Pick of 2005: Opera
Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne (and at the Proms)
A star was born. David McVicar's enormously enjoyable production of Handel's showpiece (set in an imperial imagerie d'Epinal version of Egypt) was distinguished by the British debut of the beautiful young Australian soprano Danielle de Niese. Not only did her voice easily surpass the rigorous requirements of the role of Cleopatra, but she gave, in Kenneth Tynan's term, a high-definition performance - sexy, witty, compelling - at a level rarely seen on an opera stage. The outstanding cast also featured Sarah Connolly as Caesar and a harrowing Angelika Kirchschlager as Sesto. Praise God, it's being revived next summer, when a DVD will also appear. (www.glyndebourne.com)
Madame Butterfly at English National Opera
With gorgeous costumes by Han Feng, an equally lush set by Michael Levine and the director of the uber-weepy English Patient in charge, Puccini's tragic love story has been a runaway success for the (again) troubled English National Opera. But there was also a heart and soul behind the sumptuousness, and Anthony Minghella brought a shrewd West End dramatic awareness to this too easily cliched piece of Japonaiserie. The elfin soprano Mary Plazas triumphed as the child-bride, sometimes hopeful, sometimes hopeless, always touching. Booking is now open for eight further performances in April and May. (www.eno.org)
The Death of Klinghoffer by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh Festival
John Adams is the greatest living opera composer and it is a disgrace that it has taken 14 years for his second work to receive its British premiere. This thoughtful and moving meditation on the roots of hatred and terrorism is still pertinent and still capable of offending those partis pris. So it was a brave move - and a convincing affirmation that opera has a future as well as a past - for the beleaguered Scottish Opera, in the middle of a cash-strapped year off, to bring it, finally, to this country. (Adams's Nixon In China is being revived next June at ENO, which will also premiere his Doctor Atomic during its 2007-2008 season.)
Die Walkure at Covent Garden (and at the Proms)
On its first appearance in March, Keith Warner's staging didn't please everyone, but there was scarcely a demur at the magnificent conducting of Antonio Pappano and the awesome Wotan of Bryn Terfel (the Guardian ran a leader comparing his performance to Callas's Norma and Olivier's Hamlet).
On its second outing in August, with Placido Domingo and Waltraud Meier as Siegmund and Sieglinde, Wagner's most popular opera had a virtually unimprovable cast. At the Proms the audience stood and applauded for ten minutes.