Most of this blog's readers probably already know whom they want to see and hear onstage, and therefore the multiple appearances of (say) Susan Graham in the 2008-2009 season will be self-recommending (or the opposite). Peter Gelb's star-driven casting policy -- by which each of his favored stars seem set for at least two lead roles -- is meant to encourage this sort of easy decision.
For those who aren't so sure, a full advance examination of each leading singer is unfortunately beyond the scope of this blog. Still, a glance at the roster should be fruitful.
Of the women featured in more than one show of the 2008-2009 season, Renee Fleming is probably most prominent. She headlines opening night -- three acts from three productions, each featuring her soprano instrument -- as well as one new production (Thaïs) and one revival (Rusalka). All the parts would seem to suit her, except for the bit of Capriccio (her temperament's as far from the Strauss heroine's poise as can be) opening night: the essentially undramatic Rusalka, in particular, is one of Fleming's better -- and, perhaps because the Song to the Moon was her worst part last time, more underappreciated -- vehicles.
Karita Mattila starts the season proper with one of her previous triumphs, Salome, before returning early next year as Tatyana in Onegin. All of her appearances this past decade have been events, but given the conducting issues of the former show (Patrick Summers is now conducting all performances, in place of scheduled debutant Mikko Franck) and the importance of Gergiev's nervous intensity in its original run, the latter revival might be the better bet this season.
Also reprising recent success is Olga Borodina in La Gioconda (as Laura), which per Maury may be changed more than a little by Ewa Podles being this time included. Borodina returns in February in Adriana Lecouvreur.
The first week of the season concludes (after Opening Night, two Salomes, and two Giocondas) with the appearance of another dual-role pillar of the current Met: mezzo Susan Graham, last seen bringing the house down as Sesto in Clemenza. This time, in Marthe Keller's disappointing production of Don Giovanni, Graham makes a house role debut in the more soprano-associated part of Donna Elvira. (Unfortunately, this superior early-season pairing of women -- Krassimira Stoyanova is Anna -- is marred by unbearable ham Erwin Schrott in the title role. More on this in Part III.) In November she returns as Marguerite in a Damnation of Faust that may be the most promising new production of the season.
The following weeks bring yet more double appearances. Diana Damrau's cool virtuosity tries to deal with the vulnerabilities of Lucia and Gilda (in Rigoletto); unsubtle soprano Maria Guleghina sings in Russian for the Queen of Spades (most notable, on the female side, for Felicity Palmer's Countess) and veristic Italian as Adriana Lecouvreur; spotlight-hogger Angela Gheorghiu brings her touring La Rondine and reprises her surprisingly affecting -- at least, it was so nine years ago -- Adina (in Elisir); and mezzo Stephanie Blythe brings a major voice to Gluck's Orfeo and Rusalka's Ježibaba. (Nicole Cabell also sings twice: see below.)
Finally, substitutions have, since the season announcement, put two more women into this category and taken one out. The erratic Andrea Gruber, scheduled to sing Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, was replaced by two already-scheduled mezzos: the great Waltraud Meier (who sang Santuzza's part in the Volpe Gala performance of the Easter Hymn), also appearing as Sieglinde in Ring Cycle 1; and Ildikó Komlósi, last seen as a too-light-voiced Preziosilla, who'll first appear as Herodias in Salome.
The absence, of course, is Anna Netrebko, who was originally supposed to sing all the season's Lucias and a full run of (Massenet's) Manon. When she became pregnant, Manon was replaced by Boheme and Netrebko was replaced by Damrau for the first Lucias and Maija Kovalevska for the first Bohemes. Now Netrebko is out of Boheme entirely, and her only Met appearances will be in a bel canto test not unlike the one she recently bombed. This is partly to be regretted: in Romantic parts her singing's really effective, and the irresistible narcissism of Manon would've been a natural fit. But Kovalevska began here as a natural Mimi, and if her recent Micaela is any sign, she may now be near-ideal. No one should avoid Boheme because Netrebko is out -- quite the opposite.
The number of new faces scheduled in major roles this season is quite small: only two women, in fact, unless one counts Victoria Vizin (unknown to me) as Maddalena. Met Council Finals winner Susanna Phillips is Musetta in a terrifically-cast Boheme, while Cardiff winner Nicole Cabell actually appears twice, first as Pamina in the kids' Magic Flute, and later as the second-cast Adina in Elisir, though only she gets to sing with Joseph Calleja in that show.
Of course one could talk about almost all the other sopranos, mezzos, and contraltos as notable. Some (Podles, Palmer) have already been mentioned. Others (e.g. Petra-Maria Schnitzer and Isabel Leonard in Don Giovanni, Sasha Cooke in Doctor Atomic, Elīna Garanča in Cenerentola) are recent debutantes making important return appearances (with Garanča's seemingly wedged into the schedule at more or less the last minute, perhaps signaling the house's favor).
But to my own personal taste, the most notable (in advance) single appearances of this coming season are, among the women, Anja Harteros as Violetta (La Traviata), Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora (Il Trovatore), and (of course) Natalie Dessay as Amina (La Sonnambula). All are, more or less, new here (Radvanovsky's previous Leonora was nearly a decade back, when she was fresh out of the Lindemann Young Artists Program). Each of the singers has shown glimpses of what we might hear, Harteros in (of all things) Figaro, Radvanovsky in recent Ernanis and a mind-boggling 2005 "D'amor sull'ali rosee", and Dessay... well, see for yourself.
One could also go on at endless length about all the singers not, for whatever reason, singing at the Met this season. But of those who've sung here recently, the most glaring absences may be lyric soprano Dorothea Röschmann and mezzo Joyce DiDonato. Röschmann, who doesn't appear in the future seasons rumors and whose only New York appearances appear to be in Carnegie Hall's May Mahler cycle, seems elsewhere to be signing the sort of heavier roles that might not work for her at the Met -- though she'd be a terrific Eva when Meistersinger next comes around. Her ever-communicated spirit and depth of feeling will be missed while she's absent.
DiDonato isn't quite so absent, set for numerous big parts in upcoming years and starring in January's Met Orchestra concert (along with other New York events). But I do wonder why that Cenerentola isn't hers.