From the Berlin Philharmonic to the Chicago Lyric Opera; Our critic picks ten memorable events of 1982
This year was the time of some wonderful musical events and happenings.
Ten is an arbitrary number, but it is the fashion to talk about the ten best events. Here I'd rather talk about the ten events this past year that left particular impressions on me as well as fond memories. The list follows no particular order.
* Herbert von Karajan brought his Berlin Philharmonic to New York for four memorable concerts, proving once again that excellence in this commercial world is possible, that a maestro who devotes the bulk of his energies to one musical institution is going to get the sort of exceptional results - and acclaim - the jet-setting conductors will never achieve.
* Last spring it was announced that Chicago Lyric Opera director Ardis Krainek has turned the company around from an red-ink operation to a fully black-ink one. In the face of incredible odds she galvanized her company into budget-trimming and cost-cutting without a wholesale abandonment of the superstar system most would have thought necessary. Her fall season managed to boast many glittering names such as Jon Vickers, Placido Domingo, Eva Marton, Alfredo Kraus, and Luciano Pavarotti (who unfortunately canceled at the last minute).
* Leon Fleischer returned to the stage as a two-handed pianist after 17 years of silence broken only with the infrequent performance of the Ravel ''Concerto for the Left Hand.'' His comeback was on the occasion of the opening of the new concert hall in his hometown, Baltimore. He played the Franck ''Symphonic Variations'' and was showered with ovations for his efforts. On this moving, heartwarming evening it mattered hardly at all how he played. It did matter that one of the finest musicians of his generation is back in the world of concertizing. His public, and music lovers in general, await his further appearances expectantly.
* Leonie Rysanek has, throughout her more than 30 years on the stage, managed to make so many roles definitively her own. This fall in San Francisco she added Ortrud to her repertoire, and the villainess of Wagner's ''Lohengrin'' has been given a mythic, definitive reading. Just last spring at the Met, she offered an Elisabeth, in the same composer's ''Tannhauser,'' of superb depth, commitment, and understanding. She does not just bring these roles to life, she suffuses them with all the passion, power, and magic they demand. She is unique in the opera world today, both as an actress and a thrilling singer.
* Lorin Maazel said goodbye to the Cleveland Orchestra after a decade as music director. His appointment had been controversial, but Maazel is a survivor , and he proved that he was a conductor to be reckoned with - not loved by the public, perhaps, but dedicated. And he kept the orchestra that George Szell had spent so much time nurturing and sustaining in the very top rank of international ensembles. Maazel is now in Vienna heading the Vienna State Opera, and Christoph von Dohnanyi is the music director-designate. Only time will tell how both appointments work out.
* The Metropolitan Opera has presented some of its finest new productions in recent memory this calendar year. Last spring, Franco Zeffirelli directed and designed a production of Puccini's ''La Boheme,'' setting new standards in ultrarealistic operatic staging. To those who complained it was too big, suffice it to say that the Met seats 3,800 people, and intimacy is not a possibility in so large an auditorium. The casting, however, was substandard.
The company went on to another staging triumph in the Otto Schenk production of Offenbach's ''Les Contes d'Hoffmann,'' designed by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. Placido Domingo was the undisputed star of that evening, though; and as the mechanical-doll Olympia, Ruth Welting stopped the show for a full 2 1/2 minutes after her aria.
The house made history of another sort this fall in unveiling a new production of Verdi's ''Macbeth'' by director Sir Peter Hall and designer John Bury that the New York Times rightfully dubbed ''the worst new production to struggle onto the Metropolitan Opera's stage in modern history.''
* Carlo Maria Giulini returned to opera after too long an absence. His choice of vehicles was Verdi's final work, ''Falstaff.'' Giulini was involved in every aspect of the production, and the festival quality was apparent in just about every detail. The cast was even, unflashy, occasionally less-than-ideal, and Giulini's autumnal view of a work so often seen as a vigorous romp was deemed controversial.
I was swept away by it all, from Ronald Eyre's staging to the splendid playing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the pit. The performances were recorded by DG records for release some time in 1983. Ironically, the production moved to London, where maestro Giulini is adulated, to generally poor reviews. It seems that the principal singers, who were told they had to stay in Los Angeles for the duration of that run, appeared all over Europe in singing engagements and were all sung out when the show went on in London.
* Roy Thomson Hall opened its doors in Toronto this past September, and it must join the elite ranks of the most gorgeous concert halls in the world today. The sound during the opening week was satisfactory, with a few bugs that should be worked out by now. But the artistic integrity of Arthur Ericson's interior sets it apart as a remarkable achievement. (At least seven new halls opened this season in a time of economic tribulation when the arts have been seeing reductions in funding both federal and private.)
* Joan Sutherland returned to the Met after a four-season absence - an absence the house's management should never have allowed to happen. She sang the title role of Donizetti's ''Lucia di Lammermoor,'' the vehicle for her debut at the old Met in 1961.
Even now, more than 20 years later, she bows only to her former extraordinary standards, and only slightly at that. There is no one around today who can sing this role the way she does, and having a chance to hear her in it one last time (the Met run is said to be her farewell to the part) was a particular treat.
* Claudio Arrau - as heard in a recent evening devoted to the Third and Fifth Piano Concertos of Beethoven - showed essentially undi-minished powers. What this octogenarian has lost in sheer heft he has gained in the communication of other-worldly vistas and peace. One looks forward in the new year to further encounters with this remarkable pianist.