Met's new LULU coming to HD

Metropolitan Opera’s new Lulu to be telecast in HD

Don’t take this the wrong way: loving Lulu is not easy. But unfathomable as the title character, indeed the whole opera, may be, the Met’s new Lulu rewards.

No, Lulu herself is not at all easy: she’s like the child you realize you haven’t known very well, and now she’s moved out of your house for good and rarely calls. Simple, often she was disarmingly simple, like an open book, and sometimes she was inappropriate, perhaps innocently so, nothing serious. But in other ways, you become aware much later, she’s complex, mysterious, and ultimately fascinating.

Marliss Petersen as Lulu

Marliss Petersen as Lulu

Or maybe she’s just really messed up in the head, your fault of course, in desperate need of intensive psychotherapy or, as Woody Allen suggests in Manhattan Murder Mystery nothing that can’t be cured by “a little Prozac and a large polo mallet.”

But for now stick with complex, mysterious, and fascinating.

William Kentridge, who picked Shostakovich’s Nose for his Met debut a few seasons back, brings us a new Lulu with the aid of his team Co-Director Luc De Wit, Projection Designer Catherine Meyburgh, Set Designer Sabine Theunissen, Costume Designer Greta Goiris, and Lighting Designer Urs Schönebaum. It is a co-production with the Dutch National Opera and the English National Opera.

The experience of Kentridge’s (and Berg’s) Lulu is what psychologists call information overload or, in everyday parlance TMI. At three hours of music, Berg’s long score is possibly the most complex in the standard repertory (here assuming you’ll finally agree that Lulu belongs in the standard repertory). The text is not only dense sometimes, but often rapid fire: the subtitles cover about 75% of it. Adjusting for average reading speed, what choice do they have? At least the titles are projected onto the base of the set so you’re not ‘eyes off’ the stage action by looking down at the text screens in front of you.

Lulu Ignores Dr. Schon's plea for an end of the affair  

Lulu Ignores Dr. Schon's plea for an end of the affair 

The visual production is a dizzying bombardment of images, mostly complementing the stage drama. The faces of artists, composers, and others flit by: appropriately, when Alwa muses about the possibility of writing an opera about Lulu, it is the face of Alban Berg behind him. Mercifully, many of the images are repetitious for long stretches so that one can get a focus on the drama played out on stage. Visual bombardment may be less of an issue with camera close ups on the characters in the HD telecast.

Whereas many modern productions of Lulu give license to nudity and indecency, Kentridge tastefully gives us jiggling black brush images of our heroine and head shots on the blank unit set. Far more real flesh in Bartlett Sher’s Hoffmann, in other words. In the first half of Lulu I thought all of this projected business would trump the power of a film interlude bridging the halves of Act II, but, well done, Kentridge et al. have assembled striking and touching footage of actual humans.

Of course Lulu doesn’t get off the ground or more aptly out of bed without a real star in the title role. The marvelous Marlis Petersen brings it all together, guiding her character though her rise and fall, rags to riches to rags.

Petersen introduces a Lulu who is at the onset youthful, perky and coy, as if it comes as a surprise to her that Schwarz, the Painter, makes a move on her. Nor is she upset for long that Dr. Goll, her aged husband, has dropped dead in front of their eyes. But when she converses with Dr. Schön, her ‘guardian,’ or with his son Alwa she tightens into a more serious appetitive creature, yet still without the hard intent found in other productions. She is caring, comfortable and familiar with old Schigolch.

Johan Reuter, as Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper, is effective in his desperation as Lulu’s net tightens around him. Daniel Brenna, in his Met debut, plays Alwa. He is a soft, sensitive, more creative young man, no match for the more calculating Lulu in the later acts. Paul Groves plays The Painter as another innocent victim. Alan Oke is The Prince as well as The Marquis.

