As 2019 draws to an end here is my run-down of my top opera (live and online), musical and theater experiences of 2019. I will begin with live opera performances. For me 2019 was a terrific year for live performances and I had some of the most memorable operatic experiences of my life. This year I am going to put the performances in the order in which I saw them. There were so many terrific performances I am not sure I can order them. Also, please forgive my overuse of superlatives. This is after all a list of my favorites.
1. Pelleas et Melisande (Met 2019) – Last January I braved the weather to go to New York (via Delaware) to see Adrianna Lecouvrer and Pelleas. While I enjoyed Adrianna, Pelleas was a transcendent experience. I had been studying the score and I read the play. The best thing about this production was the Music Director Designate on the podium. No matter what you think of him in Italian and German repertoire his French repertoire is magnificent. The orchestra was glorious and the cast excellent – mostly. Kyle Ketelson as Golaud, Isabel Leonard as Melisande and F. Furlanetto as the Arkel were all excellent. As much as I like Paul Appleby I felt that this role was not a good fit for him. The role is for a high baritone and it lay just too low for Paul. But that was the only concern, otherwise it was wonderful.
Isabel Leonard and Paul Appleby in the Met's "Pelleas et Melisande"
2. Norma (Winter Opera) – I have to mention my local companies. I have now seen Norma at the Met and in Chicago and while certainly Winter Opera doesn’t have the resources to put into the productions that the bigger theaters have, nevertheless they always do a wonderful job. Their set designer is an absolute a genius and creates some of the most effective, workable and beautiful sets I have ever seen in a small house. Norma is not an easy opera to sing, but they did a great job and frankly the leads were excellent and sang beautifully, and the tenor was especially good. (I have not had good luck with the Polliones I have seen elsewhere.) So bravo Winter Opera for another great year of opera.
Curtain Calls - Winter Opera of St. Louis' production of "Norma"
3. Moby Dick (Chicago Opera Theater) My friend Kathleen Crisp has been raving about Moby Dick for as long as I have known her (on FB). As she has shared her experiences I have really wanted to see the opera. So finally it was produced at Chicago Opera Theater. Now I had heard it was “revised” and thought that meant it would be a reduced orchestration, but it was not. But this was a different production than the original that was produced in San Francisco which is the one that Kathleen had seen. The opera is a masterpiece. Who would have ever thought that Melville’s Moby Dick could be turned into an effective opera? The performance and production were excellent - great cast with a strong orchestra. The only caveat I have is that the whale chase sequence in this 2nd production is not quite as thrilling and effective as in the 1st production. When I watched the video afterwards I was frankly surprised they changed that. But otherwise it was excellent.
Greenhorn and Queequeg in the Crow's Nest - Moby Dick, COT
The Company - Moby Dick, COT
4. Frau ohne Schatten (Wienerstaatsoper). After a long and (at times) tedious tour to Turkey and Greece where I managed to injure myself rather badly and where the Greek tour guide was so terrible that I started to distance myself from the tour as much as I could, I flew from Athens to Vienna for a week with my wife, Christine. We had a lovely time. We saw Magic Flute at the Volksoper and at the Wienerstaatsoper I attended Die Frau ohne Schatten, Manon and a special concert with Stephanie Haím, Patricia Petibon and Tim Mead. (That baroque concert was magnificent BTW but this is an essay about opera and theater.) Christine and I attended Manon together and it was really fun to be there in that place, but the seats were terribly uncomfortable and the production is really poor in many respects and I didn’t feel the leads were that strong – actually the Lescaut was the best on stage. But Frau was amazing. This was a new production, conducted by Christian Thielemann. And the orchestra was glorious, they played the hell out of that score and Thielemann was incredible. Is there another conductor who can conduct this piece as effectively? I’m not sure there is. The cast included Camilla Nylund (Empress), Stephan Gould (Emperor), Nina Stemme (Dyer’s Wife), Wolfgang Koch (Barak) and last but certainly not least Evelyn Herzlitzius as the Nurse. This cast was incredible and for me personally Herzlitzius was the stand-out in a cast filled with stand-outs. Also, the remainder of the cast and chorus were all excellent – especially the Spirit Messenger. Often in Vienna the chorus is just sort of shuffled on stage and they are often totally disengaged – Manon is a great example. But in the new production they were woven into the fabric of the opera and the result was magnificent. Really this performance is one of my all time most memorable and moving operatic experiences. I had always had an ambivalent attitude towards this opera and I also had completely misunderstood the exceptionally complicated plot. I saw it at Lyric Chicago years ago with Deborah Voigt and it had no impact, which was not their fault – I was not in a place to appreciate it. But I have studied this opera in depth since and have come to feel it is perhaps Strauss’ great masterpiece and it is certainly Hugo von Hoffmansthal’s great masterpiece. Yes, I love Rosenkavalier, but there is a depth and profundity about Frau that really surpasses Rosenkavalier in my view. I hear the Met is going to do it in the next couple years. I would like to be there for it.
Wienerstaatsoper on the Ringstrasse
The view inside the Wienerstaatsoper from my box.
Intermission at the Wienerstaatsoper
Curtain calls for "Die Frau ohne Schatten" Wienerstaatsoper - Nine Stemme in front as the Dyer's Wife
Christine and I at the Wienerstaatsoper
5. Wozzeck (Des Moines Metro Opera) – When I was a senior at New England Conservatory I played English Horn for a performance of Wozzeck with Gunther Schuller conducting. It was a semi-staged production. It was one of the most transformational musical experiences of my life. Initially at the time (I was what 22? And not terribly experienced) I found it very off putting and I found the EH part itself to be terribly difficult rhythmically. But I got out my metronome and practiced and practiced until I got it. By the end I had grown to really, well, I won’t say love it – but it got inside of me. Since that time I had never actually seen a live performance of the opera. I had watched several productions online though. So when DMMO announced they would be producing this opera I was determined to attend and I was not disappointed. So the first weekend in July I drove to Des Moines where I also saw Boheme and Candide, which were fine (I have seen Candide now 3 times in the last two years and frankly I don’t really like it that much – sorry Joanna). But this Wozzeck was amazing. Wozzeck was played by the incredible Michael Mayes (who deserves a Met debut!) and the cast included Sara Gartland as Marie, Corey Bix as the Captain and Zachery James as the Doctor. They were all excellent. Corey Trahan as The Fool was also excellent and despite his very brief moment it was quite memorable. Zachery James might begin to think I am following him as I have now seen him perform live 6 times in 2 years! But he is terrific as a singer and as an actor (as those of us who saw him in Ahknaken will attest)! The orchestra was amazingly good and the production was outstanding. It is almost indescribable. But the theater itself is relatively small, so there is an intimacy at DMMO which is lacking in just about every other venue I can think of – even OTSL which is fairly intimate too. This intimacy made the experience of this work quite a moving experience. Frankly, we could almost see the blood on Wozzeck’s hands.
Zachary James as the Doctor and Michael Mayes as Wozzeck at Des Moines Metro Opera
6. The Love for Three Oranges (Philadelphia) This is an odd piece. It was composed for Lyric Opera Chicago by Prokofiev while he was living in the US. The march is particularly well known. The plot is rather absurd and the cast is huge and includes various Commedia del’Arte characters. The venue was the old Academy of Music in Philadelphia and it has seen better days. Our initial seats, which I bought online, were great if you were about 4’! We could simply not even get ourselves into the seats. So 10 minutes before curtain I had to run down to the box office and find new seats. They got them for us and they were fine. But not as good as the original seats. But despite that excitement I loved the performance. And despite the wackiness of the plot the cast was excellent – Zachery James was in this cast also as the sadistic cook! Other members of the cast will be recognizable to Met fans: Scott Conner as the King of Clubs, Will Liverman as Pantaloon, Barry Banks as Truffaldino, Wendy Byrn Harmer as Fata Morgana. The only comment I will make is that this director tried to make the plot somehow ALSO representative of Prokofiev’s life journey. This simply did not work and considering how much else is in this plot it just was a distraction that just added to the confusion. By the way, I loved the bad guys – Fata Morgana, Leander the Prime Minister and the Chelio, the Wizard who have one of the cleverest scenes in all of opera – the card game where Chelio, the Wizard looses the soul of the King of Clubs to the evil Fata Morgana.
Zachary James as the Cook in The Love for Three Oranges in Philadelphia
Wendy Bryn Harmer as Fata Morgana in the Love for Three Oranges in Philadelphia
Barry Banks as Truffaldino with two of the opened oranges in The Love for Three Oranges in Philadelphia
7. Luisa Miller (LOC) Apparently Lyric Chicago will be embarking on a Verdi series with their new music director, Enrique Mazzolla, who conducted this first production in the series. The cast included Christian Van Horn, Quinn Kelsey, Joseph Calleja and Solomon Howard but the stand out was the Luisa of Krassimira Stoyanova – she was stunning! The rest of the cast was excellent and the chorus was wonderful. Some of the critics complained about the production but frankly I loved it and thought it was very effective. I will be looking forward to more in this Verdi series. I want to add that I also came back on Sunday afternoon for Barber which was great. Marianne Crebassa was a revelation, Alessandro Corbelli was magnificent (as usual), Lawrence Brownlee and Adam Plachetka both excellent. But unbeknownst to me that day was the day of the Chicago marathon. LOC might have warned us and given us some advice. It was a nightmare getting to the theater and I almost gave up, drove home and skipped the opera. Had I known I would not have driven to Chicago and taken the train.
Christain Van Horn as the Count and Quinn Kelsey as the Miller in Luisa Miller, Lyric Opera of Chicago
8. Elektra (LOC) This performance of Elektra at Lyric Chicago was breathtaking. Nina Stemme was terrific. Powerful piece and a powerful production!
Program Cover - Elektra, Lyric Opera of Chicago
9. The Dragon of Wantley (Haymarket Opera Chicago). This early 18th century opera is loosely based on a popular story of the time. The music is by Fredereic Lampe (who was actually a German living in London) and the Haymarket Baroque Opera company used a period orchestra with two friends of mine, Meg Owens Brown and Geoffrey Burgess playing baroque oboe! What can I say the opera was a riot. It was a great production and the whole thing was very funny. The best moment was when the two women (who, of course, are both vying for the affections of the twit who is the tenor) have a catfight. Not physically – vocally! It was a very funny and exceptionally well performed.
The Dragon of Wantley Publicity Photo
10. The Golden Cockerel (Dallas) So I flew to Chicago on Tuesday, took a cab into the city for Dragon then stayed by Midway Airport and woke up early the next morning only to discover that my flight to Dallas was cancelled and there was snow on the ground. Amazingly I got on another flight and managed to get to Dallas not much later than I had originally expected. It was exhausting, and I retuned home the next day (though I wish I had decided to stay in Dallas a couple extra days for Magic Flute and a Baroque Opera). But it was all worth it. The Rimsky-Korsakov Coq D’Or was brilliant. Years ago, as a young English Horn tudent at NEC we played the orchestral suite from this opera and I fell in love with the music. I have desperately wanted to see this opera ever since. I was not disappointed. If Frau was my #1 of the year, and Akhnaten was #2 – This would be #3 and they are all very close. This profound fairy tale pulls no punches when it comes to addressing the corruption of power and the stupidity of war. Barry Banks played the Wizard (a role he was played often throughout his career) and he was magnificent. The rest of the cast was great. King Dodon, Nikolay Didenko and General Polkan, Kevin Burdette were excellent and the Olga Pudova was a last minute replacement for the Queen of Shemakha. As I understand it she had been originally engaged to sing Queen of the Night, but had agreed to step into Golden Cockeral at the last minute. And Jeni Houser, who sang the role of Cockerel (from off-stage, my only disappointment) added the role of the QofN. They were terrific. Frankly, I didn’t want it to end. I loved this opera very much and would love to see some Rimsky at the Met.
The Queen of Shemakha and King Dodon from Le Coq D'Or, Dallas Opera
The Golden Cockerel with King Dodon from The Golden Cockerel, Dallas Opera
11. Akhnaten (Met) This was a totally incredible experience. I saw it first on HD and then I travelled to NYC and saw it live. It was magnificent. The work is a masterpiece. This production is a masterpiece. The cast was incredible, led by Anthony Costello and Zachary James. The orchestra was also outstanding. What was particularly remarkable was how I felt they managed to evoke the spirit of Ancient Egypt in this production. This wasn’t a western story set in Egyptian sets and costumes (like Aida) – this was a uniquely ancient story. I found it profound and deeply moving. I could spend some time talking about the philosophical and theological issues raised, but I will suffice it to say simply that I think it is incorrect to suggest that an Ancient King managed to discover monotheism, which is somehow “right” (since polytheism is “wrong!”) Ahknaten’s religious revisions were simply not monotheistic, they were henotheistic, that is he didn’t deny the existence of other gods, bu rather he promoted the worship of only one god, the sun god Aten as the supreme god. He never denied the existence of other gods. Also, the efforts to link Akhnaten to Moses look to me like one of those circus performers who can tie himself up in all kinds of knots. I don’t buy it. I don’t think Moses was monotheistic either actually and I think the idea that there is any connection between the two is totally specious. But nevertheless I felt transported to the City of the Sun. The juggling and the images all created a unique and effective opera experience.
