Editorial Board

North American Editor:
(USA and Canada)
Marc Bridle

London Editor:
(London UK)

Melanie Eskenazi

Regional Editor:
(UK regions and Europe)
Bill Kenny


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article



PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR 2006 : Seen and Heard reviewers  reported nearly 700 events worldwide during the year just past. Here is a selection of the most memorable. The blue highlighted links open the original reviews.





It seems appropriate, in this anniversary year, to choose one of the Wigmore Hall’s events commemorating Britten – even if it had not been a special occasion, the performance of the complete Canticles by the Nash Ensemble with Iestyn Davies and John Mark Ainsley, would be outstanding for its unmatchable singing, its finely judged drama and its overwhelming commitment.


It has not exactly been a vintage year for opera for me, but the performance – if hardly the production – which emerges as most memorable is ENO’s highly charged Jenůfa chiefly remarkable for Amanda Roocroft’s assumption of the central character, and for the emotional impact of the personenregie by David Alden.

BILL KENNY (Regional Editor)

Strictly speaking, my first 2006 choice was the excellent finale to 2005 - which missed publication until January because of our deadlines. My Scandinavian Christmas was rounded off nicely by Royal Danish Opera's Die Walk
üre, the second helping of Kasper Bech Holten's brand new Ring for Copenhagen's brand new opera house. For memorable singing, thrilling orchestral sound and an innovative yet intelligent Wagner production, this one was hard to beat.

After a disappointing Frau ohne Schatten in a freezing January Helsinki (- 20C) and a middling Holländer at the comparatively balmy WNO in February (about 0), it was cheering that March brought along ENO's enjoyable Sir John in Love. Better still came along in May however, with the Mariinsky Theatre's concert performance of Mlada in Birmingham. I wrote that 'Precision, clarity, energy and commitment are clearly their (the Mariinsky and Gergiev's) watchwords and both playing and singing were magnificent for every minute of this 2½ hour performance.' Thoroughly enjoyable.

I often think that it's the unexpected that makes reviewing most interesting, and in the Millennium Centre's small Weston Studio in July, Welsh National Youth Opera served up some gratifying serendipity. Their Candide, played and sung superbly by a company whose age range is 14-25, was wholly delightful. Fast, funny and very nicely acted, the production was made all the better by the cast's remarkably mature performance and was a genuine success for Welsh National's WNO MAX scheme.

Since I have both the chore and the pleasure of compiling this collection, I'll indulge myself with three more entries. August (+26 C) at Snape Maltings brought a sparkling King Arthur from the Britten Pears Young Artists' Programme and, back in Helsinki again in September (36 degrees warmer than in January ) Finnish National Opera offered Karita Mattila's first Tosca. The two performances could hardly have been more different, but each provided the 'glad that I made the effort to get here' feeling which makes some events truly memorable.


My one orchestral choice of the year (in November and also in Birmingham - turning chilly again) was provided by more Finns, lots of Scots and one Russian. Osmo Vänskä with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki YL Men's Chorus, Päivi Nisula and Raimo Laukka from FNO and fiddler Alina Ibragimova gave readings of Sibelius's Kullervo and Violin Concerto which were about as good as you'd find anywhere to my mind. Despite the sartorial challenges posed by temperature variation, 2006 brought a very generous helping of pleasure.



San Francisco Opera’s 2007 season begins on June 2nd with Don Giovanni at the War Memorial Opera House.

As David Gockley takes the helm as general director in 2007, subscribers will be challenged to embrace Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride and other rarely-performed works. Fortunately for SFO, there were a handful of memorable performances to build upon from last season, and anticipation here is high for more.

For this reviewer, the highlight was Paolo Gavanelli in the title role of Rigoletto. His role in the final scene reuniting father and daughter “Lassu -- in cielo” (with Mary Dunleavy), was a model of sincere tenderness. And while no recording was made of this particular date, his performance at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden is available on DVD.

