“La donna è mobile,” “Caro nome,” “Pari siamo,” “Bella figlia dell’amore,” and other well-known tunes from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto are just one of the many delights to be heard beginning December 7, 2013, as the Metropolitan Opera radio season returns to the airwaves.
Glitzy Rigoletto returns to the Met (wqxr.org)
This will be the Met’s 83rd consecutive season of radio broadcasts and its eighth season of high definition transmissions, a record unbeaten in the communications industry. But before we get all mushy over the statistics — and lest that Thanksgiving turkey takes over our appetites — let’s review the list of tantalizing treats on the operatic menu that awaits us.
As mentioned above, Rigoletto kicks off the broadcast season with a cast headed by silver-haired Russian baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky singing the title role for the first time at the Met. Soprano Aleksandra Kurzak is the scheduled Gilda, tenor Matthew Polenzani, who scored a resounding triumph last year as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, is the Frank Sinatra-like Duke of Mantua, with Oksana Volkova as the vampish Maddalena and the returning Štefan Kocán as slimy assassin Sparafucile. Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado makes his broadcast debut in a revival of the Michael Mayer production. Las Vegas will never be the same.
This is followed on December 14 by a new Robert Carsen production of Verdi’s Falstaff, starring Ambrogio Maestri, who portrayed a robust Dulcamara in the same L’Elisir d’Amore. Angela Meade, who made a terrific splash earlier this season in Bellini’s Norma, will play Alice Ford, followed by Stephanie Blythe’s quicksilver Mistress Quickly, Franco Vassalo’s Master Ford, and Paolo Fanale’s Fenton. James Levine, the Met’s peripatetic musical director, who’s been missing in action for almost two seasons (due to back injuries), will return to the podium — a specially constructed one, at that — in the first new production of Verdi’s final masterpiece in almost 50 years. Can’t wait to hear it! Conversely, we won’t be hearing much of the Met’s principal conductor Fabio Luisi, who’ll be taking a bit of a respite after his strenuous conducting assignments of last season.
Next up is a rarity, Benjamin Britten’s operatic take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (December 23). The previous season saw the Met’s presentation of Thomas Adès’ Shakespearean-based The Tempest, which wasn’t my cup of tea to be honest, but hey, maybe things will turn out to be different this time around. James Conlon conducts the returning Tim Albery production, which features Korean coloratura Kathleen Kim as Tytania, Erin Wall as Helena, Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia, Iestyn Davies as Oberon, and Joseph Kaiser as Lysander, in a performance previously recorded in the fall.
Giacomo Puccini’s indestructible Tosca is scheduled for December 28, in the horrid Luc Bondy production from a few years back. Diva Sondra Radvanovsky will play, well, diva Floria Tosca (talk about typecasting), for which many listeners will be looking forward to! Her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, will be taken by Marcello Giordani (here’s hoping this time he stays on pitch). He’ll be threatened with dire consequences by baritone George Gagnidze, the Baron Scarpia, who plans to intimidate the Sacristan of John Del Carlo beforehand. Marco Armiliato will mount the scaffold, uh, I mean the podium.
Julie Taymor’s The Magic Flute (Cory Weaver / Met Opera)
The New Year brings a bumper crop of diversity in the operatic repertoire, starting with a January 4, 2014 broadcast of the truncated, English-language version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, designed by Julie Taymor, with text and lyrics by J.D. McClatchy. Jane Glover will lead from the pit. She’ll be guiding the likes of Heidi Stober as Pamina, Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night, Alek Shrader (last season’s English-language Almaviva) as Tamino, Nathan Gunn as the birdman Papageno, and Eric Owens as the deep-voiced Sarastro. If this revival is as good as the last one, it should be a stimulating Saturday afternoon indeed.
The week after, on January 11, the champagne continues to flow with another new production that will be making its radio bow: that of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus, which is being given an English-language tune-up by the team of Jeremy Sams and Douglas Carter Beane. The cast includes Susanna Phillips as Rosalinde, Christina Schäfer as her servant Adele, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Prince Orlofsky, Christoher Maltman as the cuckolded Einsenstein, rising tenor Michael Fabiano (our Cassio in the Live in HD broadcast of Verdi’s Otello) as Alfred, Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot as Dr. Falke, and Patrick Carfizzi as Frank. Adam Fischer conducts the orchestra. Drink up, everybody!
