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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Year in Reviews: The Best Singers of 2011

Eleven individual performances worth mentioning.

By Paul Pelkonen.

Sanford Sylvan as Cardillac.
Photo by Clive Grainger for
Opera Boston
We continue our ramble through the back pages of this blog with a year-end look at the eleven best opera performances of 2011. Again, this is sorted chronologically, so it's a pure (but weird) coincidence that the first five entries are male and the latter six are female. (No sexist, I.) And there's no organization by voice-type either. Just really good singing and acting.

Kevin Burdette as Death/The Loudspeaker 
(The Emperor of Atlantis at Boston Lyric Opera.)
"Kevin Burdette made an impressive company debut as Death, mugging with John Cleese-like abandon and delivering his noble, impressive music with flair.  Mr. Burdette doubled in the role of the Loudspeaker. This allowed director David Schweizer to re-imagne the dialogue between the Emperor and his underlings as a series of prank phone calls as Death repeatedly "punked" the Emperor."

Alexander Lewis as Vacal
(The Bartered Bride at Juilliard Opera.)
As played by Alexander Lewis, Vacal's handicap became a source of charm, and the opera's most uplifting moment comes when the singer overcomes his alalia syllabaris and sings out. When he starts dancing in the third act, it is a moment of real joy.

Sanford Sylvan as Cardillac
(Cardillac at Opera Boston.)
"Sanford Sylvan showed exceptional versatility and range in the title part, taking his baritone down to the depths of Cardillac's depravity and floating pianissimo high notes when needed. His portrayal made the jeweler's decision to kill his customers seem almost reasonable, pulling the audience in as co-conspirators as he preyed upon the elite."

Alan Held as Wozzeck
(Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera.)
"Mr. Held sang with dark nobility in the opening act of the opera, creating a defensive barrier around the character that was slowly torn down. Things shattered completely when he was cuckolded in the second act, and then beaten brutally by the Drum Major. In the final act, he brought whoops of despair and madness into his performance, making his final drowning a poignant, pathetic spectacle."

Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund
(Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera.)
Mr. Kaufmann's sturdy stage presence and perfect German diction make him the best Siegmund to sing at this house in many years. As he seized both the sword and his sister Sieglinde, his final cry of "so blühe denn, Wälsungen-Blut!" rose to an ecstatic, swelling high note. Then, he held it, riding over the crashing wave of the orchestra and drawing a storm of applause.

Isabel Bayrakdarian as (the vixen) Sharp-Ears
(The Cunning Little Vixen at the New York Philharmonic.)
Ms. Bayrakdarian displayed an agile soprano instrument with a pleasing tone and the right amounts of light and shade. She also manipulated the complex costume (including a nearly prehinsile fox-tail) easily, coping with the challenging choreography on the somewhat limited stage.

Yva Kihlberg as Selma Jezková
(Selma Jezková at Lincoln Center Festival)
"The long, arching phrases sung by her character recall the writing of Richard Strauss, and the sheer animal panic as she is marched to the scaffold recalled the frantic fate of a certain Puccini heroine. This was a devastating performance combined with difficult physical acting, particularly in the heart-stopping stunt of Selma's execution."

Meagan Miller as Danaë
(Die Liebe der Danaë at Bard Summerscape.)
"The soprano part is both long and treacherous, all the way up to a high C# at the very end. Meagan Miller, a past grand finalist at the Metropolitan Opera's vocal competitions, handled the part with power and beauty of tone."

Jennifer Rosetti as Zerbinetta
(Ariadne auf Naxos at dell'arte Opera Ensemble)
"Jennifer Rossetti met the challenges of the ten-minute "Grossmachtige Prinzessin", including the high F notes called for on the fioratura passages. More importantly, she imbued the part with an easy sexuality and had good chemistry with the four players in the troupe."

Anna Netrebko as Anna Bolena
(Anna Bolena at the Metropolitan Opera.)
"Ms. Netrebko is currently a jewel among international opera stars: she is a woman of great pulchritude, and no mean singer. But what impressed in Anna was how the soprano brought dramatic weight to the small, seemingly insignificant lines of dialogue that drive the plot forward. Her attention to detail helped elevate Anna from bel canto pot-boiler to the realm of music drama."

Eve Gigliotti as Ruth
(Dark Sisters at Gotham Chamber Opera.)
"We mourn when she tells how her children died. And when she tries to follow Eliza and leave the ranch, we grieve when she throws herself from a cliff. This is not a Tosca suicide. It is more along the lines of Butterfly."

Visit the rest of the 2011 Year in Reviews, our account of the year that went to "'11".

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.