Cav-Pag double bill at the Met

Review of the Met’s new Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci

Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci are good buddies. I mean, they’re practically twins: they hail from the same general region of the Mediterranean rim, they have a similar male-female social hierarchy, and they settle sexual problems in the same rather blunt and terminal way. They’re not exactly role models for healthy relationships or for the benefits of working things out through marriage counseling, in other words. But then few operas are.

Sir David McVicar and his team, Rae Smith (sets), Moritz Junge (costumes) and Emil Wolk (vaudeville consultant), team members all in their Met debuts, have stripped Cav to the essentials of Greek theater while cluttering Pag with a lot of 1950s Italian film funny business. The stories work, though: the focus of the former adds gravity to the plight of poor Santuzza, the centerpiece of the action; the perpetural motion of the latter is as entertaining as a successful group of low budget traveling clowns should be. And it’s actually pretty silly and amusing, though ultimately teetering on distraction as the noose of the plot tightens. But overall there is no big problem here with the directorial decision

Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) is set in 1900, not that it really matters much, and opens with a troubled Santuzza entering on to a slowly rotating open space surrounded immediately by chairs, but walled in the background by the dark stone buildings of the small town. The mis-en-scene is reminiscent of the style of Wieland Wagner’s early post-war Bayreuth productions of the Ring and Parsifal. The Wagner brothers also liked Greek theater.

The chairs are eventually filled by members of the small community, all dressed anonymously in black. At times a long table rises out of the floor, usually when Mamma Lucia, Turiddu’s mother, is on stage. She owns the tavern. The men gather, drink, dance, and pose like roosters in the coop. Spare, yes, but the dramatic essence of Cav is not missing in Sir David’s production.

Eva-Maria Westbroek is Santuzza

Eva-Maria Westbroek is Santuzza

Not only is Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Santuzza broken by her ‘condition,’ but also by the mocking she receives at the hands of Lola, Turiddu’s new mistress (also Alfio’s wife) and by Turiddu’s indifference toward her when the flirtatious Lola strolls though. Santuzza rats on him to Alfio, thus leading to Turiddu’s death. This production adds weight to impact of her decision. Westbroek well meets the dramatic demands of the role.

Marcelo Álvarez’s Turiddu is cleanly sung and also acted well, though sufficient tension was missing in his last moments. Look, Turiddu is a nice fellow, attractive, probably reasonably well off, son of the tavern owner, loves his mother, not a fighter…Not surprising the women like him. But Alfio, sung by George Gagnidze, is a rough man and, worse, a wronged man and, even worse, it’s not because he hasn’t been paid by a client for hauling stuff, not wronged by trifles, but a man wronged because someone else is sleeping with his wife. Bad, in other words. I have to think Turiddu should not be taking the challenge to a duel as lightly as Álvarez seems to here, viva il vino spumeggiante notwithstanding. Mamma Lucia is sung by Jane Bunnell; Lola is sung by a very saucy Ginger Costa-Jackson.

Pagliacci is updated to 1949, a period fans of the old black and white Italian films or, more recently, Cinema Paradiso will relate to. Whereas this production places the drama of Cav dead center, the drama of Pag is somewhat diffused by genuinely funny business on stage and also by laughter in the theater. It’s the show within a show after all. The players actually keep the spirit of “the show must go on” until the bitter end. That’s really what both Beppe and Tonio advise Canio after he discovers Nedda in the arms of Silvio. Must go on until you no longer can…

George Gagnidze is Tonio in Pagliacci

George Gagnidze is Tonio in Pagliacci

George Gagnidze is now Tonio the funny man. He appears before a bright blue curtain, center spotlight, mike in hand to sing his famous Prologue, but stage business with three clowns and the mike cord pulls us from the gravity of what the prologue lays forth. Marcelo Álvarez’s Canio is a played as an entertainer who drinks too much, which perhaps is why his relationship with his wife Nedda has fallen apart. Kudos to Álvarez for differentiating the two characters in this double bill. But, again, I want more weight and tension in those last moments. While the length of Pag (1892) was inspired by the success of Cav (1890), the musical and dramatic weight of Pag was inspired more by Verdi’s Otello (1887).

Patricia Racette and Marcello Alvarez in Pagliacci

Patricia Racette and Marcello Alvarez in Pagliacci

Patricia Racette is a Nedda who functions, who puts up with a relationship and business she wants out of; Andrew Stenson is a light hearted Beppe; Lucas Meachem is a forceful Silvio. Marty Keiser, Andy Sapora, and Joshua Wynter are Canio’s excellent troupe.

Same town backdrop, but the props for Pag include a performance truck, lots of bags, traveling stage sets, curtains, and props. And still the chairs for the evening’s fare. As one who likes clutter…maybe ‘tolerates’ is the better word…I would feel right at home on this stage.

Fabio Luisi is an exceptionally intelligent musician, whose work at the Met I eagerly anticipate. His take on Cav was, like his Wagner, balanced, broad and measured, always articulated instrumentally, never heavy; likewise with Pag but with the added gaiety of the clowns. From where I sat in the house it was difficult to gauge the overall volume and richness of the orchestra. Maybe next time.

The essentials are all there. The camera work for the approaching HD telecast will most likely intensify Cav with close ups to shrink the large stage space and clarify Pag by highlighting the central action amidst the ceaseless goings on. Enjoy.

Pagliacci is in the top 100 on my list of favorite operas, even more so as I have matured.

Photos: Cory Weaver.

Review performance on the special date of: April 14, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s running time is a tad over 3 hours, including one intermission and a pause for the scene change in Pagliacci.

The crocuses are up!

It hasn’t snown in weeks! (Why not ‘snown’? Rhymes with ‘sewn’ and ‘shown.’)

Make it special. Because it should be.

JRS

Grigolo and Damrau star in Manon

Massenet’s Manon returns to the Metropolitan Opera

My problem with Massenet and his Manon is that he, and therefore it, seems to teeter on the fine line between the serious and the silly. I have the same problem with Carmen. The creative team of the Met’s current production of Manon has decided not to brush aside or mute the lighter sides of the opera, but for me their decision sometimes weakens the impact of the more serious sides.

Director Laurent Pelly (who also designed the costumes) and Chantal Thomas (sets) are internationally famous for their productions of French comic operas, notably here La fille du régiment and several of Offenbach’s gems in Paris and elsewhere. View enough of these and Pelly’s signature directorial style jumps out at you: exaggerated poses from the silent film era, silly walks that verge on Pythonesque, a chorus that often turns, leans, and moves robotically to the music, lots of busy movement up and down stairs or ramps, and so on. Thomas’s sets tend to be properly suggestive of the location of a scene, but are never brick by brick literal and often come with improbable extras.