January 18 begins with the broadcast premiere of Deborah Warner’s highly anticipated new production (directed by Fiona Shaw) of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, starring Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin, Oksana Volkova as Olga, Piotr Beczala as Lensky, and Alexei Tanovitski as Prince Gremin. Netrebko and Kwiecien have teamed up before, most winningly as Lucia and her brother Enrico in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, as Norina and Malatesta in Don Pasquale, and Adina and Belcore in L’Elisir d’Amore (a Donizetti triumvirate, if you like). This is their first time working together at the Met in a truly authentic Russian work. The sparks are sure to fly for Onegin, so don’t miss it!
Kwiecien & Netrebko in Eugene Onegin (nypost.com)
Two back-to-back favorites from years past highlight the next two weeks’ worth of works. On January 25, we have the aforementioned L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, with returning cast members Anna Netrebko as Adina and Erwin Schrott as Dr. Dulcamara. The Russian soprano and the Uruguayan bass-baritone are a real couple in real life, so this should be an entertaining pairing. The lovesick Nemorino will be sung by Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas, and Nicola Alaimo is Sgt. Belcore. The conductor is Maurizio Benini.
Returning after a hiatus of a few seasons is the acclaimed Anthony Minghella production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on February 1. My only regret is that the Met has never performed the composer’s original two-act version, which would benefit from the dramatic and scenic elements this particular production has to offer. Oh well, the cast is especially enticing and includes soprano Amanda Echalaz (new to me) as Cio-Cio San, Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki, Scott Hendricks as Sharpless, and rising young tenor Bryan Hymel, who scored a sensation last season when he single-handedly saved the Met’s revival of Berlioz’s Les Troyens. His was a stunningly delivered portrayal of the near impossible role of Aeneas. I look forward to his warbling as bad-boy Lt. Pinkerton with bated breath.
Antonin Dvořák’s opera Rusalka returns to the repertoire on February 8, in a production previously designed and directed by Otto Schenk and Günther Schneider-Siemssen. They last brought you the old Ring of the Nibelung production at the house, which was replaced by Robert Lepage’s 45-ton monstrosity (Come on, you know. It’s the one with the 24 movable planks). The Met’s young conductor of the hour, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will preside over a cast starring the dependable Renée Fleming as Rusalka, Emily Magee as the Foreign Princess, old reliable Dolora Zajick as Ježibaba, Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as the Prince, and John Relyea as the Water Sprite. Sounds inviting!
Ildiko Komlosi (right) in Die Frau ohne Schatten (Ken Howard / Met Opera)
Two very different works by Richard Strauss are next on the agenda. Fortunately, they’ll be given on successive weekends, which make perfect sense. The first of these, the mammoth Die Frau ohne Schatten, on February 15, has been termed a modern-day traversal of The Magic Flute. And there’s plenty of truth to that statement. Coincidentally, the following week (February 22) will see one of the Met’s oldest productions, Nathaniel Merrill and Robert O’Hearn’s 45-year-old Der Rosenkavalier, which marks its 100th anniversary at the house. It too has been referred to as a modern updating, but of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Pity the Met is only giving The Magic Flute in comparison. It’d be great to have all four operas to contrast with and savor over, but alas it’s not to be!
The cast listing for Die Frau ohne Schatten (in a performance recorded in October 2013) features two sensational sopranos, Anne Schwanewilms as the Empress (the lady without a shadow) and Christina Goerke as the Dyer’s Wife. Ildikó Komlósi is the scheming Nurse, Torsten Kerl is the Emperor (the guy who turns into stone), and Johan Reuter is Barak the Dyer (No, not Obama…). The clarion-voiced Richard Paul Fink (Alberich in the broadcast of Götterdämmerung) will interpret the Spirit Messenger. I’ve heard some marvelous things, and read some fabulous reviews, about this performance. Der Rosenkavalier features Martina Serafin (Sieglinde in Die Walküre) as the Marschallin, Alice Coote as Octavian, Eric Cutler as the Italian Singer, and Peter Rose as the boorish Baron Ochs. The previously announced Mojca Erdmann, in the ingénue role of Sophie, is indisposed. Erin Morley will be the substitute. Do I hear a waltz?
