Met to launch Expanded Operatic Universe

Opera companies tend to rely on a small canon of classic works to fill seats. But the problem, according to Met Opera general director Peter Gelb, is that too few operas lead audiences to other operas. Today he announced that he has found a solution. Taking a cue from superhero movies, Gelb intends to build next season into an “expanded operatic universe,” in which audiences will be able to follow characters from one production to the next. “This will let us see some familiar works in wholly new, yet entirely picturesque and literally represented, ways!”

Next season’s “cycle” will begin in Switzerland. After perky lass Marie enjoys an upbringing with some soldiers, her beloved Tonio dies in action and she reunites with her long-lost father, Miller, who tells her that her real name is Luisa. She then falls in love with another tenor, introduced as Carlo but really named Rodolfo, only to become embroiled in a love triangle which leads to her death.

In a spin-off prequel, we learn that Rodolfo’s pseudonym of “Carlo” actually was his real name: he had moved to Tyrol after being sucked into a tomb by his grandfather, the former Holy Roman Emperor. In a sequel, we discover his later history as “Rodolfo.” Heartbroken at the loss of Luisa, he begins to write poetry and moves to Paris, where he falls in love with a girl named Mimì. After many years and a trip downward vocally, Rodolfo returns to Switzerland, where he encounters a girl named Amina who reminds him of Luisa.

Meanwhile, Rodolfo’s bride, Federica, is left alone, her reputation destroyed. She decides that she will follow Luisa’s example and make her home with a group of soldiers, getting a snare drum, calling herself a gypsy, and using the rataplan skills she learned from Luisa. Then things begin to get really complicated. At one point she thinks she saw Luisa hiding out in a cave, but she isn’t 100% sure. Many years pass and the former Federica eventually wanders through Spain, where she is eventually discovered casting a spell over a very important baby’s cradle and is burned to death as a witch.

The Switzerland portions will be directed by Bartlett Sher, Michael Mayer will handle the Parisian portions (which are rumored to be the basis of next year’s courtesan-focused adventures), and David McVicar will run the Preziosilla arc. The most Switzerland-associated maestro at the Met, Fabio Luisi, will not be involved.

The cycle’s intricacy will doubtlessly be appreciated by notoriously detail-oriented opera fans. There is already a comment thread on Parterre devoted to determining Federica’s Fach and another attempting to determine Marie’s exact age and debating what her boots should look like. Fans will be able to discuss these issues in more detail at the upcoming Metcon.

This reporter asked if the cycle was ever going to make it to Germany and/or to mythological realms but it seems that those properties are owned by another opera house.

Previously:

Norman Lebrecht to host Fox News show

Met announces new initiatives

Startup promises to disrupt opera

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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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Tristan der Held

joseph_albert_-_ludwig_und_malwine_schnorr_von_carolsfeld_-_tristan_und_isolde_1865f

I’m not going to be at the Met’s new production of Tristan und Isolde until October 8, but I talked to the Met’s Tristan, Stuart Skelton, and wrote about the history of the Heldentenor in today’s New York Times:

A few months after the premiere performances of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” the first Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, fell ill. As he died, he reportedly began to sing fragments of his character’s prolonged death scene. Wagner, struck with guilt, wrote: “My Tristan! My beloved! I drove you to the abyss.”

It’s unclear exactly what killed Schnorr von Carolsfeld, but the story that the opera did him in has persisted for a reason.

You can read the whole article here, which includes a Times critic who thought Tristan was “relatively easy work,” Stuart Skelton’s tips for Tristan newcomers, and color commentary from Speight Jenkins and Brian Zeger.

I’ll be back later this week with a review of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier. Yes, I’ve been spending a lot of time driving to Boston and back.

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The Met’s 2016-17 season by the numbers

Around a year ago I used pie charts to analyze the Met’s 2015-16 programming, revealing that what appeared to be a very Donizetti-heavy season was actually a very heavy Donizetti and Puccini season. This was interesting and popular so I’ve done it again for 2016-17.

