Writing about trends makes me cranky, but a paragraph or two seems obligatory.
If one wants already to synthesize the story of New York opera 2006 -- though what was truly important may not become clear for decades -- it's easy to grab on to the Met handover from Joe Volpe to Peter Gelb. The year was rather mixed for both. Volpe's last production showed Otto Schenk at his least defensible, while despite the New York Times-enforced honeymoon for Gelb and his chosen stars (and I think the Times is doing itself and its music writers an unfortunate disservice with this policy), his two new offerings have disappointed. It was the almost-new that did each credit: Lohengrin (mothballed since 1998) in the spring and Butterfly (which, as one may recall, premiered previously at ENO) this fall. Each treated the press with a cynicism (Sunnegårdh/the "everything's new" metastory) that would be appalling if this press didn't seem so happily cooperative.
But of course there were structural decisions that may prove more important: the labor agreement that begat the frequent Met transmissions over Sirius satellite radio, or City Opera's failure to secure a new home.
Fortunately, opera is not about trends or structure, which collectively explain some things but not the very present magic that happens at every good performance -- whether in good artistic climate or bad, as daily occurrence or happy aberration.
So from 2006 I remember that some very interesting tenors bowed, not least Jonas Kaufmann and Joseph Calleja. That baritone Carlos Alvarez did Verdi credit -- twice, and baritone Thomas Hampson (iffy high notes and all -- and they may even have helped) was wrenchingly human as the only human being depicted in Wagner's pageant Parsifal (that is, Amfortas). And that Natalie Dessay did this.
But two nights in particular stand out. October 12 was Dorothea Röschmann's solo recital, and the finest I've seen in many seasons. (If the Met doesn't become a regular operatic home, I hope that her New York recital visits nevertheless continue.) Before that was May 3, which was an even more remarkable thing.
First, it was an outing of the most notable production of the year. As charged by Karita Mattila, the revival of Robert Wilson's Lohengrin was the revelation for eye, ear, brain and heart that every fancy-director production aspires to be but only Herbert Wernicke's Die Frau ohne Schatten (despite flawed casting) has otherwise realized in recent decades here.
Lohengrin performances before May 3 featured Ben Heppner in the title part. May 3 brought the debut of a barely-known tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt.
How often does a performer debut at a great house, in a great production, opposite the greatest performer of his time and produce not only a complete, screaming-audience success, but one that actually puts the co-star in second place? Who shows a vocal quality that no one present could believe except for the fact that all had just heard it? (In fact, I'm not sure I believe it now. The DVD of his subsequent Lohengrin in Baden-Baden comes out in a month, and will perhaps provide some evidence. It also occurs to me that the Met's house tape could appear on Sirius at some point.)
If for nothing but Klaus Florian Vogt's Met debut, 2006 was a very good year for local opera. If for nothing but their neglect of the event, 2006 was a very bad year for the local operatic press.