The Critics' Awards 1998: Opera - The mighty fall at Royal Opera. And rise again at Wexford

This will be remembered as the year the Royal Opera hit rock bottom, but the fact is, things will probably get worse in 1999. And the quiet pleasure of watching the mighty fall has brightened not a few lives in Britain, where the company's woes have been a gift for anyone hostile to the public funding of serious art. The truth is that if Covent Garden had ever been properly funded it might not be in this mess. But then it's hard to demand more money for an organisation that, apart from being broke, is also mismanaged. Over the past two years, the board-room farce played out by sadly comic characters like Mary Allen and Lord Chadlington has hammered nails into the coffin, one after another. Company morale is at an all-time low. And it shows, badly, in the under-powered Bartered Bride currently playing at Sadler's Wells.

But that said, the remarkable thing about the Royal Opera's artists is that they have managed, in the midst of everything, to deliver shows like the immaculate revival of Jonathan Miller's Cosi fan tutte. And they've made a virtue of the semi-stagings forced on them by necessity. The South Bank Parsifal and the Albert Hall's Ring cycle were, in their way, superb. And the Aegyptische Helena was magnificent - especially when it repeated in the rich acoustic of the new theatre at Baden-Baden, which was opened with the Royal Opera in triumphant residence. That the Baden-Baden house went bust a few weeks later was unfortunate, but not their fault.

ENO, meanwhile, has been working hard to fill the gap in London opera, and though its efforts haven't always paid off - with dodgy stagings like Graham Vick's The Tales of Hofmann - the new team of Paul Daniel and Nicholas Payne is strong and encouraging. Mary Stuart was a striking vehicle for Ann Murray. And there have been some good revivals, notably of David Pountney's Hansel and Gretel.

Outside London, WNO had a strong, spare Billy Budd that tore into the soul as fiercely as a cat-o'-nine-tails. Opera North's Bartered Bride beat the Royal Opera production hands down. And while Glyndebourne had an equivocal season, it hit the target with the revival of its stunning children's opera, Misper. It also commissioned a new work for the 1998 tour, Flight, which was appropriately featherweight, and a commercial (though not critical) success.

In fact there was a lot of new, or new-ish, opera around this year - most of it pretty poor, like Philip Glass's Monsters of Grace at the Barbican, Gavin Bryars's Dr Ox's Experiment at ENO, and Simon Holt's The Nightingale's to Blame at Huddersfield. But Tan Dun's Marco Polo had a spectacular, if baffling, UK premiere at Huddersfield. Deirdre Gribben's Hey, Persephone made a promising impression at the Almeida. The QEH staging of Mark Antony Turnage's Greek was the best yet. And the Guildhall student production of Dominick Argento's Aspern Papers brought the piece to British audiences - belatedly - with style. But it was another new-ish piece that was, for me, the opera of the year: the joyous Sarlatan, written in 1938 by Pavel Haas before he perished in a concentration camp. His opera more or less died with him, only to be rediscovered recently. This autumn it was staged at Wexford, in a rough-and-tumble way that earned it mixed reviews. I loved it, as I've never loved a Wexford rarity before. It seems to me a work of genius that must be helped to live again.

t Opera of 1998: Haas's `Sarlatan' at Wexford

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk