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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A First Look: The Metropolitan Opera 2017-18

Superconductor previews the coming season at the big house.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This is why we can't have nice things: a scene from the cancelled Calixto Bielto La Forza del Destino, 
staged last summer at the London Coliseum,. Photo by Robert Workman for the English National Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera released its schedule on Feb. 15, 2016, with a curious lack of fanfare. Now that your friendly correspondent is back from Japan and no longer jet-lagged, it's time to look at the slate of operas on offer for next year.

This schedule is a dull offering from an opera company in an ever-increasing sense of crisis under general manager Peter Gelb. There are only five new productions (one of them a U.S. premiere) and just eighteen operas in the generale (I'm sorry, but staging the same Julie Taymor productions of Die Zauberflöte and (a shortened English-language) The Magic Flute do not count as separate operas! For that matter, neither do the pair of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci which will be played as per usual on the same evening.)

Speaking volumes by its absence is the planned Calixto Bielto production of La Forza del Destine which was yanked from the schedule on January 13. Forza is known  for being an especially hard-luck opera, with a long history of jinxed performances, onstage accidents and even death at the Met itself. Sage opera lovers remember Leonard Warren, who died on March 4, 1960 in the middle of the third act.

This is the second time Forza has gotten the axe in this writer's memory. Way back in 1997, Luciano Pavarotti was supposed to sing Don Alvaro when the tenor (and his management) realized that the heavy role was a recipe for career disaster. The opera was withdrawn for Un Ballo in Maschera which was easier for Mr. Pavarotti to sing. Here, the reason for cancellation appears to be Mr. Gelb himself, under the nebulous excuse of budget.

With that out of the way, here's the coming season:

New Productions

This new production of the Bellini bel canto classic will open the season, with Sondra Radvanovsky taking on the treacherous title role. Joyce DiDonato is her Adalgisa, uniting on one stage the two singers who have appeared as Mary, Queen of Scots at the Met this decade. Marina Rebeka and Angela Meade appear later in the run. Joseph Calleja is Pollione, one of the most callow of opera heroes. Carlo Rizzi will conduct the opening night on Sept. 25.

The Exterminating Angel
A new opera by Thomas Adés, fresh from the 2016 Salzburg Festival where it was met with positive reviews. The composer conducts with a starry cast of up-and-coming singers in an allegorical drama about a surreal dinner party where the guests cannot escape. (Sounds like a Met board luncheon come to life!) Opens Oct. 26.

La Forza del Destino

In the ultimate apologetic gesture of the Gelb administration, this "new" Tosca by Sir David McVicar promised to restore the cherished postcard visuals of Rome that adorned the stage in the Met's much-mourned Franco Zeffirelli production from the excess-driven 1980s. This museum piece will open on New Year's Eve, with Kristin Opalais in the title role and her husband, conductor Andris Nelsons in the pit. Anna Netrebko sings her first Met Toscas later in the run. Opens Dec. 31.

Cosí fan tutte 
For some reason, this new Phelim McDermott production of Mozart's Cosí moves this sordid little comedy about partner-swapping to the not-so-sordid environment of the circa-1950s Coney Island boardwalk. (It's always interesting to see an English director's take on the love life of Brooklynites.) It will be even stranger to hear Kelly O'Hara take on the high-flying role of Despina in the Met's latest attempt to cross-pollinate Broadway with the opera house. At least David Robertson conducts. Opens March 15, 2018

Four years after she dazzled as Rossini's Cenerentola Joyce DiDonato lets the other glass slipper drop as the heroine of Massenet's version of the classic fairy tale. This production by Laurent Kelly is an import from the Santa Fe Opera and features fellow mezzo Alice Coote as Prince Charming and a supporting cast that includes Kathleen Kim and Stephanie Blythe. Opens April 12, 2018.

To the Met's credit, there are some revivals of considerable interest next year. At the top of the list: Parsifal, Semiramide, Luisa Miller and Elektra all with strong casts. Other standard fair includes three operas by Puccini,two by Donizetti and Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann. However, there are no Czech, Russian or 20th century English operas on the schedule, and the customary "modern ghetto" slot at the end of the season (usually reserved for the like of The Rake's Progress or Billy Budd will be occupied by a short revival of this year's pallid Romeo et Juliette.

Concert performance:
Verdi's Requiem
Ahh yes. The Met's replacement for Forza is this series of four performances of Verdi's Requiem, with James Levine conducting the singers who would have played Don Alvaro, Don Carlo and Leonora in the aborted staging mentioned above. While Verdi's Requiem is a great work and the closest thing to a hybrid between a Catholic Mass and a full-blooded Italian opera ever written, this is a singularly unimaginative replacement.

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