Queen Nefertiti, Ahknaten, Queen Tye from Ahknaten, The Met
Zachary James as the Scribe with Anthony Roth Costello as Ahknaten, The Met
12. The Queen of Spades (Met) – This is my last one. I first saw this production on PBS years ago with Domingo, Dima and Elizabeth Söderström, who for me will always be the Old Countess. Her performance was magnificent and Dima was incredible. Has anyone ever sung that aria as beautifully as he did? That said, I love this production and enjoyed this performance very, very much. I thought Yusif was excellent as Gherman and Lise Davidsen, making her Met debut in this role, was incredible as Lisa. I also really enjoyed Paul Groves and Raymond Aceto as the officers and Alexy Markov as Tomsky. It was a great performance. One suggestion to the Met – really, 3:00 in the afternoon is too late to start a matinee. Why not 2:00? That would be better for out of towners like me.
Count Tomsky with The Old Countess in The Queen of Spades, The Met
Lise Davidsen as Lisa with Prince Yeletsky in the Queen of Spades, The Met
Fire Shut Up In My Bones (and Coronation of Poppea) (OTSL) – I love Opera Theater of St. Louis since I have started attending their performances. And of the 4 operas they performed I would say that Fire Shut Up In My Bones was for me the best. Based on an autobiography by NY Times editorial writer Charles Blow, the story is quite powerful. I especially loved the character of Destiny/Loneliness who doubles as Greta, the girlfriend, who – well I won’t spoil it since it is deservedly bound for the Met. The cast was incredible. Julia Bullock who played Destiny/Loneliness/Greta and Davón Tines, Charles, were both terrific. The rest of the cast were also very strong especially Karen Slack as the mother and the child singer/actor who played the young Charles. This performance is another in the series of wonderful performances of new operas that is a particular commitment of OTSL. I fully support this and have had some wonderful experiences of new works at OTSL.
Julia Bullock as Destiny/Loneliness/Greta in Fire Shut Up In My Bones at Opera Theater St. Louis
Davón Ines and Karen Slack in Fire Shut Up In My Bones at Opera Theater St. Louis
The company also performed Nozze and Rigoletto which were fine; and finally their 4th opera was Monteverdi’s the Coronation of Poppea. This was a really interesting production and I was really pleased to see that they used period musicians, on stage no less. But two things marred the experience for me – 1. The cuts. Ok, they were trying to shorten the opera and streamline and the plot, which admittedly wanders all over at times. But some of those scenes (and characters!) add a lot to the opera and I really missed them. 2. The Nero, Brenton Ryan, is a tenor and a really good character tenor who has sung at the Met (Spoletta) and who sang the Dancing Master at Santa Fe the year before. I like him a lot. He is a terrific singer and actor. And maybe if I didn’t already know the opera I might have enjoyed his performance better but the role is for a counter-tenor or a mezzo. Having it sung by a tenor sounded wrong to me throughout the opera. Everything was an octave lower. Maybe I am being picky but it really bothered me. The rest of the cast was terrific, especially Emily Fons as Poppea. Also, this production killed off almost all the other characters at the end – this is not what is written. But it worked and it certainly gave a different meaning on that final love duet, where one imagines Poppea wondering what the hell she has gotten herself into with this psychopath.
