BWW Reviews: Top New York Opera Performances in 2014 -- Ah, Yes, I Remember Them Well
For New York opera-goers, what was the event of the year? Undoubtedly, John Adams's THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER, not only for the kerfuffle caused by the [unfounded] claims of anti-Semitism but for the opera's exciting debut at the Met. (The Met's contentious labor negotiations nearly edged it out.) As we head into the spring season, here's a look back at some of the performances that put a song in my heart, not in any particular order.
1. Jonas Kauffman at Carnegie Hall and WERTHER.
What did today's most in-demand tenor do on his night off from singing the title role in Massenet's WERTHER in last spring's new production at the Met? For Kauffman, it meant an evening of lieder at Carnegie Hall--and he proved that he's as compelling in art songs as in opera.
2. The Vienna State Opera Pays a Visit (Times Two).
The Vienna State Opera didn't bring sets and very few costumes, but its production of Strauss's astounding SALOME at Carnegie Hall was sensational. German soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin was thrilling in the title role, WOZZECK left something to be desired--the eveningwear didn't fit the mood of this dark, dark piece--but it was worth it to hear baritone Matthias Goerne in the title role. When Thomas Hampson conked out for the Met's production shortly afterwards, Goerne saved the opening. When is he coming back?
3. The Bolshoi's BRIDE.
It was a treat to hear the visiting Bolshoi's concert performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's THE TSAR'S BRIDE at Lincoln Center Festival last summer. Filled with wonderful solo voices almost completely unknown to New York audiences, along with the stalwart Bolshoi chorus (under Valery Borisov), Baritone Elchin Azizov, mezzo Agunda Kulaeva, soprano Olga Kulchynska, and tenor Marat Gali were all first-rate.
4. Mariella Devia Takes the Town.
Italian soprano Mariella Devia, a vocal miracle at 66, nearly caused a riot in the role at Carnegie Hall in June, performing with the Opera Orchestra of New York under the baton of its founder, Eve Queler, proving once again that fireworks happen when the right role and the right voice align.
5. A Terrific New Butterfly Takes Off.
With the right soprano in the title role, MADAMA BUTTERFLY is pretty much unstoppable. Performing the role for the first time at the Met, Kristine Opolais is definitely that singer. She has every requirement of a great Butterfly: the voice, the beauty and the art. She may not look 15 at the opera's start, but it hardly seemed to matter.
6. A Tenor Discovered (and His Company Wasn't Bad, Either)
Tenor Camarena debuted at the Met a few years ago and, although well received as Almaviva in BARBIERE, was frankly put on the back burner. This season he did a double header, first in Bellini's LA SONNAMBULA with the great Diana Damrau, which resuscitated the reputation of this production, then in LA CENERENTOLA with the wonderful Joyce DiDonato. Nobody's "putting baby in a corner" anymore.
7. A Different Angela Meade.
There's never been any question about the quality of Angela Meade's gorgeous voice, but her onstage presence has been something entirely different, a cypher at best. Then she let loose in last season's FALSTAFF and I began to have hope. With the Turin Opera's performance of GUGLIELMO TELL at Carnegie, she showed me what she could do, as the audience cheered. (Unfortunately, I missed her NORMA at the Met, which was considered an unqualified success by most.)
8. Sonya Yoncheva's First Mimis.
Yoncheva was on maternity leave when she was asked by the Met to step into a few performances of BOHEME, replacing Kristine Opolais, who had been called in to replace Anna Netrebko when Trebs pulled out of a new MANON LESCAUT in Munich over "artistic differences." (Such is the domino effect in opera today.) You'd hardly know that these were her first Mimis anywhere, with poise and charm and oceans of voice.
9. Sorcery from DiDonato in Handel's ALCINA
The great mezzo Joyce DiDonato was at the height of her powers as a sorceress, looking glamorous and sounding glorious with the English Consort at Carnegie Hall--and a world apart from her equally excellent CENERENTOLA at the Met.
10. Two Lady Macbeths at the Met
One lady is from Verdi, via Shakespeare, the other from Shostakovich, but sopranos Anna Netrebko and Eva-Marie Westbroek (respecticely) were each sensational in her own way. Trebs showed what's been hiding behind all that Donizetti, with an electrifying star turn, while Westbroek proved her right to a place in the opera firmament, opposite an equally good Brandon Jovanovich.
Photo: Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth
Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera