Monday, February 27, 2017
The saying goes that you can’t go home again, and in many ways this is a truth. I entered the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night for LA Opera’s 30 year old revival of their production of Salome with a combination of enthusiasm and apprehension. Originally directed by Sir Peter Hall and designed by John Bury, it had been the first unqualified hit that LA Opera produced in its premiere season. Oh sure they brought up the curtain (eventually…and there’s a story) with Domingo in Otello but what were the chances of that failing? Maria Ewing was an artist held in high regard, and a Mélisande nearly without peer, but her venturing this deep into soprano territory with Strauss’ salacious shocker had people reaching for their smelling salts. It was a triumph. One that traveled to many theaters including Chicago, San Francisco, and Covent Garden where it was filmed in revival in 1992. It surely remains one of the great interpretations of this role and when I saw it live, my first Salome no less, it was a corker and left me devastated. So with these ghosts looming large I tucked in and said a prayer to the opera gods which, in retrospect, was unnecessary. From 2001 to 2006 we had Kent Nagano as our Principal Conductor and then Music Director and in that brief time Richard Strauss was a regular visitor here with productions of Rosenkavalier (directed by Maximilian Schell), Ariadne auf Naxos and a magnificent revival of David Hockney’s Die frau ohne schatten that was magic. James Conlon, now in his 10th year at LA Opera as Music Director, had yet to conduct any Strauss here until Saturday night. I will say now that it was well worth the wait. The eighty-four players teeming in the pit sent the air shimmering and shaking with all the leitmotifs and bombast. Conlon’s guidance was sovereign from that first upward glissando right through to the last bash of the horns and the kettle drum. He constantly nurtured full, rich, playing and kept a diaphanous sheen over the early part of the evening. Slow building on the ravings and eventual appearance of Jochanaan, by the time of the prophet’s condemnation of Salome the orchestra was roaring. Casting priorities had obviously been based on beauty of voice and expression and it was a pleasure to hear singers of the highest quality even in the smallest roles. The first example of this was Issachah Savage as Narraboth whose strong dulcet tenor perfectly conveyed the mystery and mood in the opening. He was also exceptional in his mounting anxiety as the Judean Princess’ behavior spiralled out of control. Beside him Katarzyna Sadej brought a boyish and dusky mezzo steeped in poignancy to her role as the frustrated Page who is powerless to prevent her best friends self-destruction. Another standout was the luxury casting of Kihun Yoon as the First Nazarene. Mr. Yoon is a member of the Young Artists Program here at LA Opera and his Sharpless was one of the high points of our recent Butterfly. He brought his large, warm, voice to enlighten his lines about the work of Jesus locally and it had the requisite effect of holding the action still for those moments. A very lively quintet of Jews, led with precision by Rodell Rosel, enlivened the proceedings and managed the difficult task of bringing their tricky music off with ease without ever falling into unwanted farce. Meanwhile the Herods were a particularly intense pair. The venerable Alan Glassman proved beyond doubt that his role needn’t be barked and brayed out into the theater like some barnyard animal loose from its pen. I kept wracking my brain to remember the name of the only other Herod I could recall who truly sang the role, and it was when the Met mounted their last new production. Coming home to my research it was, indeed, Alan Glassman then too and that was 2004 my friends! I could venture a guess at Mr. Glassman’s age but I’d rather see the painting in his attic. His Tetrarch is a tremendous creation. Not only truly sung, when nearly all the others resort to sprecht-singing, but easily commanding the stage and always clear in his motives. The Herodias of Gabriele Schnaut was a slightly different matter. While she was dramatically alert, and I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest Ortruds in living memory, only the very top of the voice seemed to be in working order. You don’t need a gallon-jug contralto per se but it’s fun when you have as much character in the voice as the actor portraying her. The only other problem was that the new costume designs of Sara Jean Tosetti made her look like a tarted up Brunnhilde from a Folies Bergere divertissement. That said, she was a mistress of the arched eyebrow all evening long and played no one’s fool. The role of Jochanaan is a fearsome assignment and Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson brought dignity along with great reserves of full tone to his pronouncements of wrath. His interview with Salome showed him uselessly bolstering himself against his disgust of the Judean courtiers and in particular the princess herself as they belittled him physically, even having Salome lead him around by his rope at one point. He unleashed mountains of voice at the great climaxes and clearly relished the part. Bury’s set remains, after lo these many years, a model of style and illusion, a Klimt and Beardsley melange with a glass and golden rococo palace door stage left. a marble terrace floor in a fluid black and white pattern surrounded the cistern upstage right with a circular stair crawling up one side. The garden backdrop of cypress trees and oversized palms and dandelions appeared as through a frosted glass. Effects of moon and clouds and lighting were effectively arranged by Duane Schuler. After 30 years we obviously needed new costumes and especially since the first set were so specific to the original cast. The new designs are uncommonly handsome with a lot of metallic fabrics. Yet they all have a vaguely Hollywood Babylon feel to them, which while not inappropriate, weren’t as characterful as their predecessors. The greatest departures were the flowing sullied robes for Jochanaan where Michael Devlin had originally worn only a loincloth and a new set of ensembles for our Salome, Patricia Racette, that found her sleek in silken pants and tunic. I’ll admit freely that I was more than trepidacious about Ms. Racette as Strauss’ Judean Princess for a number of reasons. She overcame nearly all of them in a characterization that painted her as athletic tomboy and then angry bully once she was spurned by the Baptist rather than lovelorn maiden driven mad with sexual desire. This was a clear departure from the original production, abetted by new director David Paul. Ms. Racette’s Salome was full of youth and energy as she leapt about the stage. Vaulting herself up to the lip of the cistern, jumping onto tables, and dangling her exposed legs inside the barred hatch to tease Jochanaan, she shamelessly coaxed Narraboth and Her assisted, aided by four danseurs and excellently choreographed by Peggy Hickey, found her lifted up over heads and falling back into arms from heights while commanding enormous flowing silk veils. With scrupulous planning, excellent lighting and not a little bravery, she went right down to the naughty for the climax. Once her prize was delivered to her then her aggression ramped up even further. Unlike most sopranos who stagger under the weight of the head Ms. Racette carried it by its hair and swung it around, holding it high over her head in victory. Deliciously deluded when she finally kissed the mouth, once, twice, and disappointed that nothing happened. Vocally she was very near the ideal as her basic tone already has a girlish quality. While the upper reaches of the voice aren’t opulent, she was tireless and completely secure in a role that requires the utmost in acumen and technique. She also had some magnificent moments at the very bottom of her range and her “des Todes” in the final scene was goose-bump inducing. There are more surprises but I don’t want to spoil the fun of this fearless and (almost) new Salome.
Productions are in order; bold indicates a debut; I may have omitted some one-off cast combos. On the whole: as exciting as this season is weak. Norma (new David McVicar production) Radvanovsky, DiDonato, Calleja, Rose / Rizzi (September-October) Rebeka, DiDonato, Calleja, Rose / Rizzi (October) Meade, Barton, Calleja, Rose / Colaneri (December) Having middling '90s throwback Carlo Rizzi in the pit instead of the 2013 revival's Riccardo Frizza is about the only less-than-thrilling element of this opener. Three premiere principals who've proved not only star-quality sound but bel canto mastery, interesting alternate ladies afterwards... And David McVicar is not only an brilliant director but one who has done great things with Sondra Radvanovsky particularly, from 2009's Trovatore to 2016's Donizetti queens. Les Contes d’Hoffmann Grigolo, Morley, Hartig, Volkova, Erraught, Naouri, Mortagne / Debus (September-October) I rather liked Grigolo in this season's Romeo, but this Bart Sher show requires him to sustain a character for longer stretches than the Gounod opera, making his choppy sense of phrase more of a liability. Still, there are enough elements that could go well (including new-to-the-house Irish mezzo Tara Erraught as Niklausse) on top of an excellent production. Die Zauberflöte Schultz, Lewek, Castronovo, Werba, Van Horn, Kehrer / Levine (September-October) Müller, Lewek, Castronovo, Gunn, Walker, Kehrer / de Waart (November-December, family version in English) The conductors should make both the regular and "family" versions work. Besides returning names (including Kathryn Lewek, the best Queen of the Night I've ever heard), South African (by way of Juilliard) soprano Golda Shultz's debut as Pamina should be interesting. Incidentally, Rene Pape is scheduled for one performance of Sarastro on October 14. La Boheme Blue, Kele, Popov/Borras/Thomas, Meachem/Simpson, Rock, Soar/Rose, Plishka / Soddy (October) Hartig, Kele, Thomas, Meachem, Rock, Rose, Pliskha / Soddy (November) Yoncheva, Phillips, Fabiano, Lavrov, Rose, Plishka / Armiliato (February-March) Some new faces debuting in this eternal Zeffirelli production, most notably Oxonian conductor Alexander Soddy and American soprano Angel Blue. But the surest bet is the last cast, with young Americans Susanna Phillips and Michael Fabiano in roles they've made their own. Turandot Dyka, Agresta, Alvarez, Morris / Rizzi (October-November) Serafin, Yu, Alvarez, Tsymbalyuk / Armiliato (March-April) Some unexpected casting choices here. Oksana Dyka, decent but somewhat faceless in this season's Jenufa, at least has done Tosca and Aida here before. The alternate Turandot, Martina Serafin, was last seen here as an enchantingly responsive Marschallin! Since then she's taken on the really big parts, though not at the Met: Abigaille, Brünnhilde, Lady Macbeth, and Turandot. Could go well... or not. Hei-Kyung Hong reprises one of her signature roles once with each cast. The Exterminating Angel (new Tom Cairns production) Luna, Echalaz, Matthews, Bevan, Coote, Rice, Davies, Kaiser, Antoun, Portillo, Moore, Gilfry, Burdette, Van Horn, Tomlinson / Adès (October-November) The two prior operas of Thomas Adès have not lacked good music nor good libretti: it's the combination of these into an interesting, human opera that hasn't quite come off. Perhaps a show based on a Luis Buñuel movie (and directed by the librettist) will do the trick. There is, in any case, an impressive lineup of British and American vocal talent involved. Madama Butterfly He, Zifchak, Aronica, Bizic / Bignamini (November) Jaho, Zifchak, Aronica/Chapa, Frontali / Armiliato (February-March) So after doing one emergency sub performance (for Ruth Ann Swenson in Traviata) at the Met in 2008, Ermonela Jaho never appears here again... until a decade later, when she headlines a revival of Butterfly. The fall run brings new Italian conductor Jader Bignamini. Thaïs Pérez, Borras, Finley / Villaume (November-December) Ailyn Pérez, an outstanding Mimi this season, takes a full-on star vehicle opposite Gerald Finley. They don't quite have the name recognition of Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson, for whom this show was made, but this could be one of the stealth successes of the season. Requiem Stoyanova, Semenchuk, Antonenko, Furlanetto / Levine (November-December) I don't recall recurring concert performances scheduled as part of the season before, but if any plotless piece could work this way, it's Verdi's famously dramatic-operatic Requiem. These shows will be almost a generation after the April 29, 2001 performance at Carnegie that everyone who attended will still wax on about (shouldn't the Met or Carnegie release a recording of this at some point?). Levine then had Renee Fleming, Olga Borodina, Marcelo Giordani, and Rene Pape at or near the height of their powers (though Giordani was a bit of a weak link, and I'd like to have heard how Ramon Vargas did in a similar performance on the Met's Japanese tour). Here it looks like Aleksandrs Antonenko will be an upgrade at tenor, but mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk - another singer not seen at the house for a while - is an odd choice, not having impressed in her appearances so far. Le Nozze di Figaro Plachetka, Karg, Willis-Sørensen, Pisaroni, Malfi / Bicket (December) Abdrazakov, Sierra, Yoncheva, Kwiecien, Leonard / Bicket (December-January) The names in the latter cast may be more recognizable, but I suspect the former (with debuting German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna) may provide more of Mozart's ensemble glory. The Merry Widow Graham, Groves, Chuchman, Portillo, Allen / Stare (December) Graham, Groves, Chuchman, Stayton, Allen / Stare (December-January) Not a bad cast for the most cast-proof show the Met has debuted in decades. Who knew that comic timing drives comedies? Young American conductor Ward Stare debuts in the pit. Hansel and Gretel (family version in English) Oropesa, Erraught, Zajick, Siegel, Kelsey / Runnicles (December-January) McKay, Gillebo, Zajick, Siegel, Croft / Runnicles (December 28) Good casting for a kids' piece. Tosca (new David McVicar production) Opolais, Kaufmann, Terfel / Nelsons (NYE-January) Netrebko, Alvarez, Volle / de Billy (April-May) Netrebko, Alvarez, Gagnidze / de Billy (May) I believe Sondra Radvanovsky was originally supposed to headline this new production, which attempts to wash away the much-hated Luc Bondy version of 2009. Instead we get Kristine Opolais, the least interesting part of both Richard Eyre's wretchedly bad Manon Lescaut and Mary Zimmerman's otherwise-brilliant Rusalka. (She has succeeded in more direct Puccini, though.) But perhaps it doesn't matter - except as a what-if - when Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel have shown themselves of carrying this piece on their own. And though she has less male star power, I think Tosca might be a very good part for Anna Netrebko. Cav/Pag Semenchuk, Alagna, Lučić; Kurzak, Alagna, Gagnidze, Arduini / Luisotti (January) Westbroek, Alagna, Lučić; Kurzak, Alagna, Gagnidze, Arduini / Luisotti (January-February) I'm not sure whether the Alagna who shows up will be the no-voice one of the Manon Lescaut premiere or the respectable-sounding and insightful one of the end of that run and Butterfly, but his inconsistency has been characteristic since the beginning of his international career. McVicar's rendering of the double-bill is outstanding, and San Francisco's Nicola Luisotti has done magical things in his too-rare Met appearances. L’Elisir d’Amore Yende, Polenzani, Luciano, D'Arcangelo / Hindoyan (January-February) Both Yende and Polenzani have an emotional transparency that should work excellently in this piece. Il Trovatore Lee, Agresta, Rachvelishvili, Kelsey, Kocán / Levine (January-February) Lee, Agresta, Rachvelishvili, Salsi, Youn / Levine (February) Anita Rachvelishvili moves up a vocal weight class with her first Met Azucenas (she did her first performances of the part recently in London), opposite two baritones moving up from Marcello to Di Luna. But with outstanding Korean spinto Yonghoon Lee in the title role and Levine in the pit, this is yet another promising staple. Parsifal Vogt, Herlitzius, Mattei, Nikitin, Pape / Nézet-Séguin (February) The most significant revival of the season. Yannick Nézet-Séguin will go from "Music Director Designate" to the actual thing in 2020, but he's debuting German repertory cornerstones until then. This spring it's Flying Dutchman, but next year he'll lead the first revival of the most significant and successful Met Wagner production in a long, long time: Francois Girard's 2013 Parsifal. (Not least in that success was Daniele Gatti's intensely concentrated conducting, so there's a lot to live up to there.) He has the low-voiced end of the original cast, with Peter Mattei's Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin's Klingsor, and René Pape's Gurnemanz all returning. The new parts of the cast are significant as well: dramatic soprano Evelyn Herlitzius finally makes her Met debut as Kundry, and Klaus Florian Vogt returns to Wagner a dozen years after making the most stunning - and most stunningly ignored - Met debut of our era as Lohengrin. (Vogt does return to the Met before this, in next month's Fidelio.) Semiramide Meade, DeShong, Camarena, Abdrazakov, Green / Benini (February-March) Good cast for a Rossini rarity. After her scheduled performances of Italiana this season went to debuting Italian mezzo Marianna Pizzolato, I do wonder whether Elizabeth DeShong will in fact sing these performances as Arsace. Elektra Goerke, van den Heever, Schuster, Morris, Petrenko / Nézet-Séguin (March) Christine Goerke's titanic concert performance of this early Strauss opera with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony (October 2016 at Carnegie) dwarfed the dull, homogenized new Met version last season. The change from Salonen's civilizing version to Yannick Nézet-Séguin's characteristic visceral style should do much, and Goerke's ability to sing through the cacophonic title part lyrically can't be missed, but full success may require a revival stage director unafraid to depart from Chereau's drab vision. Così fan tutte (new Phelim McDermott production) Majeski, Malfi, O'Hara, Bliss, Plachetka, Maltman / Robertson (March- Though the cast looks good and the visuals interesting, David Robertson was responsible for the worst-conducted night of Mozart I've ever heard at the Met, so I'll wait and see. The production is new to the Met but already debuted at ENO. Lucia di Lammermoor Peretyatko, Grigolo, Cavalletti, Kowaljow / Abbado (March-April) Pratt, Grigolo, Cavalletti/Salsi, Kowaljow / Abbado (April) Yende, Fabiano, Kelsey, Vinogradov / Abbado (April-May) I was listening to Pretty Yende last night in Puritani, thinking that the Met should hire her for Lucia... and here we go. She gets the better Edgardo in Michael Fabiano as well: the role depends far too much on line and phrase to expect much on the whole from Vittorio Grigolo (though the Italian will surely deliver exciting high notes). Luisa Miller Yoncheva, Beczala, Domingo, Petrova, Vinogradov, Belosselskiy / Levine (March-April) Sonya Yoncheva's manner is a bit on the chilly side to get all the pathos of the title part's great duets, but the men involved should make much of this early Verdi. Cendrillon (new Laurent Pelly production) DiDonato, Kim, Coote, Blythe, Naouri / de Billy (April-May) So, we're officially in the part of Joyce DiDonato's career when she makes big houses put on silly shows. Good cast, seems charming enough, and though Laurent Pelly (Fille, Manon) hasn't done a really good production here, he hasn't made any terrible ones either. Roméo et Juliette Hymel, Pérez, Deshayes, Hopkins, Youn / Domingo (April-May) Interesting cast, very good production, but Domingo in the pit is a deal-breaker. If you have the itch, just see Yende and Costello next month (which has many fewer good alternative options than spring 2018).
An authentically reactionary revival of Franco Zeffirelli‘s sacred production of Puccini’s Tosca is the highlight of the Met’s 2017-2018 season. The tragically underrepresented Sir David McVicar, absent from the Met for nearly two weeks now, has consented to do traffic direction for the cast of Kristine Opolais, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel, all of whom will surely show up. More dreary news follows the jump. New Productions Norma – Vincenzo Bellini OPENING NIGHT Opening: September 25, 2017 Conductors: Carlo Rizzi / Joseph Colaneri Production: Sir David McVicar Set Designer: Robert Jones Costume Designer: Moritz Junge Lighting Designer: Paule Constable Movement Director: Leah Hausman Live in HD: October 7, 2017 The season opens with a new production of Bellini’s bel canto tragedy Norma, starring Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role, which she has sung to acclaim at the Met in 2013, as well as at the Canadian Opera Company, San Francisco Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Lyric Opera of Chicago—making her one of the world’s leading interpreters of the iconic title character. Joyce DiDonato co-stars as Norma’s colleague and rival, Adalgisa, opposite Joseph Calleja as Pollione and Matthew Rose as Oroveso. On October 16 and 20, Marina Rebeka will make her Met role debut as the Druid priestess, Norma. Beginning December 1, the production will star Angela Meade as Norma with Jamie Barton reprising the role of Adalgisa and led by Joseph Colaneri. Sir David McVicar directs the production, having staged seven Met productions including Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux. The Exterminating Angel – Thomas Adès MET PREMIERE Opening: October 26, 2017 Conductor: Thomas Adès Libretto: Tom Cairns, in collaboration with the composer Production: Tom Cairns Set and Costume Designer: Hildegard Bechtler Lighting Designer: Jon Clark Projection Designer: Tal Yarden Choreographer: Amir Hosseinpour Live in HD: November 18, 2017 The Exterminating Angel has its Met premiere, conducted by the composer, Thomas Adès. The 2016 opera, co-commissioned by the Met and sung in English, is based on the screenplay by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza for the acclaimed 1962 Buñuel film. Directed by the librettist Tom Cairns, the ensemble cast features Audrey Luna as Leticia Maynar; Amanda Echalaz as Lucia de Nobile; Sally Matthews as Silvia de Ávila and Sophie Bevan as Beatriz, both in Met debuts; Alice Coote as Leonora Palma; Christine Rice as Blanca Delgado; Iestyn Davies as Francisco de Ávila; Joseph Kaiser as Edundo de Nobile; Frédéric Antoun in his Met debut as Raúl Yebenes; David Portillo as Edmundo; David Adam Moore in his Met debut as Col. Álvaro Gómez; Rod Gilfry as Alberto Roc; Kevin Burdette as Señor Russell; Christian Van Horn as Julio; and John Tomlinson as Dr Carlos Conde. The Exterminating Angel is a co-commission and co-production with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Royal Danish Theatre; and Salzburg Festival, where the production premiered in 2016. Tosca – Giacomo Puccini NEW YEAR’S EVE GALA Opening: December 31, 2017 Conductor: Andris Nelsons / Bertrand de Billy Production: Sir David McVicar Set and Costume Designer: John Macfarlane Lighting Designer: David Finn Movement Director: Leah Hausman Live in HD: January 27, 2018 Andris Nelsons conducts a new staging of Puccini’s dramatic tragedy, directed by Sir David McVicar. Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann star as the heroine Tosca and her lover Cavaradossi, with Bryn Terfel as the villainous Scarpia. In April, Anna Netrebko adds a new role to her Met repertory as the title diva, opposite Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi. Michael Volle and George Gagnidze share the role of Scarpia during April and May performances with Bertrand de Billy conducting. Così fan tutte – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Opening: March 15, 2018 Conductor: David Robertson Production: Phelim McDermott Set Designer: Tom Pye Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins Lighting Designer: Paule Constable Live in HD: March 31, 2018 Phelim McDermott returns to the Met with a new staging of Mozart’s comedy Così fan tutte, led by David Robertson. The production, set in Coney Island during the 1950s, features Amanda Majeski and Serena Malfi as the conflicted sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella; Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara as their feisty maid, Despina; Ben Bliss and Adam Plachetka as the sisters’ fiancés, Ferrando and Guglielmo; and Christopher Maltman as the cynical Don Alfonso. Così fan tutte is a co-production with the English National Opera, where this staging premiered in 2014, in collaboration with Improbable. Cendrillon – Jules Massenet MET PREMIERE Opening: April 12, 2018 Conductor: Bertrand de Billy Production: Laurent Pelly Set Designer: Barbara de Limburg Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler Choreographer: Laura Scozzi Live in HD: April 28, 2018 Massenet’s enchanting opera Cendrillon, based on the Cinderella story, premieres at the Met conducted by Bertrand de Billy in a staging by Laurent Pelly, whose Met credits include staging Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment and Massenet’s Manon. Joyce DiDonato stars as the title character, a role she has sung to acclaim at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, The Santa Fe Opera, and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. The cast also features Kathleen Kim as the Fairy Godmother, Alice Coote as Prince Charming, Stephanie Blythe as the evil stepmother Madame de la Haltière, and Laurent Naouri as Pandolfe. Cendrillon is produced in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie, Brussels; and Opéra de Lille. This production was first performed at The Santa Fe Opera in 2006. Requiem – Giuseppe Verdi CONCERT Opening: November 24, 2017 Conductor: James Levine Met Music Director Emeritus James Levine will conduct four concert performances of Verdi’s Requiem, a powerful meditation on death, featuring soloists Krassimira Stoyanova, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Aleksandrs Antonenko, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, along with the Met’s orchestra and chorus. Noteworthy Met Debuts Notable Met debuts this season include Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught as Nicklausse in Les Contes d’Hoffmann (September 26); South African soprano Golda Schultz as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (September 27); British conductor Alexander Soddy leading La Bohème (October 2); American soprano Angel Blue as Mimì in La Bohème (October 2); British soprano Sally Matthews as Silvia de Ávila in The Exterminating Angel (October 26): Italian conductor Jader Bignamini leading Madama Butterfly (November 2); German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro (December 6); American conductor Ward Stare leading The Merry Widow (December 14); Venezuelan conductor Domingo Hindoyan leading L’Elisir d’Amore (January 16); Italian baritone Davide Luciano as Belcore in L’Elisir d’Amore (January 16); German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry in Parsifal (February 5); German mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra in Elektra (March 1); and Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov as Walter in Luisa Miller (March 29). In addition, Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinyt?-Tyla makes her first Met appearance, leading the MET Orchestra in a Carnegie Hall concert on May 18. Repertory Highlights The 2017-18 season will feature 20 revivals of works by 14 composers starring many of the world’s leading opera singers and conductors. Met Music Director Emeritus James Levine conducts Mozart’s opera, Die Zauberflöte, sung in full-length performances in its original German. The cast features Golda Schultz as Pamina, Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night, Charles Castronovo as Tamino, Markus Werba as Papageno, Christian Van Horn as Sprecher, and Tobias Kehrer as Sarastro. Il Trovatore, also conducted by Levine, stars Maria Agresta as Leonora, Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena, Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, Quinn Kelsey and Luca Salsi as Count di Luna, and Štefan Kocán and Kwangchul Youn as Ferrando. Levine also conducts a rare revival of Luisa Miller, which has not been seen at the Met since 2006. Sonya Yoncheva sings the title role, opposite Piotr Beczala as Luisa’s lover Rodolfo, in the story of a young woman who sacrifices her own happiness in an attempt to save her father’s life. The cast also includes Plácido Domingo as Luisa’s father Miller with Olesya Petrova as Federica, and Alexander Vinogradov and Dmitry Belosselskiy as Walter and Wurm, the ruthless men determined to tear Luisa and Rodolfo apart. Met Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts a revival of Parsifal, starring Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role, with Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry, Peter Mattei as Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor, and René Pape as Gurnemanz. In March, Nézet-Séguin returns to the Met to conduct Elektra starring Christine Goerke in the title role, with Elza van den Heever as Chrysothemis, Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra, Jay Hunter Morris as Aegisth, and Mikhail Petrenko as Orest. Rossini’s rarity set in ancient Babylon, Semiramide, which has not been seen at the Met in 25 years, will be conducted by Maurizio Benini and feature Angela Meade in the title role, with Elizabeth DeShong as Arsace, Javier Camarena as Idreno, Ildar Abdrazakov as Assur, and Ryan Speedo Green as Oroe. Ailyn Pérez stars in her role debut as the title character in Thaïs opposite Gerald Finley as Athanaël, with Jean-François Borras as Nicias and David Pittsinger as Palémon. The performances will be conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. Les Contes d’Hoffmann, conducted by Johannes Debus, stars Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffmann with Erin Morley as Olympia, Anita Hartig as Antonia/Stella, Oksana Volkova as Giulietta, Tara Erraught as Nicklausse/The Muse, Laurent Naouri as the Four Villains, and Christophe Mortagne as the Four Servants. Three Puccini revivals will be presented in the 2017-18 season. La Bohème stars Angel Blue as Mimì, opposite Dmytro Popov as Rodolfo with Brigitta Kele as Musetta and Lucas Meachem as Marcello. Later performances star Anita Hartig and Sonya Yoncheva as Mimì; Jean-François Borras, Russell Thomas, and Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo; and Michael Todd Simpson as Marcello. The opera will be conducted by Alexander Soddy and Marco Armiliato. Madama Butterfly stars Hui He and Ermonela Jaho as Cio-Cio-San with Maria Zifchak as Suzuki, Roberto Aronica and Luis Chapa as Pinkerton, and David Bizic, Dwayne Croft, and Roberto Frontali as Sharpless. Jader Bignamini and Marco Armiliato conduct all performances. Turandot features Oksana Dyka and Martina Serafin sharing the title role of the icy princess, with Maria Agresta, Hei-Kyung Hong, and Guanqun Yu as Liù. Marcelo Álvarez reprises the role of Calàf, and James Morris and Alexander Tsymbalyuk share the role of Timur. Le Nozze di Figaro stars Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Sonya Yoncheva as the Countess, Christiane Karg and Nadine Sierra as Susanna, Serena Malfi and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Luca Pisaroni and Mariusz Kwiecien as the Count, and Adam Plachetka and Ildar Abdrazakov as the title character. Harry Bicket conducts all performances. Susan Graham reprises Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow conducted by Ward Stare. The cast also includes Andriana Chuchman as Valencienne, Paul Groves as Danilo, David Portillo as Camille de Rosillon, and Thomas Allen as Baron Mirko Zeta. The double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is conducted by Nicola Luisotti, which features Roberto Alagna in the leading tenor roles of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci. Cavalleria Rusticana also features Ekaterina Semenchuk and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza, and Željko Lu?i? as Alfio. Pagliacci stars Aleksandra Kurzak as Nedda, George Gagnidze as Tonio, and Alessio Arduini as Silvio. Pretty Yende and Matthew Polenzani star as the spirited Adina and Nemorino, the simple peasant who falls in love with her, in L’Elisir d’Amore, which also stars Davide Luciano as Belcore and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Dulcamara. All performances are conducted by Domingo Hindoyan. Lucia di Lammermoor returns to the Met starring Olga Peretyatko, Jessica Pratt, and Pretty Yende in the title role. Vittorio Grigolo and Michael Fabiano share the role of Edgardo with Massimo Cavalletti, Luca Salsi, and Quinn Kelsey as Enrico and Vitalij Kowaljow and Alexander Vinogradov as Raimondo. Roberto Abbado conducts all performances. Ailyn Pérez and Bryan Hymel star as the doomed lovers in Roméo et Juliette with Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio and Kwangchul Youn as Frère Laurent. Plácido Domingo conducts all performances. Holiday Presentations The Met will stage two holiday presentations during the 2017-18 season: Julie Taymor’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s staging of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Continuing a tradition that began in 2006, the English-language, abridged performances, designed to make the opera more accessible, will be sold at reduced ticket prices for both operas. The cast of The Magic Flute includes Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as Pamina, Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night, Charles Castronovo as Tamino, Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Alfred Walker as the Speaker, and Tobias Kehrer as Sarastro. Edo de Waart will conduct the performances beginning November 25. The cast of Hansel and Gretel features Lisette Oropesa as Gretel, Tara Erraught as Hansel, Dolora Zajick as Gertrude, Gerhard Siegel as the Witch, and Quinn Kelsey as Peter. Donald Runnicles will conduct the performances opening on December 18. Photo by Met Technical Department
Plácido Domingo meets Plácido Flamingo on Sesame Street (screenshot from YouTube) There are many great opera scenes in films but we shouldn't forget that the small screen has also produced its share of operatic moments. Whether it's deriving comedy from the at-times-bizarre rituals of opera-going, providing thematic commentary or just creating magic, the world's most intoxicating art form has appeared over the airwaves in all manner of guises: The Simpsons - 'Homer of Seville' (2007) This long-running cartoon is famous for its pop culture references and in the episode ‘Homer of Seville’, opera gets The Simpsons treatment. In a typically bizzare opening, Homer hurts his back falling into an open grave, and his cry of ‘D’oh!’ upon hearing the cost of the X-ray reveals a hidden operatic talent . Before he knows it he’s a famous opera star performing in La bohème at the Springfield Opera House (which is remarkably similar to a certain iconic opera house down under). The only catch is that Homer has to lie on his back when singing to hit the right notes. This scene references the famous ascending shot in the Citizen Kane , however in this instance instead of stage hands it reveals Homer's pals Carl and Lenny complaining about their seats. Plácido Domingo, voiced by the great man himself, also makes a guest appearance encouraging Homer’s singing career in the 'locker room' and asking to be called P-Dingo (in a nod to the moniker of rapper Puff Daddy ). Doctor Who - 'Asylum of the Daleks' (2012) Daleks past and present return with a vengeance in the first episode of Series 7 of the BBC’s rebooted Doctor Who . This episode also introduces Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman ), who in a future incarnation would become the Eleventh Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald, Oswin’s calling card being the Habanera from Bizet ’s Carmen . Oswin, a former Junior Entertainment Manager on the Alaska star liner, is stranded on a planet where damaged Daleks are herded to be exterminated. She has barricaded herself in her spaceship against the marauding Daleks keeping herself busy by cooking soufflés and listening to Carmen. While evidently the Daleks are not fans of opera, the Doctor recognises it immediately and it seems fitting that he calls her Carmen with her fiery red dress and sassy attitude. Sesame Street - '20 years and still counting' (1989) Sesame Street introduced a whole generation of children to opera through the character of Placido Flamingo , a debonair tenor muppet – ‘the numero uno bird of opera’ – who regularly performed at the Nestropolitan Opera. Flamingo enjoyed many moments in the spotlight including as soloist with the Animal orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa , a duet with Ernie , and performing a scene from ‘The Dentist of Seville’ . But Flamingo’s greatest moment was meeting his famous namesake Plácido Domingo in a special 20th anniversary episode. The two perform a duet of ‘Look through the window’ with muppets from all races and nationalities, proof of opera's power to unite. See if you can watch this clip and not break into a smile. Domingo hasn't been the only opera star to make a special appearance on Sesame Street. Renée Fleming , José Carreras and Samuel Ramey also performed with Jim Henson's iconic creations. Seinfeld - ‘The Opera’ (1992) What do you do when you have free tickets to the opera, your girlfriend is running late and you feel uncomfortable in your ill-fitting tuxedo? If you’re George Costanza, you sell her ticket to a tout. In a classic Seinfeld episode where the irreverence shown to the high arts is only by topped by the time Jerry placed a PEZ dispenser on Elaine’s lap during a classical music concert , it’s opening night of Pagliacci and Kramer has free tickets. Elaine’s new boyfriend ‘Joey’ has mysteriously started calling her Nedda . Kramer has told everyone to wear black tie but refused to dress up himself. Jerry is being stalked by 'Crazy' Joe Davola who is obsessed with Pagliacci and likes to go around dressed as a clown . In true Seinfeld style, storylines collide as the gang finally settle into their seats and George has been replaced by an overweight opera fan. But who did Kramer sell his spare ticket to? Frasier - ‘Out with Dad’ (2000) Over 11 seasons of this Seattle-based sitcom, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer ) and Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce ) were known for their enjoyment of the finer things in life, so naturally they would have subscription seats to the opera. However on Valentine’s Day things get nasty when both Frasier and Niles want to use their opera tickets to woo women. When Frasier refuses to give up his opera ticket for Niles to have a date with his girlfriend, Niles threatens him with the most horrific fate one could possibly suffer at the opera: ‘May your box be filled with cellophane crinklers and the stage swarming with standbys!’. Unperturbed, Frasier drags his dad along to Rigoletto so he can pursue a fellow subscriber he’s had his eye on. This odd couple’s night out presents many opportunities for digs at opera story lines (‘more goofy stuff that never happens in real life’) and in-jokes for the opera fans. But it is not only Frasier who ends up with a date, the indomitable Martin unwittingly finds himself the object of an opera lover’s affection... Hannibal - ‘Sorbet’ (2013) Hannibal Lecter is well known in film, literature and television for his cannibalistic impulses so it's apt that the opera scene from TV episode ‘Sorbet’ exhibits a fascination with body parts. Beginning with a close-up of a quivering larynx, the camera follows the sound travelling from inside the human body past the uvula and tongue, making its way out through the singers’ mouth. The glorious sound of Cleopatra’s aria ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Handel ’s Guilio Cesare travels across the room into the ear canal of Dr Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen ). It is the first time in the series that Hannibal shows any emotion and proves that even a remorseless serial killer can be moved by opera. Or is he fearful of the notion that the dead can return to haunt their oppressors? Hannibal is full of operatic moments punctuated with classical music . Each episode in Season 1 is named after a dish of French cuisine and this seventh episode of the series also reveals that Hannibal