We’re at the midway point in the season, but instead of an intermission we shall plow ahead to the next pair of items, both of which are definitely off the beaten path. For the first time in nearly 100 years, the Met will offer Alexander Borodin’s unfinished Prince Igor on March 1, in a new production by Dimitri Tcherniakov. Fans of the Forrest-Wright musical Kismet may recognize many of the themes in Borodin’s piece, especially the popular Polovtsian Dances. The all-star Slavic cast includes bass Ildar Abdrazakov as the titular Prince. Ildar comes off a successful run of Boito’s Mefistofele at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Yaroslavna will be sung by Oksana Dyka, Konchakovna by Anita Rachvelishvili (last season’s Carmen), Vladimir Igorevich by Sergey Semishkur, Mikhail Petrenko as Prince Galitsky, and Štefan Kocán will take on the congenial Khan Konchak. Gianandrea Noseda will lead the orchestra. Low notes are optional.
On March 8, the Met will revive what it calls a “fantastical Baroque pastiche,” The Enchanted Island, written and devised by Jeremy Sams in a production supervised by Phelim McDermott. A historically accurate compilation of music from various 18th century composers, including Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, and others, it will be conducted by Patrick Summers and feature a plethora of early-music exponents, including Danielle de Niese as Ariel, Andriana Chuchman as Miranda, Susan Graham as Sycorax, famed countertenor David Daniels as Prospero, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Ferdinand, basso Luca Pisaroni as Caliban, and old favorite Placido Domingo as Neptune. As you can tell, this operatic appropriation of the masters of Baroque was “inspired” by Shakespeare (and quite possibly Disney’s The Little Mermaid). I hate to admit it, but I’m not that into Baroque opera as much as I should be. I do love Handel’s Giulio Cesare and, of course, his Messiah and other related works. But this one takes some getting used.
Danielle de Niese & Placido Domingo in The Enchanted Island (Met Opera)
The one I’m really looking forward to will be the new production by Richard Eyre and Rob Howell (the same people who brought us Bizet’s Franco-era Carmen) of Jules Massenet’s crowning achievement Werther, based on Goethe’s romance novel. That will be on March 15. Making his role debut in the house will be superstar Jonas Kaufmann as the title character. His smoldering dark looks and sterling delivery will, hopefully, deliver the goods as well. Kaufmann’s co-stars include Sophie Koch as Charlotte (Jonas and Sophie have appeared together before in the their respective parts, but not at the Met), Lisette Oropesa (last season’s Magda in La Rondine) will sing Charlotte’s little sister Sophie, David Bižić as Charlotte’s husband Albert, and Jonathan Summers as the Bailiff. Get out your handkerchiefs for this one, folks! The ending’s a killer…
And speaking of killers, Alban Berg’s post-romantic, near-modern shocker Wozzeck returns to the repertoire, on March 22, in Mark Lamos and Robert Israel’s production of the work. This revival is conducted by James Levine. Wozzeck happens to be one of the maestro’s specialties. A truly memorable broadcast is being planned, with the likes of Thomas Hampson as Wozzeck, soprano Deborah Voigt as Marie, Simon O’Neill as the Drum Major, Peter Hoare as the Captain, and Clive Bayley as the Doctor. As the work indicates, attention must be paid to the downtrodden.
For a change of pace, we’ll have Vincenzo Bellini’s delightful bel canto specialty La Sonnambula, broadcast on March 29. Conductor Marco Armiliato will preside over a cast starring Diana Damrau as Amina the sleepwalker, Javier Camarena as Elvino, and Michele Pertusi as Rodolfo. The production is the work of Mary Zimmerman, with sets by Daniel Ostling and costumes by Mara Blumenfeld. I can’t hear enough bel canto operas: they’re such delicate, refined creations which must be treated with the greatest of care and respect. But what I read of Zimmerman’s deconstruction of this masterwork, however, left me wondering “What on earth was she thinking?” I’ll have more to say about this production come air time.
