Since last summer, St. Louis has been treated to outstanding theatrical offerings, and though many folks kept the roar of the greasepaint audible, the easy winner for Best Theater Group is Opera Theatre of St. Louis. These days, a city of any size must count itself lucky merely to have an opera company. Yet the price for keeping it afloat is invariably a KETC-worthy parade of threadbare Toscas, Figaros and Carmens that make up for the once-every-two-years "experiment" that reliably plays to quarter-full houses. OTSL does not score a hit every time, but St. Louis is extraordinarily fortunate to have an institution that is this consistently daring. But OTSL is also fortunate to have such supportive and adventurous subscribers. It could -- and should -- be argued that each of OTSL's productions for the 2000 season showed flaws, but each possessed extraordinary finesse and musical insight. Mary Dunleavy's world-class portrayal of La Traviata, a ravishingly beautiful and stylish production of Handel's Radamisto, Scott Joplin's Treemonisha -- played full-tilt and without embarassment or pandering -- and the American debut of Colin Graham's lo-o-ongTale of Genji with pipa/qin and koto. The Opera Theatre is, in many ways, the last major piece of St. Louis' long and proud tradition of support for contemporary and other rarely heard forms of classical music. It is a treasure of incalculable worth.