Our Reviewers’ Choices for 2012

Our Reviewers’ Choices for 2012

Michael Cookson ( Berlin, Munich, Dresden, London, Manchester )

In 2012 I attended a large number of concerts, operas and recitals both in England and in Germany but I can easily bring to mind the finest performances.

At the Dresden Music Festival Maestro Daniel Barenboim conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Semper Opera House in Mozart’s final three Symphonies No’s. 39, 40 & 41. Three symphonies all classical masterpieces from the pen of that true genius Mozart, performed by one of the world’s finest orchestras and conducted by the musical genius that is Barenboim was symphonic heaven.

I loved every minute of Michael Schulz’s highly colourful production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Dresden State Opera. This was exceptional entertainment with tenor Giorgio Berrugi quite outstanding in his role as a characterful Nemorino managing to displaying a real vulnerability.

American music was the principal theme at this year’s Musikfest Berlin 2012. Standing out was the concert at the Philharmonie from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Ingo Metzmacher in an uplifting and colourful programme of the Gershwin Cuban Overture; Ives Symphony No. 4; Antheil A Jazz Symphony and the Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. This magnificent orchestra can turn their hand to any type of music in a concert that was as wonderful to watch as it was to hear.

As if making a bold statement that there is more than one great orchestra in Berlin the Deutsches-Symphonie Orchester Berlin conducted by Tugan Sokhiev gave a thrilling concert at the Philharmonie as part of the Musikfest Berlin 2012. Mezzo Sasha Cooke replaced an indisposed Susan Graham with a selection of American songs including a stunning rendition of Bolcom’s Song of Black Max and Bernstein’s What a Movie! Sokhiev’s impressive account of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite was followed by a remarkable performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 that will linger long in the memory.

Back in England at the Preston Guild Hall the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra revitalised under Vasily Petrenko performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Titan’. I felt privileged just to be in the hall to experience such a magnificent performance from the Liverpool Phil that crackled with energy and excitement.

At a packed Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra choirs and soloists triumphed in a rare performance of Elgar’s large scale oratorio The Apostles. The Hallé Orchestra demonstrated their increasing prowess on the international stage with Elder’s large forces combining to give one of the most moving experiences I have encountered in classical music.

Juanjo Mena the chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra showed his impeccable credentials with two stunning concerts given only a month apart. In October he gave a memorable and highly dramatic Mahler Symphony No. 5 and in November a glorious Bruckner Symphony No. 9 that generated a terrific emotional power.

I caught Anne-Sophie Mutter with her accompanist Lambert Orkis at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on the final date of her fifteen date March European tour. In an appealing programme of Mozart, Schubert, Lutosławski and Saint-Saëns the captivating Mutter demonstrated her great musicianship and charismatic stage presence.

Last but not least was German born chanteuse Ute Lemper in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music Theatre with her Last Tango In Berlin tour. Accompanied only by a piano and bandoneón Lemper held the audience in the palm of her hand enthralled by the spell cast by this exceptionally talented cabaret singer.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Roger Jones (Birmingham, Longborough)

In 2013 opera companies will doubtless be celebrating the Wagner bi-centenary with a vengeance. But for me the celebrations started this year with two exceptional performances.

The first – appropriately on Good Friday – was a concert performance of Parsifal in Birmingham by the Mariinsky Theatre during its spring tour of the UK.

I prepared myself for thick Russian accents mangling the German text but was pleasantly surprised. Valery Gergiev had worked wonders with his singers whose German diction was impeccable. Yuri Vorobiev in the role of Gurnemanz was particularly impressive, followed by Avgust Amanov as a geeky looking Parsifal, the “guileless fool”, who underwent a striking transformation when finally realising where his responsibilities lie.

The quality of the orchestral playing under Gergiev’s command was out of this world, not least in the early stages of the opera where the music induced a hypnotic trance in its listeners as it drew them inwards away from the cares of the outside world in preparation for the events that follow.

My second Wagner encounter was Longborough Festival Opera’s Götterdämmerung, directed by Alan Privett and conducted by Anthony Negus. This was notable for some very sympathetic portrayals of the main protagonists.  Estonian singer Mata Turi was extremely likeable as the bluff, honest Siegfried – always happy to help out a friend and in his element when joking with the Rhine maidens.

