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The jury of music journalists recognized excellent achievements where pandemic-season performances were possible but excoriated the industry as a whole.
The Hanover State Opera is winner of this year's Oper! Award for Best Opera House. Within the shortest possible time, the opera company's director Laura Berman has made her house the most interesting in the musical landscape, explained Oper! magazine at its awards ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in Berlin on November 30, audience-free but streamed on its home page. Making musical theater for the city, Berman had set her sights on quality repertory and stage direction rather than simply seeking to attract big names, the periodical explained.
"Hanover sets an example of how one can deal with the crisis creatively and constructively, said jury chairman Ulrich Ruhnke, co-founder of the Oper! Award, initiated in 2019.
A different opera house, La Monnaie in Brussels, was recognized for having put on the Best World Premiere: Macbeth Underworld by the composer Pascal Dusapin. The distinction for Best Performance went to Jean Philipp Rameau's Les Indes galantes at the Opera national de Paris.
In the realm of Vocal Achievement, the jury of journalists awarded top honors to the Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili and the French tenor Benjamin Bernheim. The Ukranian maestra Oksana Lyniv was named Best Conductor in recognition of her musical direction of works by Béla Bartók at the Bavarian State Opera.
Best Stage Direction went to the German director Tobias Kratzer, confirming the wide success and acclaim already yielded by his interpretation of Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser at the 2019 Bayreuth Festival. A play within a play, integrating the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and the festival's rich and checkered history into the action, it was praised, in the jury's words, as a "clever, interpretative piece of entertainment."
Few productions in Bayreuth in recent years have been as warmly applauded as was Tobias Kratzer's "Tannhäuser"
The Vienna Philharmonic was named Best Orchestra on the strength of its performances at the Salzburg Festival, including those in the summer of 2020 during the coronavirus season. The festival itself took top honors as Best Festival. Stage director Hans Neuenfels earned the Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Of course the coronavirus pandemic massively impaired large swaths of the past season or made them impossible," observed Ulrich Ruhnke. "Yet in the few weeks remaining, there were magnificent artistic achievements that need to be brought to light and recognized."
Not least of all, a "prize" was awarded in recognition of Most Annoying Thing: to no particular person or institution but rather to the opera industry – or most of it – for its "lack of imagination and passive victimization" at the onset of the pandemic, "when the first lockdown came and everybody just stared like a cow that had seen lightning," said Ruhnke. "And it was evident who responded creatively and productively to the situation, and who withdrew, hiding behind official positions." Finding that stance all the more reprehensible because opera company directors enjoy engaging in social and political criticism, Ruhnke added, "Now, when they were called on to take a stand, they were largely helpless."
Initiated in 2019, the Oper! Award goes to winners in 20 categories. With 80 of the world's roughly 560 opera companies on German soil, the country has the greatest density of opera houses worldwide.