Saturday, November 23, 2019


Although it is not yet fully in order, I'm moving my opera posting to a new corner of the internet: Second Meetings at the Opera. The first post, today, is from my current visit to Bavaria.

My email remains the same. See you at the new site!

Friday, June 07, 2019

Lepage follies

Well, I certainly wasn't expecting this email:
We’re writing to inform you, as a ticket buyer to Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, of an important change. The performances of La Damnation de Faust on January 25 and 29, and February 1 and 8, 2020, will be converted into concert presentations, similar to the Met’s Verdi Requiem performances in the 2017–18 season. Performances on February 4, 12, and 15, 2020, have been cancelled.

The decision to present La Damnation de Faust in its more usual concert version is driven by the unanticipated technical demands of reviving the Met’s staged production, impossible to accommodate within the company’s production schedule. The cast, including mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, and tenors Bryan Hymel (January 25, 29) and Michael Spyres (February 1, 8) sharing the title role, remains unchanged. Edward Gardner is the conductor.
The new event listing seems to confirm.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The death of...

Dialogues des Carmélites - Metropolitan Opera, 5/3 and 5/8/2019
Leonard, Mattila, Pieczonka, Cargill, Morley, Portillo / Nézet-Séguin

I expected this Dialogues revival - as those of previous seasons - to be effective and moving. What I did not expect, despite an outside hope therefor, was that it would contain within the first act's limited span one more great Mattila triumph, the first since 2012 and one of an all-too-few to be moviecast. If this turns out to be her send-off (which, at 58, need not necessarily be the case), it's a great one.

Felicity Palmer (whose Waltraute I've missed in Met Rings since) was a heck of a singing actress, but in the last two revivals she portrayed a prioress who dies. With Mattila, Madame de Croissy's death itself - enormous and terrible, like the death of Christoph Detlev Brigge in Rilke's prose book - is the main character of the opera's first part. That's as you'd expect upon discovering that this opera could fit such a thing, as Mattila's decade-and-a-half of providing the most significant element in each Met season was built on loading the "terror" side of the Aristotelian schema markedly higher than even this most emotionally extreme art form is accustomed. And amidst this awful struggle - with her wracked body, with impossible responsibilities, with death itself - the loving directness of de Croissy's last advice to Blanche arrives in even more touching relief.

The excellence of Isabel Leonard - Blanche here as she was in 2013 - not only holds the overall show together but provides Mattila the foil her first secondary-role run here (Kostelnicka in 2016's Jenufa opposite the eminently forgettable Oksana Dyka) fatally lacked. The same inner stillness and that made Leonard a near-ideal Melisande earlier in the season also serves her here, if differently: Blanche wants to and should be in that state - one too evidently fit for worry and risk won't suit - but too often can't.

It's not clear whether it was deliberate or fortuitous of Adrianne Pieczonka to portray Madame Lidoine in a manner entirely distinct from the character's predecessor: all motherly love, calm, and composure amidst the storms of trouble. In any case, it works brilliantly - and Karen Cargill, who like Erin Morley (Constance, again reprising her 2013 part) is much more impressive than she was in the Ring, provides a third distinct elder figure with her hardheaded and dogged Mother Marie.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as ever, conducts impressively in the direct manner.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The debut

Rigoletto - Metropolitan Opera, 4/26 and 5/1/2019
Gagnidze, Feola, Polenzani, Ivashchenko / Luisotti

The house debut of 32-year-old Italian soprano Rosa Feola as Gilda was extraordinary enough that I went back between Ring installments to see if I hadn't imagined it. I found a second night even better than the first.

Although Feola (who was runner-up to Sonya Yoncheva at the 2010 Operalia competition) certainly has the notes and technique for the lyric-coloratura parts that are her current career (her Caro nome was a marvel), neither her voice nor her person present what you'd expect therein. Instead of the classic bright, chirpy sound Feola offers a darker, more emotionally charged timbre. And though she can (unlike, say, Diana Damrau) do ingenuous charm, neither that nor coquettish sex-appeal define her focused, presence. The overall impression was of nothing so much as an Italian Dorothea Röschmann with an integrated top extension - someone I'm eager to hear again, in the more serious of the -inas and -ettas though even these likely won't let her display all her powers. (The tragic weight her Gilda took on herself with full awareness before entering Sparafucile's place itself nearly broke the frame of the role.)

Incidentally: the contrast with the other notable female debut of the season - Aida Garifullina, who sang Zerlina in the first of two Don Giovanni casts - is striking. With a glorious silver-bell tone on an outsized scale perfectly suited to this big house and an effective, straightforward charm, Garifullina (who won the 2013 Operalia competition) is the classic soubrette starlet turned up to 11, singing a very similar range of parts to Feola's with an entirely different (but ever-appealing) spirit. Let's hope that she doesn't go off the rails and massacre bel canto for a decade before reinventing herself as a heavier-role singer as the last Russian soprano with this sort of star power did.

The other singers were, as expected, a pleasure - George Gagnidze neither glamorous nor titanic but, as usual, catching the right spirit and Dimitry Ivashchenko a nicely satisfying Sparafucile - with only newcomer Ramona Zaharia's Maddalena perhaps not fitting her part. Matthew Polenzani, too nice to be any kind of malicious Duke, sang well enough (particularly on the second night) for us to accept his caught-up-in-the-lifestyle autocrat at face value.

*     *     *

It wasn't just Polenzani's better form or even the cast's cleanup of stage business that wasn't quite in synch at the first performance that made for the more thrilling followup, but conductor Nicola Luisotti perhaps finally letting Verdi be Verdi. The supreme Puccini conductor of our era - despite a much worse cast, his guidance made the 2010 Fanciulla more of an event than the vocally thrilling one we got this fall - Luisotti nevertheless was the weak link in two previous Verdi shows this season. In the fall and winter Aidas (which were, admittedly, compromised by cast issues) and the spring Traviata (which wasn't the triumph that Anita Hartig's heartbreaking performance deserved), it seemed that he was intent on shaping Verdi's music as he would Puccini's - aiming to maximize phrase and line effectiveness without regard for the underlying beat. This just doesn't work: the alternately melancholy and ecstatic pleasure in the ordered passage of time is the rock on which not just Verdi but the cantabile-cabaletta form of all bel canto opera is built. One can't lose touch with that pleasure - even when it's not foregrounded - for even a moment without making a hash of the aesthetic whole.

Whether because of this opera's more headlong nature or just finding his way to Verdi's style after many performances, Luisotti here more or less restricted his micro-temporal tampering to some bizarre hitches in a single slow part. And by the second night he was not merely setting good starting tempi and getting out of the way but actively working with the underlying time-flow to impressive effect. With luck this development will carry over to future runs of other Verdi works.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Robbing the cradle

Siegfried - Metropolitan Opera, 4/13/2019
Vinke, Goerke, Volle, Siegel, Morley, Cargill, Koniecszny, Belosselskiy / Jordan

As astounding and enjoyable was Stefan Vinke's vocal endurance and forcefulness in the title role in this house debut last month, so disappointing was the one-note personal characterization that accompanied it. The result was a barn-burner of an aural show that undoubtedly thrilled the general audience but frustrated me as the vocal failures of past revivals had not.

A decade ago, in praise of Christian Franz - whose physical assumption was everything that Vinke's was not - I noted that his Siegfried "didn't, as is sometimes the case, seem the villain of the piece". And with this revival we saw how easy it takes to make Siegfried unsympathetic (one opera ahead of when he does, under mind-affecting magic, in fact act the bad guy). Whether it was the revival stage directors (J. Knighten Smith for the overall Ring, Stephen Pickover for this installment, with Paula Suozzi and Paula Williams assisting) or Vinke's choice or even the nerves of his big debut, this performance maximized Siegfried's buffoonery and minimized his introspection and awakening of self: instead of the archetypal youth maturing to heroism and first love, we got an unchanging brat alternately mugging for approval (entirely inconsistent with his lack of fear and solitary upbringing, one might notice!) and hamhandedly - and without recognition or understanding - forcing his way past everything on stage. With incipient growth and self-understanding no longer established in Act II (where Vinke understandably but unfortunately decided to conserve voice) his union with Brünnhilde in the last act became very odd indeed. (As with other too-cleverly cynical takes, one can argue for the psychological truth of these reductions but they make the story less significant.)

Not that we should short the vocal accomplishment. Vinke's basic sound here isn't the most best I've heard in brief stand-alone doses: though pleasant, there's a too-covered quality that comes out in the lyric bits. But for a small trade (much smaller than what many predecessors have given up just to get through the thing) Vinke gave us a seemingly limitless heldentenor outpouring that sailed through the Forging of Act I and outshouted Goerke's fresh voice in Act III. If only the quality of sound had been matched by a similar quality of sense!

Perhaps Andreas Schager - who made a remarkable NYC debut four years ago as Apollo alongside the Leukippos of this Ring's Loge (Norbert Ernst) - will do better tonight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Next season at the Met brings a handful of new shows and, more notably, a new schedule point: Sunday afternoon. So far Sunday perfomances look like rescheduled Mondays, and start-of-the-week gaps (both Monday and, at times, Tuesday) are interspersed through the year.

As usual, I've left some one-show-only combinations out below.

Porgy and Bess (new James Robinson production)
Owens, Blue, Schultz, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Green / Robertson (opening night to October)
Owens, Blue, Brugger, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Singletary / Robertson (October, January)
Owens, Blue, Schultz, Moore, Ballentine, Walker, Singletary / Robertson (Jan 28, Feb 1)
Like many Met premieres of the Gelb era, this show - directed by newcomer (and Opera Theatre of St. Louis Artistic Director) James Robinson with Bart Sher's usual set and costume designers - has already run at ENO and in Amsterdam. Still, it's the first Porgy and Bess at the Met in ages (even City Opera's latest performance was almost two decades ago) and the first opening night of real note in a while.

Oropesa, Fabiano, Bosi, Ruciński, Youn / Benini (September-October)
For the first time I can remember, both Massenet's Manon and Puccini's own adaptation of the Prevost novel - Manon Lescaut - appear in the same season. Both productions are recent-ish failures, but it's possible that the visual delicacy erased by Laurent Pelly can be offset by charm and delicatezza in the lead - qualities also missing in this staging's previous incarnations. Lisette Oropesa has had that even from her 2005 Met Council Finals win... Between this and Traviata, are we fortunate enough to see the house valuing a different sort of singer?

Domingo, Netrebko, Polenzani, Abdrazakov / Armiliato (September-October)
Lučić, Netrebko, Polenzani, Abdrazakov / Armiliato (October)
As much as Anna Netrebko overpowered the lighter roles she sang for too much of the last two decades, she still had not quite the weight for Lady Macbeth in 2014 (rapturous notices notwithstanding). Still, the rest of the cast(s) is excellent and Adrian Noble's production is one of the better ones. Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi, who seems to specialize in these really big roles, has a one-off debut on October 1.

Goerke, Buratto, Aronica, Morris / Nézet-Séguin (October)
Goerke, Buratto, Aronica, Morris / Armiliato (October)
Stemme, Gerzmava, Berti, Testé / Rizzi (April)
Zeffirelli's most over-the-top show gets some starry treatment. I've skipped this show for ages (there was similar casting in 2015-16), but I suspect Berti - who's had a good track record in forceful stuff - is more likely to deliver as Calaf than Aronica.

Madama Butterfly
He, DeShong, Pretti, Szot / Morandi (October)
He, DeShong, Carè, Szot / Morandi (November)
He, DeShong, Carè, Domingo / Morandi (November)
Martínez, Zifchak, Carè, Brück / Morandi
The two debuting Italian tenors are the most notable part of this revival.

Orfeo ed Euridice
Barton, Hong, Park / Wigglesworth (October-November)
The final day of this revival will be within a week of the 35th anniversary of Hei-Kyung Hong's Met debut. I'm not sure Jamie Barton is ready to carry the lead, but I've wanted to see Hyesang Park graduate from bit parts since she and Kang Wang starred in a most memorable Juilliard/Lindemann Sonnambula a few years back.

La Boheme
Pérez, Kulchynska, Polenzani, Bizic, Zhilikhovsky, Park / Armiliato (October-November)
Agresta, Phillips, Alagna, Ruciński, Madore, Van Horn / Armiliato (January)
Pérez, Rowley, Calleja, Álvarez, Pogossov, Nazmi / Villaume (April-May)
More tenor star power than usual. Ailyn Perez is not only an excellent lyric soprano in general but the only natural fit for Mimi here in a decade; Maria Agresta, though possessed of nice softer sounds, wasn't the most imaginative when I saw her in the role in 2016 (though the rest of the cast didn't help).
After Hong's Euridices (above), she has one scheduled Mimi on November 14 alongside Jacqueline Nichols as Musetta.

Akhnaten (new Phelim McDermott production)
Costanzo, Lárusdóttir, Bridges / Kamensek (November-December)
Another ENO share, this time with LA Opera, taking McDermott back to his most successful Met show (Satyagraha). Neither Phillip Glass nor countertenors are to my taste, but I'm sure there are enough partisans for a succès d'estime.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Pisaroni, Sierra, Phillips, Plachetka, Arquez / Manacorda (November-December)
Plachetka, Müller, Hartig, Kwiecien, Crebassa / Meister (February)
A bunch of debuts here are mixed with Plachetka swapping between the male lead roles. Cornelius Meister, incidentally, is proving himself a natural Mozartean in this season's Don Giovanni.

The Queen of Spades
Antonenko, Davidsen, Maximova, Diadkova, Golovatenko, Markov / Petrenko (November-December)
I'm not sure Aleksandrs Antonenko has the internal forcefulness to make the most of Tchaikovsky's dramatic masterpiece, but the debuts of young Norwegian next-big-thing soprano Lise Davidsen and Russian (by way of Liverpool and Oslo) conductor Vasily Petrenko are interesting enough.

Der Rosenkavalier
Nylund, Kožená, Schultz, Groissböck, Polenzani / Rattle (December-January)
Van Kooten, Brower, Schultz, Groissböck, Polenzani / Rattle (December 28)
The production is a misfire, the Octavian seems quite miscast, and Simon Rattle isn't the first conductor who comes to mind for Strauss, but perhaps Camilla Nylund or the less-known Americans in the one-off can carry the day.

The Magic Flute (abridged version in English)
Harvey, Portillo, Lewek, Hopkins, Rosel, Carfizzi, Robinson / Koenigs (December-January)
Fang, Portillo, Lewek, Hopkins, Rosel, Carfizzi, Howard / Koenigs (December)
Fang, Groves, Park, Liverman, Rosel, Croft, Howard / Koenigs (January)
The usual kids' show. Probably the first cast is best.

Wozzeck (new William Kentridge production)
Mattei, van den Heever, Mumford, Ventris, Siegel, Staples, Van Horn / Nézet-Séguin (December-January)
Kentridge and Luc De Wit's 2010 Nose was an electric, illuminating hit; their 2015 Lulu was a trivializing, DOA mistake. This Berg opera starts in a much less coherently-ordered world, so perhaps Kentridge's one trick will suit.
And oh yes: I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it work, but Peter Mattei - the Don Giovanni of our lifetimes - is about the most bizarre choice imaginable for Wozzeck.

NYE Netrebko Gala
Netrebko, Polenzani, Eyvazov / Nézet-Séguin (December 31)
Three Puccini selections, all starring Anna Netrebko: Act I of Boheme, Act I of Tosca, and Act II of Turandot. This sort of show-off evening seems to me a much more suitable gala choice than the premiere of some new production that may or may not be any good.

La Traviata
Kurzak, Popov, Kelsey / Chichon (January-February)
Oropesa, Grigolo, Salsi / De Billy (February-March)
Unsurprisingly, the Michael Mayer production that debuted this season returns immediately with multiple casts.

La Damnation de Faust
Hymel, Garanča, Abdrazakov / Gardner (January-February)
Spyres, Garanča, Abdrazakov / Gardner (February)
The premiere of this show over a decade ago was the first big sign of how dramatically empty Robert Lepage's Ring would turn out. Still, Bryan Hymel and Michael Spyres in French stuff are something.

Agrippina (new David McVicar production)
DiDonato, Rae, Lindsey, Davies, Rock, Rose / Bicket (February-March)
Yes, it's a share with La Monnaie, but having the Met do a new Handel production for you is, before Joyce DiDonato premieres this show, something only Renee Fleming has managed since the '80s.

Così fan tutte
Car, Malfi, Bliss, Pisaroni, Stober, Finley / Bicket (February-March)
Serena Malfi and Ben Bliss return from last year's debut cast. Harry Bicket is more reliably good conducting Handel, but Robertson didn't set the highest bar last time.

Der Fliegende Holländer (new François Girard production)
Terfel, Kampe, Skorokhodov, Portillo, Selig / Gergiev (March)
Disappointing followups to impressive debut productions aren't rare, and Dutchman is a more direct piece than Parsifal, but this seems the most promising new production as such. I'd be surprised if the musical side - with gone-for-a-while Bryn Terfel and Valery Gergiev alongside debuting veteran soprano Anja Kampe - matches the explosive triumph Michael Volle, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Amber Wagner put together in the old production two years back, but it's possible.

La Cenerentola
Erraught, Camarena, Luciano, Muraro, Van Horn / Gaffigan (March-April)
Mezzo Tara Erraught sang well but was unbearably sitcommy as Nicklausse in her 2017 Met debut; perhaps she'll be a better fit for this more comedic part. Camarena is always a pleasure in this rep.

Beczala, DiDonato, Garifullina, Dupuis / Nézet-Séguin (March)
The premiere of this production was a big triumph for tenor Jonas Kaufmann that made a very small case for the opera itself. I suspect Joyce DiDonato's Charlotte will make for a less lopsided presentation (no matter how well Piotr Beczala sings), and Nézet-Séguin in French rep has been terrific. Aida Garifullina, incidentally, was a delight as Zerlina in this winter's Don Giovanni and I expect as much of her Sophie here.

Netrebko, Mavlyanov, Gagnidze / de Billy (March-April)
Netrebko, Jagde, Volle / de Billy (April)
Rowley, Jagde, Gagnidze / de Billy (April)
American tenor Brian Jagde debuted five years ago in a memorable Arabella revival, but this is his first lead role here. The other players should be pretty familiar from this season and last.

Simon Boccanegra
Álvarez, Pérez, Calleja, Azizov, Belosselskiy / Rizzi (April)
On the one hand, there are question marks. It will have been almost a dozen years between Met performances for Carlos Alvarez when this revival begins, though he's certainly been busy elsewhere; Ailyn Perez has never sung a Verdi part here (though again she's done much elsewhere); Dmitry Belosselskiy is good enough but not the grand old man we're used to as Fiesco; Carlo Rizzi has had his moments in Puccini but not so much in Verdi. On the other hand, Joseph Calleja in Verdi is always a treat and the opera itself, like Clemenza, always seems to turn out for the best at the Met.

Maria Stuarda
Damrau, Barton, Costello, Filończyk, Pertusi / Benini (April-May)
Unexpected match of piece and performers - and I'm not sure the vocal contrast between Mary and Elizabeth isn't too great - but I think the title part plays to Diana Damrau's musical strengths.

Manon Lescaut
Yoncheva, Álvarez, Azizov, Sherratt / Farnes (April-May)
One can't do much about Eyre's gross misreading of the structure of Puccini's creation, but perhaps, four years on, one of the house's assistant directors can add the personenregie (both in interaction and development) lacking in the initial run.

Káťa Kabanová
Phillips, Mack, Zajick, Černoch, Margita, Appleby, Tomlinson / Koenigs (May)
I'm not sure what's odder: that this opera is being revived at all or that Susanna Phillips, who's stuck pretty closely to the core German-Italian rep, is starring in it. But good on both parts! Kat'a was probably the least congenial Janacek lead for Karita Mattila, the driver for his works' airing at the Met of late, so seeing a very different sort of soprano take the part is welcome.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Term four

Attempts to deflect from an obvious truth by bringing in a familiar red herring narrative have, for generations, been the New York Times's stock-in-trade, but today's Wall Street Journal piece on the new Met Traviata is a pretty thorough attempt itself. For tonight's event is not at all about the Met's need for youth, outreach, new opera, and other beloved shibboleths of the credentialed set: it's a tallying of the bets and life of the Gelb administration after a dozen years.

For Gelb took wholly over from Joe Volpe in 2006, which makes this his thirteenth season as General Manager. (Volpe, by comparison, was the boss for sixteen.) Though the long lead time in opera casting makes the analogy even more tenuous, it's still useful to compare these years to the terms of a Presidency. In the first four years, there are likely to be big immediate gains from taking opportunities not congenital to or just not perceived by one's predecessor, and the relief and glamour of novelty cover many potential criticisms. In the next four, one runs up against the limits of one's characteristic method, and troubles and criticisms pile up until enough people are sick enough of the same old thing to choose a near-opposite as one's successor.

