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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Opera Roundup: At the Met, Too Short a Season

The Five Best Metropolitan Opera performances of 2014-15.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Very merry: Susan Graham as Hanna Glawar in The Merry Widow:
 a late-season saving grace at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Normally this is the post every year where I, your intrepid Superconductor author, round up the best of the Metropolitan Opera's season, having seen every one of its twenty-four productions. But that didn't happen this year. Since the Met press office does not offer press tickets to this publication, since the September introduction of a series of labyrinthine changes in the company's Rush Ticket program, this year made covering the Met a much more difficult task.

Thanks to the inconsistencies and vagaries of the company's newly installed electronic lottery system, I missed opportunities to cover Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District Don Giovanni, Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard's Castle, La Donna del Lago, Un Ballo di Maschera and The Rake's Progressamong others.

As a result, I saw just eight opera productions in the theater this year, one-third of the offered slate, with one show experienced as a Live in HD broadcast. I changed my priorities this year, focusing more on concert offerings at Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, SubCulture and other venues that take a more prudent approach to dealing with the press. It's still been a rich cultural experience and I hope it's made for interesting reading.

That said, here are the five best performances I saw at the Met this season. All quotes are from the Superconductor reviews. They're in no particular order, but the best goes first:

Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (from the Met Live in HD broadcast)
"Fawning over her husband one moment and plotting dark deeds the next, Ms. Netrebko was the perfect portrait of madness and ambition, almost a parody of the spoiled diva who gets everything she wants. The sleep-walking scene, where her madness takes over and Verdi strips the character bare, was touching and beautifully sung with her cries of "Va, il tico maladetto" and a slow, silent exit."

David Robertson, conductor and Donald Palumbo, choral director of The Death of Klinghoffer.
The performance by the Met orchestra and chorus (under the leadership of David Robertson and Donald Palumbo, respectively) was taut and compelling, with Mr. Adams' minimalist rhythms blossoming into dark, deadly flowers of sound. A sense of dread in the opening choruses (one of exiled Palestinians, the second of exiled Jews) built momentum preparing the audience for the awful events to come.

Danielle De Niese as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro.
"Her sense of comic timing and awareness of the other singers proved crucial to the Act II "Venite, inginocchiatevi", but she sounded a little strained in the famous Act III "Sull'aria" duet. She recovered to deliver a warm and melting "Deh vieni, non tardar" in the last act, putting genuine heat into this gorgeous little ballad."

Ferrucio Furlanetto as King Philip II and James Morris as the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo
" King Philip remains the central figure of Don Carlo. Ferrucio Furlanetto owns this role in this production, and dominated the action from his entrance. His dark and woolly sound captured the complex nature of the troubled monarch. In the Act IV scena with the Grand Inquisitor (James Morris) the two basses squared off, trading the roles that they had sung in the Met’s previous production. At the end of his long career, Mr. Morris’ instrument has turned wan and trebly, but that made his Inquisitor sound even more querulous and fanatical."

Susan Graham in The Merry Widow
"The generator of most of that energy was Ms. Graham. Her onstage demeanor, considerable comic gifts and supple mezzo fitted the demanding role like a silk elbow-length glove. From her grand entrance in the first act she dominated the action, her supple mezzo-soprano soaring on its own flights and cutting cleanly through ensembles. With her queenly presence masking a subtle sense of humor and good nature, this was a performance that charmed both ears and hearts."

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.