Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I got this press release a few minutes ago:
James Levine to Undergo Surgery for Herniated Spinal Disc

Mr. Ronald Wilford, Chairman of Columbia Artists and James Levine’s manager has announced that Mr. Levine will undergo immediate surgery for a herniated spinal disc. The procedure necessitates withdrawing from his scheduled performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.

Mr. Levine has withdrawn from performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston on Tuesday, September 29 and Saturday, October 3 and from Carnegie Hall’s opening night performance on Thursday, October 1. Mr. Levine has also withdrawn from performances of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera on October 6 and 10.
Let's hope he recovers quickly from this latest back issue.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Less Gagnidze

So it seems that last night's performance of Tosca (also featuring an unscheduled Levine cancellation) had George Gagnidze singing the first act and only acting the second while Carlo Guelfi sang from the side. Very odd, and I hope this won't launch another set of revolving door casts as in the last years' Tristans.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009-2010 Met season preview

This is mostly the text of my February post after the initial season announcement, with some edits to reflect changes since then. Cast changes in those months are highlighted.

Note that not every cast combination is listed below -- just most of the recurring ones.

Tosca (new Luc Bondy production)
Mattila, Alvarez, Gagnidze / Levine (opening night through October)
Mattila, Alvarez, Gagnidze / Colaneri (October -- 3 out of 5 performances)
Mattila, Kaufmann, Terfel / Levine (April)
Dessì, Giordani, Gagnidze / Auguin (end of April-May)
New: No more complaints about Juha Uusitalo, who's been mercifully axed from this production (though not -- yet -- the spring Flying Dutchman) at the last minute. Both of Karita Mattila's casts have potential, at least with Levine in the pit; Daniela Dessi, who might be an interesting Italian contrast, is saddled with the uninspiring baton-work of Philippe Auguin.
As for opening night itself, I expect those yearning for a specific Puccini sound will complain as they did about Mattila's Manon Lescaut. But Tosca has been a star singing actress' part for a long, long time, and Bondy has inspired Mattila to some of her best work.

de Niese, Relyea, Bell, Skovhus, Leonard / Ettinger (October)
Oropesa, Pisaroni, Dasch, Tezier, Leonard / Luisi (November)
de Niese, Pisaroni, Dasch, Tezier, Leonard / Luisi (December)
John Relyea has been intolerable in the title part, and as curious as I am about unknown debutant Dan Ettinger, I'm sure Fabio Luisi will impress in the pit here. Wait until November and Lisette Oropesa's likely less-affected Susanna.
New: de Niese, who sang well but un-touchingly as Eurydice last season, sings the three December Susannas for which Oropesa had been originally scheduled. Note that Met Council winner (as seen in "The Audition") Angela Meade (of all people) has a one-off Countess in the first of these.

Magic Flute
Phillips, Klink, Miklósa, Maltman, Zeppenfeld / Labadie (September)
Kleiter, Polenzani, Shagimuratova, Gunn, König / Fischer (April)
New: Susanna Phillips (another, most memorable, Met Council winner) is in as Pamina; Genia Kühmeier is out. I'm not sure why, but I'm not complaining either.

Urmana, Zajick, Botha, Guelfi / Gatti (October)
Urmana, Zajick, Margison, Guelfi / Carignani (end of October-November)
Papian, Zajick, Licitra, Guelfi / Carnignani (April)
Not bad casting -- and some fairly promising conductors -- if you crave the Met's grand Aida. So much for the internet rumor of Salvatore Licitra being finished at the Met... Though I do think Johan Botha is the better bet here.
New: Note that the first group will be the performers in the moviecast.

Barber of Seville
DiDonato, Banks, Pogossov / Benini (October)
DiDonato, Banks, Vassallo / Benini (end of October-November)
Damrau, Brownlee, Vassallo / Benini (February)
I saw the amazing Joyce DiDonato in this production two years ago with Lawrence (the sometime DJ) Brownlee as Almaviva and Russell Braun as Figaro: a pleasant show all around, though DiDonato's was the only major star instrument on display. I suspect these casts will do similarly, though I wouldn't sell Barry Banks short. Conductor Maurizio Benini has grown on me a bit.
New: I doubt DiDonato will be able to top the whole singing on a broken leg/in a wheelchair thing from Covent Garden this summer, but who knows?

Der Rosenkavalier
Fleming, Graham, Persson, Sigmundsson, Vargas / Levine (October)
Fleming, Graham, Schäfer, Sigmundsson, Cutler / Levine (January)
Librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal rolls over in his grave as Renee Fleming reprises her emo Marschallin. The rest of the cast is promising, though, particularly in October. This Strauss opera has never been one of James Levine's strong pieces.
New: Perhaps Levine assistant Jens Georg Bachmann's sole conductorial outing (October 22) could liven things up?

Damnation of Faust
Borodina, Vargas, Abdrazakov / Conlon (October-November)
What a cast! Too bad about the production.

Guleghina, Giordani, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Lindstrom, Giordani, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Guleghina, Porretta, Poplavskaya / Nelsons (November)
Guleghina, Licitra, Kovalevska / Nelsons (January)
The Met is doing 16 performances of this (in)famously over-the-top Zeffirelli version of Puccini's opera, all but one conducted by the young Latvian newcomer Andris Nelsons. But to see this show without seeing Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Liu would be criminal.
New: The moviecast is in November. As I said, criminal.

From the House of the Dead (new Patrice Chéreau production)
White, Margita, Mattei, Streit, Hoare / Salonen (November-December)
Janacek+Dostoevsky+Salonen+Mattei = must-see+great press+empty seats

Il Trittico
Racette, Lucic, Blythe, Corbelli, Antonenko / Ranzani (November-December)
Racette, Lucic, Blythe, Corbelli, Licitra / Ranzani (December)
Patricia Racette stars in all three operas in Puccini's triptych, and -- with Stephanie Blythe, who stole the show last time -- may finally bring Jack O'Brien's literal production to life. Very promising, though debuting conductor Stefano Ranzani is unknown to me.

Tales of Hoffmann (new Bartlett Sher production)
Calleja, Held, Lindsey, Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova / Levine (December, including first night Gala, and January)
Calleja, Held, Lindsey, Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova / Keenan (December)
Early rumors had Anna Netrebko attempting all the heroines in this, but she's wisely left high-coloratura Olympia to Kathleen Kim and mezzo-ish Giulietta to Ekaterina Gubanova.
Sher's first production at the Met wasn't so impressive, but perhaps he's learned from it. Obviously Levine's performances are the ones to see; his sciatica-induced cancellation drained the life out of an excellently cast (Shicoff, Swenson, Terfel, Mentzer) 2000 revival.
New: Unsurprisingly, originally-announced tenor Rolando Villazon isn't singing Hoffmann: the remarkable Joseph Calleja is. More surprisingly, Rene Pape and Elina Garanca (the latter now singing Carmen instead) aren't going to be in this production either, being now replaced by Alan Held and Kate Lindsey. Held has some big shoes to fill but the other changes are, I think, probably for the better (performance-wise, that is -- not box-office).

Bullock, Voigt, Palmer, Schmidt, Nikitin / Luisi (December)
Luisi did well with Strauss' Helena, and he plus the excellent supporting cast should make much of the show whether or not debuting English soprano Susan Bullock crashes or triumphs in the name part -- and whether or not Voigt, who is no longer the creamy-voiced marvel of the 90s (as in the telecast with Behrens), can make Chrysothemis work in her new voice.
New: With Held tied up singing the four villains in Hoffmann, Evgeny Nikitin replaces him here as Orest.

Hansel and Gretel
Persson, Kirchschlager, Langridge, Plowright / Andrew Davis (December-January)
This is a pretty starry lineup for a kids' presentation (with attendant 11AM matinees).

Carmen (new Richard Eyre production, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon)
Garanča, Alagna, Frittoli, Kwiecien / Nézet-Séguin (New Year's Eve Gala through January)
Borodina, Jovanovich, Kovalevska, Kwiecien / Altinoglu (end of January-February)
Borodina, Jovanovich, Kovalevska, Rhodes / Altinoglu (February)
Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Kovalevska, Kwiecien / Altinoglu (April-May)
Yes, Angela Gheorghiu's first Carmen attempt onstage anywhere. A better fit for her temperament than Micaëla, but a stretch for her voice. Barbara Frittoli sounded sufficiently poor in her 2007 Suor Angelica that I've wondered why she's still getting big engagements here. In the other cast, Olga Borodina can certainly sing Carmen but seemed bored in her last one: perhaps the new production -- and not injuring her foot -- will energize her a bit. 2007 Tucker-winning tenor Brandon Jovanovich makes his debut opposite, which should be interesting, and Kovalevska's Micaëla has already outshined Borodina once. Much will depend on the two debuting conductors.
New: Whoops! Gheorghiu's big Carmen debut won't happen until April, as she's decided she doesn't want to sing with her husband any more. Elina Garanca withdrew from Hoffmann to take up the title role, which is... interesting. We'll see the London reviews for her and Alagna this October.

Cura, Marambio, Dobber, Ens / Domingo (January)
This obscure Verdi opera was only moderately interesting when Domingo was actually singing in it and James Levine conducted. Now, account for the mind-boggling gap between Levine and Domingo-as-conductor... A definite miss.

Simon Boccanegra
Domingo, Pieczonka, Giordani, Morris / Levine (January-February)
Domingo sings baritone! -- and not just any baritone part, but the great title role of this Verdi opera. Whether it works or not, it's an event -- though I'll be surprised and cheered if it's as good as the last revival.

Ariadne auf Naxos
Stemme, Ryan, Kim, Connolly / Petrenko (February)
Low-glamour but high-promise cast in a great opera and production. Kirill Petrenko's conducting last time was routine.
New: Out (as Zerbinetta) -- Aleksandra Kurzak, charming in last season's Rigoletto. In -- Kathleen Kim, who almost stole the show in Rusalka, and might well steal the show in Hoffmann earlier in the season.

La Fille du Régiment
Damrau, Florez, Palmer, Te Kanawa / Armiliato (February)
If you want to hear this Donizetti piece again, the singing here's bound to be good. Dame Kiri is in a non-singing role, however.

La Boheme
Netrebko, Beczala, Cabell, Finley / Armiliato (February-March)
Netrebko, Beczala, Swenson, Petean / Armiliato (March)
Will get a lot more press than this season's revival, but won't necessarily be as good. The role of Mimi suits Netrebko's current voice, though.

Attila (new Pierre Audi production)
Abdrazakov, Urmana, Vargas, Alvarez / Muti (February-March)
Abdrazakov, Urmana, Vargas, Alvarez / Armiliato (March)
This is not only conductor Riccardo Muti's Metropolitan Opera debut but the house premiere of this Verdi rarity. Don't miss it, and buy your tickets to Muti's performances early. Intense young tenor Russell Thomas has one performance (March 19) in place of Ramon Vargas -- both should be interesting.

The Nose (new William Kentridge production)
Szot, Geitz, Popov / Gergiev (March)
This is the Met premiere of this early Shostakovich piece, and the debut of all three principal singers as well as the production team. If Gergiev makes you nauseous these days, there is one performance (March 25) led by his fellow Mariinsky conductor Pavel Smelkov. Very interesting, though by no means a sure bet.

Hamlet (new production imported from Geneva)
Keenlyside, Dessay, Larmore, Morris, Spence / Langrée (March-April)
Another Natalie Dessay showpiece, with another Natalie Dessay mad scene. Who can resist?

La Traviata
Gheorghiu, Valenti, Hampson / Slatkin (end of March-April)
2002 Met Council Finals winner James Valenti finally makes his company debut as Alfredo. Gheorghiu's Violetta and Hampson's Germont are likely familiar, but by the time of this revival it will have been a dozen years since Leonard Slatkin conducted at the Met.

Armida (new Mary Zimmerman production)
Fleming, Brownlee, Ford, Zapata, Banks, van Rensburg / Frizza (April, including first night Gala, and May)
Fleming in her element -- Rossini's take on Tasso. Don't miss, and buy your tickets early.

Flying Dutchman
Uusitalo, Voigt, Gould / Ono (April-May)
See note on Tosca. Tenor Stephen Gould's debut is interesting, but this revival's likely a miss unless Uusitalo shows well in the Puccini.
New: Or unless he doesn't sing this either...

Petersen, Lehman, von Otter, Morris / Levine (May)
The greatest, most gorgeous (particularly when Levine conducts it) modernist opera gets a surprisingly starry cast.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gagnidze fans, rejoice

A reader notes that unimpressive baritone Juha Uusitalo is out of not only Monday's opening night gala of Tosca, but the entire run. George Gagnidze, who sang Scarpia in last year's NY Philharmonic Tosca, will now sing in all non-Terfel performances.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One week

The happiest thing about opera is that it occurs in the now -- palpably so. The experience of the operagoer may well, as familiarity grows, expand to enclose future (the near pleasure of getting one's tickets or wondering what the season may bring, as well as the more distant games of what future lineups would be pleasant to see, or what some singer or conductor might become over time) and, of course, past (both the vast art history in which musicologists swim and the closer performance nostalgia into which many a devoted fan has sunk) but these are secondary to the existence of a performance in the present, as the many and various times of a house full of people sync into a single now as each makes his way through the music and story, the sounds and meanings made on that specific occasion. It's this now created each night anew that is important: the great mystery that makes everything else about the opera world tolerable.

All this by way of saying that if you've been away from opera for the summer months -- or longer -- or have never seen an opera at all (if by some chance someone of that description is reading this blog)! -- you may have missed some number of great performances and rather more less-great news and gossip, but none of that has any bearing on what you may or may not experience at to the Met season-opening Tosca next Monday. (Or, of course, any other performance.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

102 minutes

Via the History Channel, eyewitness video footage from this day in 2001.

A "Day of Service"? What a grotesquely vile perversion of memory. Watch the footage instead.