Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

How do you measure a year?

January 01, 2007

I love lists and although I know that the whole “top ten” phenomenon really means nothing, I can’t let go. So now that 2006 is actually over, I've put together my list of favorite performances I attended this year. Just for reference on the denominator, I attended 212 performing arts events this year comprised of the following:

50 individual opera performances*
66 “classical” or “art music” concerts
81 non-opera theatrical events including 16 “musicals”
9 non-classical music concerts, and
6 events that were primarily dance, comedy or something else.

While there were a few dogs, the number of really enjoyable evenings and afternoons far outweighed them. Here are the best with links to those items I've written about previously:

Cast of Platée
Photo: Opéra National de Paris 2006
1. Platée. Rameau. Opera National de Paris – Palais Garnier. I know that this 3rd revival of Laurent Pelly’s production is old news. It’s even out on DVD already. But guess what, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed anything so much. It was beautiful, funny, and stylish - seemingly effortless. Marc Minkowski was brilliant. Mireille Delunsch is a national treasure. There are images I’ll never forget- of fire raining from the heavens and a table of thousands of wine glasses to name two. Director Laurent Pelly also deserves mention for his whimsical design of Massenet’s Cendrillon at Santa Fe Opera. Dresses worn either way up, a carriage made of words, enormous red books of fairy tales, and Joyce DiDonato in a dream of love on the rooftops of Paris – how can anyone not fall for this?

2. The Peony Pavilion. Tang Xianzu. The Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province at UCLA Royce Hall. It’s been done in more complete versions in the past but this nine-hour abridgement focusing on the young lover’s plot lines was bewitching. I found it incredibly rewarding to see something so rarely performed that is not only older than nearly all Western opera but calls into question many of its basic tenets. Plus, while doing this, it manages to charm and beguile.

Stephen Milling as Tsargo and Patricia Bardon as Adriana Mater
Photo: Ruth Walz/Opéra National de Paris 2006
3. Adriana Mater. Kaija Saariaho. Opera National de Paris – Bastille. The French press was rough on it, but the music alone makes it the third operatic masterpiece of the 21st century. (Just after L’amour de loin, and Adams’ Doctor Atomic) What nobody says about the opera is that the real reason people don’t like it is that it’s optimistic about the future of humanity – a sentiment that is hard to swallow in fashionable circles these days and particularly hard in a non-comic opera.

Cast of The Tempsest
Photo: Ken Howard 2006
4. The Tempest. Thomas Adès. Santa Fe Opera A magnificent American debut in Santa Fe and the crowning jewel of a varied and fantastic slate of programming from Adès here in the West with everything from Asyla and the violin concerto to chamber works performed with the LA Phil. The image of drenched passengers crawling out of a flooded pit onto the island is a keeper as is the wonderful score. Here's hoping that we see more music from here soon.

5. Minimalist Jukebox. LA Philharmonic. A magnificent and varied retrospective of music from Reich, Andriessen, Riley, Pärt, Glass, and Adams. There are treasures here too numerous to mention: the American debut of Christina Zavalloni, a maximal In C, a live performance of Tabula Rasa, and stirring selections form Akhnaten. All this and Salonen closes the 05/06 season with Ligeti’s Requiem, his own Wing on Wing, and his LA calling card, Le Sacre du Printemps. The LA Phil continues to be America’s preeminent purveyors of 20th and 21st century music.

6. L’incoronazione di Poppea. Monteverdi. LA Opera. Graham, Daniels, von Stade, and Harry Bicket made this the crowning achievement of an already amazing Summer and Fall for our local company that included a brand new Don Carlo, 2 Traviatas (one new, and one old with Fleming), a new sold-out Manon with Villazón and Netrebko, and Grendel, a world premiere that ended up making money after potential disaster. All this and our new music director James Conlon made it a very good year for opera on the West coast.

Simon Keenlyside as Pèleas and Angelika Kirchschlager as Mèlisande
at the Salzburg Easter Festival
Photo: Bernd Uhlig 2006
7. Pèleas et Mélisande. Debussy. Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle. Away from the circus costumes of the Salzburg Easter Festival production, Rattle produced an exceptional concert performance in Berlin with the same all star team of Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, and Laurent Naori. If I have to keep traveling to Europe to see Keenlyside, so be it. Totally engrossing.

Anna Netrebko as Manon and Rolando Villazón as Des Grieux
Photo: Robert Millard/LA Opera 2006
8. Netrebko. Everywhere. While she may not be the next Joan Sutherland, two things are true – she can sing and she can act - talents that many of her peers lack in that combination. People love to see her perform as do I. My three exposures to her , this year, as Dorina in the Met’s Don Pasquale, Manon in LA Opera’s production and Elvira Walton in the Met’s revival of I Puritani, were all highlights.

9. Two Southern California opera concert performances of 21st century operas – Barry’s The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit with the LA Philharmonic under Thomas Adès and Golijov’s Ainadamar with Dawn Upshaw under the leadership of Robert Spano with the Atlanta Symphony at the 2006 Ojai festival. Grendel wasn’t the only new opera in town this year and these two excellent performances gave new music fans even more to chew on.

10. Gergiev. Everywhere.
Classical music’s iron man certainly was everywhere and while he may not be the best at everything, he is better than most much of the time. My notable moments with the Maestro included a heart-wrenching performance of Shostakovich’s First and Fourteenth Symphonies with the LSO at the Barbican and the expansive Marinsky Festival in Orange County with a top notch Boris Gudonov and a not-entirely shabby Ring cycle.

Since I favor music performances, I’ll follow this post with a list specifically about non-opera theater events later. Happy New Year everyone.

*Note: The 50 individual opera performances included 4 that were either concerts or “semi-staged.” I attended the Marinsky Theater’s touring production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle as well as three evenings worth of the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater’s touring production of The Peony Pavilion and I have counted each of these evenings as an individual performance. Of the rest, I saw four specific productions twice, all here in LA: Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel, Manon with Netrebko and Villazon, Don Carlo, and L’incoronazione di Poppea. There were two operas I saw in two different productions, Massenet’s Manon(at the Met and in LA) and Verdi’s La Traviata (what else? And both in LA?!). Yes, for those of you keeping score, I have sat through Manon three times this year alone. I like French opera. Deal with it.


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