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Thursday 29 August 2013

2012-13 Season in review

The end of the season, the time when we all feel starved of opera and are raring to go with the next. But I thought I'd just reflect on the 2012/13 season as I think it has been for me the best season since I started this blog.

Staged Opera

1. Der Ring des Nibelungen, ROH. Flawed as it was, my first Ring in the theatre was a total revelation for me, and after years of liking Wagner but not being able to get past my reservations, I now completely "get it" and love it unabashedly. I was totally transfixed for the whole 14 hours.
Das Rheingold
Die Walküre

2. The Minotaur, ROH. A wonderful production of an extremely exciting contemporary opera, with a truly great cast. What more could you ask for? For me this eclipsed Written on Skin, which I couldn't quite love as much as everyone else.

3. Eugene Onegin The Royal Academy of Music's production directed by John Ramster was quite simply one of the best shows I've ever seen, proving decisively that opera does not require huge budgets to be thrilling, moving drama. We knew that already, but it's good to be reminded. Wonderful stuff: so good I saw it twice.

4. Wozzeck, ENO. It's one of my favourite operas, so what a joy to see it so brilliantly directed by a debut opera director, and with a superb cast too. So good I saw it twice. I'd seen the very good WNO Lulu just before which made for a fascinating comparison. (I'm proud of the reviews I wrote for these two productions so if you read any, read those!)

5. Gloriana, ROH. This show got mixed reviews, and most reviewers took issue with the score, but I found it immensely enjoyable, with Susan Bullock a magnetic central presence, and Richard Jones' production unbeatable. So much beautiful music to be had in this score: so good I saw it twice.

6. Ariadne auf Naxos Glyndebourne. Again, this got very bad reviews from most, but I found this to be the most moving and telling production of Ariadne that I've ever seen, and this is a very cherished opera for me. So good I saw it twice. My review explains why!

7. Billy Budd Glyndebourne. Magical evening where music, stage, singing, acting, conducting, playing were all in perfect accord. So good I saw it twice.

Other notable mentions: Lohengrin with WNO was a good production, with some great singing - my other great Wagner experience this season. Don Carlo at the ROH somehow didn't quite add up for me, but I was lucky enough to see Harteros on opening night, and she was magnificent (as were the rest of the cast). Medea at the ENO had a very nice cast, and was a stunning production, though the score was not quite as thrilling as had been promised by McVicar. Death in Venice at the ENO and The Emperor of Atlantis with ETO were also beautiful to look at, but didn't quite deliver in other respects.

Disappointments: I didn't have any expectations going into Robert Le Diable at the ROH, but I still left disappointed that so much effort and money had been lavished on this piece of flim flam. Some serious reviewers found things to enjoy, but I cannot fathom how. Kasper Holten's fussy, dramatically weak, Eugene Onegin raised alarm bells for the next decade of the ROH, but one has to remain hopeful for the upcoming Don Giovanni. Nabucco and La Rondine were also lowlights.


Some of my very best experiences this season were concert/semi staged performances of operas:

1. Knussen double billBarbican. Revelatory - overwhelmingly beautiful contemporary operas.
2. Into the Little Hill, Wigmore Hall. George Benjamin's first opera captivated me, where Written on Skin had left me a little cold. Superb piece.
3. Capriccio, ROH. My favourite opera served by an excellent cast. Catnip for Capriccioblog. So good I saw it twice.
4. Britten Canticles, ROH. Britten, Ian Bostridge, Iestyn Davies. Enough said.

5. Other things: At the Royal Festival Hall with Jurowski, Karita Mattila gave an astonishing account of the final scene of Salome, despite some serious vocal issues. Knussen at 60, of which the abovementioned double bill was a part, was a wonderful event. I experienced some truly excellent chamber music too this season. In Belgium I saw Britten's String Quartet no.2 as part of Festival Resonances (not reviewed) in a superlative performance that managed to capture both the extraordinary diamantine beauty of surface of this quartet and the composer's deep pain, manifest as a sort of eerie emptiness at the music's heart. A curious mixture of Apollonian reserve and psychological intensity, both such hallmarks of Britten's oeuvre, was shatteringly conjured by Katharine Gowers, Beatrice Philips, James Boyd and Martijn Vink. Philips and Boyd were again present for the totally extraordinary Lewes Chamber Music Festival concert of Janacek's On an Overgrown Path that reduced me to uncontrollable tears. Violinist Pekka Kuusisto's recital at the Wigmore Hall proved once again that he is one of the few essential artists of the age. The London Haydn Quartet also gave some very interesting late Beethoven at the Conway Hall, played as if an extension of Haydn; but what really sticks in my mind is their Protean performance of Haydn's quartet op.50/4 that made late Beethoven look tame: too explicable, too rounded, too complete next to it!!

Disappointments: Maria Guleghina and Christiane Oelze (neither reviewed) were both great artists in their prime, but I had to leave at the interval for both of their Wigmore recitals (the latter with Pierre Laurant Aimard) because the voices had declined so much. Pretty Yende also made a disappointing Wigmore debut (not reviewed), revealing a shining voice, but totally monotonous musicianship. She's very young still, and so has time to develop, but the intimacy of a solo recital revealed her flaws rather than her strengths. Joyce Didonato's Drama Queens at the Barbican was dispiriting because she was virtually inaudible from the 11th row of the stalls, but at least I discovered the astonishing musicianship of violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky.

All in all a very enjoyable season for me. The complete list of my 2012/13 reviews are available on this handy page (also linked on the right there). Roll on 2013/14!!!

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