Lulu and Schigolch get cozy

Lulu and Schigolch get cozy

Franz Grundheber creates a multifaceted Schigolch, a survivor from the gutter and possibly Lulu’s father or pimp (or both or neither). We’re never sure. Martin Winkler gives amusing color and animation to The Animal Trainer/Rodrigo, The Acrobat. Elizabeth DeShong excels as The Schoolboy.

The excellent Susan Graham makes Countess Geschwitz a more sympathetic character, less of a shadowy presence. She is certainly the most loyal of Lulu’s circle.

The direction of the players is crisp, never on pause. All good on stage in other words.

In many ways though, the co-stars of the evening are in the pit: Lothar Koenigs and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The aural fabric they weave is complex, engrossing and gripping. The total package, concept, production, the players, the score and its execution make this Lulu a triumph. Don’t miss it.

Performance date: November 5, 2015: the Metropolitan Opera premiere of the new production.

Photos: Ken Howard

Be advised: Lulu is performed here in three acts, each approximately one hour; the running time of the whole thing is 4 hours, 15 minutes, including two intermissions.

Lulu is a trip! Worth getting to know, more rewarding each time. Should be a part of our standard repertory. Enjoy!

JRS

Wagner's noble Tannhauser

The Met to telecast Wagner’s Tannhäuser in HD

Toward the end of his life, Richard Wagner felt he owed the world a Tannhäuser, implying that he was still dissatisfied with it even after all of the tinkering he had done. The two major versions (the Dresden Tannhäuser, more or less the original score from the Dresden premiere in 1845, and the Paris Tannhäuser, more or less the significant revisions of the original for Wagner’s artistic but ultimately disastrous foray into Paris in 1861) have become a musicologist’s goldmine for uncovering bits and pieces here and there from this version to that revision.

Intuitive genius that he was, Wagner was right: his operas after Tannhäuser have a formal necessity, a sort of inevitability: each bar of music, each note seems to fit perfectly into his grand conception, as if it simply couldn’t be otherwise or anywhere else. Tannhäuser more or less approximates this ‘necessity’ in the last two acts, but the first act remains…unfinished? Dresden, Paris, it just doesn’t flow right.

The Venusberg scene in Act I

The Venusberg scene in Act I

This said, the Met’s current revival of the Otto Schenk/Günther Schneider-Siemssen production of Tannhäuser is strong. New in 1977, the once evocative sets look a bit tired, which is fine, they’re old, but the costumes, lighting and the mood are fitting to the tale; the extended choral pageantries are still moving.

Tenor Johan Botha has the winning combination of the ideal voice for Tannhäuser and, most important, the stamina to remain fresh until the final curtain. Musically he is quite remarkable. If dramatically he never quite works himself into a lather, meaning he doesn’t get as wild as the man Tannhäuser becomes in late Act III as Venus (vocally anyway) tugs at his britches once again, at least Botha is still, well, sitting.

Johan Botha delivers his contest song to an horrified crowd in Act II

Johan Botha delivers his contest song to an horrified crowd in Act II

Regardless, he deserves our applause: his is no small feat. Most tenors are lucky enough to get through it and the sensible majority never try. Tannhäuser, like Abigaille in Verdi’s Nabucco, is a fiendishly difficult role, a notorious ‘voice-eater.’ Unlike either Tristan or Siegfried, both also long and taxing, the tessitura for Tannhäuser is, like Wagner’s earlier Rienzi, comparatively high, especially in Acts I & II, which is not surprising considering that Wagner wrote both Rienzi and Tannhäuser for the same tenor, Joseph Tichatschek, at one time thought of as Europe's greatest dramatic tenor. Over my years in the audience at the Met, I’ve witnessed three, yes, three renowned tenors lose their voices during a performance of Tannhäuser. Each was forced to continue painfully through to the bitter end or to call in the cover. Believe me, Botha is the real deal here. Savor his sound. It doesn’t come around frequently.