Another highlight was Nathan Gunn, arguably one of the most glamorous baritones alive, who was given a star’s welcome back for his reprise of Figaro in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. He first took on the role here three years ago, and audiences were relieved to see that he has lost none of his physicality and over-the-top vocal style.

As far as conducting goes, Donald Runnicles did a masterful job with works representing polar opposites. Tristan and Isolde was very difficult to enjoy save for the heroic efforts of the orchestra. Die Fledermaus – having been performed here twice before – exceeded all expectations. Sadly, its triumphant return was made just after Runnicles announced that he would not be renewing his contract a musical director.

Guest conductor George Cleve, meanwhile, made a memorable (if not long overdue) debut with Carmen. By all accounts, he lived up to his legendary status, masterfully controlling the pit and the stage with aplomb.

Carmen ended the season on a high note due to another (unscripted) debut as well. Due to the sudden illness of the dynamic diva, Marina Domashenko, a mad scramble was made to find a capable replacement. Understudy, Hadar Halévy, did a good job initially. But it was not until Kate Aldrich was tapped to take on star’s turn that the opera soared.

Finally, it’s important to note that while Gluck will have his day this summer, SFO will also be staging another “old reliable” in addition to one by Mozart: Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss.




My concert of the year 2006 without a shadow of a doubt came from the Kirov forces under Gergiev. The performance of Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmaylova at the Coliseum in July was a nerve-shredding roller-coaster of an evening. Olga Sergeyeva as Katerina was matched in memorability by Gennady Bezubenkov’s Boris on Oleg Balashov’s Sergei. The orchestra was electric all evening, the intensity simply overwhelming.


For me, 2006 has been dominated by the achievements of up-and-coming artists and the exploration of ‘new’ repertoire. Singers Eliana Pretorian and Clara Mouriz greatly impressed to leave special memories of their concerts and opera performances, as did violinist Leticia Moreno and pianist Tanya Gabrielian.

The Romanian Musical Adventure Festival proved that fascinating repertoire is still out there to be ‘discovered’ by the public at large; it was given strong advocacy too by the London Schubert Players and Anda Anastasescu.


Maxim Vengerov and Magdalena Kozena showed that established artists can still exceed already high expectations of their abilities. Whilst those who prefer spectacle will be unsurprised to see the Bolshoi Opera’s staging of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel on my list.


Even that paled beside the RCM Benjamin Britten International Opera School’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea – an achievement of astounding professionalism by any standards.


I hesitated between Mackerras’s and Herreweghe’s Mozart, and Gergiev’s Shostakovich, and although I can still hear the beautiful shaping and singing in the ‘Recordare’ from Mozart’s great unfinished ‘Requiem’ with Herreweghe, it is the two Shostakovich concerts under Gergiev that I want nominate as certainly the most resonant and relevant concerts I attended this year. This has nothing to do with Shostakovich being ‘greater’ than Mozart, or Gergiev being a finer musician than either Mackerras or Herreweghe.


In the two Shostakovich/Gergiev concerts I attended on the 5th and the 6th of December with the Marinsky Theatre orchestra, it was the first which included the Thirteenth symphony, set to Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem ‘Babi Yar’ which I want to single out as particularly inspiring, in the powerful music/text itself, also Gergiev’s intense reading of the score. One of the reasons I found the piece so powerful is that it speaks to/of our age…an age of war, deception, propaganda, (or spin?), mis-use of power and a fair degree of religious, racial intolerance. The wonderfully ‘Bakhtinian’ carnivalesque poem ‘Humour’ was brilliantly projected by all concerned, and belongs to a long tradition in Russian culture where the most grotesque humour and laughter (beyond mere ‘black humour’) acts as a defence against monolithic power forms; think of Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Mussorgsky. A commentator once described Shostakovich as the composer of ‘undecidability’, and nowhere is this more touchingly realized or de-realized than in the coda here.

Finally, I have rarely, in recent years, experienced so much magnificent and idiomatic orchestral playing. I was continually noticing small nuances and rhythmic shifts which usually get lost, until one consults the score to learn that all Gergiev and the orchestra were doing was projecting the score accurately. A memorable contribution to this ‘Shostakovich’ year imbued with rare perception and conviction from everyone concerned.


A year ago I had a grumble about the fact that although I live a mere 20Km or so from Manchester, which likes to claim Second City status, as an opera and vocal enthusiast I often had to travel considerable distances for my live performance pleasures. These facts were reflected in the fact that I could only make three choices. This year, although travel to Birmingham, Buxton and Leeds were also a feature, some first class performances closer to home enabled me to up that figure. Part of the reason was the continued influence of Mark Elder at the helm of the Hallé Orchestra, the return of Opera North to full time activity after its period of homelessness whilst the Leeds Grand Theatre and facilities were upgraded and the International Concert Season at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

In calendar sequence my choices are:-

Dame Felicity Lott (sop); Ann Murray DBE (mezzo); Graham Johnson OBE (pno)
The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. January 12th 2006.

The two artists sparked off each other to provide entertainment of interest and quality

Cecilia Bartoli, ‘Opera Proibita’: Freiburger Barockorchester. The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. May 24th 2006.

Music in Rome at the turn of the 18th century. Arias and instrumental music by Handel, Scarlatti, Caladra and Corelli. A slimmed down diva with an easy and natural style of communication gave a virtuoso display of vocal pyrotechnics.

Verdi La Forza del Destino Orchestra, soloists and chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre / Valery Gergiev. Symphony Hall Birmingham, May 25th 2006.

A concert performance of the 1862 St. Petersburg version of the opera.

An event of a lifetime to sit behind Valery Gergiev and hear world class singers in this most melodic of Verdi operas which is so little heard in staged productions.

Buxton Festival, Armide :
Christoph Willibald Gluck, A heroic drama in five acts. Sung in English.

Aidan Lang’s production, aided by plenty of visual stimulation on stage and crisp conducting from Robert King, put the fallacy of over long boring evenings in operas of this period to the sword.

Opera North On Tour, Peter Grimes: The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. May 9th-13th 2006.

Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Peter Grimes aided by Richard Farnes’ conducting of Britten’s evocative orchestral interludes provided theatre of the highest standard. Some of the visual images in the stark story were appropriately harrowing.

Richard Wagner, Siegfried Act III, The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. Saturday 11 November 2006, Hallé Orchestra and soloists. Conducted by Mark Elder CBE.

Featuring Ben Heppner making his first stab at the role and among colleagues this was a Wagner night top remember. Heppner has yet to sing the role on stage. When he does and with a conductor of Elder’s sympathy and understanding of the score, it will have been worth waiting for.

I that hope 2007 gives me as much quality and pleasure as its predecessor.


Richard Wagner, Die Walküre
at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, 17.03.2006.

Das Rheingold in autumn 2005 was a success and the high expectations of Die Walküre were certainly more than fulfilled with Nina Stemme’s glorious Sieglinde and Terje Stensvold’s magnificent Wotan as vocal highpoints. Review.


Verdi, Il trovatore at the Royal Stockholm Opera, 13.05.2006 (GF)


A gripping production and singing of a calibre that can’t be taken for granded even in the big international houses. Hillevi Martinpelto and Karl Magnus Fredriksson were outstanding. Review.

Bellini, Norma at Staatsoper Under den Linden, Berlin, 10.11.2006

The production and direction were only middling and the conductor in places tried to break the sound-barrier but the singing of the three principals, Silvana Dussmann, Zoran Todorovich and Carmen Oprisanu silenced the criticism. Glorious! Review.

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin:  at the Finnish National Opera on 8.12.2006. Co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden


The most beautiful and logically convincing production of this opera I have ever seen; and with singing on the same exalted level by some of today’s leading Finnish singers. Review.



