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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Reviews 2016: Opera

The best productions and singing that kept vigil in a dark year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Vigil in a wilderness of mirrors: Nina Stemme (center) in Tristan und Isolde.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
This was an interesting year for opera, marked by Rossini rarities, 18th century operas worthy of the occasional revival and a season-opening Tristan und Isolde that left audiences enraptured and traditionalists confused. Plus the Met did some wish fulfillment (for this writer anyway, finally staging Rossini's Guillaume Tell. Here are ten of the many fine opera performances reviewed on Superconductor in the year 2016.

operamission: Rinaldo
"Although Rinaldo is the title role, the principal is Goffredo (Godfrey de Boullon) played by countertenor Nicholas Tamagna. Mr. Tamagna's high tessitura and agile instrument soared with an impressive upper register, occasionally touching earth in the chest voice to add emphasis to key points in the story. His stage presence was also intense and committed, with his eyes conveying the anguish of a battle-hardened king set on retaking Jerusalem for the Crusaders."

Metropolitan Opera: Elektra
"In the title role, Ms. Stemme showed that her abilities go far beyond good German diction and crystalline, dead-on high notes delivered with full dramatic force. She was deep in the role of Elektra from curtain-up, playing the traumatized princess as a figure to be admired for her tenacity and yet pitied for the fits and outbursts caused by the trauma of her father's murder."

Apotheosis Opera: The Girl of the Golden West
Ms. Stofferahn managed these conflicts adroitly, letting out a great cry of "He is mine!" over the bellowing roar of the huge orchestra at the act's climax. She was even better in the third act, as she faced down a lynch mob of miners determined to string her lover up for his past crimes, and got them all to reflect on the futility of violence and the value of forgiveness.

Idomeneo at Mostly Mozart
Tenor Jeremy Ovenden made a formidable Festival debut in the difficult title role, singing Idomeneo with all of the attendant ornamentation and detail that have made it a desirable part for the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo. And yet, he was more idiomatic than those famous names, injecting himself deeply into the character's mindset and transcending the concert setting with his performance

Aureliano in Palmira at Caramoor
"Bel Canto at Caramoor director Will Crutchfield spearheaded the effort to complete a new critical edition of Aureliano and get that new edition performed and even filmed at the Rossini Opera Festival in the composer's home-town of Pesaro, Italy. On Saturday, July 16, Mr. Crutchfield brought Aureliano to the Caramoor Festival, with a strong cast of young singers and the expert accompaniment of the Orchestra of St. Luke's."

Metropolitan Opera: Tristan und Isolde
"At the moment when the love potion takes hold, they sang "Tristan!" "Isolde!" "Geliebter!" Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton opened their registers and allowed them to bloom, as if they were waiting for that moment to show their true selves. She matched Mr. Skelton perfectly in the long Act II duet, their voices twining and twinning in one of Wagner's few passages for paired tenor and soprano."

Metropolitan Opera: Jenůfa
"In the great scene in the second act, the Kostelnička convinces herself to murder Jenůfa's baby. In one of the great dramatic turns of this season. Karita Mattila brought menace, terror and a subtle hysteria to the part, convincing herself of the rightness of her actions even as she walked the razor edge of madness."

Juilliard Opera: Flight
"Countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński stunned as the Refugee, displaying a high, sweet tone that was never nasal or pinched. His character has a Parsifal-like innocence, which backfires badly in the second act as his attempts to earn the friendship of his fellow travelers nearly results in his death at their hands. In Act III, the horror of his situation came out in a moving monologue that haunts the rest of the score."

Loft Opera: Macbeth
"Craig Irvin was a strapping presence as Macbeth, throwing  himself into madness in the banquet scene, staring wild-eyed and even jumping onto an audience bench and towering over a surprised New York Times critic. Elizabeth Baldwin unsheathed a white-hot soprano in the Letter Scene, wielding her voice with the ruthlessness of an assassin's knife."

Metropolitan Opera: Nabucco
"Placido Domingo brought that thunder to the role of the Babylonian king who sacked Jerusalem only to (eventually) discover faith in God. In Act I, he strode through the temple doors and unleashed that familiar voice. His instrument has darkened in color but retains some of its old tenor characteristics, especially when pressure is exerted. However, as Nabucco descended into madness and tragedy, Mr. Domingo found his true low range."

Metropolitan Opera: L'Amour de Loin
"Act V featured the final, brief union of the two would-be lovers, cut short by Jaufré's illness and untimely (but very operatic) death. Here, the orchestra let loose with an outpouring of sorrow, before allowing Ms. Philips center stage. The soprano sang a slow, transcendent coda that thankfully, was no Liebestod, but something far more original in character."

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