The other main men in this Tannhäuser are also remarkable. As the Landgraf of Thuringia, Elisabeth's Uncle Hermann, bass Günther Groissböck has an attractive mellowness to his voice, soothing as a protective uncle should be, but authoritative when necessary. Very pleasing! Bravo!

And Peter Mattei is completely winning in voice and character as Wolfram von Eschenbach, Tannhäuser’s cool, confident friend. How pleasant it is to hear the Evening Star sung so effortlessly.

Biterolf, Tannhäuser’s nemesis of sorts, is forcefully taken by Ryan McKinny; Walther von der Vogelweide is brightly sung by Noah Baetge; Adam Klein is Heinrich der Schreiber and Ricardo Lugo is Reinmar von Zweter. The Young Shepherd is lovely: Ying Fang brings back the youthful memories of a young Kathleen Battle. Vocally, I mean.

Elisabeth's prayer in Act III

Elisabeth's prayer in Act III

Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Elisabeth begins Act II joyfully and exuberantly with a Dich, teure Halle in want of vocal focus. But she quickly reins it in and ultimately makes a strong statement for her character, particularly in the long choral finale of the Act. Westbroek’s Elisabeth in Act III suffers in a way that allows one to connect with the degree of sacrifice she makes for Tannhäuser’s soul. She, too, is the real deal. As they should, many still talk about Westbroek’s Sieglinde in the Met’s (then) new Walküre in 2011. It’s Wagner’s fault that Elisabeth isn’t as pithy or as passionate.

Venus is the naughty counterpart to the saintly Elisabeth: before the opera starts she has lured the bored, disenfranchised Tannhauser away from the Minnesingers in the first place. Michelle DeYoung fights the uphill battle Wagner created for her character with both courage and strength.

The Venusberg scene in the original 1845 Dresden version, not performed by the Met since the days of the Old Met on Broadway and 39th, is shorter, shallow on Venus’s character and without much, if any, of a Bacchanal, the old word for a dance party. The very long part of the new Venusberg scene is the ballet Wagner was advised to expand for his 1861 Paris version so the local dandies of the Jockey Club could watch their ballerinas wiggle on stage before bedding them later backstage or elsewhere. Wagner, obviously out tune with the aristocratic customs of Paris, put his new ballet in Act I (!) before the dandy buggers even finished dining.

Wagner was always the artist but often a social loser.

For Paris he also took the opportunity to give more depth to Venus’s character, Musically and dramatically the new scene foreshadows, to some extent, his Kundry in Act II of Parsifal.

Though it’s true that Wagner’s revisions for the Paris version create a better balance for Act I with respect to the other acts, it comes at the cost of belaboring both the eroticism of the lengthy ballet section (let’s be real: how many times do we need to see couples, lovely as they are, flailing, humping and running around?) and a relationship which, in the long run, we don’t much care about because the music, foreshadowing Parsifal notwithstanding, goes relatively nowhere.

It’s a no-win situation. Wagner knew it still wasn’t right, and I’ll bet you will too as you’re sitting through it. In this performance it also becomes an issue because the artists are for the most part static. If only he could fix it...one can wish Wagner were still composing. Sadly he's doing the opposite.

James Levine conducts the score, as he does with everything he touches, as if it were the best music in the world. And the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, under Donald Palumbo, is given several chances to shine.

I leave you with two very good reasons to catch the Met's Tannhäuser this season: first, it is very well sung and musically top shelf, as the opera goes, and second, it is a safe bet, knowing how things go, that this will be our last chance to see the Schenk/Schneider-Siemssen production of Tannhäuser. Enjoy it, Wartburg, warts and all.

Performance date: October 12, 2015.

Photos: Marty Sohl

Be advised: Tannhäuser is performed here in three acts, with an early curtain. The running time is 4 hours, 40 minutes, including two intermissions.

Enjoy the fall color! Folks travel miles to see it. Live it here.

