Best Vocal Performance
Perhaps the only opera personality today whose huge popularity affords her the luxury of singing anything she pleases, Cecilia Bartoli came to Carnegie Hall, presented “Forbidden Opera”—a collection of obscure eighteenth-century Italian arias—to a sold-out house, and left just about everyone dazzled. Some think that Bartoli is overhyped, but vocalism on this level of virtuosity and musicianship deserves every cheer it got.
2 Diana Damrau may well be the Met’s next big star, if her awesome coloratura technique and winsome stage charm as Richard Strauss’s flirtatious Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos is a fair example of what’s to come.
3 René Pape’s wicked ways and seductive vocalism as Méphistophélès in the Met’s new Faust production was just about the most charismatic basso turn hereabouts since Cesare Siepi or Ezio Pinza sang the role.
Best Opera Revival
‘The Mines of Sulphur’
A gothic tale of plague, apparitions, and murder on the moors, Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1965 horror opera was a big hit when new, but audiences forgot about it until the Glimmerglass–City Opera revival reminded us just how effectively its accessible but harmonically twisty and eerily textured music serves the drama. An excellent Chandos recording of the production (with much of the same cast) now serves as a permanent reminder of this chilling and dark opera.
2 ‘Così Fan Tutte’
The Met brought back its production in anticipation of Mozart’s 250th-birthday year, an enchanting performance in which sheer musical excellence was paramount.
3 ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’
Franco Alfano’s opera came to the Met for the first time as a vehicle to accommodate Plácido Domingo; what a surprise when the opera itself turned out to be so heartbreakingly beautiful.
Best Instrumental Performance
Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s Carnegie Hall Recital
Once considered a new-music specialist, Aimard in this recital proved he is a great deal more than that: a protean keyboard personality able to illuminate a wide-ranging repertory, from Ravel’s prismatic Gaspard de la Nuit to Schumann’s ultra-romantic Carnaval. And who else would dare play thorny music by Pierre Boulez as an encore?
2 Earl Wild Making few concessions to the passing years, Earl Wild celebrated his 90th birthday with a piano recital in Carnegie Hall by offering a veritable master class in Romantic style.
3 Ivan Moravec Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, a much-too-infrequent visitor, gave an exquisitely tailored interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with the Orchestra of Saint Luke’s under Donald Runnicles in Carnegie Hall.
The London Symphony Orchestra
Whenever the LSO under Sir Colin Davis appears in Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers” series never seems more aptly named. This year, the orchestra, with its resident chorus, performed the Verdi Requiem in a deeply moving performance of whiplash accents and broad lyrical sweep that went to the core of this gripping spiritual drama.
2 James Levine and the Boston Symphony
Only into his second season with the BSO, James Levine already seems to have reinvigorated the orchestra with his innovative programming and infectious rapport with the musicians.
3 The Chicago Symphony, on the other hand, is in peak condition but will soon lose Daniel Barenboim. His successor may find it difficult to equal this maestro’s magisterial command of the great German symphonic classics.
Best Series Programming
The New York Festival of Song
Every program by NYFOS is a fun musical adventure, exploring some of the most fascinating byways of the song literature. This past year has taken us from despairing protest songs composed in the depths of the Soviet underground to the antic but always life-enhancing world of the Spanish zarzuela. Among the other goodies coming up are evenings devoted to works by Dorothy Fields and Fats Waller and a potpourri that begins with Monteverdi and ends with the Beach Boys.
2 Leon Botstein
Trust Botstein to tweak every American Symphony Orchestra concert program with some intriguing discoveries from the past, all thematically related.
3 Focus! Festival
For new-music fans, nothing quite stimulates like the Juilliard School’s annual weeklong Focus! Festival as it examines offbeat trends all over the globe.
The Short List
Best New Audience Draw
The Fall for Dance Festival at City Center Arlene Shuler, City Center’s brilliant CEO, figured out an answer to the old question of how to fill seats with new, diverse audiences. City Center’s six-evening, $10-a-night festival put emerging troupes onstage with the best-known companies in the world—and sold out again in its second year.
Best Music Programming Before 1800 or after 1990
Miller Theatre, Columbia University Though Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall is certainly a contender, Miller Theatre’s executive director, George Steel, has been the champ at parlaying his own enthusiasms for new and early music—he sang countertenor in vocal ensembles before taking the helm at Miller eight years ago—into artistic success. Miller regularly lures concertgoers above 110th Street with first-rate performances smartly packaged and grouped, like “Composer Portraits” (programs focusing on a single contemporary composer, a device Miller recently took national), “Bach in Context” (pairing Bach with his influences and followers), and the “Early Music” series.