Gelb's initial years - in their broad strokes likely planned before he officially took over - brought plenty of success. From a new union agreement and the launch of the moviecasts to the indelible glory of 2008-09, there was much to praise, and if Sonnambula and Tosca were infamous flops, the Butterfly, Lucia, Trovatore, Hoffmann, Carmen, and Nose productions (also Armida, which unfortunately hasn't had the right stars for revival) were and are significant successes. The next seasons - with Volpe's hand felt much less in shown productions and not at all in casting - brought some new plusses, but the main project (Robert Lepage's Ring) was thoroughly mediocre and (Maria Stuarda, which opened the night before) only 2013 - with Parsifal, Rigoletto and Falstaff - had memorable triumphs. Worse, Gelb's preferred decor (stark, low on representational detail), staging tics (the Obligatory Gelb-Era Humping Scene has been a thing since 2010), and singer type (chilly, un-charming European ladies) became, with previous-regime stars and productions ever more scarce contrast, all too unavoidably obvious and tiresome. And since then, with Levine's health and then scandal foreclosing much artistic direction from that side of the company, the company has seemed adrift, successes and awful failures coming almost at random from the previously successful (sometimes in the same show) while Gelb shows little sign of either leaving or finding a second string to his bow.

*     *     *

If the house doesn't yet have a particular new direction, it's nevertheless shown recent willingness to least correct previous errors. Last season the much-reviled Bondy Tosca was replaced by another David McVicar production (pretty good, after his one failure in Norma), and tonight we at last get a Traviata to take the place of Willy Decker's aggressively reductive account. The latter combined awfully with the administration's preferred sort of leading lady to effectively axe, for the eight years it ran since its end-of-2010 debut here, probably the most important piece in the operatic repertory. La Traviata is not only a touchstone and cornerstone of the genre but an unrivaled vehicle for introducing newcomers to the love of opera. It would be a big step if Michael Mayer's (apparently) elaborately representational version brought that back.

(Personally, however, despite the presence of Gelb-era discoveries on which the house has wisely bet - Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Quinn Kelsey - the house's insistence on trying to jam square peg Diana Damrau into the round hole of serious dramatic leading lady is something with which I've lost patience after these many years. The dramatically electric Anita Hartig in the spring, on the other hand...)

Friday, February 16, 2018

The face

This year's Met season announcement wasn't even headlined by the season, but by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, currently mid-run of Parsifal. As one might expect after the Levine scandal, the company got the French-Canadian conductor's schedule cleared so he could go from Music Director Designate to Music Director this fall instead of 2020. So a new era begins... even if most of the particulars are old. (As usual, some one-off cast combos are omitted.)

Samson et Delila (new Darko Tresnjak production)
Alagna, Garanča, Naouri, Azizov, Belosselskiy / Elder (opening night to October)
Antonenko, Rachvelishvili, Naouri, Konieczny, Groissböck / Elder (March)
A new guy-from-Broadway's production, presumably visually striking in the current fashion and color palette, replaces the visually striking one in the '90s fashion from Elijah Moshinsky. There isn't a whole lot to this piece beyond vocal-dramatic display, which makes the spring cast rather more interesting.

La Boheme
Car, Blue, Grigolo, Dupuis, Luciano, Rose / Gaffigan (September-October)
Pérez, Blue, Fabiano, Piazzola, Rock / Gaffigan (November-December)
New Yorker (via Europe) James Gaffigan debuts in this eternal Zeffirelli show alongside Aussie soprano Nicole Car and Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis. Ailyn Perez - outstanding this fall in Thais - and Michael Fabiano lead the excellent alternative cast.

Netrebko, Rachvelishvili, Antonenko, Kelsey, Belosselskiy, Green / Luisotti (September-October)
Wilson, Rachvelishvili, Antonenko, Kelsey, Belosselskiy, Green / Luisotti (October)
Radvanovsky, Zajick, Lee, Frontali, Kowaljow, Howard / Luisotti (January)
Radvanovsky, Petrova, Antonenko, Kelsey, Kocán, Howard / Domingo (February-March)
More star power in this warhorse than usual, and though the ideal lineup of Radvanovsky, Rachvelishvili, Lee, Kelsey, and Luisotti never appears together, both the first and third iterations should bring enough excitement to be worthwhile (Netrebko did pretty well in Trovatore). It's sad to have one of the best conductors of this rep replaced at the end by the worst, however.

La Fanciulla del West
Westbroek, Eyvazov, Lučić / Armiliato (October)
Westbroek, Kaufmann, Lučić / Armiliato (October)
Nicola Luisotti's transcendent conducting saved an iffy cast the last time this Puccini work was revived. This time the star power is more heavily weighted to the singers... at least if Jonas Kaufmann actually shows up.

Marnie (new piece by Nico Mulhy, production by Michael Mayer)
Leonard, Kelly, Graves, Davies, Maltman / Spano (October-November)
Muhly addressed the biggest flaw of his previous work by getting a new librettist - dramatist Nicholas Wright, no stranger to opera - and using a novel/film adaptation as material; whether this will result in actually dramatic music is unclear (I haven't seen the ENO performances). Incidentally, a suite from this piece will be part of the Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night for 2018 - conducted of course by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Radvanovsky, Calleja, Koch / Rizzi (October-November)
Rowley, Calleja, Koch / Rizzi (March-April)
As much as I loved seeing Radvanovsky and Calleja in last fall's Norma, do we have to keep getting Carlo Rizzi in the pit when they sing? Jennifer Rowley is an interesting alternative in her own right - though I missed her Toscas, she really impressed by the end of the Trovatore run this month - and heldenbaritone Wolfgang Koch is likely being eased in before doing big Wagner here.

Margaine, Yu, Lee, Ketelsen / Wellber (October-November)
Margaine, Kurzak, Alagna, Vinogradov / Langree (January-February)
Yonghoon Lee and Roberto Alagna reprise their intense Don Joses opposite Clementine Margaine, whom I missed last spring. Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber debuts in the first run, while the second has Aleksandra Kurzak as Micaela, apparently marking her full departure from the light high stuff in which she made her name (she's doing Desdemona and Liu in Vienna in the next months).

Van Horn, Meade, Check, Fabiano / TBA (November-December)
This production - which I saw at its last Met appearance but frankly can't remember - was the one that toured the country three decades ago as Sam Ramey's personal showcase. Christian Van Horn doesn't exactly have Ramey's name recognition at the time, but the cast seems strong enough even without a set conductor. One interesting thing is that usually the same soprano (Veronica Villaroel, whom I do remember, last time) sings both Marguerite and Helen of Troy, but here Jennifer Check is listed separately in the latter part. Boito's opera, besides having great high-octane set pieces for the leads and chorus, is probably the most faithful to Goethe's original and definitely worth seeing.

Les Pêcheurs de Perles
Yende, Camarena, Kwiecien, Teste / Villaume (November-December)
Good cast for a good show. The final night (December 8) features Amanda Woodbury, who was the best part of the premiere run.

Il Trittico
Wagner, Blythe, Álvarez, Gagnidze, Opolais, Mkhitaryan, Ayan, Domingo, Muraro / de Billy (November-December)
The outer two casts look promising. Who knows whether Kristine Opolais, scheduled to premiere the new Tosca but replaced by Sonya Yoncheva, will actually sing in the middle piece, though. The production has seen some success but depends quite a lot on the electricity of the performers.

