Review of the year: Opera

Two Rings and a magic Butterfly
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The Independent Culture

The year's most eagerly anticipated event was Anthony Minghella's staging of Madam Butterfly for English National Opera. Our visual senses were ravished by one of the most exquisite spectacles to grace the Coliseum stage. Minghella's cool, graceful mix of Kabuki and Bunraku theatrical styles sometimes played counter to Puccini's overheated orientalisms, but the passion was there. In the relationship between Butterfly (Mary Plazas) and her child (a wan Bunraku puppet made flesh by three wonderful puppeteers) there was a discomforting sense of her tragic delusion. Tremendous.

So, too, was Katie Mitchell's searing production of Handel's Jephtha, another ENO highlight. Mitchell and her designer Vicki Mortimer triumphantly managed to turn an intrinsically static form - oratorio - into something fluid and animated. It was a staging of filmic precision graced by a truly international performance from Sarah Tynan.

Birnam Wood came to Holland Park when Olivia Fuchs staged Verdi's Macbeth in the summer. This was a performance where the reckless spirit of abandonment found exciting kinship with the immediacy of Verdi's most primal score. And in the tiny role of Macduff, a young Italian-American tenor, Leonardo Capalbo, stopped the show cold.

At Garsington Manor, the garden, tailor-made for nocturnal assignations, would do Count Almaviva proud. John Cox's staging of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro - exceptional by any standards - beautifully built the atmosphere of the setting into the occasion.

Back to Wagner. London is now a city boasting two new Ring cycles. Will we ever see Phyllida Lloyd's provocative staging as a cycle? Keith Warner's Royal Opera production continues to throw up all kinds of intrigue. I'd love to see the two head-to-head.

The Five Best

Wagner: Die Walküre (Royal Opera at the Proms)

Puccini: Madam Butterfly (ENO)

Handel: Jephtha (EN0)

Verdi: Macbeth (Holland Park Opera)

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro (Garsington Opera)

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