This season is still largely made up of big canonic Met favorites, almost all from the nineteenth century, but this time they’re spread out significantly more evenly across languages, composers, and styles. Except for Verdi. Can you guess what happened to Verdi!!!!?????

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Puccini and His World

puccini and his world

The Bard Music Festival (at Bard College, which is on the Hudson River well north of New York but south of Albany) starts this weekend and this year focuses on Puccini. As the festival’s introduction put it, Puccini is a composer whose enormous popularity with audiences today tends to efface his controversial past:

Critics derided Puccini for not being Italian enough. He was accused of courting vulgarity and exploiting cheap sentimentality. He was seen as facile and lazy. He failed, with the possible exception of Fanciulla, to match the profundity and subtlety of Verdi, the grandeur of Wagner, and the dramatic virtuosity of Richard Strauss. Even Toscanini, with whom Puccini quarreled despite their closeness, harbored serious reservations. After Puccini’s death, this criticism blossomed into a tradition of intellectual and academic snobbery marked by condescension and neglect.

At the heart of this so-called Puccini problem rests the shifting place of musical culture in the 20th century. Puccini rose to fame as opera struggled, with declining success after 1918, to maintain its preeminence as a cultural and political instrument in the face of the advent of recorded sound, the popularity of photography, motorboats, automobiles (three of Puccini’s obsessions), and, most of all, film. Though Puccini succeeded where others failed, his success was ascribed to various theories of the decline of culture and standards of taste.

As usual the festival’s concerts are an overwhelming montage of Puccini’s music along with that of his contemporaries and successors. Operas include Il tabarro, La Navarraise, Le villi, and the Busoni Turandot as well as excerpts from many more. If you can’t make it in person you can read the whole program book online (I wrote the program note for Program Five, which is Le villi and La Navarraise).

Also as usual, the festival is accompanied by an edited volume of essays exploring Puccini and his legacy, published by Princeton University Press. You can read Emanuele Senici’s introduction to the volume here. If you get the whole thing you can read my account of the composition and initial reception of Puccini’s La rondine, a strange story in which Franz Lehár figures far more prominently than you may suspect.

The festival also figured in a recent Slate article about whether a certain presidential candidate’s favorite aria is politically apt. I think the last scene of Turandot is probably extremely apt but that this presidential candidate probably prefers Phantom of the Opera.

I’ll be at the festival this weekend but I won’t be reviewing it here because…. it seems like a lot of conflict of interest. I already went to see Bard’s production of Mascagni’s Iris last week, which is an extremely weird opera well reviewed by others. If you’d like to listen to Mascagni’s bizarre mix of Symbolism and verismo exploitation for yourself, you can hear no less than Sonya Yoncheva sing in on this recent broadcast from Montepellier (not Bard).

Next summer at Bard: Chopin!

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Met Opera, 2015-16

“So glad I got this newsprint instead of the Olivier Py Lulu.

Hello, Met-goers! The Met put its tickets on sale in June this year, several months before their recent custom, and I missed writing my usual preview because I have spent the intervening months trying to figure out how to use the Met’s new website otherwise occupied. But we still have a week before things start and it doesn’t look like much has sold out yet (though the Saturday matinees are, as always, the hottest tickets) so I believe this is still timely.

Programming note: As I mentioned earlier, I’m now based in western Massachusetts, where I’m a postdoc at Smith College. (Ask me about my spring semester opera history class!) I’m still only a bus ride away from New York but it’s become a somewhat longer bus ride. I’m closer to Boston and should be there periodically as well.

This year has a few exceptionally interesting operas among the new productions while most of the revivals are on the routine side. But perhaps some fortuitous casting will revive a previously moribund production (as happened to multiple operas last season). The season skews nineteenth century, with no Baroque and Lulu (1935, third act completed 1979) the most recent composition (second place: Turandot, premiere 1926). Also, this is a year without any Slavic operas at all—no Janacek, no Tchaikovsky, no Musorgsky, no nothing. When will we get the production of The Excursions of Mr. Broucek that we’re clamoring for?

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