Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
It’s that time of year when one goes back over one’s writing in search of the standouts. Somewhat segmented, here are my thoughts on the year.
Major opera productions
At the COC nothing really blew me away in 2018. Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian was better than I had feared and, I think, with revisions could be rather good. In the form we saw it, it felt somewhat overblown and didactic. It was also great to see Robert Carsen’s Eugene Onegin finally get an airing in Toronto; especially with a very good, young, largely Canadian cast. Nothing from Opera Atelier really floated my boat this year though. Are Against the Grain or Tapestry major companies now? One could argue that they are sailing under false colours in describing themselves as “Indy”. In any event they each provided one of the year’s highlights with the spectacular Orphée from the former and the best new work of the year; The Overcoat, from the latter. Continue reading →
It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
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!
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
So what was I most impressed with on the opera and related scene in in 2013?
Big house opera
The COC had a pretty good twelve months. I enjoyed everything I saw except, maybe, Lucia di Lammermoor. Making a choice between Christopher Alden’s probing La Clemenza di Tito, the searing opening night of Peter Sellars’ Tristan und Isolde; the night when I really “got” why people fly across oceans to see this piece, Robert Carsen’s spare and intensely moving Dialogues des Carmélites or Tony Dean Griffey’s intense and lyrical portrayal of the title character in Peter Grimes is beyond me. So, I shall be intensely disloyal to my home company and name as my pick in this category the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Wernicke’s production is pure magic and Anna Schwanewilms was a revelation.
It’s been a busy year. Besides recitals and cinema broadcasts and other bits and pieces I managed to see 23 live opera performances of 19 different works. I also watched a ton of DVDs and Blu-rays. What most impressed me?
Fully staged performances with orchestra basically meant the COC and Opera Atelier. The highlights for me came early and late in the year. I loved the brilliant and spectaular production of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin. It’s a great score and was beautifully sung by Russell Braun, Erin Wall and Kristina Szabo. The fall season brought Die Fledermaus to the Four Season’s Centre in Christopher Alden’s disturbing “Freudian” production. Great theatre with particularly fine performances from David Pomeroy and Ambur Braid.