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The Best of 2011: Classical Music and Opera

Posted: 19/12/11 22:53

As 2011 comes to a close it's time to reflect on the year past and what a year:

In Opera, it's been an exciting year. In no particular order: The Royal Opera gave us the UK premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride in a stunning production directed by Paul Curran which made an welcomed addition to the Covent Garden repertoire with thrilling performances from soprano Marina Poplavskaya and tenor Dmytro Popov; I simply love how, well, Russian the music is; the devastatingly gorgeous score with surging climaxes and the romantic melody throughout were punctuated with beautiful, if blatant, hints of Russian folk music beaming from the pit; the orchestra conducted by the legendary Sir Mark Elder who this year became a public face of classical music through his excellent work on the recent BBC Four series 'Symphony'.

Other Covent Garden hits this year have been Laurent Pelly's production of Massenet's Cendrillon with a glistening Joyce DiDonato singing the title role: Betrand de Billy's superb musical direction combined with the directorial master of French opera, Laurent Pelly, made compelling opera. And of course the all-star cast of Puccini's Tosca - a rarity indeed to see three giants of the operatic on one stage and you can see the production as the production will be broadcast on BBC Two and BBC HD on Christmas Eve.

The English National Opera produced some unique productions this year including Le Nozze di Figaro directed by Fiona Shaw with bright performances from Devon Guthrie, Iain Paterson and a somewhat overlooked Kate Valentine, who, with animation and a fine vocal display, gave a beautifully crafted performance of The Countess. The ENO let ex-Python Terry Gilliam loose directing a production of Berlioz's Le damnation de Faust; speaking to Gilliam I remembering him confessing that he was a newbie saying, "I enter as a kid" - I loved this admission but alas, I don't see him as a child no longer but a master of operatic vision.

At Glyndebourne, Gerald Finley wowed us all as Hans Sachs in their new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and back to London once more, what was simply the best fringe production I have ever seen, Vignette Productions' La Boheme at the Village Underground was a sure fire hit with an innovative setting and staging, a cast of some bright young singers and directed by the tenor Andrew Staples; Vignette's operatic innovations will continue next year at the Spitalfield's Music Festival. Lastly Antonio Pappano brought his Roman army to the BBC Proms to perform, in full, Rossini's last ever opera: Guillaume Tell. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Santa Cecilia earned their keep with an extraordinary performance under the baton of Pappano who, as usual, set off fireworks with this four-hour bel canto extravaganza.

On the concert and recital platforms there has been so much young talent that we have celebrated this year including a massive rise in activity for the exceedingly talented Aurora Orchestra, who have gone from strength to strength winning the RPS award for Best Ensemble and recording their first disc for Decca of music by composer Nico Muhly as well as their innovative but sometimes odd concerts which aim to challenge boundaries while at the same time maintaining musical perfection under the baton of artistic director Nicholas Collon, who became assistant conductor at the London Philharmonic Orchestra this year and a band of marvellously talented young instrumentalists led by Thomas Gould - The Aurora have exciting 2012 programme where they will continue to bring us great music.

Elsewhere Claudio Abbado showed us how it's done with a sublime series of concerts with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra: Abbado is simply a master. Bruckner with muscle and Mozart with punch, there was just more of everything. Sir Colin Davis and Mitsuko Uchida made for one of the most exhilarating conductor/pianist partnerships in their series with the London Symphony Orchestra. There was also a rather sublime performance from Juan Diego Florez back in January as part of the Rosenblatt Recitals, he returns in May 2012. And lastly a massive shout-out to the development of the fringe classical music scene engaging youthful audiences with innovation that challenges the art form while creating a intrigue to people not previously intrigued: The Night Shift, the Yellow Lounge and Nonclassical club nights remain crucial to the development and maintenance of classical music and opera.

Critic William Hartson turned to me at the opera the other night and said "You'll never be happy, will you?" Probably not:

Worst Operas of the Year: Lucretzia Borgia, English Coliseum/Magic Flute, Barbican Theatre.
Worst Concert/Recital of the Year: James Rhodes at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

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