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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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 week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick