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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year in Reviews: Opera 2013

Superconductor recalls the best opera performances of 2013.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A bird in a gilded cage: Christine Goerke in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
As the year is ending we are finally getting to our end-of-2013 wrapup. This was supposed be to be a Top Ten list but I think it's going to be a lucky thirteen--it was a pretty good year for opera!

Here are the best opera performances (and operas in concert) that I saw this year in chronological order. All links lead to the full reviews.

Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera.
"This show is cast with great care, featuring a showcase of the current generation of Wagner stars, supported expertly by comprimario players and the mighty voices of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus."

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at Manhattan School of Music.
"A taut performance from the MSM Orchestra under the baton of Kynan Johns caught the wry humor in Kurt Weill's score, with aural references to American jazz, Mozart and even Wagner's Parsifal shining through the aural fabric."

The Flying Dutchman at the Boston Lyric Opera.
"Alfred Walker's intimidating stage presence and weighty bass-baritone were an apt fit for the title character. From the start of "Die frist ist um," Mr. Walker had a touch of the otherworldly with his long penetrating stares and resonant notes. ."


The Cunning Little Vixen at Juilliard Opera.
a slew of promising young men and women made up the swarming animals of Janacek's imaginary forest, contributing life and vitality to a classic story that is, at it's heart, all about the passage of time.

La Hija de Rappacini at Gotham Chamber Opera.
"The incongruity of a gold-leafed tree in the middle of the Botanic Garden’s carefully cultivated wonders emphasized the alien nature of Rappacini’s experiments and the scientist’s corruption of the natural world for his own personal ends. The singers moved, dream-like through the cherry trees, adding to the surreal beauty of a perfect summer evening in Brooklyn."

Oresteia at Bard SummerScape
Tenor Mikhail Vekua energized the opera from his entrance, singing Orestes' difficult music with ringing tone and heroic presence. The role has a very high, exposed tessitura and its difficulty might be one reason for this opera's relative obscurity.

Le Nozze di Figaro at Mostly Mozart.
"The most elaborate outfits in the show hang high above the action on dress-maker's forms. These lower into place for key moments. A crew of choristers slap wigs and outfits on the characters as needed. (Sometimes, the spare perukes wind up on the orchestra members or on Mr. Fischer's own bald pate.)"

Nabucco at Opera Philadelphia.
"If the title role of Nabucco is difficult, his wicked stepdaughter Abagaille is even more demanding. Csilla Boross was a potent presence from her first entry, soaring to heights of soprano dementia in this near-impossible part."

Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Ms. Goerke was ideal for this downtrodden woman who becomes embroiled in the sale of her own shadow, melting from icy coldness to genuine remorse and love for her husband Barak (Johan Heuter) in the opera's final tableau."

Peter Grimes at Carnegie Hall.
"Anthony Dean Griffey remains a riveting Peter Grimes. There is something endearing about this big angry man in a shabby sweater, the "picked-on" kid, grown up with a sarcastic tongue and a fearsome temper."

Eugene Onegin (second cast) at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Peter Mattei offered a finely weighted, ultimately ambiguous performance that explored the deep reaches of this complex character. The tall Swede's striking stage presence and smooth, gliding baritone was a great fit for this music in the first two acts, handsome but aloof--with a sense of the romantic hero trapped in his fate by the cruel workings of the opera's plot."

Feuersnot at American Symphony Orchestra
"The score is packed with Wagner quotes from the joking reference to Wotan's spear (the twelve-note theme sounds when wood-gathering children ask for a particularly big log) to appearances of the "Tristan chord" when the lovers meet in a passionate nocturnal clinch."

Falstaff at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Ambrogio Maestri reimagined the fat knight as a proud, bull-like figure, rampaging through post-war British society in a red Moss Bros, tailcoat with a cheerful disregard for its manners and mores. Mr. Maestri needs no padding or pillows to achieve Falstaff's signature girth."

Honorable mentions include: Die Meistersinger and Parsifal at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Eliogablio at the Box, La Perichole and Anna Nicole at the late, lamented New York City Opera, and David et Jonathas at BAM.

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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.