So Much Operatic Life, and a Fatality
The year in classical music was rich with memorable orchestra concerts, chamber-music programs and recitals. Yet what stood out most for me were opera performances, not all of them in opera houses (nytimes.com, by Anthony Tommasini)
1. James Levine Returns Not that long ago, it looked as if illnesses and injuries were going to end Mr. Levine’s career. So his return to conducting was a momentous development. It started with a triumphant concert with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in May, his first performance in two years, capped by a bold account of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony. The mobilized chair Mr. Levine now conducts from, far from hampering him, seems to enhance his upper body mobility. In September he returned to the Metropolitan Opera for a wondrously natural performance of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.” This month his conducting of Verdi’s “Falstaff” in the enchanting new Robert Carsen production, though lithe and glowing, was marred on opening night by some shaky rhythmic execution and coordination problems between the singers and orchestra. Still, Mr. Levine is back in action.
2. ‘Die Frau Ohne Schatten’ One of the great events of the Met season was the revival of the director Herbert Wernicke’s magical 2001 staging of Strauss’s fairy-tale opera “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.” Vladimir Jurowski led an urgent account of this rhapsodic score. The cast was excellent, especially Christine Goerke as the Dyer’s Wife. She emerged here as a true heir to the daunting dramatic soprano repertory. The Met has big plans for her.
3. ‘David et Jonathas’ The year’s most poignant opera production took place at the Brooklyn of Academy of Music in April when the conductor William Christie and his impressive ensemble Les Arts Florissants presented a modern-dress staging of “David et Jonathas” by the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. This daring, elegant work is based on the biblical relationship between young David, the future king of Israel, and Jonathas, the Israelite prince and son of Saul. In the opera these young men are clearly in love, however chaste their friendship may appear. With this sensitive production, first presented at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2012, “David et Jonathas” enters the annals of the gay civil rights movement.
4. Salzburg Festival Honors Wagner and Verdi The bicentennials of Wagner and Verdi were celebrated this year at the Salzburg Festival with Stefan Herheim’s fanciful production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” and Damiano Michieletto’s endearing production of Verdi’s “Falstaff,” which sets the story in Casa Verdi, the retirement home for musicians in Milan. I know I’m cheating by counting two shows as one item. But I saw them on successive nights — with great casts and conductors, and quite a pit band: the Vienna Philharmonic.
5. St. Louis Symphony’s ‘Peter Grimes’ Carnegie Hall’s Britten festival culminated on Nov. 22, the exact day of the composer’s centennial, with a shattering concert performance of “Peter Grimes.” The conductor David Robertson drew a lucid, searing account of this milestone 20th-century opera from the inspired St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and an ideal cast, led by the tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who owns the role of Grimes.
6. New York Philharmonic’s ‘Il Prigioniero’ Alan Gilbert, a champion of the most challenging 20th-century scores, was at his inspired best for the New York Philharmonic’s concert performance in June of Luigi Dallapiccola’s opera “Il Prigioniero” (“The Prisoner”). First staged in Italy in 1950, this wrenching work is the story of a nameless prisoner during the Spanish Inquisition who is visited by his mother. The audience responded with a five-minute ovation for a 12-tone opera. How often does that happen?
7. Budapest Festival Orchestra’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ Over three decades the conductor Ivan Fischer has built the Budapest Festival Orchestra into one of the world’s most accomplished ensembles. In recent years he has also emerged as a born opera director, something he showed with his modest yet ingenious semi-staged performance of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” for the Mostly Mozart festival this summer at the Rose Theater. Mr. Fischer drew a fresh, undulant performance from an impressive cast and orchestra.
8. Stockhausen’s ‘Michaels Reise’ The Lincoln Center Festival continued what has seemed a Stockhausen boomlet in New York during recent seasons with a stunning production in July at Avery Fisher Hall of “Michaels Reise um die Erde” (“Michael’s Journey Around the Earth”), the second act of “Donnerstag aus Licht,” the Thursday installment of Stockhausen’s epic, weeklong opera cycle, which focuses on the battle between the archangel Michael and Lucifer. The dazzling production boasted videos, cranes and punkish costumes.
9. ‘Two Boys’ After seven years, the Metropolitan Opera’s ill-defined joint commissioning program with Lincoln Center Theater finally produced results with the American premiere in October of Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys.” Mr. Muhly is a gifted young composer who has a distinctive voice, keen imagination and not a trace of sentimentality — as his dreamy yet pungent incidental music for the Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie” makes apparent. “Two Boys” unfolds like a police procedural: a lonely, middle-aged female detective tries to discover why a teenage boy was driven to stab a younger boy he met in an online chat room. There are significant problems with the work, which lacks dramatic depth and is sometimes ponderous. Still, the Met took a chance on an unusual project.
10. New York City Opera’s ‘Moses in Egypt’ With City Opera’s production this fall of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s entertaining, strangely poignant “Anna Nicole,” the “people’s opera” ended its 70-year run. But that project was driven by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it took place. A production that better conveyed what City Opera was known for, and capable of, came in April, with its inventive staging of a neglected Rossini masterpiece, “Mosè en Egitto” (“Moses in Egypt”), at City Center, the company’s original home. City Opera’s demise is a terrible loss.