La Traviata (new Michael Mayer production)
Damrau, Florez, Kelsey / Nézet-Séguin (December)
Hartig, Costello, Rucinski / Luisotti (April)
Hartig, Costello, Domingo / Luisotti (April)
Finally! Never mind that Damrau has never much connected in the Italian rep, or that Quinn Kelsey's huge (and hugely impressive) instrument will be mismatched with the lead couple's, or any of that. After almost a decade of having its worst production monopolizing this most central part of the house's repertory, the Met finally brings relief with this new staging. Nézet-Séguin had musical success even in the previous production, so the fall shows should be an event, but the overall cast of the spring shows - with Puccini master Nicola Luisotti conducting his second Verdi of this season - looks likely to be more satisfying.

Skelton, Yoncheva, Lučić, Dolgov / Dudamel (December-January)
Two of the three premiere leads return with Stuart Skelton (last seen here in Tristan), the clarity of whose sound should work well as the Moor. Is there still hype for Gustavo Dudamel? I suppose so.

The Magic Flute (children's version in English)
Morley, Lewek, Bliss, Ryan, Gunn, Walker, Robinson / Bicket (December-January)
As usual, a very good mostly-American cast for these kids' shows. Most interesting to me: 2013 Met Council winner and standout Sydney Mancasola appears (I think for the first time) in the alternate cast of January 3.

Adriana Lecouvreur (new David McVicar production)
Netrebko, Beczala, Rachvelishvili, Maestri / Noseda (NYE-January)
Rowley, Beczala, Rachvelishvili, Maestri / Noseda (January)
A concert performance of this rarity in 2011 with Angela Gheorghiu was one of the most surprisingly revelatory shows of the past decade, perfectly melding part and performer in a way one always hopes for but all-too-rarely sees. I doubt whether the Anna Netrebko of 2019 can personify the intertwined humility and grandeur that makes the title part, but at least the rest of the cast should be a pleasure. (Rachvelishvili and Maestri repeat the parts they sang that night.) Perhaps Jennifer Rowley is an answer? In her case I'm unsure of the grandeur, with Netrebko the humility.

Pelléas et Mélisande
Appleby, Leonard, Ketelsen, Lemieux, Furlanetto / Nézet-Séguin (January)
A good cast and Nezet-Seguin's second appearance of the season for Debussy's masterwork should make for a great run... if revival director Paula Williams doesn't recreate the reductive stage dynamic of the 2010 revival. (To be fair, it might have been determined by the singers of that run, none of whom return this time.)

Iolanta / Bluebeard's Castle
Yoncheva, Polenzani, Markov, Azizov, Kowaljow; Denoke, Finley / Nánási (January-February)
Running almost together with Pelleas is what should be the other turn-of-the-century monument to unspannable human distance - Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok. Unfortunately Mariusz Treliński's schlocky production gets the piece entirely backwards, with Bluebeard as some horror-movie villain instead of the victim of Judith's relationship-destroying jealousy. (Yes, she's Golaud.) At least it's a shorter failure than his Tristan... The Iolanta half isn't bad, though, and the cast is excellent and led by new Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási.

Don Giovanni
Pisaroni, Abdrazakov, Willis-Sørensen, Byström, Garifullina, de Barbeyrac, Cedel, Kocán / Meister (January-February)
Mattei, Plachetka, Yu, Phillips, Malfi, Breslik, Sim, Belosselskiy / Meister (April)
Mattei, Plachetka, Yu, Phillips, Malfi, Appleby, Sim, Belosselskiy / Meister (April)
As I sadly left my review post at the time incomplete in draft, let me start with this: Swedish soprano Malin Byström, who sang the part here in fall 2016, is the best, most perfect Donna Elvira I have ever heard, live or on record. Even with the Don Giovanni headlining the April run, the winter performances - which also are the debuts of German conductor Cornelius Meister, Russian soprano Aida Garifullina, and French tenor Stanislaus de Barbeyrac, along with the first significant part for 2013 Met Council winner Brandon Cedel - may therefore be preferable.

La Fille du Régiment
Yende, Blythe, Camarena, Corbelli / Mazzola (February)
Yende, Blythe, Camarena, Muraro / Mazzola (February-March)
Good cast, silly production. Fun?

Frontali, Sierra, Grigolo, Zaharia, Kocán / Luisotti (February-March)
Frontali, Sierra, Hymel, Zaharia, Kocán / Luisotti (March)
Gagnidze, Feola, Hymel, Zaharia, Ivashchenko / Luisotti (April-May)
I'm not sure there's an ideal lineup here, with Frontali maybe getting old for the part, Sierra not the best at playing innocent, and Hymel not really an Italianate lyric tenor. But with Nicola Luisotti in the pit for his third Verdi opera of the season, you should probably catch at least one of these... perhaps the spring performances with debuting Italian soprano Rosa Feola.

Maestri, Schultz, Pérez, Cano, Lemieux, Demuro, Rodríguez / Farnes
Everyone has turned over since the premiere of Carsen's glorious production except Ambrogio Maestri and Jennifer Johnson Cano... but I don't doubt that it will triumph nonetheless. (How Carsen went from this to his misguided Rosenkavalier, who knows...)

Das Rheingold
Grimsley, Harmer, Barton, Cargill, Ernst, Siegel, Konieczny, Groissböck, Belosselskiy / Jordan (March)
Volle, Harmer, Barton, Cargill, Ernst, Siegel, Konieczny, Groissböck, Belosselskiy / Jordan (cycles II and III)
Last time Philippe Jordan was here, he was a thirty-something young "son of" conducting a disappointly disjointed revival of Figaro. Now, over a decade later, he's the recently-appointed music director of the Vienna State Opera and taking over Ring duties. I have no idea how it's going to go, but the singing part seems in good hands. Much will depend - for the entire cycle - on revival stage director J. Knighten Smit, whose job is to fill in the huge holes left by Robert Lepage's utter lack of interest in personenregie.
(Incidentally, Tomasz Konieczny - the Alberich for this revival, with Eric Owens having moved on to Hagen - was the emergency replacement John the Baptist for that unforgettable 2014 Vienna Phil Salome at Carnegie.)

Die Walküre
Goerke, Westbroek, Skelton, Barton, Grimsley, Groissböck / Jordan (March-April)
Goerke, Westbroek, Skelton, Barton, Volle, Groissböck / Jordan (cycles II and III)
With Katerina Dalayman's successes from 2009 to 2013 the house has not lacked good Brünnhilde performances, but Christine Goerke's monstrously easy-sounding performance in Elektra (finally reaching the Met in a few weeks) and her notices with the Ring in Houston tease perhaps one of those epochal assumptions. Especially with Volle in the single-week cycles rest of the cast looks loaded at every part... so perhaps the uncertainty of conducting and directing (J. Knighten Smit is joined by Gina Lapinski for this installment) won't matter.

