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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Contender from Philadelphia

Yannick Nézet-Séguin hire is the best thing about the Met season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gloves off: Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the new "creed" at the Met.
Photo alteration by the author.

The Metropolitan Opera bounced back this year, delivering an artistically satisfying season that nonetheless failed to set the box office on fire. The biggest news though is the long-awaited end of the James Levine era, as conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been tapped as the company's new music director. Mr. Nézet-Séguin's term does not start until the end of this decade but he brings something new to this massive opera operation: hope.

Here's the wrap-up of the season, in which your not-so-humble critic saw twenty performances of twenty different operas. Superconductor, which relies on the generosity of press tickets from arts organizations in order to operate, still does not receive them from the Metropolitan Opera. Hopefully that will change.

Best New Production: Robert Lepage's L'amour de Loin
"The opening tableau of the show may have made Wagnerians in the house a little wistful, as the clatter and clunk of the enormous set-piece known as "The Machine" was replaced by enormous, stage-spanning strands of superconducting diodes, creating the illusion of a vast, watery surface that changed and shifted without a sound The only set pieces were a little boat, poled across the stage and back by The Pilgrim (mezzo Tamara Mumford) and a movable, gimbaled staircase with a platform at each end. "

Best Revival: Cyrano de Bergerac
"Out of  Puccini's shadow, Franco Alfano wrote in a fluent conversational idiom that recalls the height of the Italian verismo school, leavened with a nimble orchestration that captures the comic nature of the story. The piece owes something to the ideas of Claude Debussy, with its shifting tonalities, conversational dialogue and a decided emphasis on dramatic flow and theatrical moments over hit tunes."

Best Leading Man: Elīna Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier.
Elīna Garanča channeled the impetuosity and wild hormonal energy of a teenage boy in lust and love, with all the real emotional pain that that implies. "Mariendel", Octavian's skirted alter ego was played not as a travesti singer going back to their birth gender but as a "man in drag," bringing a fresh complexity to the hoodwinking of Baron Ochs in Act III.

Best Leading Lady: Amber Wagner in Der fliegende Holländer
Amber Wagner's entry in Act II brought floods of sound, in a voice that plowed through the waves of orchestration to crest in a bright, ringing top. Her performance got better as the show progressed, climaxing with upper notes that thrilled the ear and recalled the stars of old.

Best Bad Guy: John Relyea as Gessler in Guillaume Tell
John Relyea only appears in the third and fourth act, but he made the towering Gessler a villain on scale with Darth Vader. His costume, an essay in ring mail, flowing leather kilt and steel helmet, helps that analogy, as did the dark tone of his full, round bass.

Best Bad Girl: Karita Mattila in Jenůfa
For this revival Karita Mattila  sings the Kostelnička, bringing a regal presence and burning intensity to the part. In the great scene lasting three quarters of an hour in the second act, this pious but controlling woman convinces herself to murder Jenůfa's baby in one of the great dramatic turns of this season. Ms. Mattila brought menace, terror and a subtle hysteria to the part, convincing herself of the rightness of her actions even as she walked the razor edge of madness.

Worst New Production: Bartlett Sher's Roméo et Juliette
"Here, fair Verona is a towering, dull-gray shallow set, populated by  bright carnival costumes that "pop" on the movie screen. From the opening image, a rainbow of elaborately dressed "Veronese" choristers arrayed across the lip of the Met stage, the whole exercise seemed at once familiar and academic: Shakespeare by a very conservative book.

Worst Revival (that I actually saw) Fidelio
"The only difficulty in this great scene was the entrance, as the stage directors insisted that all the principals make their entrances via an ungainly metal escape ladder that dominated the set. Sure it’s authentic (and presumably its ricketiness makes it hard for the tenor to escape)  but this set-piece threatened to wobble as the singers clambered up and down its height."

OK. That's our season wrap-up for the Metropolitan Opera. In August, we'll start running previews for the 2017-18 season but until then there are other things to write about.

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