Since 1931, the Met broadcasts have been a Saturday afternoon touchstone for opera lovers. These live-to-air presentations have been part of the CBC schedule from the get-go. They enlivened the ether even before the CBC was the CBC, when what is now the public broadcaster was crawling across the beach, trading gills for lungs.
Margaret Juntwait and Ira Siff will again be in the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats beginning Dec. 8, and while you’d be well advised to fasten your seatbelts, it’s only because you can expect a high-octane, not a bumpy, ride.
The whole broadcast season can be seen at a glance here. There’s not a dud in the making among them, but if you can only set aside five Saturday afternoons between now and the middle of May, here’s a fistful of operatic surefire pleasers.
Thomas Adès: The Tempest
Dec. 29, 2012
Thomas Adès, grazing the still-green grounds of his very early 40s, is one of the world’s great musical polymaths: an outstanding composer, conductor and pianist. A measure of the regard in which he’s held is that The Tempest, first produced in 2004, is the only contemporary opera on the Met’s roster this year. Angels fear to tread on Shakespeare’s holy ground, but the Adès adaptation is a wonder of economy and grace. Certified genius Robert Lepage directs; his controversial treatment of the Wagner Ring Cycle is also part of the season.
Here are Simon Keenlyside as Prospero and Christopher Lemming as Caliban:
Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens
Jan. 5, 2013
Another literary classic comes to the stage when Fabio Luisi conducts Les Troyens, Berlioz’s adaptation of Virgil’s The Aeneid. It’s a massive work, about five-and-a-half hours top to tail — Carthage wasn’t burned in a day. You can expect gold-plated performances from Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani and Dwayne Croft. They’ll have to go the extra mile to eclipse the famous 1990 Met performance, where Shirley Verrett sang both Cassandra and Dido, and Jon Vickers was Aeneas. It was, by every account, an electric night in the theatre; but afternoons can be electric, too, and Jan. 5 should burn brightly.
Here’s some out and out gorgeous singing from Graham as Dido and Gregory Kunde as Aeneas: Nuit d’ivresse.
Giacomo Puccini: La Rondine
Jan. 26, 2013
You could never call Puccini’s La Rondine “rarely performed,” but it doesn’t have the same cachet or currency as Madama Butterfly, La Boheme or Tosca. The opera’s great hit, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” arrives at the beginning of the party, but that’s not to say that its considerable pleasures have then been exhausted. It’s a very tender, slightly melancholy, quite thoughtful work; Puccini at his most French. The young Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais makes her Met debut, which promises to be notable.
I have a soft spot for La Rondine because it was the first opera I ever saw, on CBC television — those were the days — in an English language production starring Teresa Stratas. Here’s Doretta’s dream.
Riccardo Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini
March 16, 2013
Francesca da Rimini is based on a story of ill-fated love — as if there’s any other kind — in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s the opera by which Riccardo Zandonai is best remembered, which isn’t to say he’s well remembered. He was a student of Mascagni, and one of the heirs to the Puccini legacy. In fact, when Puccini died, it was generally expected that Zandonai would receive the commission to tie up the loose ends of the unfinished Turandot. He did not, which, given the frosty reception accorded to Franco Alfano, who eventually did take up the reins, might have been a good thing.
It’s a chance to hear a rarity — I know it not at all — and any opportunity to revel in the sounds of soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Marcello Giordani is an opportunity worth taking.
Here are Roberto Alagna and Svetla Vassileva with a love duet from Act 3 of Francesca da Rimini:
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
March 30, 2013
There are seven Verdi operas as part of the Met broadcast season. It’s the bicentennial of his birth, ditto Wagner, who’s accorded fewer operas (five) but, given their length, gets way more time. Plus, everyone loves La Traviata. This one is notable because it’s a role debut for the uber-hot soprano Diana Damrau, and because Placido Domingo, who began his singing life as a baritone before becoming one of the most famous tenors on the planet, will appear, as a baritone again, in the role of Germont, opera’s most manipulative father.
Best of all, the conductor is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the (still) young Canadian conductor adored by musicians and audiences alike. Singers love to work with him, as his recently released recording of Don Giovanni on the DG label attests. He’ll coax great work out of a great cast and a great orchestra. Nézet-Séguin made his Met debut in 2010 with Bizet’s Carmen, and the whole production, hosted by Renée Fleming, is available on YouTube:
Which Met broadcast is circled in red on your calendar? Let us know in the comments below.
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