Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Did the best acting of 2009 occur on the opera stage?

This idea may shock the theatrical community, but I'm here to tell that you that some of the best acting I saw over the past year was in the city's opera productions. With the arrival of supertitles in opera, acting has become of more than passing interest to the operatic audience (because at last they can understand what the hell the characters are saying!). Therefore suddenly directors have wanted Figaros who are actually funny, and Carmens who are genuinely hot. And to be honest, opera singers have responded with compelling dramatic as well as musical performances.

So here are a few of the past year's best dramatic/operatic performances, which could hold their own, frankly, against those of any actor in town:

Susanna Philips (at left) - Donna Anna, Don Giovanni, Boston Lyric Opera. Luminously sung and poignantly acted, I think this may have been the most memorable operatic performance of the year.

Keith Jameson - VaĊĦek, The Bartered Bride, Opera Boston. Jameson spun comic gold from this hapless milquetoast; he was easily as funny as any other actor on a Boston stage, and all while singing beautifully.

Stephanie Houtzel, Ottavia, and Christian Immler, Seneca - L'incoronazione di Poppea, Boston Early Music Festival. The Romans never had it so good as they did in this magnificent production, which was actually studded with several compelling dramatic characterizations.

Ava Pine - Melissa, Amadigi di Gaula, Boston Baroque. A performance of simultaneous tragic and comic power that was also, believe it or not, a slinky hoot; I'd almost accuse Ms. Pine of chewing the scenery, only there wasn't any.

Jason McStoots - Damon/Handel, Acis and Galatea, Boston Early Music Festival. This role was not as demanding as the rest on the list, but McStoots not only sung it with warm openness, but acted it with the confidence of a subtle comedian. A comic gem.

And just btw, any awards for "Best Direction" in the Hub this year would have to include statuettes for Gilbert Blin (Poppea, Acis and Galatea, Boston Early Music Festival), and Paul Peers (Amadigi di Gaula, Boston Baroque).

Next: on to the actors!

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