Two opera greats celebrated their 200th birthday, The Ring divided opinion in Bayreuth and Sir Simon Rattle announced he is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic. A look back at some of 2013's major events in classical music.
Two of the biggest names in opera celebrated their 200th birthday, and throughout 2013 there was no getting away from either Wagner or Verdi. Record companies released a never-ending stream of commemorative CDs while there was barely an opera house in Germany that didn't stage one of the composer's works. However, it was rarely the case that anyone dared try something new.
There was one exception; the Leipzig Opera, which in collaboration with BF Media staged three early works by Wagner, "The Fairies," "The Ban on Love" and "Rienzi." All three were also shown this year in Bayreuth - not in the famous Festpielhaus however but in the town hall and before the festival's official opening. Sins of youth or important parts of the Wagner canon? Opinions varied.
Disappointment in Bayreuth
Organizers of the Bayreuth Festival had something else special in the Wagner anniversary year: a new production of "The Ring of the Nibelung." The anniversary presentation aimed to set new standards for the piece. Film director Wim Wenders was originally on board to direct, then dropped out. Frank Castorf, director of the Berlin Volksbühne theater, stepped in as a replacement and had just one and a half years to prepare the presentation ahead of its July premiere.
Perhaps it was due to time constraints that Castorf's concept of linking "The Ring" with the history of the oil industry wasn't particularly coherent. Each of the four pieces in the cycle was staged as a stand-alone work, beginning at a gas station in the USA and ending on Berlin's Alexanderplatz square. While the production team was booed by the audience, the set and the work of conductor Kirill Petrenko were highly praised.
Petrenko was formerly principal conductor of the Komische Oper in Berlin, voted Opera House of the Year in 2013. The honor came at the close of the first season under new director Barrie Kosky, confirmation that the colorful, hip style he has brought to the house is finding favor among critics.
Who will follow Sir Simon?
Verdi and Wagner weren't the only birthday boys in 2013. Both the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and British composer Benjamin Britten would have turned 100. Counting 80 candles on the birthday cake over the last twelve months were composer Krzysztof Penderecki and conductor Claudio Abbado, both enjoying good health. Abbabo was the first former principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic to give up the job within his own lifetime - something his successor, Sir Simon Rattle, announced he would also do when his current contract expires in 2018.
So who will step into his shoes? Given their age, Daniel Barenboim or Riccardo Chailly would only be a temporary solution whereas Gustavo Dudamel and Andris Nelsons, both in their mid-30s, might be considered too young. Latvian-born Nelsons recently signed a contract to work as a principal conductor in Boston. Venezuelan star Dudamel, currently principal conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, might well be old enough to take on the job in around two years. By then the Berlin ensemble are to decide who they would like to follow Sir Simon. In the meantime appearances by guest conductors throughout 2014 will no doubt be seen as an audition for the role.