is a keen chef famed within opera-going crowds for his dinner parties. Unbeknownst to his guests, his speciality is meticulously prepared human offal . My Family - ‘Droit de Seigneur Ben’ (2000) Anyone who has ever battled to drag a reluctant spouse to the opera will sympathize with Susan (Zoë Wanamaker ) in this episode of the British sitcom My Family. Susan has tickets to Don Giovanni but being the grumpy misanthrope that he is, Ben (Robert Lindsay ) says he hates the opera, complaining that he never knows what’s going on and ‘it’s as boring as hell’. But Susan won’t be deterred, shrewdly presenting him with a vinyl and translated libretto of the opera so he can familiarize himself with the storyline before the performance. Despite himself Ben slowly becomes absorbed in the world of the opera, discovering that a 17th century Italian opera can in fact pertain to his own life as he realizes he has set up his daughter on a date with a modern day Don Giovanni. Mildred Pierce - ‘Part Four and Five’ (2011) In his five-part television mini-series about a tenacious mother and her bratty, narcissistic daughter set during the Great Depression, director Todd Haynes indulges in his favourite genre – melodrama. Operatic in its pace, themes and length, Mildred Pierce also includes a number of wonderful operatic moments . Always knowing she had a hidden talent that would help her rise above the humdrum, Veda's (Evan Rachel Wood) talent as a coloratura soprano is eventually discovered. The young woman's music teacher compares the coloratura with ‘a snake’ and Veda lives up to this description. Mildred (Kate Winslet ) watches on with mixed emotions – awe at her daughter’s talents, anguish at their estrangement and fear of the monster she knows lies underneath Veda's starry exterior. Veda’s performances are voiced by Korean soprano Sumi Jo and Wood trained with an opera expert to achieve the correct postures and breathing techniques. Veda’s arias provide a thematic commentary on goings-on in the Pierce household from Veda’s first radio performance of ‘the Bell Song’ from Lakmé which foreshadows Veda’s seduction of Mildred’s lover, to the presence of an overbearing opera mother as reflected in her rendition of The Magic Flute's ‘Der Hölle Rache ’.
Our Music Director James Conlon obviously relishes the task of doing the pre-game lecture before he takes up the baton for the remainder of the evening. Friday night he sold Die Entführung aus dem Serial to a tony crowd of Angelenos. He first reminded us all how the Vienna of Mozart’s day was perhaps the most cosmopolitan city of its time with a large population of Muslim immigrants from the East. He also touched on how the path to love and forgiveness is always found in Mozart’s works through the female characters and in this case, most particular, through the final acts of clemency by the Turkish Pasha Selim in the opera’s closing moments. There was also a lot of talk on key signatures and rhythm and he starts doing the ipod shuffle thing and suddenly your ears are being made aware of the fact that the “Turkish” music Mozart composed and the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, composed 50 years later, share a compositional structure and your mouth falls open. Maestro Conlon apparently made his conducting debut the same week he got his first pair of long pants, so he does know a thing or two. The production, directed by James Robinson of Opera Theater of St. Louis fame, easily manages the charming conceit of updating the action to the 1920’s and placing it all on the private rail car of the Pasha Selim on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express bound for Paris from Istanbul. The set designed by Allen Moyer started with a drop curtain of Europe a la Francaise and the route of the train as it progressed through the three acts of Mozart’s comedy of manners. The interior of the train was naturally done up to resemble the rich mahogany inlays and plush furnishings the Orient Express is renowned for. A small sleeping compartment stage right connecting to an elegant central private lounge and then an adjoining pantry/kitchen of petite proportions. It all shifted, very cleverly, from one side of the stage to the other to follow the action, and linked by enough passageways and sliding doors to to aid and abet a wily comic cast. The backgrounds were further enhanced by projections of the countryside whizzing by that only added to the grand cinematic effect. Lighting design by Paul Palazzo was actually kept fairly natural and avoided any deliberately theatrical effects. More luxe than the set though was the casting, no small feat in an opera that requires some of the composer’s most exacting, to say nothing of athletic, singing. It began with the tenor of Joel Prieto as Belmonte who, having won Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2008, was making his LA Opera debut. Handsomely tricked out as a traveling dandy of the era with ukulele and tennis racket, Mr. Prieto was a paragon of Mozartian vocal virtues with a smooth line, excellent passagework, and endless, endless, breath. During one particularly impressive moment of super-respiratory exhibitionism he actually glanced at his watch to the hilarity of the audience. His is a voice of real quality and although he made a bit of heavy weather in his last act aria the rest of his performance was literal perfection. He’s also dashingly handsome and made an appealing and sympathetic character of the Spanish nobleman rather than falling into standard “handsome hero” mode. Sally Matthews, also making her LA Opera debut, has a host of other very impressive international credits. Her’s is a full lyric soprano with a tremendous amount of focus and point at the top that generated real excitement when she ascended the staff. The middle voice is denser with a dark bottom that she didn’t ever push. Though, sadly she had no trill to speak of, she always landed square on pitch she sailed through some of Mozart’s most challenging music with dash and dexterity. Musically she provided a solid anchor in the ensembles whilst cutting a graceful figure in a series of stunningly designed ensembles courtesy of Anna R. Oliver. She was poise itself during Act I’s, “Ach ich leibte” but the double-barreled arias of the second act presented the usual staging problems. Here “Martern aller arten” had its threatened “tortures” presented comically as a dizzying plunge into luxury temptations including perfumes and couture gowns, ending with the soprano swathed in floor-length sable. The “downstairs” couple of Blonde and Pedrillo were given to LA Opera Young Artist alums So Young Park and Brenton Ryan. Ms. Park brought her formidable gifts to the Queen of the Night last year and her deft comedic turn here was charming with a flash of backbone when necessary. In spite of her dazzling upper extension the voice is really sounds like it’s headed to full lyric soprano