BWW Review: New York Opera in 2015 - Gifts that Keep on Giving

BWW Review: New York Opera in 2015 - Gifts that Keep on Giving
Marlis Petersen in the title role and
Johan Reuter as Dr. Schon in Berg's Lulu.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

No more carping about out-of-tune singing (for the rest of 2015). No more bemoaning directors who don't seem to like the art of opera (for the next five minutes). No more worrying whether traditional opera will go the way of all flesh (for the next few days, at least). It's time to give up on my Scrooge tendencies and be thankful for the gifts that opera gave me, in and around New York this past year, alphabetically speaking.

Anna Caterina Antonacci in Poulenc's LA VOIX HUMAINE. I'll admit it: I'm gaga over Antonacci (though not antonacci over Gaga). I don't know how she'd sound in the caverns of the Met, but at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall (and, earlier, in Monteverdi at the small Rose Theatre, home of Jazz from Lincoln Center), she was divine.

Bard Music Festival's THE WRECKERS by Dame Edith Smyth. What took Smyth's opera so long to have its stage premiere in this country? Was it the pesky personality of its composer? A bias toward male composers? Whatever the case, we should be grateful to Music Director/Conductor Leon Botstein for giving us the chance to hear this strong work, in director Thaddeus Strassberger's production, and introducing soprano Sky Ingram to us as Avis, along with British tenor Neal Cooper and American mezzo Katharine Goeldner.

Jamie Barton in EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. I was taken with mezzo Barton's velvety, cavernous voice the first time I heard it and it has only become more appealing with every performance, particularly as Anna Bolena's rival Giovanna Seymour. I missed her Adalgisa in Bellini's NORMA but, oh well, another opening, another show.

Stephanie Blythe in Stravinsky's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS. When I interviewed mezzo Blythe, she described in detail her entrance as Baba the Turk, but I still was unprepared for how sensational it was--and how breath-taking Blythe's performance was throughout this 20th century landmark opera, along with those of Paul Appleby as Tom Rakewell and Gerald Finley as Nick Shadow.

Caramoor Festival's LA FAVORITE by Donizetti. Though Donizetti composed FAVORITE for the Opera in Paris, the Met chose the considered-inferior version in Italian that came later, when it mounted the work for Marilyn Horne in the '70s. Caramoor put it right, with the opportunity to hear it in its original form and led us to wonder when it might be fully staged in New York.

Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo in Massenet's MANON. The chemistry between Damrau and Grigolo snapped, crackled and popped, with these two pros at the top of their game at the Met.

Christine Goerke in Strauss's ELEKTRA. The Met may have a new production with Nina Stemme coming up, but they'll be hard-pressed to outdo Goerke's barn-stormer of a take on the classic Greek tragedy. The audience, justifiably, screamed its collective head off for the soprano, as well as for Gun-Brit Barkmin as sister Chrysothemis and the Boston Symphony under Andris Nelsons at Carnegie Hall.

John Holiday in Vivaldi's CATONE IN UTICA from Opera Lafayette. On paper, UTICA is a mess, with music missing from Act I and no final version of Act III, but Washington's Opera Lafayette showed how little it matters, versus the opportunity to hear the glorious opera music by the "red priest." It also provided an outlet for the star-making performance by countertenor John Holiday as Caesar. Lafayette also mounted L'EPREUVE VILLAGEOISE by Andre Gretry at the French Institute-Alliance Francaise last summer in a production notable for its exuberance and charm, under Artistic Director/Conductor Ryan Brown, in Nick Olcott's production.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.