I quickly warmed to Rachel Nicholls, assuming the role of Brünnhilde for the first time – a very nice girl until roused to anger. At the other end of the likeability spectrum was Stuart Hendred as the villain Hagen – an extremely slimy character. His half-brother Gunther, the wheelchair bound Eddie Wade, seemed particularly gullible while Lee Bisset was a convincing but naïve  Gutrune (Lee Bisset).

Privett and Negus will be in action again in the summer of 2013 when they plan to stage the complete Ring Cycle at Longborough.

Jonathan Spencer Jones (Buenos Aires)

Celebration of the 2013 bicentennial of Wagner’s birth started early in Argentina, with the Teatro Argentino of La Plata’s Das Rheingold launching the 2012 season. Promised as “an Ibero-American production,” with some of the best of the local singers from Latin America, a well rehearsed orchestra, and a modern, River Plate feel to the staging, even without agreeing with many of producer Marcelo Lombardero’s ideas, the outcome both musically and visually was undeniably compelling.

It also made for a promising start to the Argentino’s first ever Ring cycle, which was set to take place over two years. However, with the worsening local economic situation having seen Die Walküre cut from the 2012 season, we await word of its rescheduling in 2013 and that of the other two works that were planned for 2013.

The Teatro Colón also marked 2012 for its Wagner homage with the premiere of the “Colón Ring” – a mini version of the four works reduced to a little over 7 hours for a single sitting. Of course, producing such a work in the first place would be controversial, and then there were the further controversies added by producer Valentina Carrasco of La Fura dels Baus, but even for those vehemently opposed, it was a production not to be missed. Who knows if and where it may be put on again? Linda Watson as Brunnhilde was the star of a mostly strong cast and Roberto Paternostro’s measured conducting of the equivalent of two orchestras was a feat of stamina.

Meanwhile the smaller independent companies stayed mostly with the traditional repertoire, but with some excursions. Juventus Lyrica paired Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with his rarely performed Lamico Fritz in a production that aimed to give some “lift” to this musically interesting but dramatically weak work, presenting it also with marionettes mimicking the cast to an on-stage audience. But more successful was the company’s rare foray into the 20th century with Britten’s Turn of the Screw, simply but effectively set and with a well considered cast that highlighted the tensions of this dark work.

For Buenos AiresLírica, its departure was Eugene Onegin, which has now been produced in and around Buenos Aires as many times in the last two years as in the 95 since its local premiere. Simple but elegant sets put the spotlight very much on the music, sensitively conducted by Javier Logioia Orbe and particularly notable performances from Carla Filipcic Holm (Tatiana) and Fabián Veloz (Onegin).

Rafael De’Acha (Cincinnati)

From January through the dog days of summer and beyond, to the culturally-saturated fall season, Cincinnati is filled with music. At the top of my list of favorites sits the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its charismatic Music Director Designate Louis Langrée. His all-French program with the astounding young French piano virtuoso Cédric Tiberghien was a thing of wonder— the best Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 I have heard. In November, Langrée came and re-conquered with a pre-Thanksgiving Beethoven Ninth Symphony and a fierce performance of Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw.

One of two groups I heard several times in 2012 is the stalwart Catacoustic Consort, which does anything written before the mid-1600s to perfection, hiring world-class soloists and using authentic period instruments. Its December concertwith the lovely soprano Youngmi Kim helped audiences rediscover rare treasures from the Italian Baroque.

A day later concert:nova did an outrageously original all-percussion concert with the gravity-defying MamLuft&Co. Dance at the Cincinnati Art Museum—in a year during which concert:nova played everything from Italian Romantic chamber music to Frank Zappa.

Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM) presents hundreds of events each year. The November 15 Street Scene—part of a year-long Kurt Weill celebration—was the best realization of Weill’s opera I have ever seen.

And though I was out of town during the May Festival and for most of the Cincinnati Opera season this past summer, one thing lingers in memory: a dreamy La Traviata with the glorious soprano Aileen Perez as Violetta.

Spread out all over the city, a host of musical organizations make scheduling concerts a thorny (but nice) problem to have. I would be unfair not to at least mention the Vocal Arts Ensemble and The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, both of which I plan to cover in 2013.

John Quinn  (Gloucester)

The celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral produced three memorable concerts, including the première of James MacMillan’s new Gloria and the first performance in the cathedral – fifty years late – of The Beatitudesby Bliss. However, pride of place has to go to the superb and moving performance of Britten’s War Requiem, conducted from the heart by Andris Nelsons. This magnificent performance has recently been released on DVD (review). Nelsons was also responsible for an electrifying ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in Birmingham. Late in the year illness meant he withdrew from conducting Bruckner’s 8th but Simone Young was a marvellous replacement and offered the rarely- heard 1887 version of the score.

An excellent Three Choirs Festival in Hereford included a great rarity, Dyson’s The Canterbury Pilgrims, in a fine, committed performance conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Brabbins was also at the helm when English National Opera mounted the first professional performance since 1951 of Vaughan Williams’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Even if I didn’t agree with every aspect of the production it was an unforgettable evening. Back to Birmingham for one of the finest performances I’ve ever heard of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony under Riccardo Chailly. In complete contrast I greatly enjoyed hearing Alec Roth’s new choral piece, A Time to Dance, splendidly performed by Ex Cathedra. Nor can I overlook the National Youth Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko in Messiaen’s gloriously hedonistic Turangalîla-Symphonie. Performances by two tenors were richly rewarding: James Oxley as the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion and Mark Padmore’s compelling Schubert recital with Paul Lewis.
And finally…something completely different. How Like an Angel, a collaboration between the singers of I Fagiolini and the Australian circus acrobatics troupe, Circa in Gloucester Cathedral provided a completely unique experience.

Bettina Mara (Greece and Southeastern Europe)

I have often had serious doubts about concert reviewing. If music expresses what we are unable to put in words, why write about it? (A rhetorical question, of course, and musicians will presumably have to put up with critics for many years to come.) I mention this by way of introduction because there was no need to think twice about my choice for ‘Best of 2012’: it was experiencing the powerful pianism of Sergei Babayan in an utterly unique venue just a stone’s throw from the Green Line in Nicosia on October 16th of this year. And yet, I fear my attempt to describe it without sounding trite may well fail, if it hasn’t done so already.

The recital program (see below) was an achievement in itself, and the immediacy of Babayan’s playing soon revealed that he is one of those rare artists who succeed in introducing audiences to new music while choosing a fresh angle on more traditional repertoire. His opening rendition of Ryabov’s Fantasia – dedicated to a great pianist and free spirit of Stalinist Russia – was a case in point; far from offering instant gratification, in Babayan’s hands it was stunning, not pleasing, a veritable aleph of a piece for the way it produces a feeling of eternity by bringing together the seemingly incompatible. Following this tour de force, it was with incredible ease that he made the transition to the divine heartbeat of Messaien’s Vingt Regards, not to mention his resplendently articulate, colorful Bach – and these latter pieces were not standard concert fare, either. The subsequent Rachmaninov was utterly thrilling, especially the seldom-heard transcriptions by Volodos and perhaps even more so that all-time favorite, the beautiful Prelude in D major, written when the composer was at the height of his career and in love – all of which will remain ingrained in my memory for the sheer lack of frenzy brought to those vintage Rachmaninov surges and swells which lead most pianists into temptation. Still, it was perhaps Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, one of Babayan’s preferred encores, which conveyed the strongest allusion to the spiritual dimension of his artistry, defying description and eluding words.

Add to this a truly exceptional setting: The Shoe Factory, an industrial building renovated into a minimalist dream and now the home of Garo Keheyan, the founder of the Pharos Arts Foundation, whose (very spacious) living room regularly hosts recitals. As we made our way there after dusk through a neighborhood of empty streets and past an armed sentry, a muezzin launched his call to prayer on the other side of the UN buffer zone. Outside the building, Kaarina Kaikkonen’s installation foretold the message of the music about to be heard inside, with shirts of many colors connecting the sleek new structure with derelict buildings across the way, a link between old and new, diverse colors and cultures.

Vladimir Ryabov (b. 1950)
Fantasia in C minor, Op.21, in memory of Maria Yudina

Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992)
Première communion de la Vierge from Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750)
Selection from the Klavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943)
Prelude in D major Op. 23, No. 4
Etude tableau in E-flat minor Op. 39, No. 5
‘Andante’, From the Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 (transcribed by A. Volodos)
Etude tableau in C minor Op. 39, No.1
Etude tableau in A minor Op. 39, No.2
Melodia, Op. 21, No. 9 (song transcribed by A. Volodos)
Moment musical in E-flat minor Op. 16, No. 2
Moment musical in C major Op.16, No. 6

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Für Alina

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Colin Clarke (London)

My best concert experiences were:

A Total Immersion experience at the Barbican, now felt as a leave-taking: Jonathan Harvey Festival:

Daniil Trifonov at the QEH, a real name to watch and proof that hope if not deals for the younger generation.  

