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article imageNext up at the Met: Levine, Russians, The Nose (but no Wagner)

By Cate Kustanczy     Mar 5, 2013 in Entertainment
New York - The 2013-2014 Metropolitan Opera season has been announced. With six new productions, twenty revivals, and the return of James Levine, it'll be a season worth watching. General Director Peter Gelb just hopes you do some of that watching in person.
Italian composers Puccini (La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Tosca), Donizetti (L'Elisir d'Amore), Bellini (La Sonnambula, Norma, I Puritani), Rossini (La Cenerentola), Giordani (Andrea Chenier), as well as two Mozart favorites (Cosi fan tutte and Die Zauberflote) will all be staged. The Met is also producing three of German composer Richard Strauss' works to mark the composer's 1864 birth: (Arabella, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die Rosenkavalier).
In addition, three operas by Russian composers will grace the season: Borodin's Prince Igor, Shostakovich's The Nose, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The latter will open the 2013-2014 season September 26th. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko sings the role of the lovestruck Tatiana; it marks her first time singing a Russian role at the Met since her company debut in 2002, when she sang in Prokofiev's War and Peace. The singer opened the current season in September with a warm, vivacious performance in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, set for a revival in January 2014 in which she'll also perform.
Met Music Director James Levine will conduct three new productions for the company next season: Moza...
Met Music Director James Levine will conduct three new productions for the company next season: Mozart’s "Cosi fan tutte" (starting September 24th), Verdi’s "Falstaff" (staged at London's Royal Opera House in 2012 and Milan's Teatro alla Scala this year; set to open in New York December 6th), and Alban Berg’s "Wozzeck"(opening March 6th, 2014).
Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Levine is well familiar with all of these works -so familiar, in fact, that a planned revival of this season's highly praised Parsifal was jettisoned to accommodate Levine conducting Wozzeck. The maestro has been a major creative force with the Metropolitan Opera Company for four decades: as principal conductor from 1973 to 1976, as artistic director from 1986 to 2004, and as music director, a role he has played twice (in 1976 to 1986, and again, from 2004 to the present). His last appearance at the house was May 14, 2011; since then Levine, who turns 70 this June, has had three spinal chord operations. He had no lower body movement whatsoever after a fall in September 2011. But as he told AP, he's made significant progress since then because of intensive six-days-a-week therapy. "I'm working on all kinds of things to make my muscles be ready as the nerves return, and so far it's working very well," he said. "It's very slow and it's very difficult, but it's also very exciting because you get these great breakthroughs."
Levine returns to the podium for Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in September, but before that, he'll conduct The Met Orchestra in a highly anticipated concert at Carnegie Hall this coming May that includes work by Wagner, Beethoven, and Schubert.
The title character in Act I of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “The Nose.  The first revival of South Afr...
The title character in Act I of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “The Nose." The first revival of South African artist William Kentridge's acclaimed production opens September 28. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The deservedly buzzworthy 2010 production is based on an 1836 story by Nikolai Gogol, and it's a fantastically smart absurdist piece with many percussive highlights integrated into its feisty Shostakovich score (which was, and will be again, conducted by Valery Gergiev). The Met’s 2013-2014 season is, in fact, something of a boon for percussion lovers, with The Nose, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten all offering deeply thrilling, dramatic percussion parts that, in many ways, shape and inform the drama unfolding onstage.
Another modern turn the Met is making involves 31 year-old New York-based composer Nico Muhly and his Two Boys; the work, a co-production with the English National Opera, was commissioned as part of the company’s initiative to develop new works, and will receive its Met Opera premiere October 21st. Directed by Bartlett Sher (who directed last season's opener L'Elisir d'Amore) the work explores what the New York Times describes as "duplicity and identity on the Internet." Portions of Two Boys have reportedly been adjusted since its world premiere with the ENO in June of 2011, although at the time, the New York Times enthused that the work "is a landmark in the career of an important artist."
But the new season, for all its emphasis on variety, may leave some opera afficionados cold. Only two operas by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi will be staged: the new production of Falstaff (conducted by Levine), and a revival of this season’s Rat Pack-themed Rigoletto). No operas by Richard Wagner are on the schedule at all. This marks the first time since the 1917-1918 and 1918-1919 seasons that Wagner will be absent. It’s an interesting choice, given how extensively The Met marked the 2013 bicentennial of Verdi and Wagner's births, and the relative popularity of their operas with ticket buyers, even with new concepts around old stories (though pretty much everyone agrees the LePage Ring Cycle was an experience best not repeated). Furthermore, the works of Verdi and Wagner, while beautiful, can be very expensive to produce (especially given Wagner’s predilection for pieces that run over five hours), but it seems the opera company is giving both composers a production break following years of (pricey) stagings, favoring newer works (Two Boys, for instance) and older, popular (read: profitable) favorites. Puccini’s work is always a dependable crowd-pleaser, as is the frothy fun of Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus), set for a traditional December 31st opening (though notably, with a new translation). It's a rather eclectic mix that the Met hopes (/prays) works magic at the box office, especially with the widely reported news of ticket sales being down this season. In response, the Met will be reducing some of its ticket prices for next season, with more than 2,000 of its 3,800 total seats enjoying a lowered price.. The average cost will drop roughly 10%, although the $20 seats in the rear family circle will go up by $5.
A scene from Act I of Michael Mayer s Las Vegas-set production of  Rigoletto   which returns to the ...
A scene from Act I of Michael Mayer's Las Vegas-set production of "Rigoletto," which returns to the Met November 11, 2013 with superstar Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera General Director Peter Gelb partly attributes this season's lower attendance to the cinematic presentations that happen worldwide, known as the Live in HD series. "Although we have expanded the paying audience for the Met through the HD transmissions," he told AP, "we've also cannibalized a little bit our local audience in the opera house." The great irony , of course, is that Gelb pioneered the Live in HD broadcasts; only last March he told the Wall Street Journal that the transmissions bring money into the opera company's coffers. “At first we hoped just to break even. The idea was simply to strengthen the bond between opera fans and the Met [...] I personally think it’s been a huge success, and ticket sales are good,” he said at the time.
Recently, Gelb noted that a night at the Met "is slightly overpriced," what with ticket prices rising between 4.2 and 7.6 percent this past season. "I think we were perhaps too ambitious in our pricing for this season," he continued. The average price for an opera ticket at the Met will drop from $174 to $156. With a season that plays to a lot of favorites -including the return of Maestro Levine -the Met is crossing all fingers and toes for greater revenue this time next year.
Surely one component that will help is star casting. Along with soprano (and sometime HD host) Renée Fleming appearing in one of her signature roles (Dvorak’s Rusalka, opening January 23rd, 2014), dynamic young Russian bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov sings the title role in Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor, opening a month later. The opera, first performed in 1890, was last performed by the Met in 1917, and features the vivid, much-loved (and seemingly ubiquitous film trailer soundtrack) Polovtsian Dances -but it’s the attraction of seeing the chocolate-voiced (and easy-on-the-eyes) baritone Abdrazakov that may ultimately drive ticket sales.
Jonas Kaufmann makes his Met role debut as the title character in a new production of Massenet s  We...
Jonas Kaufmann makes his Met role debut as the title character in a new production of Massenet's "Werther," conducted by Alain Altinoglu and directed by Richard Eyre, which opens at the Met on February 18, 2014. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera
Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera
This season’s current star tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, returns to the Met Opera's stage (also next February) to sing the title role in Massenet's gorgeous Werther, a role he previously sang (to much acclaim) with the Paris Opera in early 2010. If his Parsifal this season is anything to go on, Kaufmann has not only the vocal abilities (his musky tenor is truly an astonishing thing to behold), but the kind of heartfelt acting chops and magnetic stage presence to deliver a riveting performance that will surely drive healthy ticket sales. Richard Eyre, the English theater director who made his Met debut in 2009 with a new production of Bizet’s beloved Carmen (revived this current season) is set to direct Goethe’s tragic tale set to Massenet’s dreamy score; the work is the sole French-language opera of the season.
If you can't make it to next season's performances, fear not; for all of Gelb's kvetching about the HD series eating into Met revenues, the popular cinema broadcasts aren't going away any time soon. Ten transmissions are scheduled between October and May 2014, starting with season opener Eugene Onegin on October 5th. The Nose sniffs out its own special spot October 26th; at just under two hours without an intermission, it's similar in running-time to an actual movie. Puccini's perennially popular Tosca is broadcast November 9th, and Verdi's Falstaff makes for a nice holiday treat December 14th. Occasional HD host Fleming brings her Rusalka to screens February 8th, while Prince Igor stomps in on March 1st. Kaufmann performs the role of the tormented Werther on cinema screens March 15th. The cinematic spring schedule is rounded out with La Bohème on April 5, Così fan tutte on April 26th, and La Cenerentola on May 10th.
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