This year, the opera had to do the unthinkable to survive
There have been several versions of Janáček’s heartwarming The Cunning Little Vixen, by Longborough, Holland Park, and in concert by the Birmingham City Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. A true rarity, Handel’s first opera, Amadigi, had two productions in the same short year, by the English Touring Opera and by Garsington, where Netia Jones’ staging was elegantly postmodern. Perhaps the most ambitious production of 2021 was Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in Garsington; although the orchestration was reduced, it was awarded by a critic “the prize of the golden rose for pure chutzpah”.
At the Grange Park Opera in Surrey Bryn Terfel showed he is still one of the world’s greatest Falstaffs in Verdi’s vernal opera, while at the original Grange Festival in Hampshire the conduct of Michael Chance captivated the moment and delivered “an opera without music”: that is, Shakespeare’s King Lear, but performed by singers.
Covid mourned beyond lockdown: The tragic death of director Graham Vick, however, did not stop the Birmingham Opera Company from staging their community version of Wagner’s RhineGold this summer: “a melancholy triumph,” wrote Ivan Hewett here. Glyndebourne started off with a dazzling new production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia directed by Mariame Clément, full of fun, and a classically clean and understated Luisa Miller, directed by Christof Loy. (Although, in an over-the-top, chaotic new Fidelio with rewritten dialogue, Glyndebourne also served as Turkey of the Year.)
There was a thirst for fun as the theaters reopened. Scottish Opera was launched with a Gilbert and Sullivan double: the reliable hit The Gondoliers and the overlooked Utopia, Limited. The Welsh National Opera welcomed audiences again with a cover of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, then scored with a stimulating Madame Butterfly directed by Lindy Hume who airbrushed Imperial Japan. Opera North, very active digitally in confinement and with beautiful new facilities in Leeds, has not quite convinced with its new Carmen.