Favorite Things of 2021
Welp, things have shut down again. NYCB's Nutcracker and a slew Broadway shows have had to cancel for days or weeks. The Broadway musical Jagged Little Pill, decided to permanently shutter the show.
So with that in mind, a year-end best-of list is in order. Keep in mind that this year, I'm choosing from a much smaller pool of performances because I only started attending live shows in September. Nevertheless, I saw a lot of good stuff.
Favorite Operatic Performance: Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Terence Blanchard (Metropolitan Opera)
Runner-Up: L'Orfeo by Luigi Rossi (Julliard Opera)
Luigi Rossi's adaptation of the timeless Orpheus myth doesn't have the popularity of Gluck or Monteverdi's versions. I could kind of see why -- there are too many characters, and the plot has so many side stories that Orfeo and Euridice often seem like supporting characters. It lacks the straightforward, heartrending focus of Gluck's work. But the intimate (if heavily cut -- the original production ran six hours!) performance by Julliard Opera made a great case for Rossi's work -- it was moving, funny, and full of beautiful melodies.
Favorite Streamed Opera: Parsifal, from the Vienna State Opera
Favorite Broadway: Company, by Stephen Sondheim
Runner-Up: Moulin Rouge
Finally saw this. Yeah, I know it wasn't a great musical. They cram way too many pop-music mashups that it's hard to concentrate (their standalone songs like "Roxanne" and "Your Song" were by far the audience favorites), the book is rather insipid, and the Satine I saw (Ashley Loren) didn't capture any of Nicole Kidman's fragility. But goddammit it was fun! The sets were amazing, the dancing was entertaining, I was never bored, and Aaron Tveit (Christian) is that rare male musical theater star who can really SING. I don't want to think how many times I've replayed his rendition of Elton John's "Your Song."
Favorite Revisit: Waitressclosed early due to an outbreak of covid. Was even more grateful that I had made a return trip to the diner.
Favorite Book: The Family Roe by Joshua Prager
Runner Up: Martha Graham Dance Company's Appalachian Spring
Another Runner-Up: Return of NYCB's Nutcracker
The performance on December 14 with Emilie Gerrity and Chun-Wai Chan (formerly of Houston Ballet) had personal meaning for me because in all the years I've seen this Nutcracker, this was the first time I saw someone Chinese as a lead. It wasn't just representation that made the performace special -- Gerrity and Chan were heartmeltingly beautiful. Gerrity is one of NYCB's most graceful, delicate ballerinas and Chan partnered her so gallantly. I sense the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
Favorite Personal Milestone: finally braved the six-hour Die Meistersinger!
The performance I attended had plenty of standout performances, in particular Michael Volle as Sachs and Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser.
Favorite Surprise: Steven Spielberg's West Side Story
It was in many ways superior to the 1961 film -- the characters had more depth, the lead actors could actually sing, and the chemistry between Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort was a stark contrast to the anti-chemistry between Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. I did miss Robbins' choreography but Justin Peck's dances were appealing in their own way. The score (conducted by Gustavo Dudamel) sounded as gorgeous as it ever has.