This past year I saw over 70 different performances, most of which I wrote about, though some were so uninspiring they didn't even merit the time it would have taken to criticize them. However, a number of them were so terrific for one reason or another that I'll probably never forget them.
Listed below, in chronological order, are ten performances I attended this year that in my mind were the best:
LA Opera's Das Rheingold: Director Achim Freyer's first installment of Wagner's Ring cycle was nothing less than a revelation and it was easily the best opera I saw this year. In fact, it's probably one of the five best opera productions I've ever seen. This is opera for the 21st Century: bold, innovative and unafraid of risk, while keeping true to the spirit of Wagner's intentions. While Die Walkure and Siegfried didn't thrill me as much (probably because Rheingold is my favorite opera above all others), LAO's Ring is not to be missed. When they do the entire cycle this summer, the naysayers will surely have their comeuppance.
Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Gubaidulina's Violin Concerto No. 2: What can you say, one of the world's premier violinist's performing a challenging contemporary work dedicated to her. It was enthralling. The Ravel in the second half didn't quite measure up, but really, what could have?
Martha Argerich and Ligeti's Requiem at San Francisco Symphony: Thrilling in every sense of the word. Ligeti's Requiem had both the orchestra and the SFS chorus performing at their absolute peak in a haunting work that heard live is an unforgettable experience. Argerich actually showed up for once, and gave the audience a bravura performance of the Ravel concerto that was loaded with emotion and skill, meriting perhaps the longest ovation I've ever heard in that hall. You should have been there.
Leila Josefowicz and Esa-Pekka Salonen at LA Phil: Josefowicz is the most fascinating violinist on Earth. There is nothing she can't play to perfection and she constantly challenges herself. This concert, part of Salonen's swan song as he departed the LA Phil after one of the most influential and successful tenures ever in the history of American orchestras, was a primer on what classical music is and where it's going. Salonen's Violin Concerto, dedicated to Josefowicz, Ligeti's Clocks and Beethoven's 5th Symphony were flawlessly performed with gusto and meaning. Two artists that should not be missed when they hit your town.
Urban Opera's Dido and Aeneas: The little company that could, and did. This new company rising out of the ashes of San Francisco Lyric Opera, took everyone by surprise this summer by giving us something different, unique, and indigenous to the City. We can only hope for more from Chip Grant and the incredible team he put together for what was one of the most delightful surprises of the year. Come on, Urban Opera- do it again!
August: Osage County: Three hours of the most theatrical dysfunctional family values since Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolff? By turns uproariously funny and frightening. Estelle Parsons can come to a party at my house anytime- hopefully in character, because I love that kind of drama though I always feel bad the next morning. Tracy Letts' play lived up to the Tony hype and then some.
San Francisco Opera's Il Trovatore : For my money, Trovatore is 2nd rate Verdi, but when it's done like this there is nothing to complain about. Sondra Radvanovsky gave a star turn in a production that was perfect at every turn, bringing this tired warhorse to life in a way I thought couldn't be done. The rest of the all-star cast and the superb sets by Charles Edwards made the conservative era of SFO under Gockley more than palatable. If this is what the future looks like for SFO, so be it.
Paulina Rubio at the Fox Theater: Paulina in a great venue, up close and very personal touring in support of Gran City Pop- one of the year's most delighful records. Pure pop bliss.
San Francisco Opera's La Fille du Regiment: Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez made me realize I actually do like Donizetti, at least when he's done like this. The pair combined to deliver an evening of vocal beauty and comedic timing in one of the most perfect bel canto evenings I've ever experienced. It left me wanting more, more, more.
La Damnation de Faust at the Met: Robert Lepage's production is a thrilling spectacle. He and Freyer are taking opera in an entirely new direction. The singing on the night I went didn't quite measure up to the production values at hand, but if this is the future, I want to be seated up front. Give kudos to Peter Gelb and the Met for putting on an audacious and thrilling Faust. Lepage's upcoming Ring cycle, like LAO's, is not to be missed based on the sheer brilliance of invention and imagination on display here.
Other performances that gave these a run for their money: