The Beckmesser Awards of 1988
It was a happy, sad, frustrating, exhilarating, discouraging, encouraging, soothing, frazzling, stimulating, depressing, uplifting, bracing, painful, dull, exciting, hysterical, lackadaisical, exceptional, humdrum year. Just like 1987.
To commemorate the high--and low--points, The Times proudly and shamelessly presents the 20th annual awards dedicated to the spirit and memory of Nurnberg’s immortal , most noble , most misunderstood humanitarian, critic, musicologist, lutenist, poet, bon vivant and guardian of public virtue, Sixtus Beckmesser.
Let us know if we have overlooked anything.
Musical hero of the year: Simon Rattle--who jolted somnolent subscribers at the Music Center with his Dvorak-Janacek-Szymanowski program, brought musical redemption to the gimmicky production of “Wozzeck,” sustained enthusiasm and high standards on the podium even when suffering from pneumonia and, given his principal-guest title, made one wonder why we see so little of him.
Most comforting compositional presences: Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina, who suggest that glasnost exists in Soviet and American concert halls, and who deserve to be heard more frequently here; Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose Violin Concerto enlivened the Philharmonic season as a prelude to Ojai glories; Mark McGurty, who, according to a colleague’s report from Irvine, deserves drastic elevation from respectable East Coast obscurity; and, least as well as last, any composers willing to spare us the numbing formula-rigors of minimalism.
Most encouraging development: The continuing progress of Peter Hemmings’ Music Center Opera, which--even in its most dismal, miscalculated, supertitled effort--looks and sounds like a major, bona-fide, international company.
Most ingratiating guardians of the avant-garde: The sometimes weird and often wonderful Kronos Quartet.
Most welcome orchestral visitors: The mighty Moscow State Symphony under Mark Ermler in Orange County and under Yevgeny Svetlanov in Pasadena.
Absence-from-the-podium-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder awards: To Esa-Pekka Salonen, who pops into town once in a while but seems to have fallen victim to a contractual squabble with the Philharmonic; to Kurt Sanderling, whose old-school insights and Romantic manners are desperately needed for longer periods at the Pavilion; to Michael Tilson Thomas, a local boy who seems to be making good everywhere but here in beautiful downtown Los Angeles; to Neal Stulberg, a former Philharmonic assistant whose one-night guest-stand hinted at the qualitative potential of the Pacific Symphony.
Finest conductor-as-pianist: Andre Previn, who is as persuasive at the keyboard for Mozart and Schubert as he is on the podium for Walton and Ravel.
Bravest non-conformists: James Levine of the Met, who refuses to deck the proscenium of his hall with a screen for supertitles. Honorable mention goes to Eva Marton, the temperamental diva who interrupted a would-be tragic “Gioconda” performance in San Francisco to berate the audience for laughing at the supertitles. She finished the opera half-heartedly but refused curtain calls.
Most stimulating opera productions of the year: Peter Sellars’ daring televangelical “Tannhauser” at the Chicago Lyric; Sir Peter Hall’s bittersweet “Cosi fan Tutte” and Gotz Friedrich’s probing “Kat’a Kabanova” at the Music Center; “The Rake’s Progress’ as whimsically staged by John Cox and designed by David Hockney in a San Francisco revival.
Ballet-is-alive-and-well award: To Mark Morris of Brussels, for the invigorating, quirky invention of “Drink to Me Only,” created for American Ballet Theatre.
Ballet-is-almost-alive award: To Mikhail Baryshnikov, for his swift and grand, reasonably stylish, storybook “Swan Lake,” which tried out in Costa Mesa--toy birds, white Odile, on-again/off-again sci-fi moon and all.
Best Baroque “Swan”: The choreographically strong, scenically odd version created by Helgi Tomasson for the revitalized San Francisco Ballet.
Televisionary triumph: The thoughtful Toscanini documentary presented courtesy of PBS in the sometimes-dubiously titled Great Performances series.
Most memorable “local” singers: Carol Vaness, a Fiordiligi for the ages from Cal State Northridge; Arleen Auger, recitalist extraordinaire from Huntington Beach; Thomas Hampson, noble baritonal ambassador from USC in Salzburg and at the Met.
The Florence-Foster-Jenkins cockeyed-optimism award: To Keith Clark for a preposterous Wagner concert with the Pacific Symphony that featured, among other absurdities, an orchestra at sea and a 67-year-old ex-Wotan who lost his place in the middle of a muddled Farewell.
The Elijah-Moshinsky award for operatic perversion: To Nicolas Joel and Pet Halmen for their claptrap-extravaganza production, complete with gilded peacocks, of Wagner’s “Parsifal” in San Francisco.
Gimmicks of the year: Jonathan Miller’s quaintly un- and anti-Japanese “Mikado” at the over-miked Wiltern; David Alden’s trendy-cliche ridden “King Roger” in Long Beach; Rudolf Nureyev’s neo-Hollywood-vapid “Cinderella” in Orange County; Harry Kupfer’s hi-tech kitsch “Ring” in Bayreuth; the miscasting of Jo Anne Worley as Orlofsky in Opera Pacific’s “Fledermaus”; the smothering of Massine’s “Gaite Parisienne” under comic-chic costumes by Christian Lacroix at ABT; the pre-recorded sound track used for key scenes in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway; the pretense that Los Angeles would/could/should/did hosta festival of British arts labeled UK/LA.
Aesthetic-obfuscation-for-the-masses awards: First prize to the operatic ignoramuses who concocted a fallen cinematic omelet called “Aria.” Second prize to Philip Glass and friends for the crashing banalities of a multimedia bore called “1000 Airplanes on the Roof.”
Misused mirage of the year: The acoustically bizarre, multipurpose, $20-million McCallum Theatre in the Bob Hope Cultural Center of Palm Desert.
Most oversold and most repetitive opera: “Nixon in China.” “Nixon in China.” “Nixon in China.” “Nixon in China.” “Nixon in China.” “Nixon in China.”
Stretch-the-truth-in-advertising award: To the good people at Ambassador who tried to sell a second-rate company called the Moscow Classical Ballet by quoting reviews from unrelated productions and hyping stars who did not appear.
Promise-'em-anything-but-give-'em-the-Swan award: To the good people at the Orange County Performing Arts Center who, in their engagement of the Moscow Classical Ballet, kept serving the same lukewarm mixed grille to audiences that had purchased far different fare.
Not-great non-performance award: To the PBS authorities who cranked out a once-over-sloppy documentary about the late Maria Callas and took out gushing ads that exhorted viewers to “MEET THE DIVA WHOSE LIFE WAS A SOAP OPERA.”
False-economy move of the year: The use of canned music to accompany the superannuated rituals of the once-great Maya Plisetskaya and lesser friends in the vast and costly confines of Shrine Auditorium.
Deja-entendu award: To Andre Previn for his new Piano Concerto. Also to Vladimir Ashkenazy for wanting, for some reason, to perform it.
Greatest Sillsian disappointments: The deadly routine of new stagings of “Rigoletto” and “Die Zauberflote” by the New York City Opera, both beamed to the nation on television and about to be imported live to lucky Orange County.
Greatest tenoral disappointment: The lazy, condescending recital offered by Jon Vickers at Ambassador.
Greatest pianistic disappointment: Vladimir Feltsman’s local debut.
Greatest logistic miscalculation: The decision by the enterprising Long Beach Opera to stage Udo Zimmermann’s “White Rose,” a potentially shattering cantata about victims of the Nazis, in a West Hollywood disco.
Curious and Curiouser
Most pressing symphonic questions: What will happen to the Los Angeles Philharmonic after Andre Previn’s contract expires? Can Zubin Mehta come home again? Would Zubin come home again? Why would Zubin come home again?
More distant symphonic questions: What will happen to the Berlin Philharmonic and the Salzburg Festival now that St. Herbert of Karajan is 80 and ailing? Who will replace the beleaguered Keith Clark in Costa Mesa?
Most pressing dance-related questions: What will become of the Joffrey Ballet minus Robert Joffrey? Can the New York City Ballet survive without Balanchine? Will the City Ballet live down its American Music Festival, a $3.4-million Peter Martins fiasco? Will the dauntless Bella Lewitzky ever get her Dance Gallery and, if so, where and when?
Unanswered voice-related questions: Is the Music Center Opera really in dire--no, super dire--financial straits? What course will Christopher Keene follow as successor to Beverly Sills at the helm of the New York City Opera? How will Lotfi Mansouri (don’t call him Lofti , as the Orange County Performing Arts Center did) function as successor to the justly maligned Terry McEwen in San Francisco? How long can the Los Angeles Master Chorale decline under the leadership of the ever amiable but artistically limited John Currie?
How’s-that-again? award: To Simon Rattle, for telling Performing Arts magazine that “Los Angeles has never heard ‘Wozzeck’ before.” He said he found that “astonishing.” Awkward truth of the matter: The San Francisco Opera staged Berg’s masterpiece at Shrine Auditorium (with Geraint Evans and Marilyn Horne) in 1960 and again in 1962. The USC opera workshop followed suit in 1967.
Year’s greatest triumph for the cause of ornithological authenticity: The legitimate twittering of an Austrian chaffinch as heard on Telarc’s operaticized recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Sound of Music.”
Slumbering Brunnhilde award: To Deborah Polaski, the promising Wagnerian soprano who abandoned her operatic career in mid-"Hollander” because, she explained, she had found God, and He did not want her on the wicked stage.
Off-the-shoulder violinist of the year: The wondrous Anne-Sophie Mutter, who says she savors the feeling of fiddle on flesh and dresses accordingly. (One can only be grateful that Isaac Stern does not seem to savor the same feeling.)
Least surprising prize surprise: The naming of Frank Gehry as architect for the new Disney-sponsored concert hall at the Music Center.
Most interesting unsuccessful experiment: The sons of “Pierrot” commissions presented by and for assorted post-Schoenbergians, here and in New York.
Pavarotti antics of the year: (1) Using microphones for the tenorissimo’s “intimate” recital at the 3,000-seat Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. (2) Leaving the San Francisco Opera in the lurch by canceling two much-hyped “Bohemes,” reportedly on short notice, in order to fullfil a conflicting engagement in Italy.
Brouhaha-in-excelsis awards: To Opera Pacific for waffling on the use of amplification in its productions. To the California Arts Council for waffling on its grant to Opera Pacific because of amplification allegations.
Dada-Gaga award: To John Cage, for his Norton quasi-lectures at Harvard.
This-is-the-last-thing-we-needed award: To the mediocre Samaritans who came up with yet another unwieldy, uneven, pseudo-authentic edition of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” on behalf of Music Center Opera.
Much-ado-about-little award: To everyone involved in the “reconstruction” of one feeble movement of something that might--but probably wouldn’t--have become Beethoven’s 10th Symphony.
Happiest recovery: Jose Carreras’ apparent victory over acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Now-you-can-retire award: To Rudolf Nureyev for celebrating his 50th birthday with a heroic but unfortunate performance of “Giselle.”
Birthday citations: To the ubiquitous Leonard Bernstein at 70, the formidable Elliott Carter at 80 and the exotic Olivier Messiaen at 80, not to mention fellow neo-octogenarians John Green and Mehli Mehta.
Sorry-to-see-you-go awards: To Murry Sidlin in Long Beach, Mark Goldweber at the Joffrey, Julio Bocca at American Ballet Theatre, John Harbison at the Philharmonic.
Perestroika-is-healthy awards: To Natalia Makarova, Kirov defector, for dancing with the Kirov in London. To Valentina Kozlova, Bolshoi defector, for dancing with Andris Liepa of the current Bolshoi in Irvine. To Mikhail Baryshnikov, Kirov defector, for dancing at the official Plisetskaya/Bolshoi gala in Boston.
Ave atque vale (in no particular order): Kurt Herbert Adler, Lily Laskine, James McCracken, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Thomas E. Barker, Karen Monson, John Guarnieri, Leon Goossens, Solomon (Cutner), Willi Kollo, Bruno Prevedi, Vincenzo Celli, Henry Sopkin, Timothy Scott, Henryk Szeryng, Judith Somogi, Robert Joffrey, William Couser, John Dougherty, La Meri (Russell Meriwether Hughes), Katherine Hilgenberg, Arnie Zane, Frederick Ashton, Yuri Egorov, John Reardon, Jeanne Behrend, Nicola Benois, Gianna Pederzini, Boris Kremenliev, Hans Brenaa, Irving Kolodin, Gerald Abraham, Afro Poli, Frederic Langford, Alexander Fried, Hugh Laing, Guy Lumia, Gregory Huffman, John Kennedy, Anna Mahler, Robert Wojciak, Leon Temerson, Jay C. Holbrook, Andre Navarra, Wilford Leach, Andrew Meltzer, Howard Mitchell, Franzi Toch Weschler, May Hogan Cambern, Mauro Pagano, Braga Santos, David Baker, Ernest St. John Metz, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Richard Holm, William Carter, Martin H. Smith, Ita Maximovna, Frank Gullino, Felix Eyle, Heinz Rehfuss, Reginald Allen, Lee Sommers, Robert Rodham, Jack Moore, Van Zandt Ellis, Leonard Frey, Jens Peter Larsen, John Bernd, Walter Prude, Kitty Doner, Vincent Baskin, R.D. Darrell, Douglas J. Duncan, Suzy Morris (Frelinghuysen), Robert L. Turner, Joseph Tushinsky, Fritz Kramer, David Schiffman, Janice Groman, Ainslee Cox, Aniello Angrisani, David Cuevas, Geordie Graham, George H. de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Kenneth Leighton, James Struthers, Annelies Burmeister, Petre Munteanu, H. H. Stuckenschmidt, Serge Jaroff, Sam Niefeld, Geordie Graham, Raphael Bronstein, Kurt Saffir, Hilde Guden, Howard Jeffrey, Kaikhosru Sorabji, Antal Dorati, Jaromir Vejvoda, Lev Aronson, Jerome MacCarthy, Wolfgang Roth, Joseph Moon, Massimo Mila, Rudolf Hartmann, Irmgard Seefried, John Arnold Ford, Mark Goldstaub, Leonid Bolotine, William Griffith.