It’s that time of year when one looks back at the previous twelve months and reflects. It’s also customary to produce “best of” lists and the like. So here goes.
In terms of fully staged, large-scale opera productions it wasn’t an especially eventful year. The COC staged six solid, enjoyable productions but nothing that would hit my list of all time favourites. There was open criticism of Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni from the usual suspects and more behind the scenes muttering about Pyramus and Thisbe but I thought both shows were examples of things that needed to happen. We need more contemporary opera and we need bolder takes on established classics. I wrote at length on why I thought the Don Giovanni received such a high degree of scrutiny, often from people who had reviewed Opera Atelier’s Alcina the year before, apparently oblivious to the liberties that were taken there! If I had to pick a favourite from the COC’s line up it would likely be Robert Lepage’s production of Schoenberg’s Erwartung featuring a stellar one woman performance by Krisztina Szabó. Opera Atelier’s offerings were, frankly, so much like virtually every other Opera Atelier production since the Flood as to leave anyone trying to write about them pretty desperate. OA watching has become a bit like Kremlinology. The most minute things are blown up into issues for want of anything else to write about!
There was plenty of interest in the output of the indie companies (plus a TSO venture into semi-staged opera). Highlights for me included the TSO’s production of Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which translated rather well to the semi-staged format and was the first of two rather special opportunities to see Barbara Hannigan live. Allen Cole’s How it Storms was another highlight. This one was scored for singers and gamelan and was really intriguing. Later on in the year, FAWN finally staged Adam Scime’s L’Homme et le Ciel; another chamber opera of substance. I saw several works in progress during the year too. The one I’m keenest to see progress is Kevin Morse’s A Modest Proposal; an intriguing contemporary take on the Swift satire.
There were some pretty good concerts and recitals too. At the more conventional end of the spectrum there were excellent recitals by Karita Mattila and Sondra Radvanovsky as well as a textbook Winterreise from Christian Gerhaher. Barbara Hannigan’s conducting debut with the TSO was truly memorable and Evan Mitchell, conducting a scratch band in a charity performance at the Metropolitan United Church, managed a deeper and more satisfying account of Mahler 2 than the one heard with much starrier forces at the symphony.
There was also much to like in the category of hard to define productions. Against the Grain produced two fine combinations of music and choreography. Death and Desire; a mash up of Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi featured a searing performance from Krisztina Szabó, well paired with Stephen Hegedus. Their Messiah, which showed considerable development from its 2013 incarnation, was another highlight. Rounding out the movement and music stakes was CASP’s show The Living Spectacle. The most inventive part was the performance of Brian Harman’s piece, Sewing the Earthworm, sung by Carla Huhtanen partnered with Jen Nichols (once again the choreographer of the whole affair). While the girls got very grubby Steven Philcox performed wonders at the piano. Finally and maybe most experimental of all on this list was Tapestry’s TapEX: Tables Turned, a collaboration between Carla Huhtanen and turntable artist Nicole Lizée.
I didn’t watch nearly as many DVDs in 2015 as the previous couple of years but I did see a handful of really good ones. Top billing would go to Berg’s Lulu from La Monnaie featuring a quite extraordinary performance from Barbara Hannigan in the title role. I also really enjoyed the new Glyndebourne recording of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos featuring Soile Isokoski, Laura Claycomb, Kate Lindsey and Thomas Allen in a very original staging by Katherina Thoma. I was also very impressed by a 2011 recording of Handel’s Alcina from the Wiener Staatsoper with Anja Harteros in the title role. It’s a study in how to do an 18th century vibe without descending into kitsch.
It wasn’t until I got to the end of writing the above that I realised that four very talented Canadian women played a huge role in making 2015 memorable. If I were in charge of the cover of Time magazine it would be shared by the multi talented quartet of Carla Huhtanen, Krisztina Szabó, Jen Nichols and Barbara Hannigan!