Guillot de Morfontaine steps out

Guillot de Morfontaine steps out

Take Guillot de Morfontaine, for instance: he’s the old roué who dallies with the charming young beauties Pousette, Javotte, and Rosette at the opera’s beginning. He has a silly walk, and as for the girls, save that Massenet wrote the music, they could be Carmen’s girlfriends Mercédès and Frasquita or the three cousins in Perichole. Very amusing, actually. Yet it’s Guillot’s serious charge of cheating and the summoning of the gendarmes that ultimately leads to Manon’s arrest, her degradation at the feet of those who used her, and her death. Not very amusing at all.

Diana Damrau in the Cours de Reine scene

Diana Damrau in the Cours de Reine scene

The cast members for this season’s Manon apparently take Pelly’s directions seriously and execute them with panache. At the center of the drama are Diana Damrau as Manon and Vittorio Grigolo as Des Grieux. Whereas Damrau is sometimes asked to behave in a manner that borders on caricature, particularly as ‘Manon the innocent young thing at the inn in Amiens’ or ‘Manon the courtesan kept by the wealthy de Brétigny,’ at other times she plays the natural woman in love. Damrau rose to the pitch of passion when necessary, overcoming the effects of a cold on the evening reviewed here.

Grigolo again delivers a passionate account of a man hopelessly smitten by a woman. His character seems relatively untouched by Pelly’s predilections. Grigolo’s acting is sincere and consistent with the situations Des Grieux finds himself in and though stylistically Grigolo is far from your classic French tenor, I again find myself responding to his ardor and desperation. His heartfelt cry at Manon’s death sent a shudder through the audience.

The secondary characters were all finely etched. Russell Braun is Lescaut, Manon’s cousin, who here is a bit more refined than the rascal he is in the novel. Dwayne Croft is a cool and shifty de Brétigny, the one who engineers Manon’s descent into the demi monde. Nicolas Testé is a stern Count Des Grieux, Christophe Mortagne’s Guillot is crisp and exasperated in his manner and Pousette (Mireille Asselin), Javotte (Cecelia Hall), and Rosette (Maya Lahyani) are lovely to look at and to hear.

Emmanuel Villaume conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with the same attention to the inner voices of the score we expect from him, though I wanted more of a caress from the themes associated with the tender love between Manon and Des Grieux.

I marveled at Chantal Thomas’s evocative clouds as the backdrops for many of the scenes in this production, but was generally disappointed with the otherwise bland sets. At least with La fille du régiment there was more complexity, texture and color.

Photos: Ken Howard.

Review performance date: March 12, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s running time is a tad over 4 hours, including two intermissions.

I told you spring was coming! Make it special. JRS

The Met presents rare Donna di Lago

La Donna del Lago, Rossini’s tale of rebellion in the Highlands, premieres at the Met.

From the announcement last February that Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez would premiere Rossini’s opera seria La Donna del Lago at the Met this season I knew I’d be there. Why would one miss a chance to witness arguably two of the finest singers of this era together again on stage singing a style of opera perfectly suited to their strengths? Especially when the opera was written by one of the all time great opera composers...here it is, home court.

DiDonato as Elena is every bit the center of La Donna del Lago. Much like Cinderella, she, the Lady of the Lake, is renowned for her beauty but she also excels at hospitality, kindness, and loyalty, all strong virtues in my book. Consequently, Elena has many admirers and a whole chorus of friends who, at one point in the opera, drop over to her hut for a dram of single malt and a spot of haggis. She also has three men, not to say gentle men, who seek her affections. Elena therefore has a lot of duets and her fair share of solo numbers. It’s a plum role for a high mezzo.

Joyce DiDonato is Elena

Joyce DiDonato is Elena

Like her Maria Stuarda, DiDonato’s Elena reveals more personality dimensions than one usually encounters in operas of this style. There are of course other singers who can get through the vocal challenges, but few can communicate the soul of their characters as well as DiDonato. Add to this her unique range of tonal qualities, from soft velvet to strong steel, and her agility…her final “all’s right with the world at last” aria Tanti affetti in tal momento is exquisite. DiDonato is, in a word, phenomenal. Brava!

Juan Diego Flórez sings Re Giacomo V (King James) of Scotland, who, disguised as Uberto (Hubert), wanders about seeking the legendary Lady of the Lake. He falls in love with her, but she is plighted to Malcolm, a Scottish warrior, though Elena’s father wants her to marry Rodrigo di Dhu, known by his close comrades as 'Whoop,' the gruff leader of the Highland. Flórez sings the fiendishly high tessitura of the role with aplomb, coloratura and all, and has longer scenes with DiDonato.

Elena's affections are torn between two lovers, Giacomo and Rodrigo.

Elena's affections are torn between two lovers, Giacomo and Rodrigo.

Equally high is the role of Rodrigo, sung admirably by John Osborn. The role of Malcom is sung by a mezzo, thus giving Rossini the opportunity to write a duet for two female singers. Daniela Barcellona is a good match with DiDonato.

The Oath Scene, ending Act I

The Oath Scene, ending Act I

There is ample work for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, though they tend to travel in packs, thus transitioning the isolated banks of the lonely loch to the bustle of a Times Square in a heartbeat. The Oath Scene is a case in point, as is the glorious finale of the opera.

Michele Mariotti conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He allows Rossini’s score to unfold rather gently, but adds muscle when needed.

The scenes in this new production by Paul Curran, with sets and costumes by Kevin Knight, are rather cleverly changed by shifting floors, elevators, portable props, and sky projections designed by Driscoll Otto. It’s a small, relatively spare, but effective set. The rocky floor space is flanked by immense black walls, probably just there to hide the wings backstage and meant to be unseen. No doubt the HD cameras will stick to this perspective.

By all means take the opportunity to see this one! As my dear friend Dick says, “You never know when they’ll do it again.”

And don’t hesitate because you don’t know La Donna del Lago. I’ll wager less than 1% of the audience knows La Donna del Lago, let alone has ever seen it on stage. But you probably know La Cenerentola and perhaps you even had the privilege of hearing DiDonato and Flórez in it last season. Though a serious opera, Lago is stylistically closer to Cenerentola than it is to a serious opera by any other composer. It’s another chance to relive the magic.

For the record, La Donna del Lago is scheduled for next season as well.

Photos: Ken Howard.

Review performance date: February 25, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s running time is about 3 hours 15 minutes, including one long intermission. The first act is about 95+ minutes. Plan accordingly.

Make it special. Soon we’ll be dancing on the lawn in the moonlight. When the great thaw cometh, that is. JRS

 

New Iolanta and Bluebeard's Castle

Иоланта and A Kékszakállú herceg vára at the Metropolitan Opera in February.

The Metropolitan Opera’s double bill of Tchaikovsky’s last opera Iolanta and Béla Bartók’s only opera Bluebeard’s Castle is by all means a must-see event. Although the experience of sheer joy as the curtain falls on the final chorale of Iolanta is completely negated by the somber gloom and suffocating ending of Bluebeard’s Castle, the emotional journey stays with you, making for a quietly reflective ride home. At least there’s time at the intermission to celebrate.

The new production by Mariusz Treliński links the two tales dramatically, thematically and, to an extent, scenically. Men of power, Iolanta’s father King René and Judith’s new husband Duke Bluebeard are both hunters, both linked by a glove on the hand. This is more graphically evident in Iolanta in the opening sequence and later when a stag is brought in, hooked and drained, if more inferred in Bluebeard from the trophies on the wall. They are oppressors of their women; they are also murderers, psychologically, physically or both.

This should not be surprising, given the plot of Bluebeard’s Castle, but isn’t Iolanta after all a happy occasion: King’s daughter now can see a wedding in her future, no pun intended. However Treliński and dramaturg Piotr Gruszcyński suggest that Iolanta’s blindness is probably not her only problem here. The King may have darker reasons for keeping her isolated from all others, silencing the servants and threatening death to all trespassers. Who visits Iolanta’s bedroom during the prelude? And who is left standing joyless as the joyful chorus leaves the celebration on stage at the curtain?

Anna Netrebko as the blind Iolanta

Anna Netrebko as the blind Iolanta

Other features of the staging warrant mention: Boris Kudlička’s sets and Marc Heinz’s lightings are effectively dark and nightmarish, particularly the trees and vine work that descend on Iolanta’s remote enclosure at times. Her ‘room’ rotates so that indoor and outdoor scenes can be changed seamlessly. Bluebeard’s castle is cold but more industrial and open, less constricted and drippy stoned than the music suggests. At least there are enough scene changes to add motion and a variety of menace to keep one’s attention throughout. These are enhanced by video projections (Bartek Macias) and Halloween type sound effects (Mark Grey). Happily, not a word that comes quickly to mind when discussing Bluebeard, this attention to detail and atmosphere make this Bluebeard a far cry from the dark blue basically unchanging visual-dramatic vacancy of the previous Met production with Sam Ramey and Jessye Norman in 1989.

Iolanta is cast to strength: Anna Netrebko is in excellent form vocally and dramatically (as evidenced also in her newly released recording of the opera on DG (see OM’s page Opera Recordings). Iolanta is a big role, right up there with Tchaikovsky’s Tatiana, Joan, and Lisa. Here the direction is tighter; Netrebko is focused every moment. Brava Anna!

Anna Netrebko and Piotr Becala in Iolanta

Anna Netrebko and Piotr Becala in Iolanta

As Vaudémont tenor Piotr Beczala matches her in a robust love duet, preceded by a sentimental little aria. Baritone Aleksei Markov (who also appears with Netrebko on the new recording of Iolanta) is a strong Duke Robert. Both the duet and two arias were soundly applauded, as they should be. Ilya Bannik sang the role of King René in my performance, replacing Alexei Tanovitski, who was indisposed; Elchin Azizov is a moving Ibu-Hakia, the physician/philosopher who, with the help of love and Allah, cures Iolanta.

The spoken prologue to Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle raises the question “where is the stage: within? without?” The age old drama of a spirited, young lover who is ‘bought off,’ silenced with jewels by her immobile, impenetrable man is right in front of you on stage or, if you zone out a bit, it now plays out in your reverie, probably resonating in part of your collective unconscious. Bartók’s music is achingly beautiful and truly unique, arguably one of the greatest operas of the 20th century. Easily one of my 100 top favorites.

Apart from their differences Bluebeard and Judith might have made a handsome couple. Judith is 'delivered' by his driver, as if just back from, maybe, their wedding reception, though her blue gown more suggests an urban cocktail party. He's come back earlier, his tux is askew from digging what will be her final resting place. Come inside. But hardly through the door she approaches him, he avoids; he comes menacingly closer, she cowers.

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bluebeard's Castle

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bluebeard's Castle

Nadja Michael’s Judith is seductive, seemingly more eager to make the relationship work, despite all signs to the contrary from her smoldering but somber man. She wants to bring light into Bluebeard’s darkness, despite the rumors that there were others before her who had come to harm; Michael’s voice is a unique combination of a strong upper range and a deeply low end; her lithe body begs for a steamy bath, then later a white robe, like that of a virgin to be sacrificed. Michael is riveting, sensual, and frightened, enhanced by her many supple postures. Mikhail Petrenko’s Bluebeard is virile, if also moody but he is ultimately closed off emotionally. He almost responds to Judith’s ardor, even asking her to kiss him…were it not for her insistence on opening all of the doors to his being. Petrenko is young enough to make her efforts and reactions plausible.

Mikhail Petrenko is Bluebeard with Nadja Michael as Judith

Mikhail Petrenko is Bluebeard with Nadja Michael as Judith

Valery Gergiev leads both operas. OM’s review used the words ‘mannered’ and ‘more measured’ to describe his sound picture of his Iolanta on Philips CDs. For the most part he stands by that approach here at the Met. He brings an unfolding beauty of it all, never rushed. Gergiev’s read on Bluebeard’s Castle is to lower the dynamics and stress the more subliminal, dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish aspects of the score; the orchestral sound flows like the Rivers Acheron and Lethe, ultimately more engrossing and penetrating. Close your eyes at times, go under with it. Let it seep in and disturb you. It should. This double bill is the Met at its best!

Photos: Marty Sohl.

Review performance date: February 3, 2015.

Be advised: the performance’s real running time, as opposed to what’s posted, is about 3 hours 45 minutes, including one very long intermission.

Not a date opera...but make it special and keep it cozy. Snow is pretty until it’s not.

JRS

 

The Met’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann reviewed

The Metropolitan Opera’s 2009 production of Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann is back, just as dark, busy, and surreal as ever, Kafkaesque, Felliniesque, you name it, and still just as long as ever, because, bless them musicologists, they just keep finding more pages of the score. But again this time Hoffmann comes to us with an overall first rate cast and is therefore just as enjoyable and moving as ever. It’s one of my favorite operas, has always been so since the good old days of Nicolai Gedda, my first.

It’s a tenor opera. Happily over the years the Met has cast Hoffmann to strength, fishing from the world’s pool of great singers. I very much enjoyed Joseph Calleja in the production’s first season, and of course many others before him. The choice of Vittorio Grigolo for this run may, for some, seem to contradict the above, but I find the young man’s ardor in voice and expression, his desperation in character totally winning in performance on stage. Grigolo brings an unchecked, unflagging passion to his Hoffmann and to his interactions with all of the others, especially with his women.

Vittorio Grigolo and Kate Lindsey

Vittorio Grigolo and Kate Lindsey

Apart from the fräulines, Hoffmann’s most frequent companion is his Muse of Poetry, his inspiration, who at times assumes the guise of Nicklausse, his friend and protector. Mezzo Kate Lindsey repeats her marvelous essay on these roles from 2009. Most of the music added to Hoffmann since way back when concerns the Muse/Nicklausse character, either directly in solo numbers or in interactions with others. Like Hoffmann, she is on stage a very large percentage of the time, which is just fine with me in Lindsey’s case.

