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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices