On the Met’s 2017-18 season, or, free yourself

The Met announced their 2017-18 season last week to, on my internets at least, general yawning. Let’s take a look.

The new productions are haunted by compromise. We know that the opening night Norma was going to be Anna Netrebko, but she reconsidered and it went to Sondra Radvanovsky, who has already sung the role at the Met and thus lacks much opening night novelty. Somehow I doubt we can expect much novelty from David McVicar’s production, either. (I have written about McVicar at the Met here. Short version: he can be an interesting director, but rarely is one at the Met.)

Most notably from my perspective, a planned new production of La forza del destino by Calixto Bieito was canceled due to financial concerns. I can’t imagine this would have gone over too well (I recently witnessed Bieito’s East Coast debut and it was not great), and the word from London, where the intended co-production already premiered at the English National Opera, was that it wasn’t the director’s best work. But it at least would have been an event. Instead we get a bunch of performances of the Verdi Requiem, which is a sorry excuse.

Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel is the only genuinely exciting new production, and might even arrive the same season as the tenuously planned new Sondheim musical on the same subject. (Here’s hoping!) It also has the distinction of only having been performed in two opera houses before the Met. The other new productions are old news. Cendrillon is a lovely piece but we’re getting it via a very well traveled and DVDed Laurent Pelly production. (The Met: taking the “new” out of “new production.”)

The Phelim McDermott Così was at the ENO back in 2014 and features the surprising casting of Kelli O’Hara as Despina, of which I am skeptical (directorial choice is odd too, but who knows? what was this one like in London? why is everything always from London?). Finally, there’s a Tosca that is actually new but is also McVicar and I am inclined to agree with La Cieca’s take on it. If the promised Kaufmann/Terfel duo actually materializes, though, it at least has the potential to be… as exciting as it was when I last saw them in it. At the Met. In 2010. Anna Netrebko sings the title role in April, replacing Opolais, which could be something to see.

The revivals contain some much more interesting prospects, including a Vogt/Herlitzius Parsifal that I will surely write an excessively long blog post about and maybe go see more times than is reasonable, Angela Meade and Javier Camarena in an old production of Semiramide, Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczala in Luisa Miller, and Yannick N-S conducting Elektra with Christine Goerke. The Chéreau production and Goerke will be an interesting combination, something I wrote a little about when it premiered with Nina Stemme last year. If you’re into Thaïs, and I confess I am not, Ailyn Pérez and Gerald Finley are some quality casting.

I will pie chart later but without breaking out Excel I can say that there isn’t a single opera in a Slavic language next season and that is disappointing.

Now for the critical take: this season was met with a general gnashing of teeth and I certainly agree with that. It is pared-down, safe, and we know of interesting things that were supposed to happen but didn’t make it. But I am slightly exhausted by all the hot takes noting that the Met is an antiquated institution. I mean, you’re just figuring this out? You only noticed this season that the Met doesn’t program many female composers? I don’t think that public shaming, no matter how big or well-populated your soapbox, is actually going to do anything to change this.

Two things: first, the problem is structural. The Met is funded by a donor base that in general would not have liked a Bieito Forza and doesn’t much care about the underrepresentation of anyone who isn’t a white man. It needs donors. It is a very large theater, it operates in a way that is very expensive, and if you don’t change these basic things you aren’t going to get that all-Schreker season that you long for. Since the Met is facing increasing financial challenges and the NEA, small beans that it is, is probably going to dissolve by lunchtime tomorrow, I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.

Second: the Met isn’t all of opera. It does a good job of marketing itself as such and lots of people buy the hype. Its vast media empire—carried out at the multiplex at your local mall, which often seems like all too appropriate a setting—positions it as The Greatest Opera on Earth. But if you decide it isn’t what you want out of opera, take your attention and your audience support elsewhere! Before you state the obvious I admit that I am not the best example here, because I do write about the Met a lot, and that has to do partly with its prominence (it gets me teh clicks) and my love of singing. If you really want to hear big time, international voices in the northeast US, the Met is necessary.

But there is other opera that is different and don’t forget that. I try to get out of the US when I can because as y’all know I also love Regietheater and that means Europe. But there’s lots more going on in the US too. Take a look at Opera Philadelphia, which I enjoyed a lot when I lived there a few years ago. Philadelphia has a reputation of being “not an opera town” but their season, while much shorter than the Met’s, is way more interesting. New opera is happening everywhere, and you’re usually a lot closer to the action than the Family Circle. Recent conservatory grads are putting on Mercadante in an old pickle factory or whatever it is that is going on in Brooklyn. Go to the Prototype Festival! (Again, I’m sorry I didn’t, but the timing didn’t work for me. I’m going to try to be better about this myself. Writing scathing Met reviews is kind of satisfying, but I may be part of the problem here.)

So write your hot takes and tweets about the Met if you want, and you aren’t wrong, but remember that the Met isn’t all of opera unless you let it be.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder about branching out beyond the Met. For those of us in the NYC area, LoftOpera and Utopia Opera seem to be doing interesting things.

    I noticed while looking for a past review of yours that some of your older reviews are missing from the new blog — was this intentional? (Specifically, it was a review of Carmen at the Met with Elina Garanca, from around 2010.)

    1. There is a reason for missing old stuff! I had some problems moving things over to WordPress (some of the old posts that made it are very poorly formatted, too). I’d like to go through and fix it but it’s not been super high on my priority list right now. Thanks for looking, though!

  2. Ahaha, aimed straight at people who think the world begins and ends on Manhattan….and with the Met.

    I haunt the New & Unusual page of OperaBase to find repertory the Met (and, sadly, most big US companies) will never touch, and, really, I should be tracking directors of interest as well. So, Kupfer, Konwitschny, Bieito, Herheim, Guth – any other recommendations?

    We are getting more than our share of McVicar in SF the last few years, sigh.

  3. I’ve noticed that an increasing number of New Englanders and Great Lakers are coming to Toronto rather than making their occasional pilgrimage to the Met. The COC has noticed too. They now have an “out of town” subscription that lets one see all six productions in three weekends at subscriber prices.

    1. I would love to come to Toronto but it would mean a flight for me. I’m easy driving distance to Montreal, but haven’t found the right performance to visit there yet.

      I went to Toronto a lot when I was growing up in upstate NY, though! (It was considered the clean and affordable alternative to NYC, which was around the same distance in the other direction.)

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