Thomas Hampson has never been a singer to rest on his impressive catalogue of laurels. Here he adds the long night of characters to his playlist, characters who, well, shall we say, are ‘obstructions’ to Hoffmann’s happiness in one way or another: Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, and Dapertutto. In order, Hampson is coldly aristocratic, maniacal, daemonic, and downright mean and manipulative, and, at the end of the evening in the Venice scene, he manages Scintille, diamant! with panache. Bravo!

Thomas Hampson as Dr. Miracle and Hibla Gerzmava as Antonia

Thomas Hampson as Dr. Miracle and Hibla Gerzmava as Antonia

Soprano Hibla Gerzmava sings both Stella, the opera singer (not a big role) and Antonia, the singer whose health prevents her from following her art. Gerzmava’s ample voice fills the house with ease. The coloratura role of Olympia, l'automate, is charmingly taken by the young Erin Morley; Christine Rice is a beautiful Giulietta, the courtesan.

Erin Morley as the doll Olympia

Erin Morley as the doll Olympia

Grigolo as Hoffmann and Christine Rice as Giulietta

Grigolo as Hoffmann and Christine Rice as Giulietta

The others include the brilliant, I think, character tenor Tony Stevenson as Andrès, Cochenille, Franz, and Pitichinaccio. He brings back the feel of these roles as heard on the ’48 Opéra Comique Hoffmann under Cluytens. David Crawford is a forceful student Hermann and a nasty Schlémil; Dennis Petersen is the student Nathanaël and the crazed Spalanzani; David Pittsinger is Luther, the tavern keeper, and also Antonia’s father Krespel. Olesya Petrova is the spirit of Antonia’s Mother.

Kudos to the Metropolitan Opera Chorus under Donald Palumbo for their contributions in voice and characterizations, not only in the more rousing chaos of Luther’s tavern, but also in the big Septet in Venice and the grand finale when Hoffmann finally gets his act together and starts to tickle the keys of his typewriter again.

Conductor Yves Abel gives a spirited reading of Offenbach’s wonderful score.

Bartlett Sher’s production, with sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Catherine Zuber, plays well still, though I find it sometimes too busy when it shouldn’t be or not busy enough when it isn’t. The darkness of it all makes it much like a dream, even a nightmare in which the narrative is interrupted frequently by uninvited, perhaps unwanted persons from previous scenes or from those yet to come. The experience is at first puzzling, but on each recurrence one learns to roll with it. Cognitive flexibility is a virtue in these cases.

I very much loved Hoffmann on stage and in HD the last time. This go-around should be no different. Don’t miss it.

Photos: Marty Sohl.

Review performance date: January 22, 2015.

Be advised: the performance running time is about 3 hours 25 minutes, including two intermissions.

Make it special. Bring someone you love. Or maybe four. Smile: the days are getting longer!

JRS

Met's new Merry Widow to be telecast in HD

The Met’s sumptuous new Merry Widow to grace the screens in HD

Operetta? I love it! I hear it as I stop to smell the roses. Initial premise as well as corroborative personal evidence thus stated, now to the Met’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, which premiered New Year’s Eve just past.

It’s a gala affair, as it should be, in many ways like the Met’s foray into the younger Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus last season. The Merry Widow production this year is properly sumptuous and colorfully elegant, but also a little trashy when it needs to be. Jeremy Sams’ English dialogue and translations of the lyrics are smooth and generally witty (and thankfully not as trashy as they could be in this day and age, given the obvious undercurrents in a story from Lehár’s day and age).

Also, very important for the mood of an operetta evening, the folks on stage seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. Placido Domingo and Frederica von Stade, stars of the Met’s previous production, new in 2000, didn’t seem to be having a whole lot of fun together. Not exactly a lesson in interpersonal chemistry...The Mellow Widow more like.

Director/choreographer Susan Stroman, in her Met debut, is a major part of the sparkle. She keeps the action and the dancing moving right along, but without falling into the easy trap that just because music can be danced to it should be danced to. The Chez Maxim scene at the opera’s close is much too much fun to be considered excessive; the dancers and the Waltzerlied (Princess Anna Elisa’s Liebe, du Himmel auf Erde from Act II of Lehár’s Paganini, sung in English) inserted therein gives the scene a nice weight of its own, putting it in balance with the previous two, even if it prolongs an otherwise speedy denouement. What’s more, the dancers are lovely, lively, and sexy, as well they should be.

Renée Fleming and Nathan Gunn as Hanna and Danilo

Renée Fleming and Nathan Gunn as Hanna and Danilo

Hanna Glawari is a diva role for sure. Renée Fleming soars through her two showcase airs (Vilja and the above mentioned inserted waltz song) and follows the mood of her other numbers well. She plays the society lady, but when things get a little scrappy she finds her inner farm girl (Hanna’s that is, not Ms. Fleming’s) to give her character more depth. Hanna, so the story goes, was a farmer’s daughter whose love relationship with the young Count Danilo was dashed by his appearances and rank minded uncle. About to lose the family farm, Hanna marries big money, only to have her older husband die on their wedding night. Now she’s über wealthy and available. Hence a merry widow.

Danilo is expertly and handsomely handled by baritone Nathan Gunn. Vocally, the part lies well within his comfort zone, both singing and speaking. His character’s complexities shine through too: Danilo is still heartbroken over the loss of Hanna and somehow resentful that she married for money soon thereafter. Inside he hasn’t stopped loving her, keeping rather a stiff upper lip, so to speak, which, we learn early on, he liberally wets with drink and the lips of the loose women at Maxim’s. Yet he refuses on principle to start up the relationship with her again because of her money. Gunn and Fleming nicely convey the approach-avoidance conflict throughout the evening.

Kelli O'Hara and Alek Shrader as Valencienne and Camille

Kelli O'Hara and Alek Shrader as Valencienne and Camille

Soprano Kelli O’Hara, in her Met debut, is charming and vivacious as Valencienne, the wife of the older Baron Mirko Zeta, who serves as ambassador in Paris for Pontevedro, a small Balkan country teetering on bankruptcy. O’Hara brings a joyful jolt of youth, even letting her hair down to dance with the girls in the final scene. She’s torn between a respectable marriage and a passionate affair with Camille de Rosillon, her French suitor, sung by Alek Shrader. O’Hara sends as many mixed messages as her dilemma allows. Shrader is a handsome Rosillon, pleasing but rather light of voice. However, his aria and their duet before entering the pavilion was simply ravishing, a highlight of the evening. This is Lehar at his most sensual.

Sir Thomas Allen is a strong blustery Baron Zeta. Noteworthy for his comic timing and characterization is Carson Elrod in the speaking role of Njegus, listed as Danilo’s Assistant. Very funny, always evoking a laugh. Bravo!

Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra with flair.

Ms. Stroman’s choreography is consistently fluid and creative, be it formal waltzing, Balkan folk dancing, or a high kicking Parisian can can. Julian Crouch’s sets, with costumes by William Ivey Long, and lighting designed by Paule Constable provide a colorful backdrop for the action.

Festivities at Chez Maxim

Festivities at Chez Maxim

The depth of the sets sometimes swallows the dialogue and also any singing that lies below a singer’s projection range. To compensate for the first problem, the dialogue is tastefully miked (check out the pair of large crescent speakers suspended from the Met’s ceiling); as for the second, the placement of the microphones for the HD telecast performance should allow everything to be audible.

It’s worth noting too that Hanna’s golden evening gown seems to constrain the ease of some of Fleming’s movement in the final scenes.

Review performance date: January 6, 2015. For the record, on this evening a backstage scenery malfunction interrupted the progress of the final scene. No one was hurt and the performance continued as soon as it was corrected.

All and all the Met's new Merry Widow is very pleasant night at the Met, a veritable musical treasure from the world of operetta.

Photos by Ken Howard.

Be advised: the performance running time is 2 hours 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Start the new year off right: make it special. Stop to smell the roses. Well, when they finally thaw. Too darn cold out there Tuesday night!

JRS

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel sparks holiday season

We each have our own recipe for making our holiday season magical. For me and my family a performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s wonderful Hansel and Gretel has frequently been one of the key ingredients, though over these many years we’ve found lots of other festive things as well to do at Lincoln Center on every side of the Plaza.

Unlike Tchaikovsky’s ballet The NutcrackerHansel and Gretel is not actually about the holidays in any specific way. The children are sent into the woods by their mother Gertrude to pick strawberries, hardly possible in late December. Mom is unhinged by despair, true, but she probably knows it’s not winter.

My German grandmother making gingerbread cookies and, as she baked, singing in her own fashion the songs from the opera in the original more or less time-stamped my seasonal associations with the tunes. Also, background here, Humperdinck first wrote the music to verses written by his sister Adelheid as a little Christmas entertainment for the children. Only later did he enlarge its scope to a quite respectable faux-Wagnerian opera, though, happily, not as long as one. Hänsel und Gretel premiered in Weimar on December 23, 1893, with Richard Strauss on the podium. It was almost immediately successful.

The original fairy tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, on which the opera is based, is about two resourceful children who cleverly thwart their evil stepmother’s plan to abandon them in the deep woods to die. Poor the broom maker’s family is, and, worse, with famine in the land, there is not enough food to feed four.

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gretel is comforted by Christine Rice as Hansel

Aleksandra Kurzak as Gretel is comforted by Christine Rice as Hansel

New in 2007, the current production by Richard Jones, with imaginative sets by John Macfarlane, focuses on hunger. Hansel and Gretel’s magnificently bizarre dream in the second scene is all about lots of food, not about angels who, in the previous version at the new Met in 1967, literally hovered over them during the Dream Pantomime, lowered by wires from above.

Here the extent of their misery in the first scene is amplified by the stark, bare white washed kitchen, devoid of anything remotely comforting; the opera’s final scene, the Witch’s kitchen, is an industrial size bakery, hardly very inviting or cozy either. The Jones/Macfarlane production is far more nightmarish than the Met's ’67 setting: here even the children’s dream of an elegant meal for two, which you’d think would be a good dream, like just the thing to put a big dent in that hunger, is fraught with disturbing images, including a fish (the maître d’) and attendant trees in tuxedos, the latter identified by their branching hairdos. Then twelve Tweedledees I think serve up the evening’s fare, marching in as the Knights of the Holy Grail from Parsifal. In fact I’d swear the Sandman was conceived as a Richard Wagner look-alike, as if he had come back from the dead to oversee his apprentice’s work. I could be wrong.

Gretel is served the house special Zuppa di Pesce

Gretel is served the house special Zuppa di Pesce

What works well in this production is that the children are feisty, active and positive. I very much loved every minute of Aleksandra Kurzak’s Gretel. Such a presence, such a voice! She’s conceived as more of a ‘you go girl!’ character, less passive than some Gretels I’ve seen previously. As her debutante role, Christine Rice’s Hansel was a fine pesky brother; each retains a playful spirit in spite of the dangers that threaten. Michaela Martins was a mother Gertrude driven mean by desperation.

Of the men, long time Met veterans Dwayne Croft presented a strong, supportive father Peter and Robert Brubaker crafted a wild Witch. Though most of the singing in this opera is mid-range, each principal gets her or his chance to let a solid note loose.

Robert Brubaker as the Witch. Not your Grandmother's kitchen is it.

Robert Brubaker as the Witch. Not your Grandmother's kitchen is it.

Carolyn Sproule, also in her Met debut, was a soprano surprise as the Sandman, given her gruesome costume; Ying Fang was the sweet Dew Fairy, who also does dishes.

The Children’s Chorus Director is Anthony Piccolo; Sir Andrew Davis led the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra through an enchanting reading of Humperdinck’s wonderful score. I still find Hansel and Gretel magical. Take the opportunity to find the magic for yourself and your family.

The performance scheduling and ticket pricing of this holiday run of Hansel and Gretel encourages bringing the kids. There were several in the seats around me last night. Parents should know that, though sung in English, much of the text is unintelligible and it goes by so quickly. The subtitles help, of course, but reading them through, my issue, distracts from the total experience of each present moment. Probably best to prep the story (a synopsis can be found on the Met’s website (www.metopera.org)) or better yet, watch the DVD of this production at home ahead of time (available on the Internet or at the Met Shop). Knowing the music is always a plus. Also, the first act is about an hour. Good to know in making decisions.

Be advised: the performance running time is 2 hours 10 minutes, including one intermission.

Review performance date: December 18, 2014.

Photos: Cory Weaver.

Make it special. Happy Holidays to all!

JRS

Met's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg coming in HD

The Metropolitan Opera revives Wagner's epic Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg 

Wagner’s epic Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is as much about the creative process as it is itself a work of art. It reflects Wagner’s introspective examination of the workings of his psyche, every bit as penetrating as Freud’s self-psychoanalysis. If you’re a believer, then it’s heroic, profound, even ‘heavy’ as we used to say…if you’re not a fan, okay, fair enough: at least with Meistersinger you can sit back and enjoy the music, the singing and the Met's production. Reading Freud is far less entertaining, trust me.

It goes like this: to extent that art communicates the soul of the artist to the soul of the people, the artist must be open to his muse at all times, inspiration often coming in the form of dreams. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer crystalized Wagner’s thinking on this as much as Schopenhauer’s works would influence Freud’s thinking about dreams decades later. After laying out all this stuff about art (and along the way dropping hints that he, Richard Wagner, is next in the line of the past masters of German music, Beethoven and the like), he has Hans Sachs, the master singing cobbler, the centerpiece of the tale, tell it like it is: if a culture, a nation doesn’t value and support its own art, the art will dwindle. In a nutshell, that’s it.

