Peter Sellars, Dmitri Hvorostovsky among Opera News Awards winners

Saying that he “took the starch out of the Bugs Bunny version of opera,” director Peter Sellars was honored at the Opera News Awards on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh-born Sellars accepted the award at the Plaza in Manhattan, sounding appropriately like an evangelist for the art form in his acceptance, where he described opera as “the deep end of the pool, where we get real.”

Among Sellars’ memorable works are his collaborations with composer John Adams that include the Grammy-winning “Doctor Atomic” and the recently staged “Desdemona,” a collaboration with Toni Morrison and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré performed in Berkeley last year that Times Music Critic Mark Swed described as “a great, challenging, haunting and lasting work.”

Last year Sellars directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic production of Shostakovich’s “Orango” and in 2013 will direct Adams’ new opera, “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” also with the L.A. Phil. He is a professor in the department of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA.

Also receiving honors were German soprano Anja Silja, Swedish baritone Peter Mattei, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who was named one of People magazine’s most beautiful people in 1991. Who knows if Hvorostovsky is still rocking the leather pants as pictured in those pages from back in the day, but let’s hope so.


Though Sellars has caught flak for straying too far from composers’ original vision with his adventurous productions (the director apparently ran afoul of György Ligeti for his interpretation of one of his works in 1997), his unique vision has drawn new audiences, such as with the younger crowd that reportedly turned up to the Metropolitan Opera in New York for “Doctor Atomic.”

“People come because it’s about a subject they’re interested in,” said the 55-year-old Sellars. “Opera can be cool, with sheer American energy.”


Music theater review: Peter Sellars’ “Desdemona” in Berkeley

Opera review: Peter Sellars stages Handel’s ‘Hercules’ in Chicago

Music review: Dawn Upshaw, Peter Sellars and George Crumb in the 2011 Ojai Festival