Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Met in 2016-17: Tristan and Beyond

I know, the announcement's old news by now. But because I have many and complicated feelings about the opera house I've so long called home, I'm writing about it anyway. The Met's much-deplored habit of relying on blockbuster singers at the expense of interesting programming or productions still dominates, I think. There are some honorable exceptions in next season's lineup, though. I'd be much more excited about these if the Met didn't congratulate itself for them so vociferously. Still, I am cautiously allowing myself to be heartened about the fact that the publicity for the season and for individual productions is at least giving more time to the directors. Also, there are some exceptions to the "more is never enough" aesthetic in the promotional materials, notably in Willy Decker's sleek Traviata. The chances of my returning to NYC for the upcoming season are, alas, slim, so here's an annotated list of the things I'm most likely to make pilgrimages for. Feel free to tell me what else you think I should see, and who else you think I should hear, in the comments.

5 unmissable operas

Sometimes I tell myself my operatic tastes are really eclectic, and then a season like this has my penchant for German rep and/or wild and wonderful orchestration galloping to the fore.

Tristan und Isolde, Wagner. TRIIIIISTAN. Ahem. I get a little teary just thinking about this. The first time Simon Rattle came to conduct an opera at the Met, I had to sit down for 10 minutes outside just to pull myself together. I love Tristan und Isolde with a great love. We get a new production that sounds as though it's both creative and attentive to the text (an interview with Peter Gelb hinted at explorations of the Morold backstory, inter alia. The promotional image looks Konwitschny-influenced; we shall see.) And as if our cup wasn't already running over, we get Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme as the lovers, and Rene Pape as Marke.

Salome, Richard Strauss. I've never seen this in a full production (though Nina Stemme's fabulous concert Salome is a cherished memory.) If I were still in NYC, I'd try to hear both Zeljko Lucic and Greer Grimsley as Jochanaan.

Fidelio. My beloved Fidelio, finally on the Met stage again, and I'm not there to see it! I grumble in spirit. If I'm still in the northeastern US, though, I shall (hopefully) be there. I'm both excited and surprised by the casting of Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan. I didn't anticipate hearing him on this side of the Atlantic. He's reportedly an intelligent user of acoustics; otherwise, I'd be a bit concerned about the size of the house.

L'amour de Loin, Saariaho. Saariaho at the Met! As the press release itself says, finally! And the cast/conductor combination is likewise exciting. If you are wondering how excited you might be about this contemporary opera based on medieval poetry, please read this.

Guillaume Tell, Rossini. Rossini in my top 5; no one faint! I heard two-thirds of these lead singers in this opera in Munich, and came away euphoric. Also, I really love Gerald Finley; his gorgeous musicianship and thoughtful characterization are equally consistent, in my experience.

5 potentially-great performances

Obviously, multiple singers in the above-listed operas could be counted here. Those I'm listing are the performances which, themselves alone, would be sufficient reason for taking me to the Met if I still lived only a subway ride away (or if I had a more than fledgling-academic income.)

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana. This needs no explanation, really. Whether she's called a diva or a stage animal, the language of the super- or extra-human is applied to Netrebko with increasing frequency and awe. And this shows her in the role.

Latonia Moore as Aida. Moore made her Met debut as a late substitute Aida, to wild acclaim. Now, she gets top billing, and audiences get the chance to book ahead for her.

Karita Mattila as Kostelnicka. Karita Mattila! I love her take-no-prisoners approach to stagecraft at least as much as I love her voice. I've climbed snow drifts to hear her, and I'd do it again.

Jamie Barton as Jezibaba. This should be exciting! I've only heard Barton in concert; this needs to change. Also, Rusalka is gorgeous.

Diana Damrau and Javier Camarena in I Puritani. Is a double-bill breaking the rules of this section? Maybe, but I don't care. I adore Diana Damrau unreservedly, and hear nothing but rapturous praise for Camarena's voice. Also, my sister wants to see this one, despite not really being an opera person. I might have a nascent bel canto devotee on my hands.

Bonus round

There's a new production of Der Rosenkavalier. "...underscoring the opera’s subtext of class and conflict against a rich backdrop of gilt and red damask" is exactly the kind of blurb that makes me gloomily nervous about new Met productions, but it's Robert Carsen, whose Onegin I really like. Also, James Levine (health permitting) will be conducting, which should make it unmissable. Also also, Fleming is the Marschallin. I cannot get excited about Garanca in trouser roles, and I do not know why. Help me, fellow mezzo-lovers.


  1. I mostly look forward to seeing new Rosenkavalier! For me Garanca and Fleming seem great together on stage with Levine in the pit! As far as I know Carson's works, he is a smart director (Falstaff and Onegin are my favorites)! I hope for the best!

    1. He is good! My skepticism is more about the Met's press than his directing, and I will try to embrace your optimism.

  2. Contain your excitement for Puritani--it was an awful production when done with the "dream team" of Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes & Morris in '76. Having seen it twice since then (including the last revival with Anna) it is unwatchable--years ago this was originally planned to be a new production with Dessay! I actually love Puritani and wonder why a new production of R&J (does anyone really like this opera?) instead of Puritani. As for the rest: Tristan and Tell are must sees; I have real problems with the directors for Rusalka and L'amour and will wait for reviews. Fidelio with KFV and Jenufa with Mattila are must sees. Salome has what should be a really good cast with an excellent conductor. You are not interested in Dutchman with YNS conducting Wagner for the first time at the Met? Bryan

    1. Thanks for your additional background provision... I will modify my raptures, but I'm still excited for the singing. I saw the current R&J production a few years ago and found it annoyingly sentimental, so I'm in favor of its replacement. I'm very interested in Dutchman and Nézet-Seguin; I'm a victim of my own five-opera limit!

  3. Garanca's Sesto in Clemenza was fabulous. I mostly just agree with you, except about Puritani. We don't get Tell or Fidelio. Sigh.

  4. On second thought I usually think they drone on about the productions and do little to nothing to promote rising new singers. Fleming, Damrau, Mattila and Netrebko are boosted but new people generally are not.

    1. I'm absolutely with you on the necessity of more promotion for rising artists. Also: they do drone, but too often, they don't say anything and neither do the productions.


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