It's time for the 2015 KK Opera Awards.
New operas for me in 2015 are: Tchaikovsky's Iolanta from the Met, Donizetti's Poliuto streamed from Glyndebourne, Rossini's La Scala di Seta from a DVD, the movie version of Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper from YouTube, Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco streamed from Milan, The Wiz on TV and Hair at the Music Circus.
Operas that were actually new for everyone are: Benjamin's Written on Skin from a DVD, Tutino's La Ciociara from the San Francisco Opera, and Kaminsky's As One at West Edge, In December I saw Getty's Usher House and Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher. The first three were theatrically interesting but perhaps not musically memorable. That's 12 new operas, better than I thought. The most interesting thing about this list of 12 new operas is that they come from 11 different sources, one of the more astounding features of modern life.
2015 was a year in which I followed obsessions rather than searching out new operas. I was distracted into research about Kurt Weill and his relationship to Brecht. I concluded that their political affiliation was not complete.
I saw three versions of Berg's Lulu this year: Barbara Hannigan's DVD done entirely en pointe, West Edge's spectacular modern woman version, and the live in HD from the Met. I could have had a fourth one streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper, but I decided against it because the Lulu was the same as at the Met. This leads me to...
- BEST LULU AWARD (this year only) goes to West Edge for making her into an active, modern young woman who participates in her fate and brings about her own downfall. Apologies to the Met, but their version was a bit overdone.
- BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD has to be the film of Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper. My studies of Weill also helped me understand Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny from the Royal Opera London. I think I prefer Three Penny Opera to Mahagonny. Iolanta is a strong runner up. Of the operas that actually are new, I would have to pick Benjamin's Written on Skin.
- BEST MODERN OPERA NOT LULU AWARD must choose from among Kaminsky's As One, Hair, Benjamin's Written on Skin, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, Tutino's La Ciociara, Weill's Mahagonny from the ROH, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, Getty's Usher House and Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher and Heggie's Dead Man Walking. It is with great surprise that I select Bluebeard's Castle from the Met in HD. Everything was of superior quality. It is important to note that in these first three awards are a marvelous selection of opera from the 20th and 21st centuries. These are in many ways the best of the best.
- BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD goes to Il Trovatore from the Met with Dmitri and Dolora AND Anna. I was in awe of this magnificent cast. Giovanna d'Arco was fun.
- BEST VERDI SINGING AWARD goes to Anna Netrebko in Il Trovatore from the Met. It was spectacular and the best Verdi singing I have heard from her.
- BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD goes to Tannhäuser from the Met. It was very traditional and beautiful with great singing. The only other Wagner I saw this year was Die Meistersinger from the San Francisco Opera, which was good but not great.
- BEST BEL CANTO AWARD must go to Rossini's La Donna del Lago starring Joyce DiDonato. This is a perfect opera for Joyce. My records say I have seen this opera before, but it seemed new and had a wonderful love story. Two Lucias and a Poliuto completed my bel canto experiences for this year.
- BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD must go to the amazingly beautiful Les Troyens by Berlioz from the San Francisco Opera. The only others for the year were Tales of Hoffmann, Werther and Iolanta. This category was the cream of the year.
- BEST MOZART OPERA AWARD --Le Nozze di Figaro from SFO and Le Nozze di Figaro from Salzburg are the candidates. I must award to the Salzburg version for the production with its strong hints of references to Downton Abbey. Luca Pisaroni's dog appeared on stage. The other Figaro is almost a tie.
- BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD must go to Monteverdi's L'Orfeo streamed from London. The only other Baroque opera I saw all year was Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria from West Edge. Monteverdi operas are like nothing else and wouldn't logically compare to Handel or Vivaldi. Both my examples were outstanding and unusual with the award going to L'Orfeo because of the singer who performed the lead role.
It was yet again a good year for Jonas Kaufmann fans, but his attention was focused mainly on verismo.
- BEST PUCCINI AWARD can only go to Manon Lescaut from the Bayerische Staatsoper with Jonas K. and Kristine Opolais, since that is the only Puccini I saw this year. Other verismo operas seen this year were a Cav/Pag from Salzburg with Kaufmann and another Cav/Pag from the Met in HD. This fit smoothly with Jonas Kaufmann's Puccini arias album which was released this year. Next year will be a third version of Kaufmann and Opolais singing Manon Lescaut, this time from the Met. I am reserving judgment on which of the three I like best. Yet another Kaufmann verismo performance this year was Andrea Chénier which also had some good features.
- BEST TRANSFORMATION OF AN OPERA INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT has to go to Fidelio from the Salzburg Festival. The music was all there exactly as you would want it, but instead of spoken dialog there were strange noises. Jonas Kaufmann's Florestan had PTSD and didn't really want to see Leonora. A nightmare. Is it a rescue opera if no one gets rescued? I hated the unhappy ending. This is a Claus Guth staging.
- BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD must choose between Arabella or Ariadne auf Naxos, both from the Bayerische Staatsoper. The award has to go to Arabella with Anja Harteros for her acting and ability to not suggest La Fleming ever at any time. This opera is growing on me.
- BEST HORROR OPERA goes hands down to The Fiery Angel streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper. The production was surprisingly conservative, but this is such a wonderful opera and the double bill in San Francisco of Getty's Usher House and Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher could not approach it. This is also a this year only award. Who knew there would be 3 choices?
- WORST EUROTRASH PRODUCTION AWARD goes to The Elixir of Love streamed from Munich. Oy. Nemorino sings "Una furtiva lagrima" from the top of a light pole. The entire opera takes place in a modern war zone and is pretty scary. This was a big year for Eurotrash productions and was hard to select. The other candidates are the weird Fidelio from Salzburg, the even weirder Manon Lescaut from Munich, and the Martian Berlioz Faust from Paris. Still Elixir was the most sickening.