Wednesday, December 18, 2019

2019 Opera Year in Review KK Awards

The KK Awards reflect my experience of opera from the virtually rural location of Sacramento, California.  We have no full time opera company, and as I get older it gets harder and harder to commute to San Francisco.  As a result, I must often work hard to keep up with international events.  I will have to be forgiven for including performances not strictly inside the 2019 calendar year.  I limit myself to things that only go back a couple of years and were first seen by me this year.

In a way this was a Cecilia Bartoli year, at least for me.  A lot of my experience of European opera depends upon finding copies to view.  In addition to two new operas, she has also released an excellent CD of the usual Farinelli focus.  This came in second in Opera News.  Because Cecilia is the manager and the star performer in Salzburg, she may sing whatever she likes in whatever production she likes.  She enjoys to present herself in a wide variety of styles and looks for our enjoyment.  The opera world is richer for it.  A standard opera manager might not wish to take such risks.

I viewed a few films of Broadway musical revivals and added an award for that. Here is a brief explanation of my categories.

There were plenty of choices for verismo, and I'm not really sure Die tote Stadt exactly qualifies, but the Bayerische Staatsoper refused to stream it.  This left us with Jonas Kaufmann only in La Forza del Destino from ROH to view from far away America.  I consider this a major scandal.  Three magnificent operas starring Anna Netrebko--Tosca, La Forza del Destino and Adraina Lecouvreur--made there way to my corner of the world.  I apologize for not revealing all of my viewing sources for fear that they will disappear.

Last year was Lisette Oropesa's year in the KK Awards, but this year she won both the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills prizes.  Brava.

My new operas for this year are
Daniel Catán's opera Florencia en el Amazonas (1996) streamed;  Glass's Akhnaten in HD (1984) from the Met, **;  Heggie's If I Were You  (2019) live in San Francisco,   **;  Henze's The Bassarids (1966) streamed (My first Henze);  Hoiby's Bon Appétit! (2018) streamed live from Iowa,  **;  Kuusisto's Ice (2019) streamed from Finland;  Mazzoli's Breaking The Waves (2016) live in the Bay Area,  **;  Menotti's Amelia Goes to the Ball (1937) live,  **;  Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (1733) on DVD;  Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) live,  **;  Verdi's I Masnadieri (1847) streamed;  Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans (1716) streamed; Wagner's Rienzi (1842) streamed on, Abrahamsen's The Snow Queen streamed from Munich.

  • BEST NEW OPERA AWARD  While I list above all the operas that are new to me this year, I only award to those that are actually relatively new to everyone.  If I were You by Jake Heggie, Hoiby's Bon Appetit, Kuusisto's Ice, Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves are all new enough to qualify. All were very good, but Bon Appetit is just a bon bon, too tiny for an opera house.  The Heggie would need a fully professional performance to evaluate.  I award to Breaking the Waves in a great production.
  • BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD  Here the nominees are Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans from the Dutch National Opera, Handel's Orlando from San Francisco Opera and Handel's Ariodante from Salzburg (included because I saw it this year, though it was performed in 2017).  I award to Ariodante with Cecilia Bartoli who is hard to beat in anything.  Suddenly the plot becomes clear with Bartoli in the lead.  This is where we first see Cecilia in a beard.  Plus she sings and dances.  Orlando gets an honorable mention for good singing and an acceptable regie production.
Marcellina, Bartolo, Count, Curzio, Figaro 
  •  BEST OF GLUCK AND MOZART AWARD  The nominees are two versions of Gluck's Orfeo, one from West Edge and one from Chicago, also Gluck's Alceste from Munich,  Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte from the Met and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from San Francisco. While Gluck seems to be performed more and more frequently, I think I still prefer Mozart.  I especially enjoyed Le Nozze di Figaro where everyone dressed in outfits from the American revolution and award to this. Mozart should always be performed by young singers as it was here.
  • BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD  The nominees are limited this year:  Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri from Salzburg with Cecilia Bartoli (included because I saw it this year though it was performed last year) and Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment from the Met.  It is hard to choose between these two glorious comedies.  Both were excellent with excellent singing and acting.  Because it brought me something completely new, I award to L'Italiana in Algeri which is rapidly becoming my favorite Bartoli film of all time.  This is the year of Cecilia who also produced a new recording and got a new job as Intendant of Opéra de Monte-Carlo. 

  • BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD  Our Verdi nominees are Rigoletto from Bregenz, I Masnadieri from La Scala, La Forza del Destino from the ROH with Netrebko and Kaufmann. The Bregenz Rigoletto was extremely entertaining with its extraordinary set.  I loved I Masnadieri because it included the current new star Lisette Oropesa.  But is that really enough?  It's a terrible opera. I seem to be awarding to entertainment values which means the award goes to Rigoletto from Bregenz am Bodensee.  Such an amazing set I have never seen.  I notice they are repeating it in 2020. 
  • BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD  The nominees are Die Walküre from the Met, Tannhäuser from Bayreuth. I don't know if either one of these deserves an award.  Tannhäuser as a clown in a traveling circus stretched my credulity too far.  No award.

  • BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD  Faust from the ROH with Michael Fabiano, Manon from the Met with Lisette Oropesa and Michael Fabiano, Die Fledermaus from Vienna, Salome from Munich, Roméo et Juliette from San Francisco with Nadine Sierra.  This is a lovely set of operas.  If I have to pick just one, it has to be ManonRunner up is Die Fledermaus toward which I have a strong bias.

  • BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD  Tosca from Aix (Angel Blue), Tosca from La Scala (Netrebko), La Boheme (in space) from Paris, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur (Netrebko and Rachvelishvili) from the Met, La Fanciulla del West from Munich, Turandot from the Met.  There is a lot of variety of concept in this set of operas, but I simply loved Adriana Lecouvreur, especially for the spectacular singing.  The people who didn't like it seemed to be comparing it to reality, something which I regard as irrelevant in an opera production.  An opera is never a documentary.

  • BEST BROADWAY REVIVAL AWARD  I haven't really had this category before, but this year I viewed and blogged about Broadway revivals of  Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with Audra McDonald, Cabaret with Alan Cumming and Rodgers' The King and I with Kelli O'Hara.  These happened in the last few years, but I watched them this year.  I can't give up my operatic Porgy for this Broadway version.  I think the best of the three was The King and I though it might be considered very old fashioned.

  • BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD  The nominees are Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmélites from the Met, Britten's Billy Budd from San Francisco, and Glass' Akhnaten from the Met. Carmélites was just as it should be with a great performance by Isabel Leonard, but Akhnaten was simply beyond imagining.  Can I award to both?  Congratulations to all.  Both concern themselves with spiritual values which brings deeper feeling to the experience.
  • BEST REGIE PRODUCTION AWARD   Akhnaten.  Did it really look like Egypt?  No.  But the effect on ones psyche was overwhelming.  They successfully staged a lot of juggling.  One worried that the balls would be dropped, but it added to the hypnotic effect of anything Glass.
  • WORST REGIE PRODUCTION AWARD   The nominees are Berlioz' Les Troyens from Paris, and Tannhäuser from Bayreuth where the lead character appears in a clown outfit.  If you ignore the clown outfit, it works.  But I felt genuinely offended by the Les Troyens production where Dido is in a mental hospital.  Will the disrespect of Berlioz by the French never end?
  • BEST SINGING AWARD Anita Rachvelishvili in Adriana Lecouvreur.  She just gets better and better.
  • BEST OPERA OF THE YEAR  This has to go to Akhnaten.  Who knew that juggling would work as an opera staging?  Or that a Philip Glass opera could go so deep?

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