December 23, 2014

The Top 10 opera-related stories of 2014

To close out a year in which news stories both in the world at large and in the opera world were turbulent indeed, here's my list of the top 10 news stories involving my profession, in no particular order
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San Diego, scene of a resurrection
10:  Financial woes at the Metropolitan Opera. Heavy indebtedness resulted in near-disastrous labor negotiations, a flirtation with bankruptcy and (as of this week) the lowering of the company's credit rating.

9.  The "Death of Klinghoffer" protests. John Adams' opera about Palestinian terrorists aboard an Israeli cruise ship has been staged without incident around the world for decades, but this was to be its first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera. Less-than-informed protesters caused CEO Peter Gelb to cancel plans to air the piece in movie theaters and over the radio. Much teeth-gnashing and Monday-morning-quarterbacking ensued. You are free to make your own comparisons to the Sony movie studio's cancellation of their comedy about North Korea, The Interview.

8.  The death and re-birth of the San Diego Opera. Small-market performing arts organizations have been succombing to deficits ever since 2008, but when an opera company's Board of Directors voted to shut down in a city of the size of San Diego, it caused international headlines. This was a company which had lure headline divas and stars. A flurry of hastily-raised cash donations and a Greek chorus of protesters around the country as well as the community have, temporarily, produced a trial season at a fraction of the budget. It remains to be seen if the public will pony up to see "rising young artists" instead of Voight, Netrebko, Furlanetto and their like.

7.  The return of Maestro James Levine. All careers come to an end, though orchestral conductors seem especially long-lived, with most luminaries remaining active into their 80's and beyond. Credit the cardiovascular benefits of arm-waving. But many suspected that the Met's Chief Musical Guru might have seen a premature retirement coming with his multitude of physical woes in recent seasons. Thus it's somewhat surprising to see him return to a full schedule of late, waltzing through behemoths like Die Meistersinger from his wheelchair. More power to him.

6  Joyce DiDonato retires the role of Cenerentola. The pre-eminent coloratura mezzo currently before the public, her iconic performances as Rossini's Cinderella have come to an end with the recent Met production.

5.  Anna Netrebko's triumph as Lady Macbeth. I, Your Humble Blogger, missed the Met's HD transmission, but critics fairly swooned at the diva's star-turn in Verdi's first Shakespearean opera. After a career dallying with roles like Lucia, Adina and other bel canto parts, she seems to have demonstrated that she's ready for the leap into dramatic soprano territory.

4.  The ascent of tenor Javier Camarena to stardom. Lawrence Brownlee and Juan Diego Flórez have some serious competition in the bel canto tenor arena. Mr. Camarena's performances in Rossini and Bellini at the Met have made him a rock star. Here's a gushy review from the NY Times  "It is not every singer who can steal the spotlight from the radiant Diana Damrau, who played Bellini’s gentle Amina. His high notes secure and his phrases long and arching, Mr. Camarena managed it again and again, singing Elvino’s downcast soliloquy, “Tutto è sciolto,” with perfect poise while aching with emotion."

3.  The death of Lorin Maazel. The maestro's sudden passing happened in the midst of the Castleton Opera Festival, his most recent project at his estate in Virginia. His was a storied career, with many notable achievements and posts in the opera world.

2.  Turmoil in European Houses. Riccardo Muti left Rome Opera; the Vienna State Opera had to find last-minute replacements to conduct 34 performances when its Music Director bolted, and there were other feuds, resignations and kerfuffles. Google it.

1. A soprano saves the day. File under "it pays to be prepared": When soprano Anita Hartig became too ill to sing Mimi in an HD-transmitted performance of La bohème at the Met, Kristine Opolais took her place on short notice. What makes one sit up and take notice is that Ms. Opolais had just sung the taxing role of Cio-Cio-san in Madama Butterfly THE PREVIOUS DAY, and had virtually no sleep. She gets the "Purple 5-hour Energy Award of Valor" for the year!


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