Preview of Met's HD Season

Preview of the 2015-2016 Metropolitan Opera season of telecasts in HD

Hard to believe this is the 10th season of the Met in HD! But it is, and once again it’s a dandy.

As last year, OperaMetro lists the operas, the dates and curtain times of the Saturday afternoon matinees, performed live on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. These are the source performances for the HD telecasts, though the actual telecast times may vary from venue to venue. Many venues have encores of the telecasts in the evening of the same day and, in the summer, reruns of selected telecasts from this and from previous seasons…bottom line here: check your local listings. Casts are up to date, as per the latest press releases from the Met.

The Met’s HD season opens with Sir David McVicar’s colorful production of Verdi’s fiery Il Trovatore on Saturday, October 3 at 1:00 p.m. Leonora is another new role at the Metropolitan Opera for superstar Anna Netrebko. Recall that Ms. Netrebko rocked us with her spectacular Lady Macbeth last fall. Leonora’s love, the troubador Manrico, is sung by the young Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee; the Conte di Luna, who also vies for her affections, is still listed as baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Dolora Zajick sings again Azucena; Ferrando is basso Stefan Kocán. Marco Armiliato conducts. Il Trovatore ranks among Verdi’s very best and most popular operas. It’s a great way to start the season, but also, for neophytes, a great first opera.

An FAQ in my world is ‘so, what, after all these years, is your favorite opera?’ to which I reply that I have at least 150 favorites, and, naked truth here, this is actually a gross underestimation. And they call me ‘easily entertained’…But when pressed to name the one on the top of my list I invariably answer Verdi’s Otello. Still there on top after all these years.

A new production of Otello graces the satellites on October 17, at 1:00 p.m. In the title role is Aleksandrs Antonenko, his bride Desdemona is sung by soprano Sonya Yoncheva, the evil Iago is taken by Željko Lučić. This new Otello is directed by Bartlett Sher, with sets by Es Devlin and costumes by Catherine Zuber. The production designer is Luke Halls. Yannick Nézet-Séquin conducts.

However, though Otello totally grabbed me early on, in reality the overture to Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser was my first doorway from the foyer of musical theater and operetta into the vast salon of opera. I remember the moment when it ‘spoke to me.’ My first performance at the Old Met was scenically disappointing, as was Wolfgang Windgassen’s absence, but the Met got it right the next time.

Returning to the Met’s stage this fall after a long absence is the revered Günther Schneider-Siemssen production of Tannhäuser. It stars today’s reigning Heldentenor Johan Botha, whose stamina and vocal timbre are well fitted for the title role. Eva-Maria Westbroek essays Elisabeth, his saintly patron; Peter Mattei takes on the role of Wolfram, Tannhäuser’s patron from the Minnesingers. Michelle DeYoung is Venus, the seductive goddess of love. Günther Groissböck is the Landgraf. Tannhäuser is conducted by James Levine. The telecast performance is Saturday, October 31, at 12:00 p.m.

  Marliss Petersen essays Lulu

Marliss Petersen essays Lulu

It’s remarkable, when one thinks about it: this season’s new production of Alban Berg’s Lulu, to be telecast in HD on November 21 at 12:30 p.m. is only the second production in the Met’s history. On second thought, maybe not: the completed three act version was new only as recently as 1979…I take it back. The new one this season is by William Kentridge, whose production of Shostakovich’s The Nose raised some eyebrows, furrowed others. To my mind, Lulu is fitting and fair game for his style; it’s in good hands in the orchestra pit too: James Levine has proved himself a master of the 20th century repertory. The title role is sung by Marlis Petersen: her spunky Susanna brightened our HD worlds last October. Paul Groves sings the Painter, Alwa is taken by tenor Daniel Brenna; his father Dr. Schön is sung by Johan Reuter; the Countess Geschwitz is taken by Susan Graham; the mysterious old man Schigolch is Franz Grundheber. While not a recommended ‘first opera’ for the new comer, certainly not a ‘date opera’ in the traditional sense of a casual musical afternoon of smiles together, Lulu will very likely play well on the HD big screen with subtitles. In my mind, it’s the best way to approach the intricacies of this masterpiece.

  Diana Damrau stars in  The Pearl Fishers

Diana Damrau stars in The Pearl Fishers

2016 brings a “new” old opera to the Met: Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, which hasn’t been performed at the Met since the days of Caruso, di Luca, and Frieda Hempel in 1916. Why the neglect? Well, apart from one of the most famous duets in all of opera and a hauntingly beautiful tenor aria, both in Act I, it, like all of Bizet’s operas save Carmen, seems to have suffered from the gross neglect of French opera over the late 20th century. Have you ever seen Delibes’ Lakmé fully staged at the Met? Last time was 1947. Or Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, for that matter? Last time was 1934. Each has pleasing music, strong arias, duets and choral work.

But like these, Les Pêcheurs de Perles is pleasing. A lovely Diana Damrau sings the role of the Priestess Leila; Matthew Polenzani is Nadir and Mariusz Kwiecien is Zurga. Both are rivals for Leila’s love. The production is by Penny Woolcock; Gianandrea Noseda conducts. The telecast performance is January 16 at 1:00 p.m. Catch this one if you can: 2116 is a long way off.

On January 30 at 1:00 p.m. Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish production of Puccini’s most opulent operaTurandot is performed at the Met. Dramatic soprano Nina Stemme essays her first Turandot at the Met. Anita Hartig is Liu, Marco Berti sings Calaf, Alexander Tsymbalyuk is Timur. Paolo Carignani conducts.

  Kristine Opolais is the sexy Manon Lescaut in Puccini's opera

Kristine Opolais is the sexy Manon Lescaut in Puccini's opera

A new production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut is performed on March 5 at 1:00 p.m. Fabio Luisi conducts. Kristine Opolais is the alluring Manon, Jonas Kaufmann is the smitten Chevalier Des Grieux, Massimo Cavalletti is the wiley Lescaut, and Brindley Sherratt is the old roué Geronte. The production, updated to the film noir era of the 1940s, is designed by Rob Howell and conceived and directed by Sir Richard Eyre, who brought us last season’s Figaro and before that Massenet’s Werther and Carmen, all telecast in 2014.

Incidentally, watch later this February, 2016, for OperaMetro’s feature piece entitled “The Manon Project.”

Celebrating the first telecast under the agis of Peter Gelb in 2006, Ms. Opolais appears again in the iconic Anthony Minghella production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly along with Maria Zifchak Suzuki, Roberto Alagna as Pinkerton, and Dwayne Croft as Sharpless, conducted by Karel Mark Chichon. Telecast performance is April 2; curtain time is 1:00.

April 16 at 1:00 p.m. brings us the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, starring soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta. Radvanovsky by this time in the season will have sung the other two Queens (Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda), thus being the first soprano in the Met’s history to sing all three in Donizetti’s “Tudor trilogy.” Elīna Garanča sings Sara, the queen’s unwitting rival in love; Matthew Polanzani sings Devereux, the man in the middle, and Mariusz Kwiecien sings Nottingham, Sara’s husband. The new production is directed and designed by Sir David McVicar; Maurizio Benini conducts.

  Nina Stemme as Elektra, backed into a corner by circumstances

Nina Stemme as Elektra, backed into a corner by circumstances

Lastly, on April 30 at 1:00 p.m. the late Patrice Chéreau’s new production of Richard Strauss’s massive Elektra ends the HD season. Nina Stemme essays her first Met Elektra with Adrianne Pieczonka as her compliant sister Chrysothemis, Waltraud Meier as their wicked mother Klytämnestra, and Eric Owens as their brother Orest. Richard Peduzzi is set designer; Eka-Pekka Salonen conducts. Fans wooed by Chéreau’s take on Janáček’s From the House of the Dead production in 2009 won’t want to miss this one. Elektra is very high on my all-time favorite list…my whole family will be to this one!

All Metropolitan Opera photos: Kristian Schuller

As was the case last season, OperaMetro will review most, if not all of the operas to-be-telecast in HD with the actual casts, barring last minute cancelations. The performances reviewed are, of course, prior to the telecast performance so my review can be written and posted by the time you’re heading to your favorite theater.

Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org.

Make it special. It’s in your own backyard…well, for my local readers that’s true. But everyone has a ‘backyard,’ operatically speaking.

JRS