From the best musicals and plays to spectacular productions from the worlds of circus, immersive theatre, opera and dance, The Stage’s critics choose the 50 shows that really stood out in 2019
In two productions during its 30th-anniversary season, Garsington rose to new heights: Paul Curran’s staging of Smetana’s Czech village comedy, and Louisa Muller’s production of Britten’s chiller The Turn of the Screw, conducted by Richard Farnes. The Bartered Bride arguably had the edge, with Jac van Steen drawing a superb performance from the Philharmonia and an ideal cast led by Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw, US tenor Brenden Gunnell and Australian-American bass Joshua Bloom.
Conducted by the hugely talented Francesco Cilluffo, Christopher Luscombe’s first opera production was an unequivocal hit. The humour and vitality of Verdi’s final opera bounced merrily over the footlights, perfectly balanced by the work’s intermittent pathos and moments of magic. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was on exceptional form in the pit, while the festival fielded a flawless cast, led by Robert Hayward’s triumphant Falstaff.
The surprise winner of the achievement in opera prize at the UK Theatre Awards was in the old-fashioned form of the pasticcio – with old music set to new words in a new dramatic situation. To a book by Janet Plater, lyrics by Michael Williams, and 18th-century music arranged by conductor Mark Tatlow, Matthew Richardson’s production presented Samantha Clarke – surely headed for star status – as Georgiana, fifth Duchess of Devonshire, a woman who definitely went her own way.
Opera Holland Park’s greatest success this summer was a double-bill of Wolf-Ferrari’s clever little comedy and Tchaikovsky’s symbolist love-story, in which Natalya Romaniw (again) shared the vocal honours with tenor David Butt Philip in some of the most exciting singing heard all year; Clare Presland, Richard Burkhard and John Savournin, meanwhile, brought the house down in Susanna’s Secret. The respective teams of directors and conductors – John Wilkie and John Andrews for Susanna and Olivia Fuchs and Sian Edwards on Iolanta – excelled.
The Royal Opera is able to attract the biggest stars, though that doesn’t automatically guarantee a great performance. But in this new production of Verdi’s epic The Force of Destiny, conducted by Antonio Pappano and directed by Christof Loy, it certainly did: Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Alessandro Corbelli came together to form the kind of legendary cast future generations will look back on with envy.
The Stage’s pick of the best shows of 2019 was compiled by Natasha Tripney and Tim Bano, with contributions from George Hall, Anna James, Neil Norman and Francesca Peschier