I'm not sure 2021 was any better than 2020. I am counting only performances that took place this year or films I had never seen before this year. This was another year aggravated by both COVID and my advancing age. I still saw some very nice stuff.
Here is the all too short list of operas new to me this year.
- BEST NEW OPERA AWARD It's hard to choose one. I enjoyed most Heggie's Three Decembers from the San Jose Opera, but this was probably because the lead role was played by the always amazing Susan Graham. The two modern operas from the Metropolitan Opera did not grab me. I require musical interest, and not just theater. Donizetti is famous mostly for his comic operas L’Elisir d’Amore and Don Pasquale, plus Lucia, of course. Linda di Chamounix is very beautiful, but perhaps the plot is too dated. It is opera seria with a happy ending, a genre we don't follow that much. The award seems to go to Three Decembers.
- BEST OF MOZART, BEETHOVEN, AND WEBER AWARD My only Mozart was Cosi fan Tutte, November 28, from San Francisco in a lovely modern production, part 2 of their Da Ponte trilogy. I saw two new versions of Beethoven's Fidelio this year: Fidelio, Jan 29, from Birmingham England and some years old, and Fidelio, October 15, from San Francisco. Weber Der Freischütz, Feb 16, from Munich. All four of these operas might be regarded as regie. The Birmingham Fidelio features a row of washing machines. Der Freischütz, which we see all too seldom, is in a sky scraper. Modernizing it loses some of the mystery. Cosi is in a Country Club which people join to play golf and tennis. I dearly love Fidelio, but I think the most successful of this group has to be the San Francisco Cosi fan Tutte, and I award to it.
- BEST OF WAGNER AWARD This turned out to be a big year for Wagner for me. I saw two new Wagner productions: Tristan und Isolde, August 12, from the Bayerische Staatsoper with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros and Der fliegende Holländer, Sept 37, from Bayreuth with Asmik Grigorian, who does not touch my heart. She's quite celebrated, but these are my opinions. Both were regie productions. I also finally saw the full Ring cycle from the San Francisco Opera: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Die Götterdämmerung. The last two were new for me.
- BEST OF VERDI, MUSSORGSKY AND R. STRAUSS AWARD The pickings in the late Romantics are pretty slim. Lise Davidsen makes her only staged opera appearance in a rather odd Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos, Feb 4, from Aix en Province. I say odd because in this regie production Ariadne doesn't await a god to rescue her; instead she awaits a baby because she is pregnant. Lise frowned almost constantly. The singing was wonderful. Other performances in the running are Verdi Aida, February 18, from Paris and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, October 9, from the Met in a shortened version. The Aida with Jonas Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky has puppets. None of these are anything I would want to see again, but I award to Aida.
- BEST VERISMO AWARD The Verismo operas for this year were Korngold Die Tote Stadt, June 20, from the Bayerische Staatsoper, Janáček's Káťa Kabanová, August 2, from West Edge, and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, August 20, from Chicago. West Edge was in a poor venue and can't really compete with the other companies. Verismo operas are modern enough to allow for regie productions with no complaining, at least from me. The Korngold starred Jonas Kaufmann who is hard to beat in anything. Pagliacci starred our boy Quinn Kelsen who gave us a marvelous prologue. The pictured performance was a television show, The Honeymooners, which I am old enough to have seen. If you hadn't seen it, you would not get the back story. I award to Pagliacci, for fun.
- SINGER OF THE YEAR This has to go to Jonas Kaufmann, who managed to find a way onto the stage and our screens in spite of everything. I especially loved him in the reopening of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Act I of Die Walküre with Lise Davidsen, who was glorious. This is the most I have become emotionally involved with this scene. His fully staged operas were Aida with Sondra Radvanovsky, Die Tote Stadt with Marlis Peterson, Tosca with Anna Netrebko in Salzburg and with Sondra Radvanovsky in Spain, and the triumph that puts him above all others: Tristan und Isolde with Anja Harteros. I loved every bit in spite of the fact that it was very much regie. With such great artists it doesn't seem to matter.
It was a pretty strange year. Let's hope for better things in the future.