La Clemenza di Tito
Polenzani, Fang, van den Heever, DiDonato, Murrihy, Van Horn / Koenigs (March-April)
Every few years the house revives the Ponelle Clemenza. Every time it's an emotional-musical triumph, one of the glories of the season. And every time it's hideously undersold and barely noticed in the press. Perhaps DiDonato's name recognition can change the latter, as this looks something like an ideal cast (though 2008's performance - perhaps Susan Graham's finest moment here - could hardly be bettered).

Vinke, Goerke, Morley, Cargill, Siegel, Volle, Konieczny, Belosselskiy / Jordan (cycles I and III)
Schager, Goerke, Morley, Cargill, Siegel, Volle, Konieczny, Belosselskiy / Jordan (cycle II)
I've already mentioned the conductor, revival director (Stephen Pickover joins Smit here), the Brünnhilde, and Volle's Wotan/Wanderer, but Siegfried rises and falls on the tenor. Here two performances are by Stefan Vinke - apparently the Siegfried of choice at the big European houses - and one by Andreas Schager, who impressed immensely as Apollo in Strauss's Daphne in concert a few years back. Again, cause for much hope.

Goerke, Schager, Haller, Connolly, Nikitin, Konieczny, Owens / Jordan (cycles I and II)
Goerke, Vinke, Haller, Connolly, Nikitin, Konieczny, Owens / Jordan (cycle III)
Eric Owens moves, as mentioned before, from Alberich to Hagen, while the very promising Brünnhilde and Siegfrieds repeat from the third installment. J. Knighten Smit, revival director for all four installments, is here joined by Paula Williams for the most herculean of fix-up jobs. Here they have to struggle not only with Lapage's absurdly literal stage translation (which got weaker and weaker as the series progressed) but Wagner's least-polished, all-too-Meyerbeer libretto. But the principals - including debuting Italian Wagner soprano Edith Haller - seem strong, though Sarah Connolly is an odd choice for Waltraute.

Dialogues des Carmélites
Leonard, Pieczonka, Morley, Cargill, Mattila, Portillo, Croft / Nézet-Séguin (May)
I think I just have to list the cast for the third of Nézet-Séguin's shows this season. Karita Mattila returns!

Monday, December 04, 2017

So I heard

The world is coming to an end and we have to go full prog before it's too late, or something.

Or... maybe not.

Meanwhile, I don't suppose Puccini master Nicola Luisotti could be brought in early (he's supposed to conduct Cav/Pag starting the week after) to take over Tosca?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Fill in the blanks

The Exterminating Angel - Metropolitan Opera, 11/14/2017
Kaiser, Echalaz, Luna, Coote, Matthews, Davies, Rice, Gilfry, Bevan, Portillo, Antoun, Moore, Burdette, Tomlinson, Van Horn / Adès

Previous reviews:
Powder Her Face (Ades's 1995 debut opera)
The Tempest (his 2004 second opera)

The wholly unexpected thing about this US premiere is not its success - Ades's previous show here was at least a succès d'estime - but that so much of this came from reducing his music's aesthetic scope and ambition. Philip Henscher asked (in Power Her Face) for a brash score highlighting the retro-modernist tropes of compulsion, lust, and moral emptiness, and Ades delivered terrifically... if nevertheless emptily. Meredith Oakes a decade later gave Ades a much grander thing - her cleverly condensed version of Shakespeare's humane masterpiece (The Tempest) - but the new demands were not much suited to the composer, whose engagement was less with the people and more with the inhuman island itself.

A dozen years later Ades (who apparently picked the adaptation himself) and director/co-librettist Tom Cairns seem to have hit on the right vessel for Ades's aesthetic sensibility. This adaptation of Buñuel’s El Ángel Exterminador isn't as obviously low-nutrient as Powder Her Face, but it doesn't try for much more, either. Deeper human themes of desire, love, family, and death are quickly and suggestively touched on but just as quickly dropped; the action runs through the bare minimum of a story - people are trapped, then they are free - without offering cause, motivation, or even consequence; and all we get for overall significance is an undefined, vaguely menacing unease, again minimally anchored in the sound of the ondes Martenot and the big wood-grained central archway.

There's something in the zeitgeist, I think, that makes audiences accept and even prefer fragmentary suggestions of meaning to the thing itself. (Jonas Kaufmann's characteristic style - or rather the unhesitating acceptance thereof - is a notable performance-side example of this idiosyncrasy.) Perhaps it's resentment of a full-drawn story's (or phrase's) perfection - or of its imperfections - or just of its demand that you pay full attention to one specific course and meaning. Or perhaps a great many don't care about how it adds up as long as some authority assures them that it's a substantial sum. Whatever the cause, this current taste lets Ades check the boxes that were missing from his first effort without more-than-nominally pushing into unsuitable territory, while simultaneously letting the audience get the rush of appreciating contemporary art without having to engage with anything definite.

What does that leave, then? Mostly the same fluent, luxuriant Bergian textures of his prior stuff... but even this has been pared back from the prior show. Apart from some brief, largely choral/orchestral passages, what we mostly get is modernist recitative, recalling both the sound and overall brittle dialogue of Lulu's social scenes. It's a nice listen, pleasing to the ear while not unduly stressing it. But Berg's posthumous masterpiece is not just its clever recits, and certainly not just its social satire: its unpunished crimes, sensual wallowing, and talky-talk are just the forward action in what turns out to be an enormous, tragic tapestry of choice and consequence. No tragic climax appears either in music or action here, nor much self-understanding either.

Good, but not much. Is an opera by the more dramatically intent George Benjamin (whose Written on Skin is being performed in Philly this February before his new Lessons in Love and Violence debuts at the Royal Opera in May) going to appear soon at the Met?

*     *     *

The mixed Anglo-American cast all did their parts well, and much of the pleasure of this run was to their credit - though it's also to Ades's credit that he gave them music and musical context to show their gifts so well. I was particularly heartened to hear Tomlinson sounding not-at-all-finished at the age of 71.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hoffmann's return

Les Contes D'Hoffmann - Metropolitan Opera, 10/4/2017
Grigolo, Erraught, Morley, Hartig, Volkova, Naouri, Mortagne / Debus
Les Contes D'Hoffmann - Metropolitan Opera, 10/18/2017
Kang, Chavet, Morley, Hartig, Volkova, Naouri, Mortagne / Debus

If the new Norma was less than the sum of its parts, this season's revival of Hoffmann is the opposite: a satisfying whole despite two (complementarily) imperfect casts. Satisfying to me, anyway. As I noted an eternity ago, others' attentions are drawn more to other things.

The show would take a lot to fail given its foundation: production and conductor. The Bart Sher staging from 2009 has, as I more or less predicted, become a familiar classic, illuminating the lurid and wonderful turns of the story even when - as here - the interactions have become less crisp and one of the principals frankly can't act. (More on that below.) Similarly, though I missed his debut run in Salome last season, Johannes Debus seems to be a bit of a find. His macro tempo and dynamics choices are pretty standard, but the care and space given to each phrase add up to quite a lot over the course of each evening.