and it carries with a beautiful ease into the theater. She also knows how to work an English maid’s outfit. Mr. Ryan was agile in the physical bits and gave ample vocal support during the ensembles. His last act serenade to the guards, using Belmonte’s ukulele no less (pizzicato strings in the orchestra), was a delight. Osmin was the formidable Morris Robinson, recently our Oroveso in Norma. His stature alone would be recommendation enough for the part of the Overseer yet his comedic gifts were just as bountiful as his bass voice. He proved the perfect foil for Ms. Park and, most especially, Mr. Ryan. Perfectly costumed as a gentleman butler with vest and cravat for the first two acts with the addition of harem pants he had a magnificent gold dressing gown for the last act with embroidery. The character of Pasha Selim poses some dramatic challenges that were well met by actor Hamish Linklater. Playing perhaps too much of the fop in the first act he managed a creditable outrage and magnanimous transformation for the finale. Maestro Conlon’s nimble support in the pit can’t be underestimated and the orchestra plays their Mozart now as to the manner born. He breathes with his singers and is the antithesis of the fussy Mozartean. Always keeping things moving forward. His tempos are well judged and the balance he gets between wind and strings and horns is near perfection. It sounds so good in the first moments you have to convince yourself it’s live. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the quintet at the finale of Act II with the director’s most inspired staging moments coupled with a concentration of music making that left the audience spellbound. The evening’s only conceit to verisimilitude was the fact that the chorus was relegated to the station platform outside the windows of the carriage. Not ideal but they made it work. An exceedingly handsome cast and production that takes us on a journey both musical and emotional and since this is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera (where it’s already played), Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Colorado, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Minnesota Opera, there’s a good chance it’s whistle-stopping somewhere close by you soon.
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Circle (Seat L19, $79.) Story. The scenario of the opera is based on Euripides’ The Bacchae about Roger II, a 12th century Sicilian king. The self-proclaimed shepherd comes into town to preach a new, strange faith based on letting go of inhibitions and embracing pleasure. While the Archbishop and Deaconess demand the Shepherd be executed, the king hesitates. The Shepherd succeeds in drawing the crowd and Roger’s wife Roxana to follow after him. Roger follows. The Shepherd takes over power and Roger becomes the one on trial. The Shepherd reveals himself as the god of pure pleasure, and his followers ignite a book-burning bonfire. Roger succeeds in resisting the Shepherd, and the opera ends with a bright light signaling the dawn of a new day. Conductor – Andrea Molino; King Roger of Sicily – Michael Honeyman, Roxana – Lorina Gore, Edrisi (Roger’s advisor) – James Egglestone, Shepherd – Saimir Pirgu. The only encounters I had with Szymanowski was his concerto, which I heard twice, with one of those times by Glenn Dicterow. I remember scratching my head after each performance. I wondered what today’s experience would be like. The first thing one notices about the opera is its brevity. The entire evening lasts 1:50, with a 30 minute intermission. One wonders if a 1:20 hour long opera really needs an intermission. I guess if you are charging over A$300 for some seats, you may want to make the opera a bit more substantial; and you get to sell some refreshments during “the interval.” Each of the three acts has its set, but with the same backdrop of a curved wall with windows. For the first act the center is dominated by a huge head whose expression changes as different images are projected onto it. The head is turned around to expose three levels where some of the action takes place. At the bottom you have these make dancers that probably represent pleasure. For the third act there is a bonfire in the middle, the intensity of the flame gets to be quite high during the peak of the book burning session. In reading up about the opera on Opera Australia’s website and the small handout, this opera is supposed to reflect the battle Szymanowski finds within himself, which may be particularly poignant as he was a gay man in the early 1900s. The handout describes how difficult it is to represent “inner conflict” on stage. Overall I must say I have a very limited appreciation of the opera. The music was best described as dialog with some variation in pitch here or there. I actually tried listening to the orchestra to see if I got more out of it, and I didn’t. I did appreciate how precise it was though. As far as the drama goes, I couldn’t resonate with whatever Roger may be struggling with, or how difficult it was to resist temptation. The staging is interesting, but I can’t tell you how it relates to the story, or even how it denotes inner conflict. If I must say something good about the experience, the first (and serious) one would be it is short. Actually the singers were all strong, and amazing in how they can memorize the language (I am sure none of them was a native Polish speaker) or the tunes, such as they were. While they could be way off and I wouldn’t be able to tell, they were in pitch the times their notes met the orchestra’s. The name Pirgu sounded familiar, and a search of this blog returns the time he sang Alfredo to Damrau’s Violetta in La Traviata (where Domingo was Germont.) Syzmanowski didn’t call this work an opera, calling it a “Sicilian Drama” instead. He also had a more “conservative” ending because the First World War taught him there had to be limits. Curtain Call. In front are Deaconess, Edrisi, The Shepherd, Maestro Molino, King Roger, Queen Roxana, and the Archbishop. The applause was more enthusiastic than last night. Tim attributed that to only real aficionados would go to an opera like this, I am less sanguine about the motivation. There were quite a few empty seats in the Circle, we moved up a couple of rows before the performance started. The price was again discounted by 20%. When Tim bought the tickets, the agent told him this was a “once a lifetime experience.” To which I would add “… not to be repeated.” All complaints aside, Opera Australia should be admired for its courage in bringing out rarely performed operas. The review by Lime Light Magazine is glowing. Together with what it wrote about last night’s opera, I wonder if there is a mean bone in the reviewer, or if he is employed by Opera Australia. Tim drove to the Opera House, so it was an easy in-and-out. And I am wrapping this review up around 11:30 pm the same evening.
Great opera singers