Why, you may ask, does it require 275 minutes to get to this point? This is Wagner, remember.

The Metropolitan Opera revived its current production of Die Meistersinger as conceived by Otto Schenk and team: sets by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, costumes by Rolf Langenfass, and lighting by Gil Wechsler. They are essentially the same team that brought us the previous productions of Wagner’s Ring and Parsifal.

Meistersinger is a gentle comedy, a simple story laced with heady theory, broadly paced over a long evening. Surrounding moments are filled with enough busy work to keep one’s attention up but not so much as to compromise the mood with distracting silliness.

Hans Sachs, the hub of the drama as it were, was taken this evening by veteran Wagnerian James Morris. That he sang the entire role without noticeable strain is by itself heroic; that he imbues his musings with a keen sensitivity to the text betrays the mark of a seasoned, intelligent artist. Bravo!

Annette Dasch as Eva is comforted by James Morris as Hans Sachs

Annette Dasch as Eva is comforted by James Morris as Hans Sachs

His foils, Sixtus Beckmesser and Veit Pogner, also Mastersingers, are artfully created. Johannes Martin Kränzle is a compulsive Beckmesser, plagued by insecurities and frustrations. One imagines that he paces and fidgets even off stage, as he does on the streets of Nürnberg in Act II. Hans-Peter König’s Pogner is a solid tradesman and Bürger, strong in voice and grand in stature.

Johan Botha wins the prize as Walther von Stolzing

Johan Botha wins the prize as Walther von Stolzing

Wagner purposely lowered the temperature (and vocal demands) for Walther von Stolzing and Eva Pogner, the romantic interest in Meistersinger, after his over-the-top Tristan und Isolde. Also, happily, the pair don’t discuss love as much here. Johan Botha’s Walther is brightly sung, as is Annette Dasch’s Eva. Dasch effectively underlines the complexity of Eva’s relationship with Sachs. If the first act of Meistersinger is essentially didactic, all rules and restrictions, and the second more comic, culminating in the pillow fight on the streets of Nürnberg, the long third act is rich in emotions. Walther and Eva come to life and Hans Sachs is honored.

Well, that’s the ‘upstairs.’ The ‘downstairs’ characters are well taken here also: Paul Appleby is a cheerful, extraverted David, Sachs’s apprentice, and Karen Cargill is a happy, cuddly Magdalene, Eva’s attendant. Kudos to both for creating such a caring relationship.

Of the several Mastersingers, Fritz Kothner is the longest role: bass Martin Gantner takes attendance and reads the rules with style. Bass Matthew Rose is a sonorous Night Watchman.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, under Chorus Master Donald Palumbo, brought the long evening to a close as the townsfolk praise Sachs and German art. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, under James Levine, played superbly. Levine’s approach was at times thoughtful and introspective, especially underlining Sachs’s ruminations, and at other times grand as needed. Die Meistersinger is indeed a masterpiece and a privilege to hear in a live performance.

Review performance date: December 6, 2014.

Photos by Ken Howard

Be advised: the performance running time is 5 hours 50 minutes, including two intermissions.

Make it special. Happy Holidays.

JRS

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Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met

A happy Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera

Lawrence Brownlee as Almaviva, Christopher Maltman as Figaro, and lsabel Leonard as Rosina

Lawrence Brownlee as Almaviva, Christopher Maltman as Figaro, and lsabel Leonard as Rosina

The Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Bartlett Sher’s production of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia is a happy affair.

While it doesn’t completely ignore the undercurrent of social unrest, much more evident in Richard Eyre’s take on Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro earlier this season, director Bartlett Sher catches what Rossini left him and runs with it intelligently and creatively. We have doors, fruits, vegetables and plucked chickens in perpetual motion, thus fluid scene changes and healthy salads; we have sharply defined characters, thus many steps away from a mere buffo run-through; also we have unexpected laughs and impossible silliness, thus very few moments during which one’s attention could lapse, as it might in these sorts of operas. I’ve still no clue why a giant anvil crushes the pumpkin wagon to close Act I…all the same, I was a fan back at the production’s premiere in November of 2006. I stand reaffirmed in 2014.

A large part of the evening’s success rests with the cast and the pit. They, down to the smallest character, respond with fine musicianship, passion, and on stage with a boat load of smarts, all very necessary for the split second timing of the action.

Mezzo Isabel Leonard is every inch an exquisite Rosina, down to the last twitch of her right foot. In addition to her remarkable bella voce, she has an acute sense of Rosina’s inner workings such that her mercurial reactions to the ever changing complications of the plot are displayed as naturally as they would be in an animated discussion with parents about boyfriends and curfews. But more than that, Leonard brings a grand joie de vivre to the stage, as she did with her Cherubino, though here she is a young woman in love, not a young woman playing a young man in love with every woman he meets. Savor the moments. Bravissima!

Likewise Christopher Maltman, as Figaro, lights up the stage whenever he appears. Sher has him more of a Don Giovanni sort of character, a real babe magnet, though I suppose a little concrete evidence that Figaro really knows the hearts and bodies of the women of the Siviglia can’t hurt his resume. Maltman is lithe and vital, a real charmer.

Lawrence Brownlee reminds us that true Rossini tenors also come from the USA and that it’s possible to have a good time in character while singing some very difficult vocal lines. The ease with which Brownlee, in the Lesson Scene in Act II, moves from ardent protestations to comic posturing without missing a beat is outstanding. Another beautiful voice.

The two curmudgeons, Dr. Bartolo and Don Basilio, are pleasingly drawn. Maurizio Muraro’s Bartolo is edgy without being nasty, at times reflective though without dwelling too long on matters, and genuinely flummoxed when the reality hits that all his precautions to keep Rosina for himself were useless. I’m not sure Bartolo deserves the tongue lashing he gets from Almaviva at the opera’s finale. Don Basilio is winningly brought to life by Paata Burchuladze. A seasoned professional he, it’s good to have him back at the Met.

Claudia Waite is a sneezing Berta, alluding perhaps to the famous Sneezing Trio from Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia from 1782. Rob Besserer repeats his debut role of Ambrogio. Sher fans will also remember Besserer’s Prompter in the Le Comte Ory in the spring of 2011. Without uttering many words, Ambrogio creates lots of dialog of his own with the others on stage and with the audience.

Michele Mariotti conducts Rossini’s brilliant score with aplomb. The evening zips by, but never rushes.

Kathleen Smith Belcher realizes Bartlett Sher’s direction for this revival. In addition to the clever staging, the color schemes wrought by Michael Yeargan’s sets, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting are most attractive. The storm, a usual feature of Rossini operas, is creatively and attractively presented, i.e., not just a darkened stage with rumbles of thunder and flashing lights. It’s the total package here: the production’s aesthetic quality and consistency are critical parts of its success as much as the happy energy of the performers on stage.

