Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Best in Show 07 - music edition

December 31, 2007

The Tristan Project- Act II
Photo: Bill Viola 2007
Before moving on with 2008, it’s annual list time again. First: the numerator. I saw 225 performances last year (not counting the things I walked out of). There were 56 live opera performances, 83 “classical” musical concerts, and 15 other musical performances. There were another 63 theatrical performances of which 12 could be considered “musicals.” The remaining 8 shows were comedy, dance or something else. So which of the mostly musical performances will likely stick with me?

1. "The Tristan Project” Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic 4/07. A magnificent return engagement of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with the accompaniment of Bill Viola’s video installations, Peter Sellars’ direction, and the incomparable Christine Brewer as Isolde. A landmark for the LA Phil. If there is any single moment I will remember of Salonen’s time with this ensemble it will be this – Salonen with his back to the orchestra conducting the horns positioned across the hall in the upper balcony as King Marke arrives on Tristan’s boat at the end of Act I, the hall filled with light.

Karita Mattila and Jorma Silvasti
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2007
2. Janácek's Jenufa with Karita Mattila in Los Angeles, 10/07 and New York, 2/07. Mattila's role-defining performance on both coasts was matched by not one but two separate exemplary Kostelnickas – Anja Silja at the Metropolitan and Eva Urbanova in Los Angeles. Olivier Tambosi’s simple but effective staging completed the most affecting fully staged opera performance anywhere this year.

Susan Graham
Photo: Terrence McCarthy/SFO 2007
3. Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride with Susan Graham in San Francisco 6/07. Graham continues to demonstrate why she is one of the most important voices on the world stage. She took this show on the road everywhere this year including New York leaving amazed audiences in her wake. A searing performance of both vocal accomplishment and superior acting skills. Robert Carsen’s minimal black-box set in San Francisco upped the intensity of this marvelous opera.

4. John Adams' Naïve and Sentimental Music with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic. 1/07. I’ve said it before and will so again. If anyone is uncertain what will be lost in the much over-hyped transition between Salonen and incoming LA Phil music Director Gustavo Dudamel, the answer is likely this. Dudamel’s chops in new and contemporary music appear largely untested. When Salonen is gone, it may be a long time before we see something composed this recently played this well.

Sally Matthews as Alice
Photo: Wilfried Hösl 2007
5. Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich 7/07. Wild and wonderful, Chin’s opera rose above a sometimes stand-offish production from Achim Freyer largely through excellent performances from Sally Matthews as Alice, Dietrich Henschel as the Mad Hatter, and Gwyneth Jones as the Queen of Hearts. Now it’s time for an American premiere – Santa Fe are you listening?

6. Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, Barbican, London 7/07. Another wonder from the mind of Saariaho. Although the piece was canceled and rescheduled by the LA Philharmonic twice this year, the piece did get its scheduled debut with the vocalist for which it was written, Dawn Upshaw, under the baton of Robert Spano in July. Dark and beautiful, Saariaho continues on a radical course, advocating for genuine peace and forgiveness in the face of war.

Kasarova and Harteros
Photo: Wilfried Hösl 2005
7. Handel's Alcina, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich 6/07. Not a new production, but a magnificent revival with two names that deserve bigger careers on this side of the Atlantic – Vasselina Kasarova and Anja Harteros. Beautifully played and sung. Visually arresting without being silly. Handel at its best.

8. Stevie Wonder, The Greek Theater, LA 9/07. How do you turn things around after a year of personal loss and tragedy? Head out on the road and remind yourself about what’s good in life and have a great time. Wonder’s performance was unrelenting in its good spirit and funky grooves. It’s always a joy to see a real master at work.

Chicago's Doctor Atomic Act II
Photo: Robert Kusel/LOC 2007
9. Adams’ Doctor Atomic. Lyric Opera of Chicago 12/07 and A Flowering Tree. San Francisco Symphony 3/07. Adams continues to demonstrate why he is the most important living composer of vocal music for the stage. He and his collaborator, Peter Sellars, should also be lauded for doing their part to make major stars out of Eric Owens and Jessica Rivera.

10. Joanna Newsom, WDCH, LA 11/07. The final performance in the tour to support Ys was exactly that - a performance of the complete recording straight through with orchestra. It’s so easy to use irritating words like “enchanting” to describe Newsom’s work, but at the same time, it’s kind of appropriate. A wonderful talent and a riveting evening.

Honorable mentions: Deborah Voigt, Diana Damrau et al. in Die Ägyptische Helena, Dimtri Hvorostovsky and Renée Fleming in Eugene Onegin, and War and Peace all at the Metropolitan Opera. Michael Rouse’s Requiem at WDCH with Grant Gershon. Katya Kabanova at ROH with Sir Charles Mackerras. Julius Eastman’s Crazy Nigger and Sandeep Bhagwati’s Vineland Stellae with the California EAR Unit at REDCAT. LA Opera's Tannhauser.

Most overrated: Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. While Dudamel is certainly very talented, the incredible hype surrounding him and his orchestra aren't justified in anything I’ve seen. The SBYO performances were overwrought and pandering regardless of one’s views on the political overtones of these events. Dudamel may likely prove to do great things here in LA, but I for one feel we will have to wait and see about that.

Most underrated: Katie Mitchell's production of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion at Glyndebourne 7/07. Bach’s Passion is not an opera so staging it seems to invite easy criticism all around. Many critics hated the modern community tragedy overlay on the work, but I still contend that many of the images were visually arresting and the vocal performances of Mark Padmore, Sarah Connolly, and the rest of the cast did more than necessary to make this a highlight of the year.

We’ll that’s it for now. I’ll follow up with theater commentary in a few days when I get caught up.



How did you keep track of all those shows? I might need to keep a tally myself in 2008.

I share your sentiments about the Stevie show but wasn't it in September?
You are correct. My regular proofreader is out of commission and I seem to have let a few details slip.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter