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Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Year in Reviews 2017: The Best Operas

Superconductor picks the ten best opera performances of 2017. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We end the Year of the Rooster with ten clucky I mean lucky operas.
(For Part One of The Year in Reviews 2017 click here.)
It wasn't easy.

From the opening salvo of the Prototype Festival to the year-ending scandals that engulfed the careers and sullied the reputations of two internationally famous conductors, 2017 was a turbulent year in the opera world. A lot of performances had to be picked through for the following list of ten, and we're sure that we missed a couple of worthy honorable mentions.

Chronological order, and all links go to full reviews on Superconductor.

Breaking the Waves (Prototype Festival, NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, Jan 10)
"Kiera Duffy is the heart and soul of this work, giving a gutsy performance of great acting and vocal range. Her Bess is adamantine, with a bright, high soprano that conveys a kaleidoscope of information and must also play the voice of God that speaks inside her head. The extraordinary singing is married to an acting performance filled with detail and nuance, and commitment to fearless choices in service of this difficult story."

Otello (Rossini) (Loft Opera, March 16)
"Tenor Bernard Holcomb tackled Rossini's challenging vocal writing and fearsomely high tessitura with a bold technique and impressive stage presence. His voice was huge in the resonant acoustic, reaching impressive heights as his passion turned to jealousy, rage and finally, murder."

La Forza del Destino (New Amsterdam Opera (at Riverside Church) March 24)
"As Carlo di Vargas, the relentless hound to Alvaro’s hare, veteran baritone Stephen Gaertner gave a sterling baritone performance, uncovering the hidden meaning and deception in the Act II “Son Pereda” aria, a number that required to singer to spin fiction to a disbelieving audience. His true colors emerged in the great double aria in Act III and the duos that followed."

Der Rosenkavalier (Metropolitan Opera, April 13)
"Elīna Garanča held the stage for four hours as Octavian, the 17-year old cross-dressing count who is this opera's titular hero. Ms. Garanča channeled the impetuosity and wild hormonal energy of a teenage boy in lust and love, with all the real emotional pain that that implies. "Mariendel", Octavian's skirted alter ego was played not as a travesti singer going back to their birth gender but as a "man in drag," bringing a fresh complexity to the hoodwinking of Baron Ochs in Act III."

Kat'a Kabanova (Juilliard Opera, April 25)
"In the title role, soprano Felicia Moore provided a complex and nuanced portrait of this troubled girl who becomes a woman and finally, a tragic heroine in the opera's final pages. Ms. Moore had the acting equipment to play Kát'a's voyage of self-discovery. This came out in the two big Act II duets with her sister-in-law Varvara and her lover Boris. In the great final liebestod that comes before her watery death, Ms. Moore proved unafraid of the role's upper reaches and elevated this simple story from family drama to genuine pathos."

La Finta Gardinia (On Site Opera, May 11)
"Kristin Gornstein, a canny artist in a travesti part that was, like many early Mozart operas, written for a castrato. Ms. Höglund had the biggest voice here, her florid coloratura indicating the character's instability along with her willingness to threaten her fiancée with castration. Ashley Kerr had a lovely, sweet soprano but one sensed that her part was heavily reduced. Jorell Williams made the most of his comic opportunities in an aria where he seduced the reluctant Serpetta by switching languages, an idea that reminded this writer of the film A Fish Called Wanda."

Dmitrij (July 29, Bard College)
"Tenor Clay Hilley made a powerful impression as Dimitrij. He caught the Pretender's mix of narcissism and heroic vulnerability, singing with bright tone over the game but sometimes over-enthusiastic Wagnerisms rising from the pit. Melissa Citro displayed a big, bright soprano that was scattershot at first but found its focus in the second act. She was hot in temper but cool in presentation."

Dolores Claiborne (Oct. 24, 2017, New York City Opera)
"Dolores (Lisa Chavez) is not easy to like but there is something admirable in her sharp tongue and tough personality. She gives a searing performance. The role requires the entire mezzo instrument, down through the chest to chilling low notes, and up into the heights for the ensembles and the opera's emotional climaxes. It is a star turn much like the Governess in The Turn of the Screw or Marie in Wozzeck."

La Damnation de Faust (Oct. 28, 2017, Boston Symphony Orchestra)
"Paul Groves, who sang the title role with the BSO ten years ago remains a fearless tenor with a bad habit of taking on works that are too heavy for his voice. John Relyea was a superb Mephistopheles, a role he has sung many times.Susan Graham's Marguerite remains the gold standard of the role, the right mix of innocence and grief sung with pure, dusky tone and consummate musicianship."

Hansel and Gretel (December 26, Metropolitan Opera)
"In the Witches' Ride and the Dream Ballet, the players were crisp and driven. Accompanying the singers, the veteran Donald Runnicles showed sympathy for the material and expertise in rolling the music forth for the listener's delectation.His cause was helped by a strong pair of leads. Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and soprano Lisette Oropesa played the wandering pre-teens to the hilt."

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