Should be a real hoot in HD.

There is only one intermission.

Review performance date: November 18, 2014

Make it special. Winter is coming.

JRS

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Met revives Bizet's Carmen

Metropolitan Opera’s Carmen heats up the stage in HD.

Perhaps it was my grandmother who said, and I quote, “A watched pot never boils.” Or maybe it was someone else’s grandmother. Ignoring this wisdom, I kept watching Thursday’s performance of Carmen at the Met, waiting for something to happen. I wasn't remotely hot.

The great Emma Calvé as Carmen, who did not sing this night

The great Emma Calvé as Carmen, who did not sing this night

Certainly conductor Pablo Heras-Casado was doing his best to heat things up. From the first bold chords of the prelude, his reading of Bizet’s wonderful score is vigorous and exciting, lyric when necessary, and always cleanly articulated. Excellent throughout.

And soprano Anna Hartig as Don José’s innocent love Micaëla is pretty hot from the moment she steps on stage in Act 1. The soldiers on duty that day obviously think so. Her unwavering sympathy and gentle love for José is kept to the fore. Remarkable for its overall beauty, Hartig’s voice is ample in size when necessary, as in her aria in Act 3.

Don José, sung on this evening by Brandon Jovanovich, replacing an indisposed Aleksandrs Antonenko, was another matter. He seemed a bit uncertain at first and his voice was not yet warm or focused. Likewise, Anita Rachvelishvili, as Carmen, wasn’t warm vocally at first either. Their first encounter in Act 1 lacked the necessary fatality.

But, pace Nana, these two were really cookin’ by the opera’s tragic ending. Jovanovich settled into an appealing essay of La fleur que tu m’avais jetée in Act 2, complete with a soft piano conclusion, and had achieved a more comfortable fit into Don José’s misery and desperation. About the same time Rachvelishvili found the upper edge of her powerful voice. The duo’s final encounter in Act 4 was a gripping visceral experience, well worth the watch. Bravi!

Massimo Cavalletti’s Escamillo was rich in his overall sound, bold in his stage presence, but weak in his articulation of the text.

Originally written for the Opéra Comique in Paris, Carmen offers an interesting mix of light and dark. Ironically, the bandits and their babes are the funny ones, more out of an Offenbach operetta. Carmen’s girlfriends Frasquita and Mércèdes, sung by Kiri Deonarine and Jennifer Johnson Cano respectively, are as charming and delightful as their music. Well, Le Dancaïre, le chef du bandits, sung by Malcolm MacKenzie, adds a touch of menace by appearing to set Zuniga on fire before the band takes to the hills. That’s not funny at all. Scott Scully sang Le Remendado, replacing Eduardo Valdes.

The smaller roles of the soldiers were uniformly well taken. Keith Miller is a virile Zuniga, John Moore as Moralès is on duty at the opening curtain, as are the others on the first watch. The solo dancers Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey are lovely to watch, though the lovely prelude to Act 3 always seems out of place for what’s to follow.

Sir Richard Eyre’s conception of Carmen is notable for its constant motion. Similar to this season’s winning Figaro, the sets by designer Rob Howell are tall concentric structures, which allow for the elimination of two intermissions, thus making the only break between Acts 2 and 3 (as written). But I’m still not sure why the factory ladies need to emerge from below stage for their entrance. There is no mention of a subway stop in the libretto.

Review performance date: October 23, 2014.

Make it special. JRS

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Review of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a saucy new production of Mozart’sLe Nozze di Figaro under the direction of Sir Richard Eyre.

He brings an insightful magic to Figaro, revealing that which can lurk beneath love relationships. It’s passionate, sometimes explicit and raw, sometimes merely simmering, sometimes just teasing, and in many ways, as a great Figaro should be, it is deeply moving. Yet it’s also pretty downright funny. Figaro is, after all, an opera buffa.

Isabel Leonard as Cherubino makes a pass at Marlis Petersen as Susanna

Isabel Leonard as Cherubino makes a pass at Marlis Petersen as Susanna

Eyre gets his actors to behave in very earthy ways while singing absolutely heavenly. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are Marlis Petersen as Susanna and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino.

Petersen’s Susanna runs a whole gamut of emotional states during the opera’s madcap day. Something of a vixen, she really tempts the Count, even allowing him to put his hands on her, but it’s clear that her behavior is part of the lesson plan. One of the longest soprano roles in the repertory, Susanna is on stage a lot longer in Eyre’s staging. Petersen sings beautifully to the very end. Brava!

Isabel Leonard has pulled out the plumb role of Cherubino. Hardly angelic, her Cherubino is a slick pup on a sex jag throughout the tale’s long day. This is funny on stage because of its extreme; thankfully, Eyre doesn’t push Cherubino over the line into the zone of crude and therefore no longer amusing.

Basso Ildar Abdrazakov is handsome and charming as Figaro. He and the Countess are, in many ways, the main characters the least pushed beyond the comfort zone of their roles. This means I could almost imagine Ezio Pinza in Eyre’s conception of Figaro, whereas I can’t imagine Frederica von Stade doing his take on Cherubino. Abdrazakov’s Aprite un po’quegli occhi is wonderful, as he was the whole evening. Bravo!

As the Countess, soprano Amanda Majeski’s voice reminds one of the grand Mozart sopranos of the late 1950s, particularly Maria Stader or Lisa Della Casa. Majeski is stately and controlled in her arias and shines as a critical component of the ensembles. Her Countess begins the sad day alone in bed and she seems truly defeated with Cherubino about to come out of her closet in Act 2, but as the afternoon and evening of the day wear on she achieves a more positive, active space.

Peter Mattei, as always, is a wonderful stage presence in this. His Count is without doubt the master of the house: you’ll see it right at the start during the overture and all through the performance. Incorrigible! His comeuppance in the garden couldn’t come sooner! But Mattei is also quite fun to watch as the incongruities between his desires, expectations and reality become apparent. He too sings marvelously. Bravo!

The comic roles of Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina are well taken by John Del Carlo and Susanne Mentzer, the former doing his grand basso buffo thing, the latter ramping up the inner comedienne in her. Ying Fang was Barbarina.

James Levine, an acclaimed master of Mozart’s music, gives additional muscle to his reading of this incandescent score. The timing between pit and stage in this production is split second; happily the ensemble is well rehearsed.

Richard Eyre claims as his inspiration Jean Renoir’s 1939 film La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), which was based on Beaumarchais La Folle Journée (Day of Madness (or Folly)), which, as you know, is the source for Da Ponte’s libretto for Le Nozze di Figaro. Like La Règle, Eyre places the action in the early 1930s. Rob Howell’s sets evoke Moorish designs in a tall, rich Spanish manor. Rooms flow smoothly across the stage front by means of a large turntable such that characters can scamper about through halls and doorways to various interconnected rooms. Thus, through the overture, Susanna can work in one room, show Figaro off her wedding veil in another, as the Count emerges from yet another room to clean up from his night in the sack with one of the help. It is tremendously clever and works quite well.

