Sunday 30 December 2018

The year 2018 in opera and concert reviews

Meyerbeer: Le prophète - Deutsche Oper Berlin(Photo Bettina Stöß)
Meyerbeer: Le prophète - Deutsche Oper Berlin(Photo Bettina Stöß)
It has been a difficult year from which to pick highlights, as so much that we have seen and heard has been memorable. Looking for themes, this year has been something of a Meyerbeer year, we started it with Le prophète in Berlin and in October we saw the first production of Les Huguenots at the Paris Opera since 1936. 

In fact, it seemed a year for rarities because New Sussex Opera gave the first performances of Stanford's The Travelling Companion since the 1920s, and further back in time I caught Haydn's Armida in his former place of work, Schloss Esterházy. Early Verdi came up trumps too with I Lombardi in Heidenheim, and Alzira in Stephen Barlow's swansong season at Buxton. Whilst at Glyndebourne, Barber's Vanessa was finally brought in from the cold. And in the concert hall, Martyn Brabbins heroically stood in at the last minute for a rare performance of Ethel Smyth's mass with BBC forces at the Barbican, whilst Ruth heard Opera Rara in the original version of Puccini's first opera, Le Willis.

It was also a year for French grand opera, not only the Meyerbeer (who virtually invented the genre), but Verdi's Don Carlos in French and in the original 1867 version in Lyons, and in Italian in the later 1884 version in an intimate setting from Fulham Opera. And in The Hague, Opera2Day presented a radical new version of Ambrose Thomas' Hamlet.

New operas included Alex Mills' striking piece based on the work of Marie Stopes and premiered at the Wellcome Collection, and David Sawer's The Skating Rink at Garsington, not to forget George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence at Covent Garden.

It was a strong year at Opera Holland Park both on the main stage, which included the company's first Richard Strauss, and with the Young Artists performance. Chelsea Opera Group gave us a world-class performance of Bellini's Norma.

The Dunedin Consort showed that Bach's Mass in B minor has terrific power  when performed on a smaller scale and Adam Fischer opened Kings Place's 2018 season with a joyous small-scale account of The Creation. In song, it was a good year for Schubert with terrific performances from Robin Tritschler and from Gerald Finley.

Below, Anthony, Ruth, Tony and I have all made our selections from 2018's memorable performances.

Barbara Hannigan, Stephane Degout, Gyula Orendt in Lessons in Love and Violence, The Royal Opera © 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Barbara Hannigan, Stephane Degout, Gyula Orendt in Lessons in Love and Violence,
The Royal Opera © 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Robert's picks - Opera
  • Bruce Sledge and Ronnita Miller in Meyerbeer's Le prophète in Berlin
  • Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet re-invented in the Hague: Thomas' Shakespearean opera stripped back to its highly expressive bones by Opera2Day
  • Topsy-turvy fun: Cal McCrystal directs G&S's Iolanthe at ENO: A joyful and witty re-invention of G&S which preserves the work's essential Victorianism whilst adding spice
  • En Francais: Verdi's original Don Carlos in Lyon, Verdi's original French grand opera version, in a brilliantly theatrical production
  • George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence
  • Sparking opener: Verdi's La Traviata at Opera Holland Park, with Lauren Fagan as a consummate Violetta
  • Musical beauty: new production of Lohengrin at Covent Garden. Moments of great beauty in a lithely dramatic account of Wagner's last Romantic opera
  • Vivid drama: Handel's Agrippina at The Grange Festival
  • Garsington premiere: David Sawer & Rory Mullarkey's The Skating Rink
  • Rip-roaring rarity: Verdi's Alzira in a rare outing at the Buxton International Festival
  • An impressive achievement: Ariadne auf Naxos, a Richard Strauss first from Opera Holland Park
  • Lithe & musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival
  • Still relevant & still controversial: Alex Mills' Dear Marie Stopes at the Wellcome Collection
  • Gripping psycho-drama with a nod to Hitchcock: Barber's Vanessa at Glyndebourne
  • The Opera That Goes Wrong: Tête à Tête's Toscatastrophe!
  • Haydn in Eisenstadt: Armida at Herbst Gold festival Schloss Esterházy
  • Les Huguenots returns to the Paris Opera: Meyerbeer's grand opera returns to Paris in the first new production since the 1930s 
  • Musical drama: Bellini's Norma from Chelsea Opera Group with Helena Dix in the title role
  • Intimate grandeur: Fulham Opera in Verdi's five-act version of Don Carlo
  • Late-Edwardian fairytale: Stanford's The Travelling Companion

Britten: War Requiem - Lincoln Cathedral (Photo Phil Crow)
Britten: War Requiem - Lincoln Cathedral
(Photo Phil Crow)
Robert's picks - Concerts
  • New Year's Eve with Arcangelo
  • A sense of joy: Adam Fischer & OAE in Haydn's Creation at Kings Place
  • A Heine Song Book - Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn at Wigmore Hall
  • Writ large: Tallis Scholars in Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium at Cadogan Hall
  • Powerfully uplifting: Bach's Mass in B minor from the Dunedin Consort
  • Songs of Farewell: A supremely poetic account of Parry's choral masterpiece, alongside a striking new work by Laura Mvula
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front
  • Swan songs - Gerald Finley and Julius Drake in Winterreise at Temple Song
  • Schubert's Winter Journey - Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall
  • Untold riches - music from Estonia & the Baltic at the Oxford Lieder Festival
  • Lincolnshire Remembers: Britten's War Requiem in Lincoln Cathedral with five local choral societies
  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican
  • Christmas in Leipzig: The Baroque collective, Solomon's Knot, brings its inimitable style and engaging sense of communication to Christmas music by Bach and his predecessors
Puccini: La Boheme - Honey Rouhani, Matthew Palmer, Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
Puccini: La Boheme - Honey Rouhani, Matthew Palmer,
Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
Anthony's picks
  • Puccini's La Boheme from the King's Head Theatre: Dramatically nuanced and illuminating 
  • British Youth Opera's The Enchanted Isle: Fine ensemble - a lesson in how it should be done
  • Verdi's Aida from The Met: Thrilling. Refined and intelligent singing from Netrebko and Rachvelishvili 
  • Handel's Messiah at Kings Place: Revelatory. Breathing new life into the old warhorse.

Tony's picks
  • Semyon Bychkov conducted a powerful revival of Uwe Eric Laufenberg's production of Wagner's Parsifal at Bayreuth
  • And also at Bayreuth, Christian Thielemann conducted Yuval Sharon's new production of Lohengrin with Piotr Beczala taking over the title role from Roberto Alagna
  • At the Tiroler Festspiele, Erl, Gustav Kuhn conducted the final revival of his production of The Ring
  • A new, highly theatrical production of Verdi's Falstaff directed by Mario Martone in Berlin
  • A stunning revival of Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch's production of Philip Glass' Satygraha at ENO 
  • The first staging of Korngold's Die tote Stadt at the Semperoper in Dresden

Ruth's picks
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - Nmon Ford, Nicole Cabell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess - Nmon Ford, Nicole Cabell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

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