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2006 Culture Awards

The Year in Classical & Dance

Pleasure came from far-flung corners: Kings of the Dance outran its cheesiness, a movie recalled the odd genius of Glenn Gould, and London darling Angela Gheorghiu finally won over New York.

10. New York City Ballet’s Opening-Night Gala Performances
Ballet had a year of grand landmark performances, like Julio Bocca’s final work with Alessandra Ferri in ABT’s Manon, and Christopher Wheeldon’s dark Klavier at City Ballet. So it’s surprising that two of the most heart-stopping pieces this year were not full-length works but excerpts performed at City Ballet’s winter gala. In Jorma Elo’s Slice to Sharp, an all-star sextet (featuring standout corps girl Ana Sophia Scheller) deftly navigated staccato steps through a bright Vivaldi score. And in Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet noir Middle Duet, Maria Kowroski (she of the never-ending legs) and Albert Evans were absolutely transfixing.


Gould at work, from Hereafter.  

9. ‘Glenn Gould: Hereafter’
Amid the hundreds of opera productions out on DVD this year, there’s a fascinating new documentary by Bruno Monsaingeon: Hereafter, shown last month at Lincoln Center’s ten-film festival devoted to the late pianist Glenn Gould. It’s an ingenious concoction of archival material and mysticism—the film gives the illusion of being narrated by Gould himself, as his infallible fingers spin the strands of a Bach fugue into golden threads.

8. ‘L’elisir d’Amore’ at New York City Opera
While we were all waiting for the Met’s next golden age to get started, City Opera’s L’Elisir d’Amore was the year’s most enjoyable new show. Director Jonathan Miller doesn’t always hit the bull’s-eye, but he did here, relocating Donizetti’s warmhearted comedy to the American Midwest and turning Italian peasants into small-town Americans, circa 1958. It was all done with keen wit and a sense of the piece’s underlying sweetness, and the personable cast obviously relished the fun.

7. András Schiff’s Mozart-Birthday Concerts
Maybe the brightest candle on Wolfgang’s 250th-birthday cake was lit by Schiff. In six concerts at Carnegie and Alice Tully halls, he played a dozen piano concertos with his handpicked Cappella Andrea Barca chamber orchestra and topped that off with an all-Mozart solo recital at the Metropolitan Museum. Few musicians better understand how Mozart’s exquisitely balanced design and texture disguise the expressive undercurrent that drives the musical argument forward, and even fewer pianists have the mechanics and mind to make it all sound so magical.


ABT's Ethan Stiefel  

6. City Center’s “Kings of the Dance”
The Three Tenors With Muscles idea behind “Kings of the Dance”—that is, put ABT’s Angel Corella and Ethan Stiefel, the Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg, and the Bolshoi’s Nikolay Tsiskaridze on one program—sounded iffy. But though there was plenty of kitsch, the dance on view was refreshing, charming, and a great reminder that the guys can be as compelling to watch as the girls. Our hometown boys outdid themselves, Stiefel in a new piece by Nils Christie and Corella as the twisted teacher in an Ionesco adaptation.

5. Audra McDonald
You could call Audra McDonald the prima donna of crossover, but that’s too facile. Her preferred area is popular musical culture, and her concert of Broadway songs at Carnegie Hall last April was choice. Most of her selections (“I Could Have Danced All Night,” from My Fair Lady) are identified with the names who introduced them, but McDonald made each one her property by applying her saucy wit, shining tone, and technical virtuosity.

4. Juan Diego Flórez
An amazing number of first-class tenors are receiving honors these days. The crown prince hereabouts, Flórez, was one good reason to see the Met’s patchy Don Pasquale last April and an even better one to catch the snazzy new Barber of Seville. The Peruvian tenor’s smallish voice and typically Latin nasal buzz restrict him to the lyrical bel canto repertory, but there he reigns supreme, for his elegance, precision, and charming stage presence.

3. Angela Gheorgiu in ‘La Traviata’
Until now, Gheorghiu had never captured audiences here as completely as she did in London, where she became a star in 1994 as Violetta in La Traviata. This year, she finally turned the trick at the Met, again as Violetta: The pathetic image of a fragile courtesan with a delicate cameo face was riveting, and her wine-colored voice commanded the score’s feverish coloratura and its lyrical heartbreak. Her lady of the camellias is a worthy successor to Garbo and Callas.

2. The Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall
Nearly a full year on, concertgoers are still harking back to the Berlin Phil’s four concerts at Carnegie last January. The maestro now in charge of that orchestral Mercedes is Sir Simon Rattle, beloved in England but a controversial figure in Berlin, where many still pine for Herbert von Karajan. Rattle has different priorities, argued persuasively: a commitment to new music, confrontational approaches to classics, and an outreach program that takes the orchestra into new communities. One constant is the BPO itself, a super-virtuoso instrument.

1. ‘Ainadamar’
No one writing music today crosses stylistic barriers with more lyrical bravado and sheer compositional nerve than Osvaldo Golijov. Last January and February, Lincoln Center celebrated the Argentine composer’s work, music that blends his Latin and Jewish musical roots into a hypnotic, seductively melodious, instrumentally scintillating brew. It bubbled up most memorably in the one-act opera Aindamar, a meditation on poet-playwright Federico García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War. The best news: Golijov is now at work on a full-length opera for the Met.


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