A duo of successful Bruckner 7s: from Skrowaczewski, an underrated conductor finally beginning to get his due.

From Masur in fine form earlier in the year.

At the Proms, it is the VPO not the BPO that (just) makes it into my selection.

At Holland Park, a rare performance of Mascagni’s Zanetto.

Jessye Norman at the RFH and Biilly Budd at ENO nearly made the final listing. I wonder if there should be an award for porker of the year, too. the opera “Dr Dee” would certainly fill the post.

Geoff Diggines  (London)

It has been exceedingly difficult to choose from so many superb concerts/recitals; not to mention CD’s. The reissue of all of Toscanini’s commercial recordings, superbly remastered on 84 CD’s, has made for hours of compelling listening. Probably the most memorable event (recital) was of Alina Ibragimova playing two each of Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas at the Wigmore Hall. She was to have played the three violin sonatas of Brahms, but her pianist Stepen Kovacevich was indisposed. I have never heard such diverse, nuanced and lucid violin playing. For me she outplays even the likes of Milstein, Heifetz and Gumiaux in these daunting works.  And this is no exaggeration! Also at the Wigmore Hall Sandrine Piau singing some wonderful songs, especially from Faure, Debussy and Poulenc, have resonated in my memory. The fact that Piau has ‘specialised’ in baroque repertoire seemed to add to her vocal clarity, contrast and finesse. Also superb accompaniment from the ever reliable Roger Vignoles.  Nikolaus Harnoncourt also brought a clarity and lucidity to Beethovens Missa Solemnis at the Barbican Hall. This was with the superb Concertgebouw Orchestra and Netherlands Radio Choir. Harnoncourt, probably uniquely among todays conductors, attended to every detail while never losing a grasp of the works overall structure, architercture. Also a strong line-up of soloists. Finally, a superb Prom. I have not always warmed to Osmo Vanska’s conducting, but in this Prom he was in excellent form.  Excellent too was the playing of clarinetist Michael Collins in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, playing on an original basset clarinet. Vanska went on to give a totally idiomatic rendition of Delius’s Eventyr, with its striking off-stage vocal effects. The Prom ended with a truly gripping account of Nielsen’s 5th Symphony with BBC SO also on top form.

  Jim Pritchard (London)

It is not easy to reflect on 2012 because it has been the first year when (thanks to ‘Seen and Heard’) I have been able to comment on perhaps the widest range of events possible – from a straightish play, Terrence McNally’s Master Class in February  about Maria Callas with the excellent Tyne Daly in the leading role, to a new musical in December with songs by the Spice Girls, Viva Forever!, that although somewhat flawed is a fun evening – something I enjoyed more  than most critics because I got the joke. Before and after these, there have been some fine classical concerts, operas, ballets, and other music events.

Choices … choices … if I am to consider each broad category what sticks in my mind most? Well, in classical concerts there was a memorable one with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in October when the wonderful Alice Coote sang Mahler and there was some rampant Shostakovich  and recently Petra Lang excelled when singing her first complete Brünnhilde in an equally incandescent concert performance of Die Walküre in Berlin . The latter undoubtedly deserves to be in the ‘classical concerts’ section but Zurich Opera’s Der fliegende Holländer though also a concert performance was derived from a current new staging and perhaps can be lauded as one of 2012’s best opera evenings. Bryn Terfel’s imperious Dutchman  made up for his recent rather listless Wotans for Royal Opera (I saw the Ring there but did not review it). There was further evidence of an important new Siegfried from Jay Hunter Morris in the Met Live broadcast of Götterdämmerung in February. Perhaps my true opera highlight of 2012 was the engrossing ‘resurrection’ of Bayreuth’s controversial Tannhäuser from director Sebastian Baumgarten and conductor Christian Thielemann. Ballet highlights included delightful evenings in March from the always reliable Birmingham Royal Ballet and the re-energised English National Ballet. Memorable ‘other’ events included a stunning evening of modern magic from Hans Klok in March, the charismatic Kylie Minogue celebrating 25 years in show business with 40,000 onlookers at Proms in the Park in September and a quirky evening with the wonderfully talented Idina Menzel in October.

Then again what about … and … and … I could go on but enough is enough, Happy New Year to all!