Glory Denied (Union Ave.) I have to comment about this opera. It is a relatively new opera by Tom Cipullo and has played in a number of venues around the country, to some acclaim. Certainly as an opera it works and the music is effective and at times beautiful – the scena “Welcome Home” for the older Jim Thompson is chilling and I found the cello/ piano section near the end to be quite beautiful. There was a lot of hype around Union Ave. Opera’s production. It was announced that a counselor had been available to the cast during rehearsals and that she would be available during the performances if anyone was triggered and needed to talk. I respect all of this. I have been critical of Union Ave in the past for failing to link with community resources in ways that would enhance the performances. But, I have to say while I affirm it is terrible that the Jim Thompson was kept as a Vietnamese POW for so many years and I understand the disorientation he experiences when he finally does come home and finds a totally different world than the one he left. He also finds that everyone has moved from his life had moved on without him, including his wife and family. I recognize this was incredibly painful for him and don’t want to minimize it. But, I have a problem with the way the libretto scapegoated Alyce the wife. In an effort to assign some blame this libretto (and maybe the book, I don’t know) turns her into the bad guy in this situation. I felt that was totally and completely unfair and frankly it pissed me off. This telling of this real event and experience completely minimized the pain and struggle and suffering of Alyce. There should have been some discussion about this issue in my view. From what I have been able to ascertain from studying a but after seeing the opera, Thompson had been a difficult and abusive husband before he went to Vietnam, and he continued to be a difficult and abusive husband when he returned. For her part the young Alyce is depicted as the one dimensional 50’s stereotype “perfect housewife” and the older Alyce is depicted as totally selfish. I don’t buy it. And while the brilliant Gina Galati who played the role of the older Alyce, brought a deep humanity and some sympathy for her, I think she was working against the libretto there. For me this work was misogynistic, and because it is such a new opera I have a harder time forgiving this.
Semele (Philly) – I also saw Semele in Philly. It was excellent. I loved the production. The use of projections was incredible. And the women in particular Amanda Forsythe and Daniella Mack (who played Juno and Ino, the sister!) were both incredible. There were several amazing scenes – including the mirror scene for poor Semele and the scene where Juno takes over the body of the sister (and the dancer double, Lindsay Matheis, was terrific). The one negative – they did not use a period orchestra.
Amanda Forsythe in Semele in Philadelphia
Nozze (Met) – What a wonderful production and performance – Luca Pisaroni, Adam Plachetka, Susannah Phillips as a divine Contessa and Nadine Sierra were all stunning.
Live Stream in Theater and online live streams
I will put these together in an effort to shorten this. And I will say less about these.
1. Forza del Destino (ROH in Theater) – Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tezier, Anna Netrebko, Furuccio Furlanetto, Alessandro Corbelli, Robert Lloyd – could you ask for a better cast? This was a stunning performance and a wonderful production. This is production the most effective Forza I have seen.
Jonas Kauffmann and Ludovic Tezier in Forza Del Destino at the Royal Opera in London
Jonas Kauffmann and Anna Netrebko in Forza Del Destino at the Royal Opera in London
2. Die Walküre (Met HD in Theater) – The LePage production. I enjoyed it and thought it worked great. And I agree with Nigel, this cast was much stronger than the original cast – especially Christine Goerke.
3. Akhnaten (Met HD – in Theater) – See above. I thought the HD was really well done. True you can’t see everything that you can in the theater and choices had to be made. But it was exceptionally well done. Bravo to the camera crew.
4. Tannhauser (Bayreuth) – I loved this production. I thought it was really effective and brought this story to life in a unique and contemporary way. The cast was excellent – Stephen Gould as Tannhauser, and especially Lise Davidsen as Elizabeth but I also really loved Ekaterina Gubanova as Venus.
Stephen Gould and Ekaterina Gubanova in Tannhasuer, Bayreuth
Lise Davidsen in Tannhauser, Bayreuth
5. Cendrillon (Glyndebourne) – I have seen the Pelly (Met production) now a bunch of times and am just a little tired of it. This was not the Pelly production. This production was refreshingly different. One might say it was a regie production, but it worked beautifully. I loved the cast and I loved Kate Lindsey especially and how that character was drawn as a female maid and as Prince Charmant. It added a really interesting dimension to make the Prince sexually ambivalent. I hope this production makes it to the USA.
Kate Lindsay as A Maid/Prince Charmant along with the Wicked Stepsisters in Cedrillon, Glyndebourne
6. Judith Triumphans (Dutch National – OV) – Opera Vision is a website that provides recordings of a variety of operas from around the world. This Dutch production of the Vivaldi oratorio Judith Triumphans was absolutely terrific. The singing, the acting, the production and the orchestra were all wonderful. I fell in love with this score. Vivaldi uses a whole bunch of unusual instruments include the Chalumeaux, the Viola d’Amore, the Musette and others.