Although I don’t pretend to have heard everything in the music river that is New York City, four events seemed to offer particular distinction. At the International Keyboard Festival in July, Marc-André Hamelin introduced many of us to Paul Dukas’ fiendishly difficult Piano Sonata, followed by Schubert’s last one with the pianist in profound and sublime concentration. And the final of three Cleveland Orchestra concerts with Franz Welser-Möst showed them at their best in a Messiaen rarity, some superb Mozart with Thomas Quasthoff, and one of the most thoughtful, insightful and gleamingly played Bruckner readings I expect to hear for a very long time.

In early December, Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began with the Mahler Seventh Symphony, but the second concert was the prize: a warm-hearted Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales, followed by Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with a sparkling Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and then the most violent reading of Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin I expect to hear for a long time. The next night Aimard was still in town with a mountain of etudes, and the unequaled thrill of having a world premiere by Elliott Carter unveiled on the spot.

A few others deserve mention: Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera, for which I am happy to join the lemming-like parade of admirers both for Anthony Minghella’s wizardry and a sign that the Peter Gelb era is off to an auspicious beginning. My colleague Harvey Steiman’s review is here.

Last spring, James Levine and the MET Orchestra shook Carnegie Hall in a program of Bartók, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, and in Philadelphia, Sir Simon Rattle gave the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Feast During a Plague coupled with an ineffably moving Brahms Fourth Symphony.

The New York Philharmonic is on a roll these days, with Christoph von Dohnányi in a powerful Bartók Bluebeard’s Castle, Lorin Maazel blazing through a rare concert version of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, and the orchestra’s assistant conductor Xian Zhang, diamond-hard in Prokofiev’s score to a restored print of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky. And I still grin thinking about Ecomusic: Nature’s New Sounds, a quirky, beautifully conceived concert by the new music group ModernWorks, with a most unusual cactus.




Editor Bill Kenny was asking for trouble when he asked for “up to (say) four choices” for the Best-of-the-Year list. I am taking the “say” at full value, and have eventually narrowed my list down to five. That still entails omitting such pleasures as performances by a succession of fine violinists, ranging from Dmitri Sitkovetsky in the Sibelius concerto to Leonidas Kavakos in Bartók No. 2, Julia Fischer in the Dvořák, the impossibly young Stefan Jackiw in Mendelssohn’s E-minor, and James Ehnes in the “Kreutzer” sonata; a Seattle Symphony Shostakovich festival highlighted by Gerard Schwarz’s thrilling projection of the Eighth Symphony; mostly delightful productions of Rosenkavalier and L’italiana in Algeri by the Seattle Opera, as well as a superb Turn of the Screw directed by the gifted Peter Kazaras for the company’s Young Artists program; and some highly promising introductory performances at the Annas Bay Festival in the town of Union on the shore of the Hood Canal.

If, then, I pick Fledermaus as the standout in two half-seasons’ work by the Seattle Opera, it is by a narrow margin. But, both for laughs and for substantial musical pleasures, this is the one I remember most vividly.


Ignat Solzhenitsyn’s extraordinarily eloquent and stylish music-making with his Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia reasserted its magic when I was on a visit back to my former home-town last spring.

In three separate programs toward the end of last season and soon after the start of this one, the young Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes demonstrated his command of a wide range of styles. If I single out the one in June that included Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, it is because that was the most overwhelming combination of compositional genius with interpretative mastery.

Gerard Schwarz simply can’t be left out of any year’s pick among Seattle musical events. His Mahler Seven in the closing subscription program of the 2005/06 season was the greatest performance of that problematic work I have ever heard. (And he was also, by the way, the conductor of the Fledermaus listed above.)

And my bonus choice goes to Barry Douglas’s equally remarkable performance, notable as much for grace, subtlety, and charm as for the more obvious qualities of virtuosity and passion, of Rachmaninoff’s too-often brutally hammered Third Piano Concerto.

Go To Page Two     Back to the Index Page





Error processing SSI file


Error processing SSI file