Mark Berry (London, Vienna, Salzburg)

The London Philharmonic mounted a Prokofiev festival; its conclusion, offering the partnership of Janine Jansen and Yannick Nézet-Séguin was impressive indeed. In his seventieth year, Daniel Barenboim, as so often, loomed large: two Bruckner performances, of the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, the latter prefaced by an often ravishing Mozart concerto, proved almost as compelling as his Beethoven and Boulez at the Proms with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. I attended all five concerts, every one of them scintillating, and reviewed both the first and second for this site. A penultimate Prom of Haydn and Strauss from Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic was also an experience to relish.

For one who remains somewhat ambivalent towards Bruckner, I seem to be recalling a great deal. Haitink and the Concertgebouw came as close as anyone to converting me to the cause of the Fifth. Perhaps I am simply too much of a Mahlerian, though recent offerings have too often left me unimpressed. What a joy, then, to experience two superlative performances this year: the Fifth from Daniele Gatti and the Philharmonia, far and away the best live performance I have heard of the work, and in the Second, an excellent introduction to me of the work of Andrés Oroczo-Estrada and the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich.

My piano highlight of the year must be Maurizio Pollini in the final three Beethoven sonatas: unquestionably an eighth wonder of the world. Pierre-Laurent Aimard also excelled, in both books of Debussy Préludes.

Sir Colin Davis and Berlioz: I need hardly say any more, save to point to my review of a truly astounding performance, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, of the Grande messe des morts. Song brought excellent Wigmore Hall recitals from Magdalena Kožena and Mitsuko Uchida (Mahler, Debussy, and Messiaen), and, in traditional German repertoire, from Hanno Müller-Brachmann and Hendrik Heilman. Barenboim teamed up with another Berlin Staatsoper artist, René Pape, for a memorable Liederabend in Berlin. Returning to Wigmore Street, Alice Coote and the Britten Sinfonia offered a wonderful programme ranging from Purcell to Tippett.

Now for opera. Heavily cut, and with only a brace of trained voices, a ‘gay Don Giovanni at Heaven night-club proved dramatically superior and far more thought-provoking than lacklustre offerings at either major London house. English Touring Opera likewise showed that large companies have no monopoly on operatic excellence. The Lighthouse and The Emperor of Atlantis lingered long lingered in my memory. At the other end of the scale, an outstanding Salzburg Festival performance of Die Soldaten proved just as harrowing. ENO’s Carmen from Calixto Bieito could hardly fail to be memorable: what a master of his craft the Catalan director is! Haydn’s La vera costanzareceived a sparkling performance at the Royal College of Music. Finally, the Theater an der Wien truly did Hindemith’s crowning masterpiece, Mathis der Maler, proud.

J.Mª. Irurzun (Madrid, Valencia, etc.)

For a veteran opera lover who regularly attends more than 100 performances a year, it is very difficult to come out of a theater truly excited about the overall result. Nonetheless, often a particular aspect of an opera production (a conductor, an orchestra, a voice, even an aria, or the sets) are enough for one to leave the theater saying, as Fausto in Boito’s Mefistofele: Arrestati, sei bello.  Therefore, I will try to highlight the most exceptional aspects of the operas I have seen during this past year:

Stage productions
First, Laura Scozzi for Les Indes Galantes at Toulouse’s Capitole.
Second, Martin Kusej for Lady Macbeth from Mtsenk at Madrid’s Teatro Real.

In first place Riccardo Chailly for La Bohème at Valencia.
Also, Daniel Barenboim for Lohengrin at Milan’s La Scala.
Fabio Biondi offered a highly original and historicist version of Norma in Pamplona.

First, Jonas Kaufmann for Lohengrin at Scala and Bacchus at Salzburg Festival.
Piotr Beczala for Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon at the Met.
Finally, the still miraculous Tannhäuser by Peter Seiffert at Toulouse’s Capitole.

My choice goes to the stunning Nina Stemme’s  Brünnhilde at Götterdämmerung in Munich.
Diana Damrau for Linda di Chamounix at Liceu.
Sondra Radvanovsky for Aida, also at Barcelona’s  Liceu.

Claudia Mahnke, outstanding interpreter of Rienzi’s Adriano at Madrid Teatro Real
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Polinesso in Ariodante at Madrid Auditorium.

Simon Keenlyside, magnificent Wozzeck in Munich.
Mariusz Kwiecien, a true reference Krol Roger at his performance in Bilbao.

René Pape
for his Philip II at Don Carlo in Vienna and as King Heinrich in La Scala’s Lohengrin.

First, Maria Agresta for her stunning performances of Il Trovatore’s  Leonora in Valencia and Violeta in Munich.
Amber Wagner for her great Ariadne in Valencia in the original version of the opera by Richard Strauss.
Young Italian soprano Eleonora Buratto left an excellent impression as Susanna in Mercadante’s I Due Figaro at Teatro Real.

Stan Metzger (New York)

There could not have been a more auspicious start to 2012 than that of the Metropolitan Opera’s take-off on Baroque opera, the pastiche Enchanted Island. Devised and written by Jeremy Sams,  Enchanted Island matches point for point the artifacts, oddities and eccentricities of Baroque opera. The English libretto, while amusing, would have been sophomoric if the decision had not been made to accompany the text with authentic arias from composers of the period. Well-known and little-known arias by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and others sung by a dream cast headed by William Christie and featuring Danielle de Niese, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato and Placido Domingo made this a deservedly sold-out run.

The revival of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach had me so mesmerized that I never left my seat during this epic’s four and a half hours. Taking advantage of technology that wasn’t available in its previous reincarnation some twenty years earlier, this opera awed and amazed with its total synchronization of music, dance and theater. Although repetitious, the music played second fiddle to the entrancing non-stop goings-on on stage. This may have been the last time to see this production under the direction of its creators, assuming as here another twenty years before its next revival.

If one were to look for the most totally opposite musical experience than the ones listed above, it would have to be the performance by the Afiara Quartet of Schubert’s Quintet in C at the WMP Concert Hall. The venue, hidden behind a stringed instrument shop on a nondescript block in Manhattan, is decorated with 19th century chandeliers and gilded mirrors. On stage the salon hosts a Bösendorfer grand piano. The acoustics were so good I felt I was on stage with the group.

The combination of this warm and intimate space and perfect playing by the Afiara Quartet (with the help of cellist Denis Brott) put me in another space and time. The limpid Adagio was so beautifully played, that it brought me tearfully back to the first time I really listened to this music on an LP with Pablo Casals, Isaac Stern, Alexander Schneider, Milton Kamis and Paul Tortelier from the 1952 Prades Festival.

Jonathan Dawe’s irresistible prequel to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is entitled Così Faran Tutti. The changing of the feminine Tutte to the genderless Tutti summarizes the opera’s plot change from one that singles out the guileless Fiordiligi and Dorabella for unfaithfulness to one that blames everyone. Dawe’s music is both modern and Mozartean. The singing, dancing and staging enchant on every level. The final scene is wildly funny with just about everyone dressed as someone else singing out of their range. Erudite yet earthy, Così Faran Tutti outshines many of our more famous contemporary operas.

Jack Buckley (Rome)

With both Verdi and Wagner centenaries in 2013, most Italian houses kicked off their 2012 -2013 seasons in December 2012 with one or the other. The Rome Opera opened with Simon Boccanegra (29 November) under Riccardo Muti’s insightful tutelage of singers and orchestra.  I remain eternally grateful to Muti for showing this unbeliever of Boccanegra what it was all about.  I’m a convert!

The other four outstanding performances of 2012 all belong to Rossini, and  two of them to the Rossini Opera Festival: Ewa Podles’soutstanding performance in the title role of Ciro in Babilonia (20 August); in Matilde di Shabran(14 August)  not least because it has Rossini’s finest ensemble writing in it, but also the incomparable Juan Diego Florez  giving another memorable evening of musicianship and technical accomplishment; a matter which he repeated at his solo recital  at Santa Cecilia on 24 May.  Rossini was also the main contributor of what I called the Laughter in Paradise  programme at S Cecilia (13 November) with the Petite Messe Solonelle, beautifully paced by Sir Antonio Pappano, and including an apt final composition of Hans Werner Henze, who had just died.

The booby prize for the worst performances of the year has to be split between the Rome Opera’s shameful La Gioconda (23 October) in which no singer was worthy of that name and René Jacob’s castration of Die Zauberflöte  in concert form (that should really be concertina form) at S Cecilia on 21 November.
Michail Lifits’s debut CD Mozart Recital (also reviewed for MWI by me) is still constantly on my player.

Edited by Ben Eichler and Stan Metzger