Judith conspiring with her confidant in Judith Triumphans, Dutch National Opera
7. Idomeneo (Salzburg) – Yet another in the Mozart opera cycle at Salzburg with Peter Sellars directing. I generally find some sympathy with Count Orsini-Rosenberg in the play “Amadeus” when he complains that Idomeneo is “too many notes.” I found the Met production terribly tedious. But this production really worked for me. It was beautifully sung – especially by Russell Thomas.
8. Anthropocene (Scottish National - OV) – This is a new opera. It is not an easy opera to sit through. The musical language is difficult. And the plot is uncomfortable. Basically a team of 21st century scientists discover the frozen body of a prehistoric sacrificial victim. When they unthaw her she is restored to life. Meanwhile the crew are fracturing. There is serious theft that leads to murder, which then leads to an final bloody sacrifice. What I found so fascinating about this work was how it explored the issue of sacrifice. We find the idea of human sacrifice revolting, and we use it to justify the violent conversion of pagans, who we assume all practiced it (they didn’t!). But by the end of this opera one wonders if the ancients were not perhaps more just in their approach than we moderns who do not hesitate to sacrifice millions for the sake of power and wealth – particularly as it relates to climate change. The rich and powerful simply don’t give a damn about the millions who are suffering as a result of our dependency on fossil fuels. Who then is really civilized? The ones who lovingly sacrifice a young woman for the sake of the community in the spring after lovingly preparing her for this honor; or the ones who discard millions of poor and suffering and who cage thousands of children at the border?
Discovery in Anthropocene, Scottish National Opera
9. Paria (Polish – OV) – Who is a Pariah? Who is to be included and excluded? This opera was composed by the great Polish composer Moniuszko. How do we choose who is to be included and who is excluded? Who gets to be a part of the powerful and controlling 1% and who is untouchable? And who or what decides? Is it skin color, ethnic background, religious traditions, sexual orientation. In this opera the carefully constructed structure that separates the population into the included and the excluded (the Pariahs) comes crashing down when it is revealed to be all a lie. This is true for us as well. It is all a lie. No one deserves to be excluded or turned into a pariah because of any external characteristics. The pariahs are the violent ones who victimize others.
10. The Tale of Tsar Saltane (Brussels) – This production was really fascinating and dealt with the issue of autism. It was a regie production which again I felt worked brilliantly. In an effort to connect with this boy the mother brings a favorite story to life. Lots of issues are dealt with. I loved this production. It made me cry.
The Tale of Tsar Sultane in Brussels - Olga Peretynko
11. Midsummer Night’s Dream (Vienna) – This beautiful production is a new production at the WSO. Counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo was a stand-out as Oberon; Erin Morely was her usual wonderful coloratura self as Titania; Peter Rose reprised his signature Bottom. It was excellent. Brilliantly conducted by Simone Young.
Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Vienna State Opera
12. Les Indes Galantes (Paris) – This regie production was quite effective and moving. Especially the final dance-off. The themes were not so different from “Paria” in that it dealt with issues of being different and inclusion / exclusion.
13. Tales of Hoffmann (Brussels) – I really enjoyed this production. I love how with every (European) Hoffmann there is always something different musically since Offenbach didn’t finish and didn’t even put the opera together and left boxes of music. This assembly of the opera was as good as any I have seen. I liked Eric Cutler and Patricia Petibon a lot, but the stand outs were Michele Loser as Nicklausse and Gabor Bretz as the Villains.
Willard White, Gabor Bretz and Patricia Pettibon in The Tales of Hoffmann, Brussels
14. The Snow Queen (Munich) – I just saw this Sunday, Dec. 29. When a child is abused, or suffers trauma this brings death to the fragile spirit. How do we return these children to life? If they are frozen inside of themselves because of a trauma or abuse how can they be thawed? What are we doing to thousands of children we have illegally and immorally incarcerated at our southern border? This opera brings these issues to the front. Barbara Hannigan is amazing. This was deeply profound and moving.
Barbara Hannigan in The Snow Queen, Munich
Don Giovanni (Paris) – I loved this production. It is destined to come to the Met.
Rigoletto (Bregenz) – I thought this production was one of the most effective I have ever seen. It worked very well for me.
Orpheus in the Underworld (Salzburg) – A regie production, but a good one that worked wonderfully. If I spoke German I would have enjoyed it more, but as it was it was terrific. Kathryn Lewek was great.
Halka (Theater an der Wien) – Also by Moniuszko. This opera was on Opera Vision, but then it was performed in a totally different production with Piotr Beczala, Tomas Konieczny and Corrine Winters. It was a wonderful production and performance.
