Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Best of 2010 (3): Singers

This blog is my modest opera/concerts "diary" that somehow got to be read by many and I thank you all for that.

As you may have noticed I mostly try to talk about things I like --instead of dwelling on stuff I dislike -- except, of course, when it's unavoidable (or for defining purposes). Rarely but I do sometimes trash the lazy/'untalented' directors, and my reason is quite simple: money is tight today, waste it on no-concept, no-idea, on nothing creative, or stale theater...  is irresponsible -- it harms opera, it wastes our time, and often insults our intelligence. Happily that happens very seldom as I am more experienced in picking good and interesting shows to see.

All photos in the above collage were taken by Yours Truly

With singers the story is more difficult as we are living in an era of many-many gifted performers who besides their beautiful voices and fantastic vocal techniques, also excel as actors.

I've tried to post my Best of 2010 several times and each time I felt I was unfair to many brilliant singers - especially when I'd made a too extensive list (with more than 15 names.)

Finally, after restraining my discussion to the least possible number of those who I thought delivered extraordinary stuff in 2010 (either on an operatic stage or in a concert hall), I ended up with...

Ladies in Opera

1. Katarina Dalayman and Anja Harteros
2. Lucy Crowe and Anna Netrebko
3. Petra Lang and Sophie Koch
4. Diana Damrau and Tatiana Monogarova
5. Ekaterina Gubanova and Christiane Iven
6. Véronique Gens and Adrianne Pieczonka
7. Ricarda Merbeth and Eva Maria Westbroek
8. Anna Prohaska and Kate Aldrich
[erratum: Catherine Naglestad should be added to #6]

I didn't get to listen to Nina Stemme live in 2010, but I had a great privilege to hear a stunning Brünnhilde by Katarina Dalayman. I saw the Paris production of Die Walküre three times and each time that woman was incredible: extremely hard role in the most difficult conditions to sing -- huge hall with a challenging acoustics at Opéra Bastille-- and she rocked.The best of Kat' ever!
Anja Harteros is killing the female roles one after another. The best Mimi, amazing Violetta,  the GOAT Elsa, and in 2010 she kills Desdemona (Otello). Either on the stage in Berlin, or in concert in Paris -- it was just astonishing to see that this down to earth woman cannot do anything wrong as a singer. Plus Mimi and Alcina in concert. 
Unearthly singing by Lucy Crowe in The Fairy Queen was maybe the most beautiful single moment of sheer beauty in opera in 2010. She then came back to steal the show in a new production of Orlando in Paris.
Ah that Cassandre by Petra Lang is still stuck in my mind. We know her for her Judith, Brangäne, Ortrud, Sieglinde, but who would expect her to display the same brilliance in impeccable French diction, with that richly colored and expressive voice?!
I believe Sophie Koch sang the best possible Charlotte in Paris' Werther. It's powerful, it's beautifully expressive, totally scenically invested -- not surprised to learn that she needed a day to physically recup after each show. 

Recitals or opera in concert:
1. Joyce DiDonato
2. --
3. --
Unfortunately in 2010 I saw Joyce in only one (horrible) production. Happily this was compensated by two completely different but equally smashing recitals she gave in Paris, one of which was crowned with a standing ovation (something that almost never happens in Paris.) Leaving #2 and 3 blank is just to emphasize the brilliance of Joyce.

Svetlana Ignatovich, Paulina Pfeiffer, Marjorie Owens, Karen Vourc'h, Elena Semenova
Watch out! These girls will soon be rocking the world!

Gents in Opera

1. Scott Hendricks and Andrew Richards
2. Ed Lyon and Jonas Kaufmann
3. Georg Zeppenfeld and Tómas Tómasson 
4. Thomas Johannes Mayer and Gidon Saks
5. Ludovic Tézier and Lucas Meachem
6. Kim Begley and  Klaus Florian Vogt
7. Johan Reuter and Toby Spence
8. Piotr Beczala and Kwangchul Youn
[erratum: Christopher Maltman should share #3 - the best DonGio in business!]

Difficult not to see that two best male opera singers in 2010 are Americans, which begs a tiny 'tackle'-comment: maybe irrational but for (almost) every American singer, singing a major role at the Met (esp when Live broadcast worldwide) gives a sense of accomplishment -- a milestone in their career. I don't see the Scott's name on the preview-list of future seasons at The Met and I see Andrew's for 2013 only. That's obviously better for the European houses to have la crème of American opera singers performing in Europe, but I believe the Met could make an effort and find a way to make the two best singers of the moment sing on their fetish-stage "now" -- i.e. when they are on the top of their game (I'd be glad to accept a challenge: name me better/or-as-good opera singers/actors than these two in their respective niches today! Thanks)

The best operatic performance I've ever seen in my life: Scott Hendricks as Macbeth in Bruxelles. No accomplished actor would act that convincingly as he did, and his singing was not only high volume and technically impeccable, but was incredibly expressive without ever leaning towards "vulgar" (as we often see singers do in Verdi roles). I'm still whining that this show was not released on DVD. EVERYONE in that show acted and sang out of their minds, with Scott setting up a bar very high -- he created art out of that character.