This Figaro is performed with only one intermission between (as written) Act 2 and Act 3.

Photo: Ken Howard

Performance date: October 2, 2014

Make it special. JRS

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Preview of 2014-2015 HD Season

Preview of the 2014-2015 HD season of Metropolitan Opera performances.

Anticipation runs high for the 2014-2015 season of The Met: Live in HD. Of the ten telecasts, five are new productions, two of them operas never before seen at the Metropolitan Opera. The remaining five productions are audience favorites, four previously telecast, this season boasting new casts; Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg will be telecast in HD for the first time.  At www.OperaMetro.com please check for reviews of these HD operas at the Met to be telecast this season.

Please note: the casts listed below are subject to change; the dates listed are those of the live to-be-telecast Saturday matinee performances at the Metropolitan Opera House; the curtain times listed are for these afternoon performances and are in Eastern Time. Actual dates and times for the HD telecasts at your venue of choice may vary. Please check your local listings. Many theaters offer encore telecasts of the performance.

The first HD telecast on October 12 @ 12:55 p.m. ET, brings back the Adrian Noble production of Verdi’s Macbeth, this time with soprano Anna Netrebko in her first local forays into the heavier Verdi repertory. The stellar cast includes Željko Lučić as Macbeth, Joseph Calleja as Macduff, and Rene Papé as Banquo. Fabio Luisi conducts. This Macbeth promises to be an ‘event!’

Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro in the Met's new production

Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro in the Met's new production

Opening Night of the Met’s 2014-2015 Season, September 22, unveils a new production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro by Richard Eyre, starring Amanda Majeska as the Countess, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Peter Mattei as the Count, and Ildar Abdrazakov as the clever Figaro, conducted by James Levine. This same cast graces the Met’s matinee performance of October 18 @ 12:55, which will be telecast live in HD.

The HD telecast of Richard Eyre’s take on Bizet’s Carmen follows on November 1 @ 12:55. Anita Rachvelishvili stars in the title role, tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is Don José, Ildar Abdrazakov is Escamillo, and Anita Hartig is Michaëla. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts.

Bartlett Sher’s inspired production of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, new in 2006, returns to the HD repertory on November 22 @ 12:55. Lovely Isabel Leonard is Rosina, tenor Lawrence Brownlee is the young Count Almaviva, Figaro is sung by Christopher Maltman; Michele Mariotti conducts.

James Levine conducts Otto Schenk/Günther Schneider-Siemssen production of Wagner’s grand Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for the telecast of December 13 @ 12 p.m. He conducted the production’s premiere in the 1992-93 season and the performance on DG DVD, released in 2001. On this afternoon, Annette Dasch sings Eva, Johan Botha is Walther, Michael Volle is the noble Hans Sachs, and Johannes Martin Kränzle is Beckmesser.

Renée Fleming and Nathan Gunn star in the new Merry Widow

Renée Fleming and Nathan Gunn star in the new Merry Widow

The Met’s new production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow premieres on New Year’s Eve under the direction of Broadway’s Susan Stroman, with stars Renée Fleming as the merry widow Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Count Danilo, under the baton of Andrew Davis. Merry Widow will be sung in an English translation by Jeremy Sams. The matinee HD telecast is slated for January 17 @ 12:55.

Later in January (1/31) comes the return of Bartlett Sher’s dark and surreal production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann to HD (@ 12:55). In this go-around soprano Hibla Gerzmava performs the role of Antonia, one of the four lovers in Hoffmann’s tortured life. Baritone Thomas Hampson sings Hoffmann’s four nemeses. Always a prominent vehicle for tenors, the role of Hoffmann is sung by Vittorio Grigolo; Kate Lindsey repeats her roles as Nicklausse and Muse; Yves Abel conducts. 

Anna Netrebko brings Tchaikovsky's Iolanta to the Met

Anna Netrebko brings Tchaikovsky's Iolanta to the Met

If all the telecasts listed above offer standard repertory operas, the duo of Tchaikovsky’s final opera Iolanta and Bartok’s only opera Bluebeard’s Castle, telecast in HD February 14 @ 12:55, is a marked departure. Both in one act, each deals with the tremendous power of love under the dark eye of evil: not to give anything away, in the first it eventually goes wonderfully well, a bright moment, so to speak; in the second it goes badly sour, back into darkness. Anna Netrebko sings the blind Iolanta in this Met premiere, performing with Piotr Beczala as Vaudémont. Alexey Markov is Duke Robert; Elchin Azizov is the renowned doctor/philosopher Ibn-Hakia; Alexei Tanovitski is Iolanta’s father King René. Dramatic soprano Nadja Michael essays Judith, Bluebeard’s new bride in the Bartok; Mikhail Petrenko sings the somber Bluebeard. The productions are by Mariusz Treliński; both operas are sung in their original languages; Valery Gergiev conducts.

Another Met premiere this season is Rossini’s epic La Donna del Lago, telecast on March 14 @ 12:55. Bel canto superstars Joyce di Donato and Juan Diego Flórez team up to tell the tale of the Lady of the Lake: she is Elena, who, despondent and in hiding, finds peace on the shores of Loch Katrine; he is Giacomo (James) V, who, though technically an enemy, falls in love with her. How can he know that she loves Malcolm Groeme, here sung by Daniela Barcellona, who is a rebel. And, to complicate matters, Elena’s father Duglas has promised her hand to another rebel leader Rodrigo. With at least two prominent suitors for Elena’s hand, and one lurking in the background, the duets are magnificent vocal displays. The new production of La Donna del Lago is by Paul Curran, with sets and costumes by Kevin Knight; Michele Mariotti conducts.

Marcello Alvarez sings both Turiddu and Canio in the new double bill

Marcello Alvarez sings both Turiddu and Canio in the new double bill

At the end of the season we are treated to a new David McVicar production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, aired on April 25 @ 12:55. McVicar, who has handed us such greats as Giulio Cesare, Maria Stuarda, and Il Trovatore, plays with time here but not with atmosphere or character. Marcelo Alvarez sings both Turridu and Canio in this telecast; Eva-Maria Westbroek sings Santuzza, Željko Lučić is the jealous Alfio; Patricia Racette is Nedda and George Gagnidze is Tonio. Fabio Luisi conducts.

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

The two venues in lower Fairfield County include the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield and the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield. Tickets for the entire season or for individual performances may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/newseason for the Quick Center or www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org for Ridgefield. Or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396 or the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795. Tickets for all HD performances go on sale to Metropolitan Opera contributors on Friday, August 15 at both venues; tickets go on sale to the general public on Friday, August 22. Please check for times and dates of additional performances. Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

Make it special.