Top 10 for 2010


(c) Susan Brodie

Out with the old…


Every winter when the season programs are announced I spot a few absolutely-must-sees, a number of things that appeal, and great numbers of performances that don't interest me at all.  But fine music-making endures, and inevitably many of the best evenings come as a complete surprise. Here are ten of them, more or less.


In January I was bowled over by La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein in a most original production by Christoph Marthaler at the Stadtsteater Basel. Anne-Sofie von Otter towered, literally and figuratively, over the sometimes gimmicky updating, which interpolated pratfalls, American jazz piano, Bach and Handel arias, and a barbershop quartet looping the opening measures of the Brahms Requiem. But the post-apocalyptic vision was unexpectedly moving, and the performances very fine.


In February, tenor Jonas Kaufmann was extraordinary as the Prince in the Humperdinck rarity Koenigskinder at the Zurich opera. The somewhat rambling and mawkish fairy tale libretto would seem to be the main barrier to wider popularity of this gorgeous piece, Wagnerian in sweep. Conductor Ingo Metzmacher is a worthy champion of this music, and the fabulous Kaufmann shines brightly in the German repertoire.


What a difference the right style can make! Chabrier's L'Etoile at New York City Opera, given in March, was as irresistible with a francophone cast headed by Julie Boulianne and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as it had been tedious with performers who simply didn't get it.


In May Fabio Luisi led the first Lulu I've attended without falling asleep: I invariably tune out the parade of low-lifes in Act II, but Luisi propelled the drama forward with taut conducting. His increased presence augurs good things for the Met's future. Two nights later, Peter Mattei was first among equals in a heartbreaking performance of Billy Budd at Oper Frankfurt.


June brought many treats. I finally saw the dazzling Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova in Don Quixote. With her endless ballon and irrepressible sparkle this prodigious talent was born to dance Kitri. Later in the month I saw the second installment of Gunter Krämer's new Ring Cycle at Paris Opera. The production could be called gimmicky (the Ride of the Walkures featured nurses bathing naked corpses while gas-masked soldiers marched in formation behind them) and so far Philippe Jordan's Wagner is too deconstructionist for my taste, but the intriguing production haunts me still.


Mark Morris's L'Allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato brightened August in New York. This evergreen remains one of the most delightfully fresh and musical of Morris's choreographies.


September's Eugene Onegin at Opera Bastille introduced me to the extraordinary conducting of Vassily Petrenko.


October brought the Met's new production of Boris Godunov — in the hands of Valery Gergiev the time flew. Why had I never before fallen in love with this extraordinary score?


In November I was transfixed by Mathias Goerne in the title role of Hindemith's Mathis der Mahler, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, at Opera Bastille. The most stunning production of an opera I will never go out of my way to see again.


The biggest surprise came In December, when Leif-Ove Andsnes brought performers from the Risør chamber music festival to Carnegie Hall. Among them was the electrifying young clarinetist Martin Fröst, who wowed the audience with his vivid interpretation of Aaron Copland's jazzy Clarinet Concerto. Leaving the hall a young woman told her companion that he was the closest thing to a rock star she'd ever experienced in classical music. That about summed it up.


That's more than 10, but with so many goodies it was easy to lose count, and these are simply the ones that stick in memory right now. I stint an entire roster of superb (mostly) young conductors: Alain Altinoglu, Yannick Nézet-Séguin,  Hartmut Haenchen, Sebastien Weigle. I have luxuriated in the sounds of the Met, Berlin, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland. Then there were the smaller-scale concerts…but I'll stop here. Despite all the middling performances I sat through, 2010 was indeed a very good year.