- Behind the Veil, in which Saira Shah, the British-born daughter of an Afghan intellectual, reported on Taliban terror -- women shot to death in a football stadium for adultery, men hanged from goal posts for homosexuality, the secret schools for girls, the clerics as proud as Pol Pot -- just a couple of weeks before most of America cared (CNN).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, by which, of course, I mean the Musical, wherein all the characters sang and danced their darkest secrets, as if Sondheim had teamed up with Dracula to do Our Town (UPN).
- Laughter on the 23rd Floor, with Richard Benjamin directing Nathan Lane in Neil Simon's play, captured the neurotic genius of Sid Caesar and all those famous comedy writers for Your Show of Shows, like Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner (Showtime).
- Nero Wolfe, with Maury Chaykin as the great detective and Timothy Hutton as his smart-mouth sidekick Archie, re-created Rex Stout's world of fine food, imported beer, rare orchids, strong opinions, and vile acts almost perfectly in one of the year's best series (April, A&E).
- New York: A Documentary Film The four concluding hours of Ric Burns's magnificent televisual account of the port city over four centuries and its embodiment of the idea of a freely chosen future reminded us that all a terror bombing can do to this idea is scatter it like seeds, from which we'll grow more towers (PBS).
- Saving Elián, a nuanced retrospective on the international custody case from tireless Frontline producer Ofra Bikel, touched every base from the little boy's high-seas rescue by dolphins to Fidel Castro's pep rallies to Janet Reno and her predawn raid on Elián's camera-loving relatives, with special emphasis on the political clout of Miami's Cuban community (PBS).
- Six Feet Under, among its many other subversive virtues, introduced most of us to the marvelous Rachel Griffiths as Peter Krause's difficult girlfriend in a series about a family of morticians who face up to bizarre death by everything from swimming pool to cookie-dough mixer (HBO).
- Things Behind the Sun, with Kim Dickens, Don Cheadle, Gabriel Mann, Elizabeth Peña, Eric Stoltz, and CCH Pounder, brought Allison Anders's lacerating film about gang rape by high-school boys to a home screen almost too small to contain its furious complications (Showtime).
- Twilight: Los Angeles was a brilliant account of the 1992 insurrection after the Rodney King verdict. With Anna Deavere Smith impersonating everyone from a black teenager to a Korean grocer to a Latino journalist to a Hollywood agent to police chief Daryl Gates, gun-toting Charlton Heston, and grandly operatic Jessye Norman (PBS).
- Wit, Mike Nichols's TV adaptation of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play starred Emma Thompson as a cancer-stricken professor of seventeenth-century poetry, Eileen Atkins as her ghostly mentor, Audra McDonald as the nurse who gave her baby oil and a Popsicle, and Harold Pinter as the father who encouraged her to read Beatrix Potter (HBO).
PETER G. DAVIS
- Cecilia Bartoli sings Gluck arias On her latest disc from Decca, Bartoli investigates eight unknown but consistently captivating Italian arias by this great eighteenth-century composer, and her vocal virtuosity has never been more spectacular.
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra A refreshing alternative to the surface brilliance of James Levine's Wagner at the Met, Daniel Barenboim's searching, committed, and at times incandescent concert performance of Tristan und Isolde at Carnegie Hall was a revelation. Ditto soprano Waltraud Meier as she explored every facet of Isolde's conflicted personality.
- The Flying Dutchman The City Opera seldom tackles Wagner, but this compelling new production staged by Stephen Lawless and conducted by George Manahan suggests that the company should try more often. In the title role, Mark Delavan found the perfect vehicle for his burly, wide-bore baritone.
- The Gambler Prokofiev's coruscating first opera is a gripping Dostoevskian tale of obsessives, sadists, spiteful snobs, and self-destructive neurotics. The Metropolitan's splendid new production, directed by Temur Chkheidze and conducted by Valery Gergiev, mirrored the opera's sardonic manner and frantic pace exactly and augurs well for the company's upcoming production of the same composer's monumental War and Peace.
- A Great Day in New York That's what they called it when no fewer than 52 composers, each in some way connected with the city, somehow managed to gather and pose for a group picture and later attend a grand festival of their music sponsored by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. May the warm spirit of solidarity generated by these concerts continue.
- Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 9 A shattering choral symphony, born of Henze's bitter memories of Nazi Germany and conscription into the army as a teenager, this is one of the many new works performed by the New York Philharmonic during Kurt Masur's tenure that seem guaranteed to last.
- Les Huguenots The Opera Orchestra of New York has been reviving rarities and introducing important new singers for years, seldom achieving more exciting results than with this once extravagantly popular French grand opera. With Eve Queler conducting, and tenor Marcello Giordani and soprano Krassimira Stoyanova in top form, Giacomo Meyerbeer's historical epic once again seemed like an important opera.
- Kodo These drummers from Japan arrived at Carnegie Hall and, inspired by the shapes and sizes of their many intriguing instruments as well as by the rhythms and dynamics of the music they play, performed with an athletic grace that was positively hypnotic. In Japanese, kodo means heartbeat, which perhaps explains the gut appeal of this remarkable ensemble.
- The Makropulos Case Like the heroine of Janácek's opera, German Kunstdiva Anja Silja refuses to grow old, and her impersonation of Emilia Marty, a 337-year-old woman who learns to accept mortality and embrace death, is a tour de force. The mesmerizing Glyndebourne production came to bam last winter, and Silja's performance, characteristically physical, fearless, and self-revealing, improves with age.
- Kurt Masur at the New York Philharmonic To honor departing music director Kurt Masur, the Philharmonic has issued a handsomely packaged ten-CD boxed set of live performances highlighting Masur's eleven-year reign. Taking pride of place is the maestro's eloquent interpretation of Bach's mighty Saint Matthew Passion.