Some operas never die. And that goes for Puccini’s perennial La Bohème on April 5, in Franco Zeffirelli’s loving hands, now considered a classic (although Zeffirelli’s La Scala original, available on DVD, is the one to watch). This revival features soprano Anita Hartig as the consumptive Mimi, Susanna Phillips as Musetta, rising star Vittorio Grigolo as the poet Rodolfo, Massimo Cavaletti as Marcello, Patrick Carfizzi as Schaunard, and Oren Gradus as Colline, with Donald Maxwell playing the dual roles of Benoit and Alcindoro. Puccini’s four-act opus has been described as the “perfect opera,” and I’m inclined to agree. The third act is a masterpiece of music drama that hits audiences in the gut with its tragedy and pathos, as well as the beauty of its writing. Credit is due, too, to librettists Illica and Giacosa, who labored over this work under the demanding eye of the composer. The performance will be led by Stefano Ranzani.
Two very different styles will be represented by Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier (on April 12), his verismo take on the French Revolution, and Richard Strauss’ bourgeois melodrama Arabella (on April 19). Giordano’s powerhouse opera requires, no, demands stellar voices to put across its emotional impact to audiences. However, I’m not so sure the scheduled cast meets that prerequisite, but we shall see. Listed as vocal principals are Marcelo Álvarez as the poet Chénier, Patricia Racette as the love of his life Maddalena, and Željko Lučić (the lead in that Las Vegas Rigoletto) as former servant Gérard, in Otto Schenk and Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s bold production, with costumes by the renowned Milena Canonero. Gianandrea Noseda will be the maestro.
Of all Strauss’ mature works, Arabella is the one most aficionados have the hardest time accepting. He may have been trying to recapture the glory days of his one bona fide hit, Der Rosenkavalier, by recycling themes (i.e., young love, an ideal romance, and domestic bliss) previously explored. No matter. The production is in the grand tradition of Old Vienna. Conducted by Philippe Auguin, we’ll hear Swedish soprano Malin Byström as Arabella, Genia Kühmeier as Zdenka, Michael Volle as Arabella’s suitor Mandryka, Roberto Saccà as Matteo, and Martin Winkler as Waldner. Both baritone Volle and tenor Saccà have sung together in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at Salzburg recently, and are acknowledged interpreters of their respective roles. With that said, there’s hope for this old warhorse after all.
Cosi fan tutte ensemble cast (nytimes.com)
The last three broadcasts of the radio and HD season are sure to bring smiles to everyone’s faces, for they all feature slightly lighter fare. Mozart’s seriocomic Così fan tutte concludes the month of April (on the 26th, to be exact), with Met maestro James Levine putting a cast of Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi, Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, Matthew Polenzani as Fernando, Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo, Danielle de Niese as Despina, and Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso, through their paces. The production is by Lesley Koenig and Michael Yeargan.
May Day begins (on the 3rd, actually) with the return of Bellini’s final opera I Puritani, which hasn’t been seen in a while. This should be an exciting performance, what with soprano Olga Peretyatko making her debut as Elvira, bel canto specialist Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo (he of the stratospheric high C’s and D’s), along with Mariusz Kwiecien as Riccardo, and Michele Pertusi as Giorgio. Michele Mariotti will conduct. This is a Sandro Sequi production, with sets by Ming Cho Lee, and Peter J. Hall is credited as costume designer.
And finally, the season ends on a high note (or two, or three!) with Gioachino Rossini’s tour de “farce” arrangement of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola. The production is the work of Cesare Lievi, with sets and costumes by Maurizio Balò. Helmed by principal conductor Fabio Luisi, it stars Joyce DiDonato in her first appearance at the Met as Angelina, the Cinderella of the title, with high-flying Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Don Ramiro (Prince Charming to you), Pietro Spagnoli as Dandini, Alessandro Corbelli as Don Magnifico, and Luca Pisaroni as Alidoro. The “magic” in this opera stays earthbound, and no, there’s no Italian equivalent of the song “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” although Angelina’s concluding aria was “appropriated” (if that’s the correct term) by Rossini and placed in the mouth of The Barber of Seville’s Count Almaviva.
So there you have it: a season to end all seasons — with an opera to suit all tastes. This is as diverse a gathering of styles and works as I’ve heard in a long time. If the Met (and its General Manager Peter Gelb) continues along this route, we’ll have opera to kick around for many years to come. As Mozart’s Don Giovanni would say, “Bravo, bravo, arcibravo!”
Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes