If, City Opera's return notwithstanding, the current operatic season has seemed disappointing, it's not least due to the remarkable string of successes (and one awful half-success) that closed 2008-2009. Strong star turns from Angela Gheorghiu, Stephanie Blythe, Karita Mattila, Sondra Radvanovsky, Natalie Dessay, Renee Fleming, and Katarina Dalayman -- and that's only to name the women -- all, but for that one lapse, were given excellent, sometimes revelatory support both by cast and production. And the panoply of stars -- and theatrical styles -- assembled for the Met Opera's 125th anniversary gala in the midst of these successes was the near-ideal capstone.
But the most memorable moments of 2009 belonged, I think, to the low voices. Rene Pape gave his first full lieder recital anywhere at Carnegie in April, and it was as auspicious a debut as one could imagine -- including the finest live "Dichterliebe" I've ever heard. The success of this has event has, it seems, encouraged him to shift more of his career to recitals. Not too regrettable -- as long as he keeps returning to New York.
2009's central part was that of James Morris, more at home than ever in the Schenk Ring production that cannot but be associated with him. These performances were not announced as his farewell, and if that Cycle 3 Walküre turns out to have been only Morris' final Wotan in this Schenk production (or perhaps not even that, as the materials are being preserved in storage) -- well, all the more fortunate we. What we heard last spring was not merely good considering the bass-baritone's sixty-odd years and thirty-nine seasons at the Met (twenty-plus as Wotan in this production), but an apt culmination: as if all that experience had weathered away all in him that was not Wotan, and left untouched all that was. Farewell, he sang, in every aspect at once, and even a return performance won't erase that event.