Opera seems to be getting more diverse every year, with more new repertoire coming to the fore and directors and designers using an ever-increasing bag of tricks to bring operas visually to life. 2019 has been a great year for the world's opera houses and we're privileged to have been permitted to reproduce photos by some outstanding performance photographers. Here is a somewhat arbitrary selection of a dozen favourites from the year – although honestly, I had many other great shots to choose from.

Wilfried Hösl
Krenek's Karl V. at Bavarian State Opera, February

Designer Lita Cabellut's off the wall, disturbing designs must have felt like a gift to the photographer in Carlus Padrissa's new production of Krenek's twelve-tone historical drama.

Bo Skovhus (Karl V.) © Wilfried Hösl
Bo Skovhus (Karl V.)
© Wilfried Hösl

Read Norman Schwarze's review (in German)

Jeff Busby
Wagner's Parsifal at Victorian Opera, February

Busby perfectly captures Wagner's male fantasy of being surrounded by a gaggle of adoring maidens, as well as our hero's decidedly ambivalent response.

Burkhard Fritz (Parsifal) © Jeff Busby
Burkhard Fritz (Parsifal)
© Jeff Busby

Read Brian Angus' review

Karen Almond
Verdi's Falstaff at The Metropolitan Opera, February

As well as new productions, 2019 had its share of the tried and tested. The Met's Falstaff featured two of the most established musical comedians in their roles: Almond picks up both the interplay between them and the period gorgeousness of Paul Steinberg's set and Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Mistress Quickly) and Ambrogio Maestri (Falstaff) © Karen Almond | Met Opera
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Mistress Quickly) and Ambrogio Maestri (Falstaff)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

Read Robert Levine's review

Clive Barda
Handel's
Berenice at the Royal Opera House for London Handel Festival, March

Hannah Clark's sets may have been basic, but several of Barda's photos turn them into pure eye candy. This shot captures three things in one: the opulent Handel-era costume, a beautiful sense of line and shape where the performer combines with the background and the general pained expression (Dame Joan Sutherland used to refer to her "GPE") on Claire Booth's face.

Claire Booth (Berenice) © ROH | Clive Barda
Claire Booth (Berenice)
© ROH | Clive Barda

Read David Karlin's review

Robert Workman
Rossini's
Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne, May

The rich colours and interesting shapes in Annabel Arden's three year old production provide excellent material for Workman's lens: this picture also beautifully illustrates Rossini's slapstick.

Levy Sekgapane (Count Almaviva), Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro) © Robert Workman
Levy Sekgapane (Count Almaviva), Hera Hyesang Park (Rosina) and Andrey Zhilikhovsky (Figaro)
© Robert Workman

Read Mark Pullinger's review

Sakari Viika
Debussy's Pélléas et Mélisande at Finnish National Opera, May

Viika focuses on the essentials here, with plenty of negative space to make us zero in on the protagonists and make us painfully aware of the tense intimacy between them: unwanted on Mélisande's side, intensely desired on Golaud's.

Camilla Tilling (Mélisande) and Laurent Naouri (Golaud) © Sakari Vika
Camilla Tilling (Mélisande) and Laurent Naouri (Golaud)
© Sakari Vika

Read Hugo Shirley's review

Karl Forster
Verdi's
Rigoletto at Bregenz Festival, July

You can generally rely on Bregenz to use their extraordinary setting to spring surprises on you on the grand scale. But they have truly outdone themselves with the grotesquery of this year's Rigoletto, playing brilliantly to the dark side of Verdi's character.

Rigoletto at Bregenz © Karl Forster
Rigoletto at Bregenz
© Karl Forster

Read Sarah Batschelet's review

Tristram Kenton
Martinů's
The Greek Passion at Opera North in Leeds, September

You don't often see great photos of opera choruses: in this one, Kenton has showed a perfect eye for the unusual shapes created by the choruses and the plaster effigies representing the refugees in Martinů's powerful polemic.

The Chorus of Opera North © Tristram Kenton
The Chorus of Opera North
© Tristram Kenton

Read Mark Pullinger's review

Ralph Larmann
Wagner's
Das Rheingold at Finnish National Opera, September

The world of Norse myth has inspired countless works of fantasy, both before Wagner and after: Larmann has produced a striking image which taps directly into our childhood memories of tales of evil gnomes and dwarves.

Jukka Rasilainen (Alberich) © Ralph Larmann
Jukka Rasilainen (Alberich)
© Ralph Larmann

Read Nahoko Gotoh's review

Kelly & Massa
Prokofiev's
Love for Three Oranges at Opera Philadelphia, September

The surrealism in Prokofiev's comedy always inspires directors and designers: in this photo, Brent MIchael Smith's whiteface disturbs as much it entertains.

Wendy Bryn Harmer (Fata Morgana) and Brent Michael Smith (Chelio) © Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia
Wendy Bryn Harmer (Fata Morgana) and Brent Michael Smith (Chelio)
© Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Read Linda Holt's review

Agathe Poupeney
Grétry's Richard Cœur de Lion at Opéra Royal de Versailles, October

There are times when the best thing to do with a baroque opera is to present a tableau, and there aren't many better places to do it than the Royal Opera House in the Palace of Versailles. Poupeney gives us the big picture of what it was like to be there.

<i>Richard Cœur de Lion</i> at the Opéra Royal de Versailles © Agathe Poupeney
Richard Cœur de Lion at the Opéra Royal de Versailles
© Agathe Poupeney

Read Stéphane Lilièvre's review (in French)

Herwig Prammer
Handel's Belshazzar at Zurich Opera, November

Prammer puts us right in the middle of Sebastian Baumgarten's "visual bombardment", with a brilliantly lit, whip-wielding Cyrus on a giant cat, huddled masses in the foreground and Rembrandt's famous image behind.

Jakub Józef Orliński (Cyrus) © Herwig Prammer
Jakub Józef Orliński (Cyrus)
© Herwig Prammer

Read Sarah Batschelet's review