Die Ferne Klang (OV) – This opera by Shrecker from Sweden is an incredible opera. What a beautiful score.
There are so many more I could mention.
Musicals and Theater:
I am going to separate Shakespeare out from everything else as this year was a momentous year for me in regard to Shakespeare.
Theater and Musicals
I saw the Band’s Visit and Mean Girls again and really enjoyed them.
Taylor Louderman as Regina George in Mean Girls
The Band's Visit
Miss Saigon (Touring Co at the Fox) – I had never seen this. It was interesting to see it. It will never be a favorite.
Come From Away (Broadway) – this is a great show. I loved the traditional Newfoundland score.
Dear Evan Hansen (Touring Co. at the Fox) – A very moving show.
***Hadestown (Broadway) – This is the best musical for 2019 for me. This is such an excellent show. The score is wonderful. The cast is incredible (André de Shields is magnificent as the psychopomp Hermés). I loved the way the myths of Persephone/Hades and Orpheus/Eurydice have been woven together and reinterpreted. A brilliant show.
Hades and Persephone in Hadestown
The Fates in Hadestown
André de Shields (center) as Hermés with Euridyce and Orpheus in Hadestown
Angels in America 1 & 2 (St. Louis Rep) – Sarah, my daughter was in part 1 in college playing Harper Pitt. Consequently I can say that I have seen part 1 a lot. But I had never seen part 2 live. Though I had seen it in the film and in the London production (live stream). This was a terrific production and a wonderful performance which addresses important issues of sexuality, health care access and homophobia.
Curtain Calls for Angels in America, St. Louis Repertory Theater
Biloxi Blues (Clayton Community Theater) – Terrific production of an iconic play
Soldier’s Tale (Clayton Community Theater) – Another terrific production of another iconic play.
District Merchant (The New Jewish Theater of St. Louis) – This play is an updating and a retelling of the Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” But the author is not content to simply tell the same story. He makes some serious alterations. I found it to be a really excellent play and it dealt profoundly and intensely with issues of racism and anti-semitism.
Curtain Calls for District Merchants, New Jewish Theater
All’s Well that End’s Well & Macbeth – Oregon Shakespeare Festival – In 2019 I finally accomplished one of my life goals. I have now seen a live production of the entire Shakespearean canon – plus Edward III and Cardenio (a reconstructed lost play). I will admit that my live experience with Henry VI parts 1-3 was in a very long evening that put all three plays (parts 1, 2 and 3) together with some major cuts – even so it was 4 and a half almost 5 hours long – so I am counting it! Also my experience with Two Gents from Verona was so long ago I can’t really remember it, that is the only one I do not remember (and in my mind I might have it mixed up with Comedy of Errors since the plots are fairly similar). So, that is on my list of Shakespeare I want to revisit. Still with All’s Well, I completed the canon. And what a great production! The venue was not great – it was at the high school, unfortunately. But the production itself was excellent and the acting was terrific. Adapting this production to the high school did not really hurt All’s Well I think. However, Macbeth was an uncomfortable fit with this venue. This was not the best Macbeth I have ever seen. It was good, but the production was staged for a different theater and trying to do it in the high school was simply awkward when they tried to use the entire hall. I will say that after how many Macbeths (a lot, I have seen this play a lot and it is one of my favorites) this is the only production of this play I have ever seen that actually included the dubious inserted Hekate scene. I’m glad to have seen it but it didn’t work at all. Written by Thomas Middleton and inserted into one of the Folios in order to capitalize on the popularity of the three Weird Sisters the scene makes no sense at all and adds nothing to the play. But I have seen it! Anyway, I would return to OSF, but I would like to see a play in the main outdoor theater next time.
All's Well That Ends Well, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Macbeth, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Other Shakespeare I saw this past year: Illinois Shakespeare Festival produced a very odd version of “Julius Caesar” which was entitled “Caesar!” It was updated, no problem there; and used gender blind casting, also no problem with me. Act 1 kept pretty close to the Shakespeare plot, but Act 2 fell apart completely. First, they cut up Antony’s famous speech and gave various parts to other characters. It ruined the speech and robbed it of its power. Instead it became a vehicle for petty quarrels. And then they cut the Battle of Philippi from act 2 completely. Well, how could they finish the play without the Battle since that occupies pretty much most of the act? Good question. The result was that it fell apart and didn’t work. I love ISF and the actor who played Caesar was a high school friend of my son’s and he was terrific. Actually as long as he (Caesar) was alive the play was working great. The minute he was dead it fell apart. Maybe there is a moral there!
Love’s Labors Lost – St Louis Shakespeare Festival – STLSF produced LLL and it was fine. The play itself is not a favorite of mine. But it is always a lovely evening in the Glen at Forrest Park so I enjoyed it anyway.
Troilus & Cressida – RSC Live Stream – I have seen this play once before at Chicago Shakespeare in a brilliant production directed by the incomparable Barbara Gaines. Of course, this was the RSC so they did a great job. But something was lacking. Not sure what it was. Part of the problem was that the Ulysses had such a heavy accent (Welsh I think) that I simply could not understand her and she is a key character. Other members of the cast were quite good.
A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream – the Bridge Theater – This is one of the most interesting and creative productions I have ever seen of MsND. The main thing is that they switched Oberon and Titania so that Oberon spoke Titania’s lines and vice versa. It made for a fascinating production of the play. All the gender assumptions went out the window and the rather misogynistic device of tricking the Queen Titania and making her fall in love with the Ass (Bottom “translated”) now had Oberon falling in love with Bottom, who was male! That changed the dynamic completely! It was really terrific. I loved this production and would buy the DVD if it is made available. Highly recommended.
Bottom (asleep), as Titania removes the spell from Oberon's eyes - Bridge Theater, London (NTLive)
Oberon and Titania, Bridge Theater, London (NTLive)
Bottom ("Translated") - Bridge Theater, London (NTLive)
Measure for Measure, RSC – This is perhaps one of my favorite plays. It is a powerful play and one that could not be more timely. Just think of Angelo’s chilling line to Isabel after he has violently assaulted her and she threatens to expose him: “Who will believe thee Isabel?” We have shrugged our shoulders and looked the other way as one sexual predator after another in appointed to high office (the Supreme Court) and elected to high political office (president) and no one seems to care as the victims are re-victimized, just like Isabel was. It is disgusting. This play should be on the docket for every Shakespearean company in the country IMHO. I have tried to talk STLSF into it and I am happy to say that ISF has announced it will be performed this coming summer in Bloomington. This production by the RSC was terrific. The Angelo was appropriately buttoned up and disgusting. But the Duke was really reprehensible in this production, as he should be. This character is the enabler – he is us, folks. The ones who close our eyes and shrug our shoulders and make excuses for the men and slut-shame the women!
Isabel with the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure, RSC (NTLive)
Angelo (center) with Escalus (left) and the Judge in Measure for Measure, RSC (NTLine)
Isabel waiting to meet with her condemned brother Claudio, Measure for Measure, RSC (NTLive)
Much Ado, from Central Park PBS – Lastly, I watched on PBS a recording of a production of Much Ado about Nothing from Central Park last summer. This featured an all black cast and was really outstanding. The “wars” that the men are returning from are the front lines of the fight for equality and the play ends there too. It was effective and the cast were all excellent – especially the Beatrice. If you haven’t seen this, you should.
Hero and Claudio with the Preacher in the Wedding Scene, Central Park, Much Ado About Nothing, PBS
Lastly, thanks to all my opera friends for their suggestions and encouragement and for tolerating my prodigious sharing.
This past year my father died, in December (the Thursday before my Met weekend where I saw Akhnaten, Nozze and Queen of Spades). Dad loved two things in life – opera and Phillies baseball. The gift I received from my dad was my love of opera. My brother got the gift of the love of baseball. Dad sang comprimario tenors roles with the Wilmington Opera Society (now Delaware Opera). My very first opera ever, when I was around 5, was Die Fledermaus. Dad sang the role of the incompetent lawyer, Dr. Blind. So when I got back from the trip, now extended to include his funeral. I watched a production of Fledermaus from Vienna that was on Opera Vision. This was my small way of honoring and saying thanks to my dad for the gift of opera.
My Dad as Normanno in Lucia di Lammermore, Wilmington Opera Society (early 70's) -
Incidently this production was my first ever playing in the pit - I subbed for the Dress Rehearsal
My Dad in the chorus for Flying Dutchman sometime in the 80's, Wilmington Opera Society (Delaware Opera)
I wish you all a Happy New Year and much music and opera for the coming year!