Classical music: Fiona Maddocks’s 10 best concerts and operas of 2022

Excellence and perilous funding went hand in hand, Salome sizzled, a piano great led the way, and India and Italy became musical neighbours

1. Orpheus
Leeds Grand; October
(available to watch online until 30 April 2023)
In a year in which opera has come under attack – which could be why it gets plenty of entries here – Opera North’s inspirational union of Monteverdi and Indian classical tradition exceeded all expectations: high musical values and true, joyful local involvement.

2. La Traviata
Grand Opera House, Belfast; September
An exemplary staging from Northern Ireland Opera, who climbed out of difficult times to produce a dazzling account of Verdi’s masterpiece, as well as reaching out to the wider Belfast community.

3. Music@Malling, Kent
Malling Abbey, Kent; April
In an ancient Benedictine abbey in the small market town in Kent, Music@Malling’s commission of six new works by a wide range of composers, performed alongside Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, was an uplifting and rewarding hit.

Chamber Domaine at Malling Abbey in April.
Chamber Domaine at Malling Abbey in April. Photograph: Tom Bowles

4. Migrations/ The Makropulos Affair
Millennium Centre, Cardiff; June/September
Welsh National Opera lost its Arts Council England grant in 2022, an exceptional year for the company’s artistic achievements. Their brilliant September production of Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair showed style and authority. In June, WNO musicians and chorus, the Renewal Choir Community Chorus, a Bollywood ensemble and a children’s chorus combined to create the teeming, heart-rending staging of Migrations: six stories and one clever composer, Will Todd.

5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Theatre Royal Glasgow; February
Also excelling in the “flamenco” opera Ainadamar, Scottish Opera struck comic gold in Britten’s version of Shakespeare, big in heart and action, directed by Dominic Hill (artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens theatre) and conducted by Scottish Opera’s music director, Stuart Stratford.

6. Mahler 8
Royal Albert Hall, London; October
So many singers: Philharmonia Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus City of London Choir, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, all crammed together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on the Albert Hall stage under the baton of Vasily Petrenko, to perform Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” – a reminder of the unmatched excitement of concerts on an epic scale.

Elisabeth Leonskaja at Wigmore Hall with the String Quartet of the Staatskapelle Berlin.
Elisabeth Leonskaja at Wigmore Hall with the String Quartet of the Staatskapelle Berlin. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

7. Elisabeth Leonskaja & Staatskapelle Streichquartett
Wigmore Hall, London; September
The Soviet-Austrian Leonskaja, 77, is one of the greatest living pianists, gleefully showing her skill in Brahms’s chamber music, with virtuosic players roughly half her age hanging on her every note.

8. Peter Grimes
Royal Opera House, London; March
It was a strong year for Covent Garden – Theodora, Samson et Dalila, Alcina, Aida and a powerful revival of Lohengrin, conducted by newly announced music director Jakub Hrůša, as well as Oliver Leith’s Last Days in the Linbury. But for ensemble talent, Britten’s Peter Grimes triumphed, in Deborah Warner’s staging, starring Allan Clayton, Maria Bengtsson and Bryn Terfel.

Allan Clayton as Peter Grimes with Cruz Fitz (the boy) in Deborah Warner’s Royal Opera production.
Allan Clayton as Peter Grimes with Cruz Fitz (The Boy) in Deborah Warner’s outstanding Royal Opera production. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

9. Salome
Usher Hall, Edinburgh; August

The Bergen Philharmonic’s concert-opera performances have been a hot festival ticket in recent years. This year was no different: Richard Strauss’s Salome, conducted by Edward Gardner and starring Malin Byström in an incandescent performance that threatened to melt the Usher Hall itself.

10. Bajazet
Linbury theatre, London; February

Stylish, urgent, bristling with energy, Irish National Opera made as good a case for the operatic works of Vivaldi (and there are plenty…) as you can hope to find.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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