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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.

Peter Mattei in Wagner's TANNHAUSER and Mozart's DON GIOVANNI. What an artist is baritone Mattei! His Amfortas in the Wagner was a miracle of gorgeous singing, but he was just as good in Mozart at the Met. And he almost singlehandedly saved the Met's new NOZZE DI FIGARO, wresting the center of attention to the Count, from the more likely candidates.

Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala in Tchaikovsky's IOLANTA. The Met's production is by the crack Polish director by Mariusz Trelinski, and his design team of Boris Kudlicka (set designer), Marek Adamski (costumes), Marc Heinz (lighting) and, perhaps best of all, Barek Macias(video projections, particularly the deer). This was Netrebko with her A game--when she's good, she's very, very good--and she was matched by tenor Beczala, along with Valery Gergiev and the stellar Met Orchestra.

On Site Opera's BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA by Paisiello. Paisiello's picante version of the familiar story about Figaro (that wily barber of Seville), Rosina and Almaviva may be a historical also-ran to Rossini's opera of the same name, but there was nothing second-rate about On Site's production. With its Upper East Side, NY, location, this site-specific performance was great fun on every level.

Marlis Petersen in Alban Berg's LULU via William Kentridge. I set my fears aside and jumped into the pool of music and art that is Berg's masterwork, in the ever-inventive production by South African Kentridge, working with co-director Luc De Wit, scenic designer Sabine Theunissen, projection designer Catherine Meyburgh, costume designer Greta Goiris and lighting designer Urs Schoenebaum. The opportunity to hear soprano Petersen in one of her final performances of the title role was thrilling and the high standards of mezzo Susan Graham and bass-baritone Johan Reuter were the icing on the cake--and a highly tasty cake it was at the Met.

Sondra Radvanofsky in Donizetti's ANNA BOLENA and Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. "The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!" Radvanofsky stopped the show when she debuted the first third of her Donizetti queens at the Met this season and made me wish that the other installments of the so-called "Tudor trilogy" had been closer together (though I'm sure that Ms. R didn't think so). I'll admit that I wasn't bowled over by this David Alden production of the Verdi work when it debuted back in 2012. But the chemistry among the principals was spectacular here, thanks to stellar work by Radvanofsky, along with Beczala, Alexey Markov and Dolora Zajick at the last performance of the 2014-15 season at the Met.

Sonya Yoncheva in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA and OTELLO. Though she was wonderful in her Met debut as Mimi in BOHEME, Yoncheva showed she was a star on the rise when she lifted Willy Decker's odd TRAVIATA production onto her shoulders and made it a thrilling evening. But her Desdemona was the true revelation. Brava diva!


Here's to 2016!

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