Andrew Richards: He started 2010 by covering for Jonas Kaufmann in Paris' Werther. Friends who went to see the show because of Kaufmann were disappointed when they learned that Jonas canceled the show that they had the tickets for, but finished the evening enchanted for having listened to a magnifique tenor - Richards; Then he makes a debut as Parsifal in Stuttgart in what was one of the best shows in 2010 by any standard (new production & challenging conditions for a role debut - grand success); Another best production in 2010 was premiered in Brussels and Richards AGAIN makes his role debut [as Macduff in Macbeth at La Monnaie] and if you can listen to his Macduff you will realize how fantastic a singer he is right now; Next role was in Strasbourg where he sang his first Adorno in a new production again and was singled out as "extraordinary Adorno" by everyone. Add to that his acclaimed Don José at La Scala, and it becomes clear that no singer did nearly as good or better in 2010! 

To be honest, Kaufmann is not my fave Lohengrin (K-F.Vogt is!) I loved his Fidelio, but I believe his Werther will remain as his best sung role so far. He really has that special talent to interpret the characters in his own way, and the crowd obviously love it.
Ed Lyon was my biggest surprise in The Fairy Queen. What I've heard and felt there was confirmed later on in Acis & Galatea, and again in Pygmalion -- that man has a special talent/voice that other singers in his fach simply don't have.
Watermen is a central character in the Herheim's production of Rusalka that Georg Zeppenfeld sang gloriously. No bass can be compared to that man today. It is a rich timbre of a powerful voice that strikes you with apparent easiness in execution. Acting-wise he gives his all on the stage, and almost paradoxically looks shy at the curtain call. La force tranquille!
Whoever can sing the role of Hans Sachs with such a sustained power from the get go to the last monologue, as Tom Tomasson can, I take my hat off to him. Tomas was my biggest surprise in 2010. I did know neither him nor Thomas Johannes Mayer (Wotan in Paris!) before 2010, and now am happy that Wagnerian singing is richer for these two gems!

Recitals and opera in concert:
- Matthias Goerne
- Jonas Kaufmann
- Edwin Crossley-Mercer
- Juan Diego Florez
- Max Emanuel Cencic
- Franco Vassallo

In no particular order the above 6 guys made a special singing event each: first 3 gave memorable Liederabend's; Juan Diego surprised by his superb recital in a rather original program; Max' fireworks at Salle Gaveau are unbeatable; in-form Franco is awesome - everybody knows that, right!?

Dmitry Korchak, Benjamin Bernheim, Roman Burdenko, Eung Kwang Lee, Phillip Addis, Nicolas Ziélinski


  1. I took notes on this one.... so many names we dont even hear about in the US - but will keep an eye/ear out for Tom Tomasson, Andrew Richards, and Greg Zeppenfeld.... you are such a lucky lady ( ? gent?) and you sure get around - thank you for keeping us less fortunates well informed...

  2. The reason that your blog has become so widely read by we who love opera is that you always look at each production with fresh eyes. What a joy it is to not see the same old names touted as "the best".

    Anyone who regularly attends opera performances knows what your "Best of 2010" lists clearly reflect; we live in a period of staggering talent - voices, acting, theatrical vision and artistry.

  3. Thx Katika [A big gent actually :)]

    Thanks Suzanne. I too get coerced by advertising into seeing blockbusters and "big names", but I am never impressed if there is not much beyond billboards and great resumés.
    I think we are slowly getting past the time in which the shows are about a particular diva/divo, or about a conductor. It should all click together and everyone is motivated to make opera good, including any divo/diva who wants to expose his/her greatness. For example, I suspect Scott Hendricks would not have been that great if he was singing in some shabby production stuck among unmotivated people... I know it's difficult, but that's what makes them artists and not mere entertainers.

  4. Andrew Richards is my favorite tenor since I saw him as Don Jose at Berlin Staatsoper and as Werther in Bruxelles.
    I have heard Benjamin Bernheim first time in Zurich.

  5. Perhaps Opera Cake you can put a link on your site to 'Seen and Heard International' another site that appreciates the under-rated Petra Lang - perhaps the on-line streaming of her Ortrud from Bayreuth this summer and the subsequent DVD will get her the wider recognition she so deserves!

  6. There doesn't seem any way to contact you ... but to follow up my contact y'day I meant to add that I forward your reviews to Petra who much appreciates your comments but confirm a link on this site to the new-improved 'S&H' would be much appreciated http://www.seenandheard-international.com/.