2013 - the year in review: The best classical performances of the year


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The Independent Culture

Written on Skin (Royal Opera House)

A 100-minute, interval-free symbolic drama set to post-tonal music might sound rebarbative, but this opera by George Benjamin – in Katie Mitchell’s stylish production – made a riveting evening. A medieval Provençal tale of jealousy and revenge, with a time-travel twist.

Andras Schiff (Wigmore Hall)

This great Hungarian pianist may have his wayward moments, but the Beethoven cycle he gave on an 80-year-old Bechstein took the breath away. No intervals – his hands didn’t even leave the keyboard between sonatas – but the playing was so visionary that one lost all sense of time. 

Parsifal (Royal Albert Hall)

Wagner’s “farewell to the world” is ideologically problematic and tricky to stage, but Mark Elder’s Prom with his Halle players and singers turned it into something infinitely more dramatic than Covent Garden’s recent attempt. Elder used every level of the vast, bare auditorium to create extraordinary effects.

Peter Grimes (Aldeburgh)

People said it was crazy, that the wind would drown the singers, that everyone would freeze – but staging Britten’s tragedy on the beach where it was set was a master-stroke. With Alan Oke leading a brilliant cast, no one present will forget what they witnessed under a black sky, in a biting wind, by the water’s edge.

Satyagraha (Coliseum)

The Phelim McDermott/Julian Crouch production of Philip Glass’s operatic masterpiece was the best ENO revival in years. Sung in Sanskrit sans surtitles, and with a labyrinthine plot, it theoretically shouldn’t have worked, yet the raw power of the music and the luminous beauty of the staging held us spellbound.

Discovery of the year

Milton Court Hall,  Barbican, London

This lovely new chamber auditorium has been designed as part of the Guildhall, and is therefore for student use. But it could, if it chose, give Kings Place and the Wigmore a real run for their money.

Turkey of the year

A dead heat – and dead is the operative word – between two meretricious loads of impenetrable garbage: Ben Frost’s The Wasp Factory at the Linbury Theatre, and Michael van der Aa’s Sunken Garden at the Barbican. Just don’t get me started…