The Met Aims To Please Purists And Newbies Alike

Posted Feb 25, 2012 by Cate Kustanczy
The Metropolitan Opera's 2012-2013 season is characterized by revivals, re-envisionings, and remembrances, including celebrations of two operatic giants.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York City at Lincoln Square
The Metropolitan Opera in New York City at Lincoln Square
The season kicks off September 24th, when celebrated soprano Anna Netrebko performs in a new production of Donizetti's much-loved L’Elisir d’Amore by Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher. The esteemed Maurizio Benini conducts. General Director Peter Gelb said at the season announcement that Sher's production aims to give the work "a little more substance.” Sher echoes this sentiment, noting in the season release that "L’Elisir d’Amore is kind of two operas at the same time. It’s an opera that’s a great entertainment, and it’s an opera that has something else happening underneath." The production marks soprano Netrebko's second consecutive year opening the season, which will be broadcast (as in years past) for free in Times Square and the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center.
The walk into new territory with old material feels like classic Gelb: a little bit of old, a little bit of new, and voila, an entirely new way of perceiving opera within the larger cultural realm. Gelb's penchant for mixing up old and new, and for pushing audiences in new and occasionally uncomfortable directions, speaks to his vision about the possibilities of an old art form in an ever-evolving world. Opera is, according to Gelb, a grand spectacle with deep ties to the world of theater. This vision is reflected in his re-hiring of Canadian theater director Robert LePage, whose productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle met with decidedly mixed reviews. LePage is helming The Met's premiere of The Tempest by English composer Thomas Adès, who will also conduct. The production sets Shakespeare's Prospero within the famed Scala Theater (Milan) in the eighteenth century. The meta-theatrical possibilities inherent in this production seem like a perfect match for LePage's visual sensibilities.
François Girard, who is perhaps best-known as the director of the 1993 film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, is set to direct Wagner's Parsifal, which will feature superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann under the baton of Daniele Gatti, currently head of the Zurich Opera. Parsifal is set to premiere at the at the Opéra de Lyon on March 6th, which gives it just enough time to work the kinks out before its Met premiere in February 2013. Interestingly, it's a co-production between the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra de Lyon, and the Canadian Opera Company. In addition to Parsifal, three complete cycles of Wagner's mammoth Ring operas (Der Ring des Nibelungen) will be presented to honor Wagner's 200th birthday in 2013. These performances (presented in the spring of 2013) will be numbers 111, 112 and 113 in complete Wagner Rings done at the Met since the very first cycle (at least in the Western hemisphere) was performed there in 1889.
The Met also plans to mark the 200th birthday of opera giant Giuseppe Verdi with two new productions, including Un Ballo in Maschera, conducted by Fabio Luisi (Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera).The production, opening November 8th, will be directed by the modern-leaning David Alden and feature celebrated Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who most recently sang (spectacularly) in the early Verdi work Ernani.
While eyebrows might be raised at Alden's vision of Ballo, jaws will drop with the new production of Rigoletto. The 1851 opera is being lifted from its traditionalist roots and transported to 1960s Las Vegas. With the Tony Award-winning Michael Mayer at the helm (director of the sexy Broadway hit Spring Awakening), the production is sure to provoke strong reactions. Mayer commented on the Vegas setting, noting it's a locale "where a kind of prankster energy could go bad.” It isn't too much of a stretch imagining the "prankster" machinations of the Count and his court "go bad" on the hapless jester of the title. Gilda as hapless (if Mad Men-esque attired) victim, caught in the rampant machismo of the lounge lizard scene? Wow. Rigoletto will open January 28th, 2013, with rising Italian talent Michele Mariotti at the baton.
If traditionalists are scared off by Mayer's re-envisioning of a Verdi favorite, they can feel comforted by the five other Verdi revivals The Met is planning to present as part of the composer's bicentennial celebrations. Perennial favorites Aida (featuring Italian tenor Robert Alagna as Radames), Il Trovatore, Otello, and Don Carlo are all on the slate, along with La Traviata, which will be conducted by the celebrated Yannick Nézet-Séguin and feature Placido Domingo singing the paternal authority Giorgio Germont, marking only the second time Domingo will have sung a baritone role in his long and illustrious Met history.
The Met
The Met
Three Mozart operas will also be staged at The Met (all revivals), including La Clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni, and Le Nozze di Figaro, along with super favorite (and ideal opera introduction) Carmen. Director Franco Zeffirelli's opulent production of Puccini's Turandot also returns, and recent productions of Gounod’s Faust, Puccini’s La Rondine, and Rossini’s frothy Le Comte Ory (the latter directed with gusto by Bartlett Sher) will be entering The Met's repertory as well.
Those not in New York or unable to get to up to 66th Street in Manhattan can still get their opera fix in cinemas. The Met's Live In HD series will feature twelve productions transmitted live on select Saturday afternoons throughout the season. The Emmy Award-winning series is beamed to more than 1700 theaters in 54 countries. As well as live opera, the transmissions feature behind-the-scenes interviews and views at set changes that are hidden from audiences in the auditorium. One of the biggest advantages of the series is the way it can expose people to opera at relatively little cost, and with the greatest of ease, but do ensure you get to a decent-sized screen to enjoy the full effect.
Looking over the 2012-2013 season, it's clear that Met General Director Peter Gelb is trying to please both the purists who hew to The Met's reputation for its adherence to tradition, and a newer generation of opera-goers who are eager for the company to explore new directions onstage. Since his arrival with the company in 2006, Gelb has shown his eagerness to re-invigorate not only the artform, but the company itself, and the way people think about The Metropolitan Opera. The results have been somewhat mixed, it's true, and he's had his fair share of criticism, but with the 2012-2013 season offering a veritable buffet of old nuggets and new classics, it seems like Gelb is using his iron-hand-in-velvet-glove approach to surely, confidently move opera into the 21st century while keeping its poetry intact. He won't please all of the people, all of the time, but he will surely pick up some new fans - and perhaps a few new subscribers.