Best opera of 2016
Hello, loyal opera fans! I’m Ilana Walder-Biesanz, a not-so-new blogger for Opera Vivrà. I wrote here back in 2013 and 2014, but I’ve been away for the past couple years and am looking forward to blogging (and reading all of your comments) once again.
I’m interested in opera from many different perspectives. I currently work as a freelance opera critic (for San Francisco Classical Voice and Bachtrack). I also sing. I claim to be a trouser-role lyric mezzo, and most of the arias I sing in concert fit that description, but somehow the full roles I have sung in staged productions have been written for Baroque sopranos. (I’m confused, too.) I wrote my master’s thesis on gender and sexuality in stagings of La clemenza di Tito, so you can sometimes catch me reading academic books and articles on opera as well. And of course I’m an avid operagoer who attends everything at my local opera house (San Francisco Opera) and travels as much as my schedule and budget will allow to catch interesting productions elsewhere in the world.
I’d like to start the year with a request for you: let me know what you want to read about. Opera is a huge field. I have all sorts of topics I’m excited to tackle. A few that come to mind:
- Season programming
- The textual sources of opera
- Neglected gems
- Interesting scorings
- Race and Orientalism in operas
- Gender and sexuality in operas
- Recording reviews
- Summaries and reviews of interesting opera-related books
But mostly, I want to write about the topics that interest you. To that end, feel free to comment on this post or email me (ilana [at] operavivra [dot] com) to let me know if you’re especially excited about anything on the list above (I can blog about that first) or to suggest other areas to explore. If you email, please mention the blog. (People do sometimes email me random opera-related questions.) Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
To kick off the year, I’ll follow the tradition of offering a “best of 2016” list. Here are my ten favorite opera experiences of the last year.
Best opera of 2016
- Don Carlo at San Francisco Opera. I am convinced I will never experience a cast as uniformly talented as this one singing this music again. I attended all six performances
- Jenufa at San Francisco Opera (and again at the Metropolitan Opera). It was the same production and the same devastatingly amazing Karita Mattila in both venues
- Leoncavallo’s La Boheme in concert with West Edge Opera. Unpopular opinion: this is better than the Puccini score. But I make no secret of my distaste for Puccini in general
- Guillaume Tell at the Metropolitan Opera. Well, the first three acts of it. I would have loved to hear Bryan Hymel nail the tricky final act (as I am sure he would have), but, alas, misguided attempts at an opera house burial interfered
- The Abduction from the Seraglio, re-written as a Star Trek episode and performed by Festival Opera. The most I have ever laughed during a night at the opera
- Powder Her Face at West Edge Opera. Too much sex? No such thing
- The Mikado with Lamplighters. It was just as funny (and caused fewer protests) set in Milan
- Don Pasquale at San Francisco Opera. Something magical happens when every single performer in a cast is just perfect for his or her role
- The Makropulos Case at San Francisco Opera. Music drama at its best
- Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric Opera. Call it a guilty pleasure, but I adore Massanet, and this little opera shimmered (especially with Feruccio Furlanetto at its center)
An honorable mention goes to Martha at Pocket Opera. In terms of sheer production quality, this wouldn’t make the list (reduced orchestration and obvious low budget), but the opera itself is so charming and was a new discovery to me! Donald Pippin’s English translation seemed very singable and was a joy to listen to.
I hope you saw as many wonderful performances as I did in 2016. I wish you (and myself) another year of great opera!