From Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece Benvenuto Cellini to Glyndebourne’s intriguing Der Rosenkavalier, there were plenty of worthwhile operas this year, writes George Hall
The Royal Opera offered a wide-ranging programme during 2014, with no outstanding productions but several that made their mark. Among these were Kasper Holten’s Don Giovanni and – in a new and worthwhile initiative – his L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Claus Guth’s Die Frau ohne Schatten was its contribution to the Richard Strauss anniversary. Robert Carsen’s Dialogues des Carmelites was a genuine success and Jonathan Kent’s Manon Lescaut with Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais provided a starry evening, but Idomeneo, directed by Martin Kusej, was a frank disappointment.
Terry Gilliam gave ENO a sure-fire hit with the far from easy Benvenuto Cellini, while Pierre Audi’s production of Julian Anderson’s new opera Thebans, to a libretto by Frank McGuinness, proved a worthy effort. Off-site, Joe Hill-Gibbins came up with a moving revival of Powder Her Face at Ambika P3.
New productions in the autumn season included David Alden’s respectable Otello, an engrossing Girl of the Golden West by Richard Jones and – less convincing – Peter Sellars’ world premiere staging of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, for which Sellars wrote the libretto. The Girl of the Golden West, in fact, turned out to be the opera of the moment, with worthwhile new stagings at Opera North (by Aletta Collins) and at Holland Park (by Stephen Barlow), where Yvonne Howard also sang a hugely impressive Norma.
Welsh National Opera had another ambitious year under David Pountney’s artistic leadership, though productions were a mixed bunch. But outstanding were Mariusz Trelinski’s Boulevard Solitude, Sergio Morabito and Jossi Wieler’s Moses und Aron, and (in its wacky way) Rudolf Frey’s Nabucco, while it was good to see the company tackling something as challenging as William Tell.
English Touring Opera continued its sterling work, taking fine accounts of Tippett’s King Priam (directed by James Conway) and Britten’s Paul Bunyan (staged by Liam Steel) up and down the country. Scottish Opera, meanwhile, had to defer unveiling of its refurbished home base, the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, but won plaudits for Sandrine Anglade’s staging of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Music Theatre Wales pulled off a real coup in giving the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial.
The summer festivals included some real highlights, notably Dvorak’s rare The Jacobin at Buxton in a first-rate production by Stephen Unwin, and The Cunning Little Vixen by Daniel Slater for Garsington that would be hard to better; the Buckinghamshire event also mounted an outstanding revival of John Cox’s Fidelio conducted by Douglas Boyd.
Glyndebourne’s opening production, Richard Jones’s off-centre visualisation of Der Rosenkavalier, was the occasion for an explosive reaction to some press comment on the physicality of one of the performers – a lesson to us all – but the show generally intrigued as much as it surprised and it will surely be back. It was skilfully conducted by Robin Ticciati, who also took charge of the company’s first production of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera, entrusted to Frederic Wake-Walker, who gave it an idiosyncratic staging.
Best opera of 2014:
Benvenuto Cellini, London Coliseum
Terry Gilliam’s extraordinary imagination found a suitable operatic vehicle in Benvenuto Cellini. With Edward Gardner conducting and strong casting led by Michael Spyres, Corinne Winters and Willard White, Gilliam proved the doubters wrong and Berlioz’s opera a masterpiece.
Worst opera of 2014:
The Crackle, Linbury Studio Theatre
Electronic musician Matthew Herbert wrote the libretto for his opera on a Faustian theme and also co-directed the show. Maybe he was taking on too much. The story was badly told and much of the score forgettable. Even a spirited youth chorus could not save it.