The Best of 2016

Our favorite recorded performances from last year.

Best of the Year Traviata lg 117
La donna è immobile: Traviata cast at Glyndebourne
© Richard Hubert Smith
IF ANYONE TRIES to tell you opera is dead, direct them to our recording-reviews section. Last year our critics evaluated hundreds of new releases, including new works, newly discovered or rediscovered works and new takes on familiar classics. These are the best of what they watched and heard.
 
10 BEST IN OPERA

1.                                                      
MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro

(Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Deutsche Grammophon, CD) 

“The show clearly belongs to Nézet-Séguin, who offers a reading so well gauged, and so bursting with life, that it continually provoked me to think, ‘What a wonderful opera!’” —Fred Cohn 

2.                                                      
CORIGLIANO: The Ghosts of Versailles
(LA Opera Orchestra, James Conlon; Pentatone, CD)  

“Hearing the new live recording from LA Opera’s widely praised 2015 production confirms ... that the piece is sprawling and flawed but also fascinating and brilliant, impressive in its stylistic breadth and quite moving.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

3.                                                     
WAGNER: Das Rheingold
(Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; BR Klassik, CD) 

“Rattle takes a buoyant approach to the score; the whole performance conveys an irresistible delight in Wagner’s invention.” —Fred Cohn 

4.                                                     
SULLIVAN: H.M.S. Pinafore
(Scottish Opera Orchestra, Richard Egarr; Linn Records, CD) 

“An eminently seaworthy Pinafore, sure to captivate Savoyards everywhere.” —Roger Pines 

5.                                                     
SZYMANOWSKI: Król Roger
(Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano; Opus Arte, DVD) 

“An insightful, artistically masterful production of a gripping, gorgeous opera.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

6.                                                      
VERDI: La Traviata
(London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mark Elder; Opus Arte, DVD) 

“Worth watching, not only for its fine cast but for its director ... a thoughtfully conceived production that allows us to see this familiar work anew.” —Eric Myers 

7.                                                      
LEONCAVALLO: Zazà
(BBC Symphony Orchestra, Maurizio Benini; Opera Rara, CD)  

“Ripe for reassessment, and Opera Rara does it justice…. The final scene is incendiary.” —Roger Pines 

8.                                                      
FLOYD: Wuthering Heights
(Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Mechavich; Reference Recordings, CD) 

“It contains some beautiful music that deserves to be heard, as evidenced by this world-premiere recording.” —Rebecca Paller 

9.                                                      
FACCIO: Amleto
(Orchestra of Opera Southwest, Anthony Barrese; Opera Southwest, CD) 

“A valid, musically solid opera more credible and castable than its contemporaries.” —David Shengold

10.                                                      
NIELSEN: Maskarade
(Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Michael Schønwandt; Dacapo, CD) 

“A quite delightful work [with] deft, ever-commenting orchestration…. A pleasant discovery awaits many listeners.” —David Shengold


OBSCURITIES
Weinberg Plus 

The composer’s essential and must-see opera The Passenger was finally released on DVD (Arthaus Musik); less noticed was PanClassics’s CD of his epic and considerably more accessible The Idiot, also worth discovering.

 

  

5 BEST NEW WORKS

Best of the Year Apocalypsis hdl 117
Plain nuts: Apocalypsis in Toronto
© Bruce Zinger

1.                                                     
R. MURRAY SCHAFER: Apocalypsis 
(Ensembles and conductors of the Luminato Festival; Analekta, CD) 

“Continues a line of spiritual and genre-defying musical monuments of the twentieth century ... awe-inspiring and sacred.” —Joe Cadagin 

2.                                                      
MARCO TUTINO: Le Braci
(Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, Francesco Cillufo; Dynamic, CD) 

“A gripping story ... told in a magnificent, time-honored fashion.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

3.                                                      
RODION SHCHEDRIN: The Left-Hander
(Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater, Valery Gergiev; Mariinsky, DVD/Blu-ray) 

“Punchy and satirical ... music and story take an unexpected turn into a depth of emotion previously untelegraphed.” —William R. Braun 

4.                                                      
MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: No Orpheus
(Various instrumentalists; Naxos, CD) 

“Impressive and diverse.... Fairouz’s love of poetry is palpable.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

5.                                                      
MICHAEL DELLAIRA: The Death of Webern
(Frost School of Music Chamber Orchestra, Alan Johnson; Albany Records, CD) 

“A striking example of how to write an illuminating opera about a famous composer without merely appropriating that composer’s music.” —Joshua Rosenblum 


DEEP CUTS
Gounod Revisited

It wasn’t just more recordings of Faust we heard this year (including the first, from 1908, on Marston); reputable recordings of lesser-known efforts, such as La Colombe (Opera Rara) and Cinq-Mars (Ediciones Singulares), reminded us that he’s more than his hits.

 

  
10 BEST IN CONCERT
Best of the Year hdl 117
Tales of Kaufmann: the tenor at La Scala
© Teatro alla Scala

1.                                                     
Jonas Kaufmann: An Evening with Puccini  
(Sony) DVD 

“A cause for celebration.... Kaufmann’s singing is miraculous throughout.” —Henson Keys 

2.                                                     
Peter Mattei: Mahler Songs 
(Ladybird)

“The voice provides pleasure from the first selection to the last: it’s one of the world’s great lyric instruments.”—Fred Cohn 

3.                                                      
Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Sings of War, Peace, Love and Sorrow 
(Delos) 

“A real pleasure.... The baritone sounds remarkably supple and smooth-toned.” —David Shengold 

4.                                                     
Veronique Gens: Néère 
(Alpha) 

“A stunning recital ... beautifully recorded.” —Judith Malafronte 

5.                                                     
Christian Gerhaher: Mozart Arias 
(Sony) 

“Ambitious and very personal.... He has a command of color and legato and the ability to create and sustain a mood.” —Robert Croan 

6.                                                      
Magdalena Kožená: Monteverdi 
(Archiv) 

“A pleasure ... [a] combination of musical intelligence and vocal beauty.” —Judith Malafronte 

7.                                                      
Dorothea Röschmann: Mozart Arias 
(Sony) 

“This demanding program memorably confirms the German soprano’s standing among today’s elite Mozart stylists.” —Roger Pines 

8.                                                      
Marc Mauillon: Li Due Orfei 
(Arcana) 

A “lovely recital.... Mauillon’s flexible, tangy voice enlivens songs by Caccini and Peri.” —Judith Malafronte 

9.                                                      
Renée Fleming: Sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
(Decca) 

“Fleming and the [Emerson String Quartet] deserve a great deal of credit for resurrecting this sweeping, turbulent but highly gratifying cycle, and for giving it such a gripping performance.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

10.                                                      
Gerald Finley: Rubáiyát and other works 
(Ondine) 

“The orchestral accompaniment is sensual and swirling.... Finley cuts through the orchestra easily with his taut, glowing tone.” —Joshua Rosenblum 


All-STAR
2016 MVP
Barbara Hannigan, her soprano sparkling and strong like a diamond, proved herself a remarkable singer with two discs—Hans Abrahamsen’s Ophelia-inspired let me tell you and a recital of Satie songs, on the cover of which she looked cooler than Nancy Sinatra.

 



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