The jury of music journalists recognized excellent achievements where pandemic-season performances were possible but excoriated the industry as a whole.
The Vienna Philharmonic was named Best Orchestra on the strength of its performances at the Salzburg Festival, including those in the summer of 2020 during the coronavirus season. The festival itself took top honors as Best Festival. Stage director Hans Neuenfels earned the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Of course the coronavirus pandemic massively impaired large swaths of the past season or made them impossible,” observed Ulrich Ruhnke. “Yet in the few weeks remaining, there were magnificent artistic achievements that need to be brought to light and recognized.”
But overall, cows stunned by lightning
Not least of all, a “prize” was awarded in recognition of Most Annoying Thing: to no particular person or institution but rather to the opera industry – or most of it – for its “lack of imagination and passive victimization” at the onset of the pandemic, “when the first lockdown came and everybody just stared like a cow that had seen lightning,” said Ruhnke. “And it was evident who responded creatively and productively to the situation, and who withdrew, hiding behind official positions.” Finding that stance all the more reprehensible because opera company directors enjoy engaging in social and political criticism, Ruhnke added, “Now, when they were called on to take a stand, they were largely helpless.”
Initiated in 2019, the Oper! Award goes to winners in 20 categories. With 80 of the world’s roughly 560 opera companies on German soil, the country has the greatest density of opera houses worldwide.