JRS

Verdi's Otello opens the Met season

Verdi’s Otello opens the Met’s new season

The Metropolitan Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, arguably one of the greatest operas of all time. Certainly my favorite…Always has been.

This new production is by Bartlett Sher, who, at least at the Met, has delivered delightful comedies (L’Elisir d’AmoreLe Comte OryIl Barbiere di Siviglia, to name three) or small dramas (Two Boys) or works lurking somewhere in between (his dark Les Contes d’Hoffmann). But Otello is the real deal, a heavyweight champion by any comparison.

Sher and his collaborators Es Devlin (set designer), Catherine Zuber (costume designer), Donald Holder (lighting designer) and Luke Halls (projection designer) create an ambiguous performance space for the new Otello, an empty stage enclosed by two tall mirrored walls at more or less a right angle to one another, the apex pointing backstage. Victorious warships returning in a stormy sea to relieved onlookers on a quayside on the island of Cyprus it ain’t, in other words.

Opening storm in the Met's new  Otello

Opening storm in the Met's new Otello

But the walled space serves to amplify both voices and the music such that the terrifying storm for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which is the opening of Act I, knocks you back into your seat. Luke Halls’ projections of waves undulate with the ripples of sound emanating from the pit and an amplified low frequency roar simulates the howling wind. It’s really big. The walls will serve the same amplifying function when the big chorus regroups for the end of Act III (as written).

Variations to the space, a few props here and there, some different projections all contrive to create the scene changes. For instance, the inn on the quayside specified in the original stage design is here suggested by long tables, which are rolled out through tall doors in the mirrored walls after the storm subsides. That’s where they all get the goblets of wine for the victory celebration. The projections on the walls and the colors of the celestial canopy change appropriately, blood red, for instance, when Otello cries Sangue! See-through white glass (probably plastic) mobile three dimensional facades of buildings with doorways through them and stairways inside emerge through the tall openings in the mirrored walls at various times and in various configurations as the drama progresses, sometimes two or more at once. These too will change color at times.

But when all is said and done, overall, scenically speaking, there is an air of aimlessness to it. Perhaps the production just hasn’t quite clicked yet as to what should be where under which projection and in what color. It needs tinkering.

And the strobe lightning effects in Act I should emanate from behind the walls, or at least from the wings, not be placed at the foot of the stage directly in the eyes of the audience. For now it’s just bright lights right in your eyes, not even remotely lightning. It too needs tinkering.

Dramatically Sher makes the motives of the characters mostly clear: during the opening storm, Cassio (sung by Dimitri Pittas) kindly comforts his dear friend Desdemona (sung by a beautiful Sonya Yoncheva) without any suggestion of anything inappropriate. He is quite crushed by her death at the end. Yes, Otello is an outsider, but an older man and a Moor only in the text. The time is probably mid nineteenth century, judging from the uniforms and gowns. Does it matter really?

Ora e per sempre addio : Otello and Iago in Act II

Ora e per sempre addio: Otello and Iago in Act II

Iago (sung by Željko Lucic), like Boito’s other spoilers (Barnaba, Mefistofeles, Falstaff, and Nero), is more complex an individual than just a thug. He even nods and bows sometimes to the audience like a jester who has just finished his spiel, one time about a cruel god, whatever. But make no mistake: Sher gives Iago a quite nasty edge. Emilia (sung by Jennifer Johnson Cano) is strong and supportive; Lodovico (sung by Günther Groissböck) is strong and authoritative. Characters firmly etched.

Less well conceived (or maybe just less well executed) is the title character himself. Aleksandrs Antonenko has the requisite volume and heavy metal in the voice for the role of Otello (though at times even these lose their focus). But he doesn’t seem to have connected completely with the possibilities and nuances of the role, nor do his actions spring from within. Otello’s introspective rambling Dio! mi potevi scagliar tutti i mali in Act III is a case in point. On the whole the total package is variable, rather a bit of a letdown for a performance that should become increasingly wrenching emotionally as the evening wears on.

To be fair there are genuinely gripping moments when I wished I had tissues: it gets pretty raw with Otello’s harsh insults to Desdemona, along with his harping on and on about the handkerchief, while she fatally continues to plead Cassio’s suit. Talk about a ‘death wish.’ So too is his cruel behavior toward her in front of the aforementioned assembly of all the Cypriots for Lodovico’s greetings and communiques (both in Act III as written). All good, but these shouldn’t be isolated moments.

Sonya Yoncheva is Desdemona in new  Otello

Sonya Yoncheva is Desdemona in new Otello

Yoncheva’s Desdemona is nicely sung with a clear, shining voice, particularly in the Willow Song and Ave Maria. There is not a lot of sadness in her intonation though. Lučić is in good shape vocally, revealing the darker sides of Iago rather than, say, that of a more suave, schemer, such as Thomas Hampson did for me and my family in a previous season. Dimitri Pittas as Cassio is young and bright in voice; Günther Groissböck matches the gravity of Lodovico with a gravity in voice; Chad Shelton’s Rodrigo and Jeff Mattsey’s Montano are younger, more vibrant than typically portrayed.

Okay, some aspects of the new Otello are a letdown. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séquin’s conception of Verdi’s mighty score, as realized by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, was unequivocally superb. It never lacked the forward propulsion toward the tragic conclusion, yet at the same time it allowed inner voices of the orchestra to emerge naturally, all without drawing undue attention to itself, as if to say “hey folks, listen to this!” A talented and remarkable young fellow, he! I look forward to hearing the HD performance.

It is fitting that the Met chose to dedicate the Opening Night performance of Otello to the memory of the great Jon Vickers. His was an Otello who suffered deeply the seeming loss of Desdemona’s love based on the word of someone he foolishly trusted. And then she was no more.

On the page In Memory Of OperaMetro celebrates Jon Vickers through the memory of fans who saw him on stage and who knew his recordings.

I have to say this though: my first two Otellos, Jon Vickers, and James McCracken, were magnificent artists. A performance with either of them was memorable (but for completely different reasons). Yet to stop the journey of discovery then and there would have blinded me (and the rest of us) to a young Placido Domingo, whose Otello (with Sherrill Milnes live at the Met in 1979 and also on recording) was epic, soon to be the stuff of legends as well. Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior were great too. My mother saw them in Tristan und Isolde in 1935, and on her word, I found their recordings. They were great. But then came Birgit Nilsson…

But it’s 2015. Revere the past, cherish the recorded documents we have. But seek and be open to the best in today. Don’t ignore greatness because it’s not your era.  

Photos: Ken Howard.

Review performance date: September 28, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s running time is about 3 hours, including one long intermission between (as written) Acts I, II and III, IV.

Beginning of my reviews of the new HD season!! Warm evening sun streaming across the plaza. It’s always a special time of the year!

JRS

Met's Trovatore is first HD telecast

The Metropolitan Opera’s Il Trovatore is the first HD telecast this season.

OperaMetro was NOT at one of the two live performances of Il Trovatore this season prior to the Met’s October 3 live in HD telecast. Here, rather, are excerpts from my review of the David McVicar production of Il Trovatore when it premiered in 2009. Two artists this season repeat their roles from the (then) new production; singers new to their roles at the Met are familiar to audiences from other operas. 

In 2009, I wrote that the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore is at once a psychologically penetrating drama yet at the same time a great night at the opera. Hats off to David McVicar for pulling this one off!

McVicar’s keen dramatic insights and taut direction have transformed a work which, over the years, has come to epitomize ridiculous opera plots. On top of the story’s improbabilities and coincidences, Verdi and his librettist Salvadore Cammarano chose to put on stage only the highly emotional confrontations between the principal characters, leaving the many background details to narratives, one-liners or simply to our imagination. Not a problem with great singers on stage: most fans just sit back and enjoy the ride.

But McVicar is not content to let his singers merely stand and deliver Verdi’s glorious vocal lines. By his direction, even at the opera’s beginning, Leonora is tormented by her love for Manrico, the mysterious knight who, we learn, appeared to her once in a jousting contest and who now, as the troubadour, sings to her at night. Whereas most Leonoras I’ve seen merely clasp their hands in mild despair and rustle their hoop dresses a little, McVicar’s Leonora is already out of her hoops and on the floor in a rush of emotion. As her love for Manrico becomes increasingly desperate and extreme, so do Leonora’s decisions and actions.

Anna Netrebko as Leonora below Manrico's prison cell

Anna Netrebko as Leonora below Manrico's prison cell

Manrico is caught between two women (Leonora, his love, and Azucena, his gypsy mother), but he also experiences conflicting emotions: he wants the blood of his rival, the Count di Luna, yet when he has the opportunity to thrust a blade into di Luna’s heart, a strange pity stays his hand. McVicar highlights Manrico’s conflicts without resorting to the ridiculous or the inane, as Graham Vick frequently did in the Met’s embarrassing previous Il Trovatore production.

This season the great Anna Netrebko brings her take on Leonora to the Met stage. Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth thrilled audiences last season (the telecast of which is now available on DVD). It shall be interesting to see what she does in this psychologically and dramatically different role.

Yonghoon Lee as Manrico rallies his men

Yonghoon Lee as Manrico rallies his men

Manrico will be sung this season by tenor Yonghoon Lee, who stepped in at a moment’s notice for an ailing Jonas Kaufmann in last season’s Carmen. I can attest to his dramatic commitment and often exciting upper register. Manrico, like Don José, is a passionate character, but also more sensitive, more complex than the cardboard portrayals we sometimes find on the opera stage. McVicar’s direction allows for these other sides: The Castellor scene has a brief moment of repose (Ah, si, ben mio) where one feels that Manrico and Leonora, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, might finally find some peace together.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna

Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna

Russian baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky repeats his essay of the Count di Luna this season. Di Luna is often your stereotypical opera villain who also loves the soprano. But again, here his character is given additional dramatic dimensions, especially during his face-to-face encounters with Manrico. I recall Hvorostovsky’s rich voice filling the role’s noble bel canto demands. Fans pray for his good health.

Dolora’s Zajick’s also returns as Azucena. Zajick owns this role: she’s a more familiar quantity to Met audiences, indeed it was the role of her Met debut in 1988. Her mad scene in the gypsy camp is central to the drama: Azucena lets it drop that she, in a frenzied state, mistakenly threw her own son into the fire instead of the kidnapped son of the old Count di Luna. Now there’s a whoops! In every performance Zajick delivers this delirium with aplomb and throughout the course of the opera keeps Azucena’s revenge completely in her sights. The marvelous basso Štefan Koćan sings Ferrando.

Marco Armiliato will conduct Il Trovatore this season.

McVicar’s sound dramatic sense here is matched by an effective mise en scene: the evocative sets are designed by Charles Edwards, the colorful costumes are by Brigitte Reiffensteul and the intelligent lighting is designed by Jennifer Tipton. Mr. Edwards has created a tall multidimensional wall that is rotated to create the many scenes; the vaulted background and the costumes evoke the troubled moods of the Spanish painter Goya. The famous Anvil Chorus is given a very visceral edge by large anvils struck by large sledge hammers. All in all it is an exciting production.

Il Trovatore is performed here in two large acts; the scenic transitions are swift and smooth, thus giving the drama forward propulsion without undue pauses.

Performance date: no, I didn’t see Trovatore this season. Above is relevant inserts into extended excerpts of my 2009 review of the David McVicar production of Il Trovatore when it was new.

Photos: Marty Sohl, from this season.

Beginning of a new season!! Wow! Enjoy!

JRS

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