2015 year in review: Opera
The Royal Opera offered the year’s biggest – and noisiest – turkey, with a William Tell that made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Otherwise, the general impression was mixed. The new Morgen Und Abend by the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas was a bit of a worthy bore. Szymanowski’s sensuous King Roger was the nearest thing Kasper Holten has come to enjoying an unequivocal success at the theatre where he’s director of opera, but the rarely performed French version of Gluck’s Orphee Et Eurydice, directed by choreographer Hofesh Schechter and John Fulljames, and starring Juan Diego Florez, was the company’s biggest hit. Fulljames’ other staging for Covent Garden, the Brecht/Weill Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, didn’t quite work.
John Berry left English National Opera after a difficult period as artistic director, and Mark Wigglesworth replaced Edward Gardner as music director – but not before the latter had conducted a memorable transfer of Richard Jones’s production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, which had originated at Welsh National Opera in Cardiff. Musically, Wigglesworth started at the top with Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and The Force of Destiny, even if neither production really worked. Mike Leigh’s Pirates of Penzance proved a more certain theatrical bet.
WNO’s first ever musical – Sweeney Todd, in a production by James Brining – was a sign, perhaps, of the financial times. A new opera, Richard Ayres’ Peter Pan, looked wonderful in Keith Warner’s production, but it proved musically disappointing. More memorable was Bellini’s I Puritani in a clever if contentious staging by Annilese Miskimmon.
In Glasgow, Miskimmon staged a marvellous Jenufa with Lee Bisset in the title role and Stuart Stratford wielding the baton. In Leeds, Opera North put on an exceptional Marriage of Figaro and an equally fine Kiss Me Kate, both directed by Jo Davies, who seems to be carrying all before her. Glyndebourne had an altogether superior season, including Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail, but also taking in a rare staging of Donizetti’s Poliuto and Barrie Kosky’s visually inventive production of Handel’s oratorio Saul. Garsington’s fine version of Britten’s Death in Venice starred Paul Nilon and was conducted by Steuart Bedford – who led the opera’s very first performances back in 1973. English Touring Opera’s French season – with Pelleas Et Melisande joining Werther and The Tales of Hoffmann – proved inventive, while Opera Holland Park maintained its high standards in a varied season.
At Aldeburgh, Harrison Birtwistle’s new opera The Cure confirmed his position as a senior British composer. Independent Opera offered the UK premiere of a darkly comic new work, Biedermann and the Arsonists, by Austrian composer Simon Vosecek, of whom we’ll surely be hearing a lot more in the future.
Best and worst
BEST OF THE YEAR
Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail (Glyndebourne)
David McVicar took charge of Glyndebourne’s production of Mozart’s 1782 comedy, which brings Muslims and Christians together in a culture-clash comedy that is probably more tricky to play today than at any time since the 18th century. But he faced its potential difficulties head-on, and Glyndebourne’s music director Robin Ticciati was on his mettle.
WORST OF THE YEAR
William Tell (Royal Opera House)
Damiano Michieletto’s staging of Rossini’s heroic opera contained a gang-rape scene that occasioned the longest and noisiest booing at Covent Garden that anyone could remember. In fact, the staging as a whole was fairly disastrous, despite some good singing and the welcome presence of Antonio Pappano in the pit.
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