It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
Against the Grain had another good year. A Little Too Cozy completed the da Ponte adaptations nicely with a clever, if sonically challenged, choice of venue. The Rape of Lucretia though scored all the way. The production didn’t shy away from the textual problems, the singing and acting was excellent and it was wonderful to hear a Britten chamber opera performed with the band it was scored for. Tapestry had a couple of hits too with the imported The Devil Inside, which brought Scottish Opera to Harbourfront, and the excellent home grown Rocking Horse Winner with a really mature performance from Asitha Tennekoon. Of the “even further off Broadway” productions the most fun was surely Opera 5’s anarchic, immersive Die Fledermaus.
In the concerts and recitals space a number of shows stood out. Shostakovich 13 at the TSO was everything a performance of this piece should be; loud, intense and deeply disturbing. Against the Grain’s presentation of Oswaldo Golijov’s Ayre was another highlight. The composer was there, the time was right, the venue was perfect and Miriam Khalil was incandescant. Brilliant stuff. There were some good recitals at Koerner. Bryn Terfel was outstanding and displayed an astonishing rapport with his audience. It was also the afternoon that I learned that most of the COC Board can’t recognize Welsh. Cyfarchion y Tymor guys. Jamie Barton was very impressive too as was a, perhaps strangely, rather subdued Deb Voigt. The best of my lunchtime excursions was to hear Charles Sy knock the socks off Britten’s Les Illuminations and the most fun at UoT was Krisztina Szabó killing Dean Burry’s setting of The Highwayman. There was also a week of Barbara Hannigan at the UoT which was intriguing on so many levels.
A couple of video recordings really impressed me. The first was Katie Mitchell’s Aix take on Handel’s Alcina. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the magical and sexual elements so cleverly fused. It has a brilliant cast too with Petitbon, Jaroussky and Bradic outstanding. Equally fine was Barrie Kosky’s staging of Handel’s Saul for Glyndebourne. It goes places previous stages of the oratorios haven’t and it features a very fine performance in the leading role by Chris Purves and a weird, disturbing cameo by John Tomlinson nas the Witch of Endor.
On CD it was Dark Star Requiem; an opera oratorio by Andrew Stanisland which was recorded back in 2010 but only released this year. It’s a stunning, dark and often funny piece about HIV/AIDS. It’s very moving. (Note: I reviewed this in Opera Canada not here).
All in all a pretty good year.