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Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Year in Reviews: The Operas of 2015

The ten best opera performances of the year that was.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dangerous curves: Marliss Peterson's performance in Lulu was a highlight of 2015.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Despite the untimely death of Gotham Chamber Opera, 2015 was largely a successful year for the art form in the New York area and elsewhere. Here's the ten best opera performances that this reviewer saw this calendar year. All titles link to full Superconductor reviews. Chronological order with the oldest first.

Don Carlo at Opera Philadelphia
"Part of Verdi's genius is opening up the king's character, exposing his innermost thoughts to the rapt audience. Although Eric Owens was suffering from a minor ailment (and asked indulgence for the second half) he completed a moving "Ella giammai m'amò", capturing the king's loneliness and terror, and remained a powerful authority figure throughout the performance."

The Paisiello Il barbiere di Siviglia by OnSite Opera
"This was a strong young cast, led by David Blalock's plush bel canto tenor and its easy transitions into a clear and sweet upper register. This setting of Barbiere puts the focus more squarely on the amorous Count, with disguised and schemes that offer the same amount of character singing and musical opportunity."

Senza Sangue at the New York Philharmonic
"From the chromatic opening of this one-act 45-minute opera, Mr. Gilbert slowly ratcheted up the tension, laying out the tone-rows and tightening the dramatic screws to push characters (and the listener) to the breaking point. Mr. Eötvös' score follows the unexpected twists and turns of the story, eventually lifting the minor-key clouds to end the work in a surprising place--but this is a thriller so we're not gonna tell you what that is."

Dialogues of the Carmelites at Caramoor
"Jennifer Check is a familiar figure in New York, usually heard in supporting parts at the Met. In this leading role, she was able to open the full range of her powerhouse soprano, capturing Blanche's fear and perpetual inner turmoil over the course of three acts.   Clad in simple black with the white wimple of a novice, Ms. Check sang with fire and fierce power..."

The Cleveland Orchestra plays Daphne
"Like Strauss' earlier Salome, Daphne begins with one woodwind, spinning out its plaintive melody before the rest of the enormous orchestra is brought into play. This is Strauss at his most pastoral: rich in detail and orchestral color with depictions of thunderstorms, reveling drunks and even a cattle stampede. Mr. Welser-Möst (who led performances of this opera in May at the Orchestra's home base Severance Hall) dove into the score with clarity and drive, whipping up tempests of sound and drawing out filigreed, almost baroque accompaniments for his generally excellent cast."

The Wreckers at the Bard Festival
"Mr. Cooper sang with a fine heavyweight tenor, punching through the choral ensembles and thick orchestration and diving headlong into the massive Act II soliloquy and monologue that anchors the entire opera. He was matched by mezzo Katherine Goeldner as Tirza, Mark's lover and the wife of Pascoe, the local minister. That  key role  was sung by Louis Otey, a potent bass with dramatic range and a powerful stage presence."

Anna Bolena at the Metropolitan Opera
"Sondra Radvanovsky marshaled her resources, painting a dimensional and demented portrait of the Queen at the end of her reason. She sang the fiery "madness" sections with gusto but also let the watcher hear her genuine distress in the moments when her reason slips back into place and she realizes that her execution is imminent."

Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera
"Huddled amidst all this simulated nookie was tenor Johan Botha as Tannhäuser, curled in the arms of Venus herself as played by the statuesque mezzo Michelle DeYoung. And with his first notes (sung slightly ahead of the harp accompaniment coming from the pit--nobody's perfect) Mr. Botha proved the real deal in this difficult role. He sang with metal in his voice, setting off ringing notes without bleat or squall. Indeed, the tenor reached inside himself for the punishing notes at the end of each strophe, pushing out the climactic phrases with enough effort to make the listener understand the difficult nature of Tannhäuser's crisis."

Elektra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Ms. Goerke entered Stern Auditorium as the first bars thundered, wild-eyed in a scarlet concert gown that suggested both her royal status and a blood-spattered Carrie White at the senior prom. From this moment forward she was the blazing star of the evening. She applied her big voice (chilling in its lower register and blood-curdling in its upper range) expertly to her character’s demanding first monologue, singing with clarity and force against the thundering 120-piece orchestra."

Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera
"Marliss Petersen is aristocratic as Lulu, recalling Dietrich in her onstage presence. She is vocally fearless and arching her silvery instrument high above the orchestral clatter, and hitting the death-defying high notes cleanly. She plays out Lulu's sudden murder of Dr. Schön and subsequent arrest as an inevitable event: the character reaching a height and plummeting.

The Rape of Lucretia at LoftOpera
"As the scene turned to Lucretia’s home, the show incorporated static surveillance cameras and a live on-stage videographer (Alice Millar.) These images (set up by video designer Andrea Merkx) were projected in unsettling fashion along one of the walls, giving the audience options as to where to focus their attention, with the muffled visual textures and muted colors adding to and amplifying the sense of foreboding."

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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.