Saturday 29 December 2012

Highs and Lows of 2012

We've reached that time of year again...

Best Opera: Not as good a year as 2011. Honorable mentions go to Aldeburgh Music's marvellous Knussen double bill, the Opera North Norma and the Berlin Phil/Rattle/Kozena concert performance of Carmen but the palm goes to ENO's superb new production of John Adams's modern masterpiece The Death of Klinghoffer reviewed here. A work which, as I said at the time, deserves to be staged widely and to remain firmly in the repertoire.

Worst Opera: There was a lot of very indifferent opera in 2012 but most of it was badly flawed in one category rather than across the board. Thus ENO's Julius Caesar and the Bayreuth Tristan were both awful productions but had redeeming musical qualities. So the award goes to an opera which I didn't review at the time, the awful Judith Weir Miss Fortune at the Royal Opera back in the spring.

Best Play: It's been a real bonanza year for theatre, even if much of it has been inexplicably over-looked by other awarding bodies. Josie Rourke's opening season at the Donmar was of generally high quality. The National had a number of gems of which the beautifully acted, moving Moon on a Rainbow Shawl deserved way more plaudits than it received. Gatz and the Yugoslavian-Albanian Henry VI were in different ways fascinating. However there were three plays which stood head and shoulders above the rest in all departments: the West End revival of Long Day's Journey into Night, the Chichester Arturo Ui and the Hampstead 55 Days.

Worst Play: The biggest disappointment of 2012 was the Almeida King Lear of which I had high hopes this time last year, but it was just dull and unenvolving rather than awful (the Almeida in general I'm afraid had an indifferent year). Big and Small avoids the palm by virtue of the presence of Cate Blanchett. Several works at the Edinburgh International Festival unsurprisingly came close, but are just saved by the Chichester Heartbreak House which was regrettably poor in every department.

Best Concert: There was no single concert that triumphed in all pieces and all departments. Some of the LSO/Gergiev Brahms/Szymanowski cycle was stunning. But the performance I enjoyed most of the whole year was the European Union Youth Orchestra and Garrick Ohlsson in Busoni's Piano Concerto performed, again as so sadly often, to a largely empty Usher Hall at the EIF. A real Festival experience, not likely to come around again soon. A totally bizarre piece played with real commitment and panache.

Worst Concert: Peter Serkin's recital at the Aldeburgh Festival.

Best Musical: It was a vintage year for off West End shows, particularly at the Union in Southwark who deserve much more attention in the mainstream press than they seem to get. A late honorable mention goes to the Menier for the revised Merrily We Roll Along. However the palm goes to All Star Productions who endeared themselves to me forever by producing, in the unlikely setting of a room above a pub in Walthamstow, a new production of the musical I love best in the whole world – Kander and Ebb's Flora the Red Menace. Not absolutely perfect, but pretty near it.

Worst Musical: No award.

Finally we introduce a new section this year of those shows urgently deserving a UK production:

Neglected Opera: The enterprising English Touring Opera has earned further plaudits from me by scheduling new stagings of two long neglected works – Britten's Paul Bunyan and Tippett's King Priam for 2014. At the top of the list now sits Stephen Oliver's Timon of Athens – originally premiered by ENO but apparently not out there enough to qualify for a new production under the current regime.

Neglected Musical: There's been a little bonanza of neglected gems this year headed by already mentioned Flora the Red Menace revival. However one of my all-time favourite musicals remains at the top of the neglected list – Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone's 1776. I would therefore like to make the following offer with my professional hat on – if anybody is enterprising enough to stage this I'll write you a programme note and give you a pre-performance talk.

Neglected Play: David Mamet has had a number of recent stagings on Broadway which for reasons passing understanding have yet to make it over here. Top of the list for me is his political satire November, which so brilliantly captured, while not being limited by it, the atmosphere of American politics in the dog days of the second Bush administration.

What am I looking forward to in 2013: Britten's Gloriana at the Royal Opera. The rumoured Elektra at the same venue next autumn, and, if I'm allowed to anticipate productions announced for 2014 the English Touring Opera Paul Bunyan.

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