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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Splitting the Apple: The Metropolitan Opera Announces its 2016-17 Season

A heap more variety for next season, and a freeze in ticket prices.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Christian van Horn as Gessler in a scene from Pierre Audi's production of Guillaume Tell.
Photo © 2013 Netherlands Opera.
Today at noon, the Metropolitan Opera announced an ambitious schedule of operas for 2016-17, with six new productions and twenty revivals, including a slew of productions that have been largely ignored in the past decade. And in a refreshing change, there's no operetta on the schedule, with the company's Jeremy Sams-ified versions of The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus given merciful (and hopefully permanent) rest. This season will mark 50 years since the Met pulled up stakes for Lincoln Center, a fact that is being celebrated with a big opera gala in the spring of 2017. There's a lot in this press release, so let's get to it, starting with the six new productions planned for next year.

The season opens Sept. 26 with a new production of Tristan und Isolde by director Mariusz Treliński starring Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme as the star-crossed lovers. Sir Simon Rattle conducts this run of eight performances. Presumably, opening night will be live telecast once more from Times Square, as Wagner's doomed lovers compete for attention with guys dressed up as the Statue of Liberty and Spider-Man.

On Oct. 18, outgoing principal conductor Fabio Luisi will lead the Met's first producion of Rossini's Guillaume Tell since 1931. This epic Wagner-length grand opera features an all-star cast with Gerald Finley in the title role, Marina Rebeka as Mathilde and Bryan Hymel defying death and opera critics in the difficult tenor role of Arnold.

On Dec. 1, the company offers its first performances of L'Amour de Loin ("Love From Afar") by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. (Incidentally this is the first opera by a female composer to be presented at the Met since 1903.) The production is the company's latest collaboration with director Robert Lepage, who has a decidedly mixed record at the Met. The opera, which premiered at Salzburg in 2000 to sterling reviews will mark the podium debut of another Finn, conductor Susanna Malkki.

Once again, New Year's Eve will feature soprano Diana Damrau singing French opera. In this case, it's a new Bart Sher production of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. This is Mr. Sher's second Shakespeare effort at the Met in as many seasons: he was also responsible for last season's Otello. Vittorio ("just a") Grigolo is her Romeo, and Gianandrea Noseda conducts. Why mess with what works?

February 2, 2017 sees the premiere of a Mary Zimmerman production of Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka with the opulent soprano of Kristine Opolais in the title role. Brandon Jovanovich is the fairy-tale Prince who has the misfortune of falling in love with a mermaid. The Zimmerman production replaces the Met's gorgeous and realistic Otto Schenk staging of the opera with something that the audience probably won't like as much.

Finally, on April 13, 2017 the company unveils a new staging of Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.  Renée Fleming returns to sing the Marschallin, with Elīna Garanča as Octavian. Bass Günther Groissböck may finally have his breathrough part as Baron Ochs. Robert Carsen, who drew good reviews for a 2014 Falstaff, is the director.

And then there's the generale this season, which features twenty revivals: Here they are in brief with appropriate talking points added.

Puccini's Manon Lescaut returns in a revival of this year's productiony by Richard Eyre. Anna Netrebko, who played Manon in the Massenet version of the opera in 2014 will stretch her dramatic range by playing the same character but in a totally different language. This is her first with Anna Netrebko trying out the title role. This will mark her first Puccini performance at the Met since 2010. The Russian  diva will also return as Tatiana in a revival of Eugene Onegin.

Nabucco features Placído Domingo, continuing his Quixotic quest to sing all the Verdi baritone roles except Iago. Liudmyla Monastyrska and Jamie Barton up the wattage as Abagaille and Fenena, respectively. James Levine is scheduled to conduct. Other Verdi revivals include Rigoletto and La Traviata (more on those in a minute) and the war-horse production of Aida which like skinny tie and the shoulder-strap electronic keyboard is a relic of the 80s that will never go out of style.

Franco Alfano is best known for finishing Turandot following Puccini's death. Here his Cyrano de Bergerac returns with Roberto Alagna and Patricia Racette and the original French text. Other French offerings this year include Massenet's Werther and the company's popular production of Carmen with Sophie Koch and Clémentine Margaine, who makes her Met debut as Bizet's troublesome gypsy.

Beethoven's Fidelio makes a comeback. This is the composer's only opera and it stars Adrienne Piaczonka in the demanding, cross-dressing title role. Also back: Leos Janacek's small-town tragedy Jenůfa with Oksana Dyka in the title role and Karita Mattila (a famed Jenůfa herself) switching to the role of the Kostelnička. David Robertson conducts.

Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri does nothing for relationships with the Middle East, but stars Elizabeth DeShong as the saucy Italian girl of the title who is trapped in Jean-Pierre Ponelle's antiquated production. Also returning: Pretty Yende as  Rosina in the company's production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Peter Mattei sings the title role of Figaro.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin puts on his sailing shoes to lead a revival of Der Fliegende Holländer, his first Wagner opera at the Met. Michael Volle sings the title role. Also, soprano Catherine Naglestadt will take on the demanding title role of Strauss' Salome which (the composer said) requires "16-year-old princess with the voice of an Isolde." (Strauss could be difficult to please.)

In addition to her Juliette, Diana Damrau will return to sing more Bellini: the fabulous and florid I Puritani opposite frequent stage partner Javier Camarena. Other Italian operas on the schedule include a whopping 16  performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni (with a rotating series of all-star singers all singing multiple characters within the run.) More interesting for Mozart lovers is a revival of Idomoneo, the opera seria with some of the composer's finest music. Here, it will be conducted by music director James Levine.

Sonya Yoncheva will prove herself indispensable this season singing Mími in La Bohéme and the title role in La Traviata. One production is the beloved but overstuffed Franco Zeffirelli extravaganza--the other is the spare and aescetic Willy Decker staging with the big clock. (Have no fear, clock-watchers--this is the last run for this staging as it is due for replacement in 2018-19.) Speaking of controversial Verdi productions, Željko Lučić also returns in the Met's Vegas-or-bust Rigoletto, which continues its run at the tables with all the tenacity of a particularly unlucky gambler.

Finally, for the younger set, the Met's holiday offering  features the truncated "magic piccolo" version of Mozart's The Magic Flute cut to 90 minutes and sung in English. Other special offerings include the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, the big aforementioned 50th Anniversary Gala, and other stuff that we'll tell you about as soon as we finish reading the whole press release.
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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.