*     *     *

The vocal star was the same for each lineup: Anita Hartig. The Romanian soprano was a disappointingly ordinary Susanna (though Fabio Luisi's detailed but emotionally weightless conducting didn't help) in a Figaro revival two seasons ago, but perhaps the vocal-emotional scale of the part was insufficient. Her Antonia - like her quick-vibrato sound, which seems a bit too pressured in the placid opening aria but expands gloriously as the act goes forward - becomes ever more electric as stakes and stresses increase. Limited by neither politesse nor scale of sound, Hartig renders Antonia's end more as tragic fulfillment than simple victimization. If there's a fault, it's that Hartig is so desperately sincere as Antonia that her Stella, at the end, seems wholly disconnected from these memories.

Also impressive were Erin Morley - whose characteristically deliberate manner works pretty well for Olympia - and Laurent Naouri - not as vocally weighty as some of his predecessors as the villains but with a compelling style in his person and phrasing. Oksana Volkova sang Hoffmann's last love interest Giulietta well enough without making any particular impression... which is also how I'd describe Christophe Mortagne's account of the four servants.

Those were the constants; Hoffmann and Nicklausse swapped for the alternate cast. Unfortunately, the better Hoffmann and better Nicklausse didn't sing together. Vittorio Grigolo - as in 2015 - is a significant plus, though not as much of one as his fame might suggest. There's an exciting quality to his midrange, and his relentless ardor brings something his successor here quite lacked. But while his phrasing is no longer just fragmentary chaos, the longer, legato-based lines aren't yet a whole; nor do more personalized sentiments than general happiness, unhappiness, or rage come through in his acting. So Hoffmann's outburst at the end of the prologue was terrific, but the rapt expressions of the poet in love aren't so rapt... and by the time Hoffmann's ardor has worn out and he's overcome by regret and despair there's almost nothing going on in Grigolo's portrayal.

Fortunately, at this point, the production and Debus have matters pretty well in hand. Unfortunately, it's where the flaws of the main-cast Nicklausse are also pushed to the fore. Irish newcomer Tara Erraught sings well enough and has the scale of voice to sound effectively at the Met (though it's by no means thunderous or overwhelming). But she's also the big weak link in this otherwise excellent revival. Her stage presence fluctuates between null - there's no boyishness, and she simply skips much of the stage business with the villains that makes the Muse an interestingly ambiguous (though not actually malicious) figure in this production - and clumsy sitcom actress. Even if Kate Lindsey's near-definitive physical account (she created the part and was Grigolo's Nicklausse in 2015) can't be expected of everyone, the mezzo has to show some thread of Nicklausse's journey as the over-watching Muse... or at least not work against its expression. Karine Deshayes, one of the other 2015 Nicklausse singers, offered a much better trade of voice for character, providing both a more luxuriant sound than Erraught and fewer off-putting tics.

The alternate Nicklausse this time, Geraldine Chavet, gave a performance very much in the Lindsey vein. In fact the stage business and manner was pretty much an exact reproduction of the 2009 premiere, suggesting that Erraught's elisions weren't the revival director's fault. Chavet also, unfortunately, had Lindsey's vocal-scale limitations - the sound is this close to too small for an effective lead singer here - and though she did pretty well with it most of the evening, Chavet really seemed to misjudge the necessary volume/force for her solo at the start of the Venice act and left that pretty much inaudible. Still, her Nicklausse over the course of the evening allowed the story to unfold much more interestingly than Erraught's did.

Yosep Kang, who made his house debut on the 18th, was unfortunately not so good as the alternate Hoffmann. He did sing the notes, but his fragmented, legato-deficient phrasing was actually worse than Grigolo's at the time of his inauspicious debut (he's improved a lot since) and suggested nothing so much as Jonas Kaufmann minus the latter's grand scale, unmistakeable dark timbre, and compelling energy. It was actually the latter that hurt this revival the most: without the ardent energy Grigolo and other Hoffmanns brought to the part the tension deflates except during the heroines' actual scenes. Kang did improve for the last part of the show, but even with Grigolo's imperfection there the balance was still much in the Italian's favor.

I'm sure there are parts that will better suit Erraught, but this version of her gives little to anticipate in possible future bookings here. Hartig, on the other hand, is sufficiently interesting that I'll probably go to one of her Bohemes next month.

Monday, October 09, 2017

What we do in the shadows

Norma - Metropolitan Opera, 9/25 and 10/3/2017
Radvanovsky, DiDonato, Calleja, Rose, Bradley, Diegel / Rizzi

Perhaps it looked good via cinema, but David McVicar's new production of Norma was, in the house, a prime example of less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, an overall framework that turned what could have been a landmark event into a somewhat deflating disappointment.  It's not all bad.  The production itself has numerous excellent touches, not least the moonlit rite that introduces Norma and "Casta Diva".  But the relentlessly narrow range of visual contrast and definition - moonlight to firelight, with the leads all dressed in dark shapeless outfits after that first ritual - obscures to the minds as much as to the eyes of the audience the individual subjectivity that should, as the defining feature of romantic opera - burn in glorious intensity throughout.

It seemed, oddly, designed for routine revival - to obscure the physically inert, perhaps unshapely singers likely to fill this show in the future (indeed, as soon as December).  But to hide Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato - whose arresting stage presences have been as notable as their virtuosity - in an endless gloom without even spotlights deflates the show in person as surely as bad sound compression seems to have deflated the moviecast.  (Anyone brought to the house by the striking photos of the leads in the posters plastered around the city is likely to have been disappointed.)

I'm honestly not sure whether the singing got better from opening night to last Tuesday or whether I tried more just to listen rather than take in the compromised dramatic whole.  More on that after Wednesday.  Going forward, I suppose that as Paule Constable is also lighting the new Cosi, we should be worried about that... though in this case it's surely McVicar's over-fondness for a "realistic" production texture (which previously weighed down his Anna Bolena that's most responsible.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Who would have thought four years ago, as the house opened to the general director's famous favorites making dull nonsense of a Pushkin-Tchaikovsky masterpiece that the unbroadcast, unhyped revival later that first week would be
such a triumph as to demand a return in better clothes and with better secondary cast? (Unfortunately the conductor is no longer Riccardo Frizza but the workmanlike Carlo Rizzi.)

Yet here we are. About a decade after the rumor that Gelb was/wanted to drop non-Fleming Americans circulated (and though they weren't dropped, neither has his interest in importing chilly Europeans), Sondra Radvanovsky - an American whose name recognition has lagged her vocal-artistic significance - is headlining opening night at the Met.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Was war einmal

Der Rosenkavalier - Metropolitan Opera, 4/13/2017
Garanča, Fleming, Groissböck, Morley, Polenzani, Brück / Weigle

Robert Carsen and his production colleagues for this new staging of Rosenkavalier were, on this first night, greeted with a mix of boos (which, unlike some previous directors, he took with grace) and bravos. Both partisans were more or less in the right - more's the pity, as Carsen's prior Met efforts (Onegin and Falstaff) were unqualified triumphs.

*     *     *

The musical side was, if not quite a triumph, certainly a success. Renee Fleming basically reprises her 2009 interpretation, which eased my worry that the most publicized Marschallin of her day would never actually give an outstanding performance. Nor, as one might have feared after Merry Widow, has her voice noticeably diminished in this role: though, as with many lyric sopranos in Strauss, the lower end of her part sometimes has difficulty being heard, Fleming still has the breath and lyric beauty for the Marschallin's role, which her sound was probably too fat for at the beginning of the century in any case.

The rest of the cast seems well-chosen to complement its central figure - Elīna Garanča (Octavian), Günther Groissböck (Ochs), and Erin Morley (Sophie) all succeed from panache, characterization, and well-shaped singing rather than any overwhelming depth or beauty of sound. And all do succeed, though only Groissböck's vigor of person (weakish low notes notwithstanding) really stands out among recently-seen alternatives. Best for pure ardent vocalism was Matthew Polenzani as the Italian Singer.

Sebastian Weigle, who just came off a successful run in the Met's Fidelio revival, does well with the bigger shapes and transitions of the work (and doesn't make any huge misjudgements like de Waart's super-slow final trio in 2009), but the actual sound he gets from the orchestra is a bit coarse, less satisfying than what we heard in Fidelio.

*     *     *

Carsen's production is built around a visual symmetry similar to that in his Falstaff, where the images from the first scenes reappear, transformed, in reverse order around the central scene. The elaborate scene-by-scene mirroring in that show brought to mind the palindromic construction of Berg's Lulu. This show's symmetry is less complex - with one set per act, the last simply echoes the first - but it suggests Berg's 1930s masterpiece even more strongly, both in its progression from high to low and its concomitant introduction of modernist tropes. And therein lies the problem.

Notwithstanding the transposition to 1911 (the year of composition), the first act in this show is quite faithful to Strauss and Hofmannsthal's creation. Of the two major purposes of moving the staging forward in time - recounting the original story in a context more familiar to the audience and adding/substituting new story elements - the change here serves the former, providing mostly just different clothes and hairstyles for those onstage. The furniture and decor look back to the past, the personenregie would suit pretty much any production ever, and the only distinctive bit of staging is a lowering of lights into a spotlight on the Italian Singer - with the servants and visitors listening, rapt (recalling the Ivor Novello piano scene from Gosford Park) - as he sings his first verse. A nice touch, though the asymmetry it creates with the more plainly staged second verse is a bit jarring.

The second act introduces the first significant changes. Faninal's home, modeled (per the program interview) on the relatively stark early modernism of the Looshaus, is a huge shift not only for its hard, unornamented black-and-white surfaces but for the big artillery piece that begins in and later (on Ochs's servants' disruption) returns to the stage's center. Faninal delivers his initial words to Sophie while leading a shooting-party of his rich friends across the stage, while he later passes out rifles to Ochs's retinue.

The germ of this stuff is in the text: Ochs mentions in the first act that Faninal made his fortune in the arms business. But Hofmannsthal's story is about the social subordination of real wealth and real power, not its ascendance, and this architectural flaunting of a new aesthetic (vs just new money) does not fit. Again, however, the personal direction of the main characters is as appropriate as ever, with Erin Morley's wholly sincere Sophie as sympathetic as in 2013. So - boos for its initial stage-picture notwithstanding - the real jarring change is the invocation of actual war in the act's second half. The doctor tending Ochs's small wound isn't comic but in full white surgical garb (with mask) and accompanied by similarly-clad assistants and a gurney, while the Ochs entourage mimics, during their threats to the offstage Octavian, crawling through a trench.

After these visuals, the particular degraded mirroring of the first-act set we get in the final act isn't a huge surprise. The imperial/aristocratic portraits that decorated the Marschallin's boudoir have become painted nudes in a cross-dressing proprietor's brothel - which transform, in the scare-the-Baron segments, into glass windows showcasing strippers. We are clearly past the bounds of not only 1740's Vienna but also 1911's.

Now it's true that the unfamiliar trappings of 1740s-ish productions rarely convey the sense of seediness that drives Faninal's outraged reaction and make an even more dramatic contrast for the Marschallin's surprise entry, and so again one might consider this an exaggerated rendition of a point actually in the text. Not so much the other changes in the last act. First, instead of Octavian (as "Mariandel") dodging Ochs's advances, here Mariandel is the aggressor, pawing and dry-humping (and trying to fellate) Ochs as he squirms uncomfortably. Though clever and seemingly in tune with the zeitgeist, having Octavian even the score with Ochs in this way - by making him the object of another's unwelcome desire rather than by leading on his own - breaks not only the characters' arcs and the "Viennese masquerade" flavor of the segment but the crucial symmetry of the opera. For Octavian/Mariandel puts off Ochs with a travesty of the melancholy sentiments with which the Marschallin pushed him off, a reversal that prepares Octavian (Ochs, as the comic foil, leaves the stage just as he entered at the show's start) for his transformation and reconciliation within the climactic trio.

The one really indefensible change is left for the end. After the sex show hijinks, we again return to normalcy with a straightforward staging of the Marschallin-Ochs confrontation, his exit, and the lead-in to the trio. It's here that the high-to-low motion of the opera's action reverses course, as the Marschallin clears away plotting and counter-plotting with firmness and generosity. We hear it in the music, too, as the broad ditty of refusal with which "Mariandel" starts putting off Ochs ("Nein, nein, nein, nein, I trink' kein Wein") reappears, transformed, as the sublime opening to the musical-emotional climax of the piece ("Hab' mir 's gelobt"). But we don't see it in Carsen's staging: after the Marschallin leaves the young couple (incidentally, having her make eyes here at the Commissioner on the way out is another too-clever exaggeration of a hint in the text) to bring Sophie's father, they sing the final duet while making out on the brothel bed. When she and Faninal return, the young couple do not follow them out after the duet's second verse for the social triumph the Marschallin has planned - Faninal getting to parade an even more desirable engagement and the great lady's favor in a ride through Vienna - but continue to make out (with little apparent regard for hygiene) until the scene splits to show the oncoming Great War. We close not with betrothal and social resilience but fornication and violence - the compulsion-driven modernist world of, say, Lulu.

*     *     *

The problem here is that Der Rosenkavalier is not naively historical - the product of some undereducated, less-than-wholly-self-aware savant(s) - but is, in fact, a more profound reaction to its context than any historicizing revision could be. If anyone could sense the end of the old world coming, it was Hofmannsthal and Harry Graf Kessler (later a player in Weimar Republic politics). But what they and Strauss shaped from this was not some invocation of the stark future - even Hofmannsthal's later wartime opera embraces the world in a way quite far from modernist - but a dream of what has been, an apologia for the aristocratic era of Europe so vivid and poetically truthful as to outlive not only the war that ended that era in real life but the modernist aesthetic that the war and its successor catapulted to preeminence.

Der Rosenkavalier has survived because it distills a social and cultural order from within, on its own idealized terms. War (the Ottomans, we might remember, were at Vienna's gates just three generations before the 1740s), lust, the disreputable and desperate: these things exist in the opera's world and text but only as contrast, not as the significant matter. Also, of course, present is the all-destroying passage of time... but the opera, unlike this production, is not a slave to that. At this staging's curtain we are, I presume, supposed to react in shock and resentment at the breaking of the peace, but the Marschallin's words and the very existence of the opera teach us otherwise. Our losses to time are neither complete nor completely permanent. And how we bear our losses... Well, it should be more graceful than this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The 2017-18 Met season announcement, annotated

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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).