CONDUCTOR OF THE YEAR
Surprise choice? If you think so, you have never heard him conduct. Fabio Luisi is Opera Chic's Conductor of the Year 2008 because he has a German brain and an Italian heart. Because with the Dresden Staatskapelle – “Dresden’s gold”, wrote the following day august Corriere della Sera newspaper -- he appeared at la Scala, in a benefit concert, and showed those of us who were ready to listen that Heldenleben (with the original finale, and Konzertmeister Kai Vogler teaching how you play the violin) is a masterpiece of subtlety and even irony far different than the usual windbaggy, sappy, irony-free piece we’re accustomed to hear (and that includes Herbie, genius as he was, photographed with his airplane and his Porsche, triumphant over his enemies). Luisi can do Wagner, he can do Italian opera (AND he recorded “Jerusalem”, that forgotten Verdi masterpiece). Because he once conducted in a Pink Panther costume (long story). Because his website seriously rules. Because he published his autobiography in Germany and Austria, and he isn’t even 50. He went so native that now he even speaks Italian with a faint Teutonic inflection. He has two cute pugs. Luisi downright rawks.
SINGER OF THE YEAR, FEMALE
Because if an alien race of giant rabid mutant penguins threatened to invade Earth she’d wear her Queen of the Night costume and she’d stare them into submission even before opening her mouth. Then she’d proceed to bash all their heads with a baseball bat and she’d make herself an alien penguin sandwich. On rye. With mayo.
SINGER OF THE YEAR, MALE
What? He retired years ago? Yes, he did – as a singer, OK. But he manages Juan Diego Florez in a way that he makes us wish he ran the careers of so many singers of great talent we see crash and burn for so many reasons. Maestro Palacio is behind Juan Diego’s decision to drop for the time being the Duke of Mantua after one preview in Lima and one run in Dresden; Palacio understands that the increased visibility that Verdi gives you is not worth damaging your voice; Verdi (except for Fenton, but you don’t really build a career on that role) is too heavy for Juan Diego’s perfectly tuned instrument. Hence, he will not push his voice to do Verdi. Better to be the king of Rossini and Donizetti, “el mejor tenor libero de la historia” in Placido Domingo’s words, than to be just another tenor who pushed his voice and crashed and burned. Opera Chic knows he’s busy but she’d like Palacio to be an adviser for her personal decisions, too – like a life coach. Fish or chicken? Ask Palacio. Seaside or mountains? Ask Palacio. Creme brulee or panettone? Ask Palacio.
DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Because he once again fu#@ed our sh^t up by staging La Clemenza di Tito in Mussolini’s Rome (for Teatro Comunale di Torino) and La Rondine in a 1950s sophisticated comedy setting like a Jean Negulesco film for La Fenice, spoofing in the second act his nemesis Franco Zeffirelli’s Boheme Cafe Momus scene, and Vick came up with a truly heartbreaking idea for the ending, where love ends and the sky – literally – falls. As soon as OC takes over a major opera house in a coup, she's giving Vick absolute artistic powah.
OPERA PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
Salomé, with Nicola Beller Carbone, directed by Robert Carsen, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, Teatro Regio di Torino
Salome in a Vegas casino vault? Horrible slimy old men stripping down during the dance of the seven veils instead of Salome? Salome surviving the end of the opera, in a genius plot twist? Leave it to Carsen to twist the Strauss opera on its ear finding new layers of meaning in that wonderful way of his. Whenever Carsen is on, he’s totally on. Noseda (OC did not hear him conduct when she saw Salome, it was his night off, but she's well aware of his work) may be the most underrated major conductor out there. And Teatro Regio di Torino does very interesting first class productions without the same massive amount of public financing enjoyed for example by la Scala.
COMPOSER OF THE YEAR (100 TIMES SO)
His new work sounds so fresh that he must have some seriously weird painting up in his attic getting all old wrinkly in his place.
NEW WORK OF THE YEAR
“Elogium Musicum”, Hans Werner Henze
On October 2, 2008, Riccardo Chailly conducted in Leipzig Hans Werner Henze's latest work, Elogium Musicum Amatissimi Amici Nunc Remoti, the 25-minutes elegy Henze wrote -- with prominent Classics professor Franco Serpa's Latin text -- in memory of Henze's companion of more than 40 years, Fausto Moroni, who died unexpectedly in April 2007. It's the story of two falcons always flying side by side, until one of them disappears from the sky; the music begins as a heartbreakingly beautiful string quartet, in quiet and serenity that gets increasingly animate -- then the second movement, "Nox", Night, becomes dissonant and chaotic and upsetting, a tempest of sorrow.
It's a stunning work by a man who had to endure a crushing blow and nevertheless turned it into art, a work made even more heartbreaking by the fact that, as the music in the finale seems to resign itself to disappear into nothingness, an alto saxophone appears, faintly at first, then stronger: it's Fausto. And Hans Werner Henze's dark night of the soul ends in the warm light of an Italian dawn.
Well, what to say of a work of such power? In the indifference of the blissfully distracted American media, German opinion immediately understood that we are dealing with a historic work here: Neues Deutschland called the elegy Henze's "Opus summum", the pinnacle of his work. The economy and precision of Henze's writing reminded Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of Verdi's Quattro Pezzi Sacri. "History is being made again, finally, in Leipzig", exulted the Leipziger Volkszeitung.
This is just a silly blog of a silly girl somewhere on the Internet; and our calling Elogium Musicum the new work of the year 2008 is nothing. But our admiration is real -- as is the timeless beauty of that elegy.
DUMBEST DECISION OF THE YEAR
La Scala unions' strike for 3 nights of Dudamel's Boheme.
The winner, hands down, is the Scala unions who senselessly -- and masochistically -- chose to sink the first three nights of Gustavo Dudamel's "La Bohéme" at la Scala. A hot young conductor, an interesting young cast (among them the really cool James Valenti) and Franco Zeffirelli's super-famous staging of the work, all at la Scala, made for a really cool event. The cancellation created a flurry of reimbursements for the three sold-out shows, didn't do anything to advance the contract drama that was protracted to this month a few hours before la prima and is probably not entirely over yet anyway. What it did, it punished the audience and disrespected a conductor who had already conducted an interesting Don Giovanni at la Scala -- but who won't appear in another opera here in Milan for a while now. The opera had the eventual greenlight by the unions in the second half of July, in the semi-deserted city, in the silence of the international media -- despite Dudamel's prominence -- and even hometown paper Corriere della Sera relegated the show to a small notice. But then la Scala's leadership in shooting themselves in the foot is a well known fact.