Friday, February 19, 2016

The 2016-17 Met season announcement, annotated

Productions are in order; bold indicates a debut; I may have omitted some one-off cast combos. On the whole, there are some things to look forward to, but with Gelb going all in again on his favored Euro sopranos of a certain demeanor, it's a lot less appetizing than the current season. Good casts seem paired with poor productions and vice versa.

Tristan (new Mariusz Treliński production)
Stemme, Skelton, Gubanova, Nikitin, Pape / Rattle (September-October)
Stemme, Skelton, Gubanova, Nikitin, Pape / Fisch (October)
One of the successes of the late-Volpe era gets replaced by a director whose strength -- and, as this fits the Gelb director profile, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised -- is in wallpaper and whose insight/interest in the human side is vestigial. Stemme and Pape are major cornerstones, but Skelton hasn't been inspiring. Simon Rattle may do well, but when might Daniele Gatti return after his stupendously concentrated Parsifals?

Don Giovanni
Keenlyside, Plachetka, Gerzmava, Byström, Malfi, Villazon, Rose, Youn / Luisi (September-October)
Abdrazakov, Rose, Byström, Majeski, Sierra, Vargas, Plachetka, Youn / Luisi (November)
Kwiecien, Schrott, Meade, Rebeka, Leonard, Polenzani, Cha, Kocán / Domingo (April-May)
The November cast -- with longtime Leporello Ildar Abdrazakov finally swapping to the title role -- is probably the pick of these, although the October 15 performance with Paul Appleby as Ottavio is also an option. Schrott's fantastic Leporello could make something of the spring cast... but Domingo's awful conducting makes that exceedingly unlikely.

La Boheme
Yoncheva, Phillips, Popov, Bizic, Pogossov, Green, Del Carlo / Rizzi (September-October)
Opolais, Kele, Beczala, Cavaletti, Carfizzi, Green/TBA, Del Carlo / Armiliato (November-December)
Pérez, Phillips, Fabiano, Arduini, Lavrov, Van Horn, Del Carlo / Rizzi (January)
Carlo Rizzi is conducting again at the Met!? Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov and Romanian soprano Brigitta Kele debut in different casts. The most notable combo may be the last: Michael Fabiano's last Rodolfo here was not only great in itself, but seemed to take decades of age and cynicism off of Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi. Perhaps he can similarly inspire fellow Tucker winner Ailyn Perez.

L'Italiana in Algieri
DeShong, Barbera, Alaimo, Abdrazakov / Levine (October)
Elizabeth DeShong goes from bit parts to the title part in this Rossini revival, opposite veteran wonder Ildar Abdrazakov and 2008 Met Council winner Rene Barbera.

Guillaume Tell (new Pierre Audi production)
Rebeka, Brugger, Pizzolato, Hymel, Finley, Spotti, Youn, Relyea / Luisi (October-November)
The strong cast -- led by Bryan Hymel (except for one night, November 2, where it's John Osborn) finally again in his element as Arnold -- and rarity of this Rossini opera would make it an obvious highlight if not for the weakness of Audi's previous Met production. That Attila was at least watchable, however, so this show can probably survive.

Dyka, Mattila, Schwarz, Brenna, Kaiser / Robertson (October-November)
For a dozen years, Karita Mattila was the unacknowledged raison d'être of the Metropolitan Opera, returning year after year to repeatedly re-embody the secret of tragic opera -- the excess of life and spirit that pushes back against awful circumstance -- in runs that were as significant as they were (generally) under-promoted. This ended with spring 2012's run of The Makropulos Case. Four-plus years later, Mattila returns in an opera and production she triumphed in twice... but she's now in the older-woman role of the Kostelnička. (You can see Mattila in this new part in San Francisco this summer.) Interestingly, another long-absent singer -- Hanna Schwarz, once a regular with the house Ring company, who has in fact been gone since 2002 -- returns to sing the Grandmother. Unfortunately Jiri Bělohlávek, Mattila's great collaborator in the pit, does not return. But David Robertson will surely do better in Janacek than in Mozart... right?

Monastyrska, Gubanova, Berti, Delavan, Belosselskiy, Howard / Armiliato (November)
Moore, Gubanova, Berti, Delavan, Belosselskiy, Howard / Armiliato (November-December)
Stoyanova, Urmana, de Leon, Gagnidze, Morris, Howard / Rustioni (March-April)
Stoyanova/Moore, Urmana, Massi, Gagnidze, Morris, Howard / Rustioni (April)
Liudmyla Monastyrska and Latonia Moore have already sung the title part at the Met: the former did not impress but the latter apparently did. Marco Berti is probably miscast as Radames, though I know nothing about alternate tenors Riccardo Massi, who's sung one performance at the Met, and Jorge de Leon, who's sung none.

Manon Lescaut
Netrebko, Álvarez, Maltman, Sherratt / Armiliato (November-December)
Marcelo Alvarez should bring something to this stillborn production (full review soon), but I'd be surprised if Anna Netrebko could fix its many title-character-related issues.

L'Amour de Loin (Met premiere production by Robert Lepage)
Phillips, Mumford, Owens / Mälkki (December)
Excellent cast for an iffy opera and show.

Naglestad, Herrera, Siegel, Wang, Lučić / Debus (December)
German-based American soprano Catherine Naglestad has had success with the title part abroad and heads a promising cast. (Like many New Yorkers, though, what I'd really like to see is whether Gun-Brit Barkmin could repeat her recent triumph in a fully staged version). Greer Grimsley sings Jochanaan on the run's final night.

Monastyrska, Barton, Thomas, Domingo, Belosselskiy / Levine (December-January)
Melnychenko, Herrera, Diegel, Lučić, Belosselskiy / Levine (Dec 27)
Levine and the chorus have already made this show work with lesser principals. Lucic also has one show with the main cast on Dec 30.

Roméo et Juliette (new Bartlett Sher production)
Damrau, Verrez, Grigolo, Madore, Petrenko / Noseda (NYE-January)
Yende, Murrihy, Costello, Wang, Rose / Noseda (March)
As in this season's Pearl Fishers, Amanda Woodbury is scheduled for one night (Jan 25) with the initial cast. That night aside, the March cast looks on the whole more promising from top to bottom.

Magic Flute (family version in English)
Claire/Brugger, Pratt, Bliss/TBA, Maltman, Shenyang, Robinson / Walker (December-January)
Claire, Lewek, Bliss, Maltman, Shenyang, Robinson / Walker (December-January)
Kathryn Lewek is the best Queen of the Night I've ever heard. But of course I haven't heard Aussie (by way of England and Italy) soprano Jessica Pratt...

Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Yende, Camarena, Mattei, Muraro, Petrenko / Benini (January)
Yende, Korchak, Mattei, Muraro/Lanchas, Petrenko/Gradus / Benini (January-February)
It's characteristic of the Gelb regime's misallocation of roles and promotional opportunities that Peter Mattei, the definitive Don Giovanni and Onegin of our era (not to mention Amfortas or Wolfram), appears this season only in a part he's not particularly good at: Rossini's Figaro. And I'm sure he and Yende and Benini will provide some fun... but it's still a waste.

Koch, Agresta, Álvarez, Ketelsen / Ettinger (January)
Margaine, Agresta/Brugger, Álvarez, Ketelsen/Simpson / Ettinger/Langree (February)
Sophie Koch, nondescript in her debut as Massenet's Charlotte, alternates with another French mezzo, Clémentine Margaine, in the title part. Micaela is also the second scheduled part this season for Janai Brugger, standout winner of the 2012 Met Council Finals.

Lučić, Peretyatko, Volkova, Costello, Mastroni / Morandi (January-February)
Lučić, Peretyatko, Herrera, Calleja, Kocán / Morandi (April)
Solid revival of a solid show. Debuting conductor and former La Scala oboist Pier Giorgio Morandi seems to have a career primarily of traveling around conducting Italian operas, though that doesn't really indicate quality either way.

Rusalka (new Mary Zimmerman production)
Opolais, Dalayman, Barton, Jovanovich, Owens / Elder (February-March)
I have a rather sour opinion of Opolais from last week's poor Manon Lescaut, but the rest of this show looks quite good.

I Puritani
Damrau, Camarena, Markov, Pisaroni / Benini (February)
If you think Diana Damrau is a convincing fragile bel canto heroine, you'll love this. I've not, however, seen evidence to that effect.

Grigolo, Christy, Leonard, Bizic / Gardner (February-March)
Borras, Christy, Leonard, Pershall / Gardner (March 9)
Italian mezzo Veronica Simenoni debuts with a single performance as Charlotte on February 23. Perhaps she or Isabel Leonard can give this romance-novel daydream of an opera some spirit.

La Traviata
Yoncheva, Fabiano, Hampson / Luisotti (February-March)
Giannattasio, Fabiano, Hampson / Luisotti (March)
Giannattasio, Ayan, Petean / Luisotti (March-April)
Giannattasio, Ayan, Domingo / Luisotti (April)
With Michael Fabiano singing Alfredo and Nicola Luisotti back for the first time since his 2010 Fanciulla triumph, the musical side of this revival is pretty appetizing. It nevertheless remains the worst production in the Met's repertoire.

Polenzani, Sierra, van den Heever, Coote, Opie / Levine
Not hugely confident in the overall cast, but Levine in Mozart is pure magic when things work. Lindemann soprano Ying Fang sings one performance instead of Sierra on March 17.

Pieczonka, Müller, Vogt, Portillo, Grimsley, Struckmann, Groissböck/Morris / Weigle (March-April)
Klaus Florian Vogt had a Met debut that almost defied belief: a never-to-be-forgotten pair of Lohengrins... in 2006. Whether because of casting politics, the failure of the press, the unearthly character of his voice, or his own travel preferences, Vogt's second Met engagement will be almost eleven years later. I'm not sure Florestan is the best part for him; nor am I sure of the rest of the cast. But this revival is something of an event.

Eugene Onegin
Hvorostovsky, Netrebko, Maximova, Dolgov, Kocán / Ticciati (March-April)
Anna Netrebko was a sullen, blank failure in the 2013 premiere of this production, and Elena Maximova was the worse of the Olgas that season. Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Stefan Kocan have, on the other hand, excelled as Onegin and as Gremin respectively. Which will set the show's tone? I suppose I'd have a better guess if I'd seen Robin Ticciati's only Met outing to date, the 2011 holiday run of Hansel&Gretel.

Der Rosenkavalier (new Robert Carsen production)
Fleming, Garanča, Morley, Groissböck, Polenzani, Brück / Levine
The allure of another Robert Carsen production (he's 2-for-2 on masterpieces at the Met) is greatly offset by a topsy-turvy cast. The Marschallin should be cool and Octavian fiery, but Fleming and Garanca are the reverse... not to mention how past it Fleming sounded in her last Met show (2014-15's Merry Widow). Morley should be OK and Polenzani better, but Levine has never been a good fit for this opera's lightness.

Der Fliegende Holländer
Volle, Wagner, Zajick, Morris, Bliss, Selig / Nézet-Séguin (April-May)
One of the few unqualified must-sees. Amber Wagner scored big here some seasons ago in Verdi, but she finally, a decade after her 2007 Met Council Finals win, gets a run in one of the parts for which she was destined. Add Michael Volle as the Dutchman and Yannick Nezet-Seguin in the pit? Great.

Cyrano de Bergerac
Alagna, Racette, Ayan, Frontali / Armiliato (May)
Speaking of old, both Roberto Alagna and Patricia Racette are already 50 and will be more than a year older when this revival appears. Men don't have menopause, but Alagna was struggling mightily in Manon Lescaut this month. The show was great fun with Domingo and Sondra Radvanovsky (unaccountably missing from the 2016-17 schedule); expect less this time.

50th Anniversary Gala
I'm not too pleased by the current lineup for this celebration of the New Met, and Crouch's work for the company 125th had both brilliance and inanity, but it's probably obligatory.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Is that all there is?

Lulu - Metropolitan Opera, 11/17/2015
Petersen, Reuter, Brenna, Graham, Groves, Grundheber / Koenigs

I'm not sure what was more disappointing: having my operagoing last fall be interrupted by mild but persistent health troubles or coming back to this new production. William Kentridge's Lulu was as inert and obfuscatory as his Nose five-and-a-half years ago was alive and illuminating. It was so poorly judged, in fact, that the earlier success seems quite tarnished.

Many of the surface features from the Shostakovich triumph were repeated here: hand-animated film backgrounds, non-naturalistic foreground acting, and the overall visual construction of the experience carried over. But Lulu is absolutely not the Nose. Both are, of course, products of the interwar period and broadly classifiable as modernist. But Shostakovich's opera is (as one might expect from a piece written in and for a world that went from the courtly constriction and autocracy of Imperial Russia straight to the peer-enforced mass-delusional kakocracy that is Communism) a piece that shows social position and role to be supreme and values, personal feeling, and logic itself to be transient or hopeless. In this aesthetic world the flatness and literal cutout nature of the individual players -- brilliantly highlighted by Kentridge's visual design -- is and accentuates the joke. Alban Berg's Lulu, on the other hand, is in a much more familiar modernist vein: here (as in Shostakovich's other familiar opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) it's the compulsions within each man -- for domination, sex, and murder -- that are supreme. It demands, as it got at the last Met revival, vivid individuals.

What we got from Kentridge, of course, was the same flattening, de-individuating, and trivializing presentation of his last Met show. It's not clear whether this is because he's basically a one-trick pony or because he (like Ring-director Robert Lepage) was altogether uninterested in the nonvisual side of the production and left it to his colleague, here co-director Luc de Wit (a Belgian of seemingly run-of-the-mill Eurononsense inclinations). In either case, Lulu's tragedy thereby got presented as pure nihilistic comedy... a wretched fit for both text and music.

The wasted opportunity was tremendous, for Marlis Petersen -- who's apparently given up singing Lulu going forward -- was, if anything, an even greater exponent of the killer title role than in the great 2010 revival of John Dexter's now-superseded production. Even next to parodies of Lulu's appeal, Petersen's command of her character's moods and vocal lines was notable throughout. She lacked a foil, however, as Johan Reuter (so effective as Barak two seasons back) was here simply buried under the intentionally ugly outfits and deflating stage bits given to Dr. Schön. Perhaps James Morris (the unexpected star of the last revival) could have made an impression through and despite a production intent on making him ridiculous instead of Lulu's great adversary, but Reuter could not.

Lothar Koenigs deputized well on short notice after James Levine's cancellation, and Susan Graham made much of her opportunities as Geschwitz. (Incidentally, the ridiculous subtitle bowdlerization at the end remains.) More's the pity.

Pearls two ways

So I came back to the draft list and it's amazing how many reviews I have half-written in there. But first...

Pearl Fishers - Metropolitan Opera, 1/8/2016
Damrau, Polenzani, Kwiecien, Teste / Noseda

Pearl Fishers - Metropolitan Opera, 2/4/2016
Woodbury, Polenzani, Kwiecien, Teste / Walker

I'm sure anyone with an interest has gotten to see Penny Woolcock's new production on the screen if not in person, but it was a big factor in this show's commercial success. Woolcock offers both the striking and the detailed, but keeps them apart. The show begins in water (with a lovely rework of the "swimming" harnesses and moving projections from the early Gelb era), has scene transitions in water (more projections), and ends in fire (actual fires, a Met specialty). The action itself occurs on stable, textured, regular constructions, with only hints -- lights, a cigarette ad, a lovely wave effect on a cloth "sea" -- of the elemental forces that bracket it. There isn't deep meaning to it, but the effect bits are well done and the detailed, non-monolithic set bits are a welcome balm for much of the audience.

The original cast all delivered slightly different things. Tenor Matthew Polenzani was the only real exponent of the lyric side of the show, delivering a fine solo romance as well as a nice but still-warming-up half of the famous tenor-baritone duet. Mariusz Kwieicien, whose recent work here has been at best uninspiring, similarly took some warming up but was excellent in the confrontational rage of the latter acts -- a welcome success, though the acoustically friendly full-stage wall behind him in his confrontation with Leila certainly helped. As Leila, Diana Damrau's often too-clever fluency didn't -- as I feared -- get in the way of the show's romantic rapture, but neither did it really assist its flow. Nor was she in fact really that fluent: the hitches weren't enough to jar those there to experience a name, but neither did they allow the virtuosic pleasure in surmounting difficulty that was the original basis for her recognition. Still she and conductor Gianandrea Noseda, whose skill at excitement meshed poorly with the alternating oceanic-pastoral and rapture of the start, seemed to perk up in the clearer atmosphere of the last act's confrontation, and there combined with Kwiecien to deliver the charge of good opera.

*     *     *

The final night's two changes altered the whole dynamic. Two seasons ago, Amanda Woodbury was a Met Council winner. Last season, the young American soprano nearly stole the Don Carlo revival (one of the great ones, when Lee was able to sing and play off Frittoli, but more on that elsewhere I suppose) as Elisabetta's page Tebaldo. This season, she returned here as a cover-plus-one for Leila, and was pretty glorious.

Whatever Woodbury ends up singing (and so far her roles -- this, Konstanze, Donna Anna, Musetta -- seem to fit the lighter dramatic-coloratura I heard at the Council Finals), what should make her a star is the timbre of her upper-middle notes. Sure, she has other important prerequisites -- carrying power, vocal flexibility (with prepared and unprepared trills), stage presence, and, to be frank, looks -- but those are really the delivery vehicle for an unusually vivid and transparently emotion-bearing sound that stands out in the most pleasant way. The very top notes are big and by now nicely integrated, but aren't the main course... and Woodbury currently has the habit, common among (too?) well-schooled young Americans, of not using chest tones at all, leaving no low notes to really speak of. But what's in between is as striking in this full show as it was in her short sing last season.

At least as importantly for this event (and, I suppose, her future prospects), Woodbury seems much more naturally attuned to the ebb and flow of rapt feeling demanded here (and in most romantic opera leads) than her more famous predecessor. The emotional shapes sat as well in her phrases as in her voice, finally allowing the first-act tension with the crowd and the tenor to cohere into an eloquent story. The latter acts were, in this new whole, more poignant as well, not merely exciting (though they were that).

That's not to discount the importance of the last night's other change. Australian conductor Antony Walker, who'd already done one performance in this run, conveyed a firmer sense of the underlying beat than Noseda, thereby giving the performers more room to stray without losing the overall continuity. His work, and Woodbury's, and that of Polenzani -- now suddenly not alone in foregrounding the lyric-pastoral-romantic strain in the piece -- made for a memorable night of sensibility... and perhaps as auspicious an unheralded lead-role-debut as Sondra Radvanovsky's Luisa Miller triumph fifteen years back.