cultivating the techniques and timbral and dynamic features necessary for performances. All of these factors have led to the creation of fascinating new performances, enchanting critics and listeners alike across the globe.' Next year's performance will be a debut for Alcina at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which is now in its 37th year. Alcina, in Italian with English and Chinese surtitles, February 24 and 25 (7.30pm). Lady Macbeth, in Russian with English and Chinese surtitles, February 27 and 28 (7.30pm) and March 1 (3pm). Both take place in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre.