Soon we will be ready to bid farewell and good riddance to a difficult year, one during which the not so good more than often seemed to outweigh the worthwhile. It was also a year in which the resilience of the arts and the artists who create them filled us all with hope. Here then, in random order that avoids chronology is my list of highlights good and bad, happy and sad, of the year soon to be the year that was.

  • The fall of 2021 saw the return of live performances. It was a cautious one-step-at-a-time rebirth of concerts, operas, recitals and plays in front of live audiences. It soon came to be the “new normal”, one sometimes calling for proof of vaccination and the wearing of masks, as was the case at Music Hall and Memorial Hall in Cincinnati for concerts of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Matinee Musicale Cincinnati.
  • At the College-Conservatory of Music live performances returned, including a Marriage of Figaro where all the singers could be heard in spite of being masked. In that show, a young lyric soprano by the name of Emma Marhefka shone brightly as a great Susanna-in-the-making.  
  • There was an Opera D’Arte Magic Flute available digitally with a talented student cast that managed to synchronize their singing despite the singers and accompaniment being video-taped in separate locations.
  • There are no longer any printed programs at CCM, a measure that makes sense economically and helps to avoid contagion.
  • The Cincinnati Opera and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra both moved outdoors in an effort to bring normality back to the performing arts in our city. The opera presented cut versions of Carmenand The Barber of Seville with no scenery, simplified staging, and no intermissions. The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra moved two concerts to Eden Park. In spite of mixed reviews from some naysayers. I tip my hat to both organizations for trying to keep artists employed and music lovers happy.
  • There were several people we said goodbye to, all connected in one way or another to the arts. Bass-baritone Tom Hammons left us even as the memory of his hilarious Majordomo in Ariadne auf Naxos with the Cincinnati Opera is still alive with those of us who saw him steal the show. Polk Laffoon, a patron of the arts and a good friend passed on while swimming near his family’s vacation home in Michigan. Tenor, Marco (Mark) Panuccio passed away, leaving behind a fine leacy of performances that highlighted a career in Opera and concerts. Farther afield the unanticipated death of Stephen Sondheim left a void with so many who in various ways were connected to his music and lyrics.
  • There were changes in Academia and in several arts organizations. Aubrey Berg who helmed the highly successful Musical Theatre program at CCM retired after thirty-two years on the job. So did fund-raising wizard Karen Tully. Two Opera notables were recruited by CCM: tenor Stuart Skelton and baritone Elliott Madore
  • LeAnne Anklam and Ann Stewart both members of the management triumvirate that has successfully run the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra for several years resigned within weeks of each other.
  • The choice of artists and repertory from several arts organizations both nationally and locally has broadened in significantly positive ways. The Metropolitan Opera opened its current season with the first opera by a Black composer in its history: Fire Shut Up My Bones, Terence Blanchard’s adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir of the same title.
  • In Cincinnati, both the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Matinee Musicale have welcomed minority artists to their 2021-2022 seasons, which have also been enriched by the works of minority composers.
  • There were many live performances that live on in our collective memory, among them the Cincinnati debut of conductor Roderick Cox with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Conrad Tao’s playing of the Ravel Piano Concerto in the same program.
  • Starting a new season in its very own space – a flexible black box in which the audience sits just a few feet from the performers – Mutual Dance Theatre the recently renamed brain-child of artistic director Jeanne Mam-Luft brokered an artistic marriage of the Jefferson James Contemporary Dance Theatre and MamLuft&Co.Dance and brought back world class modern dance to Cincinnati.
  • Finally, the notorious MET Ring Cycle will be put to rest in some junk yard or other while a new one begins soon with a streamlined modern-dress Die Walküre that originated at the English National Opera eliciting both glowing and hate-filled reviews.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS