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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee