Critics' Awards 1999 - Classical: Courage of their convictions

If 1999 has any claim on British music history, it will be for something we did not have rather than something we did: namely, the Royal Opera, which went to sleep at the start of the year and didn't wake up until the end. That it woke up at all was a miracle of Disneyesque proportions: kissed into life by the Prince Charming of the American arts establishment, Michael Kaiser, and handed the keys of a glittering new palace on Bow Street. And though the company didn't have too much to say for itself at the opening celebrations, these are early days. It's good to have you back. Keep at it.

In the absence of the Royal Opera, other organisations stepped nobly into the breach, including the Barbican which housed a run of concert- operas so vividly realised that you barely missed the element of full, staged theatre. Alceste with Anne Sophie von Otter, Billy Budd with John Tomlinson, Rinaldo with Cecilia Bartoli, and the recent Benvenuto Cellini magisterially conducted by Sir Colin Davis were the kind of world-class events that make London the focus of international music-making. They were proof of visionary planning in the Barbican these days. But they were also proof that in the arts as anywhere else, money talks. The Barbican can call on the resources of the City. That makes a difference.

In less privileged circumstances, the visit of the National Opera of Chisinau to the Hackney Empire was a priceless piece of honest kitsch: breast-clutching, half-indifferent, half-pantomime and yet, in its grotesque way, oddly wonderful. That the Scarpia bore an unnerving resemblance to Danny La Rue and that the Tosca's chief dramatic motive seemed to be the preservation of her wig was neither here nor there. I loved it. And the cast could sing - more than you could say for the all-Japanese Turandot at the Edinburgh Festival, which boasted a lead soprano with the build of a Sumo wrestler and the voice of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Discoveries of the year included Faure's Penelope - a piece that's not supposed to work but did, surprisingly well, in a student show at the Guildhall School - and Strauss's Liebe der Danae camped up for the banking audience at Garsington. There was also a venue discovery in Wilton's Music Hall near Tower Hill, the intriguing though still semi-derelict new home of Broomhill Opera.

But the year's overall accolade in opera goes to ENO, who rose to the challenge of being London's sole supplier of staged work with a string of magnificent achievements, from the Parsifal handsomely conducted by Mark Elder in February to the Alcina brilliantly directed by David McVicar in November. In between came Robert Carsen's stylish Semele; a revival of Tom Cairns' tough but beautiful King Priam; and - my choice for opera of the year - the harrowing Phyllida Lloyd production of The Carmelites for Poulenc's centenary year. With big, gutsy performances and absolute conviction from participants such as Joan Rodgers, it was the most powerful music-theatre I saw in 1999, and the show I'd most like to see again.

On the concert circuit it has been a bad year for Ivo Pogorelich, whose perverse performances have singlehandedly revived the art of concert booing; and for Nigel Kennedy, whose garden gnome impersonation was in overdrive at the "Experience" he brought to the Festival Hall. Yehudi Menuhin died.

A good year, though, for Dame Gillian Weir whose epic Messiaen series at Westminster Cathedral drew the sort of audiences no one thought ever to see again at organ recitals, and whose sequinned shoes were the stars of the Last Night of the Proms - telecast to households far and wide as they negotiated 32ft pedal stops on the mighty monster of the Albert Hall. It was also a good year for the extremely English eloquence of tenor Ian Bostridge (but then, every year is good for Ian Bostridge); for the American countertenor David Daniels, whose unforgettable Edinburgh Festival recital confirmed his status at the top of the falsettists' league; and for Jose Cura who, of all the candidates for the job of "Fourth Tenor", seems to be the one most likely to get it. The concerts where he sings and conducts at the same time - back to the orchestra, arms waving vaguely up and down like a bird in flight - are silly. But the voice is there. So are the rows of women tremulantly dabbing tissues to their eyes with every top C.

Of the UK festivals this year, the most heroic was Wardour, which unflinchingly sold large quantities of Harrison Birtwistle and Richard Rodney Bennett to villages in rural Wiltshire. The oddest was the Northlands up in Scotland, where the programme included Eskimo ululation on a train from Thurso to Inverness (much to the surprise of local commuters).

And musician of the year? It has to be Sir Simon Rattle, who hasn't been idle since his departure from Birmingham. His Vienna Philharmonic concerts in the Proms were highlights of the season. His Beethoven 9 earlier this month with the Age of Enlightenment Orchestra was an exhilarating tour de force. And his appointment to the Berlin Philharmonic was the best music news of 1999. With Rattle in that key position, the whole world of music will pick up a new energy, new optimism. And that it comes out of Britain is no bad thing for us.

Previous winners

Concerts

1991 Roger Norrington

1992 Michael Tilson Thomas

1993 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

1994 Valery Gergiev

1995 Simon Rattle

1996 Simon Rattle

1997 Sir Colin Davis

1998 Anthony Payne's completion of

Elgar's Third Symphony

Opera

1991 King Priam (Opera North)

1992 The Duenna (Opera North)

1993 Der Meistersinger

(Royal Opera House)

1994 The Turn of the Screw

(Scottish Opera)

1995 The Makropulos Case

(Glyndebourne)

1996 Theodora (Glyndebourne)

1997 Pilgrim's Progress

(St Endellion Festival, Cornwall)

1998 Sarlatan (Wexford Festival)

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss