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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy