Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parting thoughts on the 2011-2012 Metropolitan Opera Season

by Francisco Salazar

Another Met season has passed and like the ones prior  there were many successes, disappointments, and failures. Like last year, I will give an analysis of what I believe were the successes, failures, surprises, and disappointments of this season. As a disclaimer, I would like to emphasize that the following comments are my opinions and that I will not write about every single work I saw or was presented this year. I respect those who believe that everything I say is completely wrong and I welcome any contradictory arguments. Enjoy!


The Cast of L'Elisir d'amore
When the cast of L'Elisir d'amore was announced last year, it became one of my most anticipated operas to watch. Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau had already triumphed in La Fille du Regiment and Le Comte Ory and as a result with their unmatched chemistry I expected an exciting night at the opera. The result was an unforgettable night filled with beautiful singing, laughter and incredible acting. Juan Diego Florez stole the show with his virtousic "Una Furtiva Lagrima", his dance moves during the "tra-la-la" sequence and his tenderness in phrasing each line of music. When he interpolated a high C during the "Venti Scudi" duet the audience went wild, applauding with such abandon that they threatened to stop the show.  Diana Damrau showed off why she remains one of the greatest singers in the world as she she showed her coquettish side as well as her frailty. Her Adina was vulnerable in many instances, showing a side of Adina that audiences rarely ever see. Alessandro Corbelli and Mariusz Kwieicien added their comic timing and vocal fireworks. The night was concluded with standing ovations from the most energetic crowd I experienced this season.  I don't mean to repeat myself but this should have been an HD transmission. For a full review click here.

Anna Netrebko lives up to the hype
Anna Netrebko not only took on her biggest challenge with the role of Anna Bolena, she also headlined the season with two new productions. The Met was banking a lot on the power of the star and while the results were  mixed for the critics, they were definitely satisfying for the audience. Having seen both her Manon and Anna Bolena twice, I can honestly say that she was outstanding in both. Her final mad scene in Anna Bolena proved to be a tour de force bringing one of the longest ovations in recent Met performances. In Manon she was able to portray the innocent young girl and transform into an ambitious woman who was irresistible to Men. Ms. Netrebko may not have your typical sourbette voice for the role but she surely proved effective and heartbreaking. She will headline the Met's new season with a new production of Elisir d'Amore. 
For more on Anna Netrebko read our Anna Bolena review

The Cast of the Ring Cycle
While Robert Lepage continued to fail tremendously with the Ring Cycle production, the cast continued to grow into their parts and provide exciting music and singing. Jay Hunter Morris stepped into the part of Siegfried 4 days before the premiere and gave us one of the most youthful portrayals of the young hero to surface the world in many years. Deborah Voigt continued to surpass expectations concluding her first Ring Cycle with a moving immolation scene. The Met also treated us to a outstanding supporting cast lead by the great Waltraud Meier. Meier displayed command of the stage in her brief but crucial scene altering her voice to the music and text and easily stealing the show and providing the possibly the defining moment of the entire cycle. Hans Peter Konig continued to be a vital part of the ring as he easily became the incarnation of evil with his Hagan. Eric Owens continued his success story as Alberich and Bryn Terfel continued to grow in his interpretation of Wotan. With such a great cast its a shame that they couldn't get a more insightful production to work off.
For more on the ring read our Siegfried and Gotterdammerung Reviews.

Piotr Beczala as Des Grieux
I remember seeing Mr. Beczala in Lucia back in 2008. He was passionate, youthful and a revelation. However during the subsequent seasons Beczala had become an after thought and no longer the star he was predicted to be. When Manon opened critics raved about his ardent voice. It was hard to believe that Beczala could overpower Anna Netrebko but after seeing Manon twice this season, Beczala easily stole the show. His voice was lush with beautiful pianissmi, passionate, moving and his final cries over the dead Manon were heartbreaking. After this year's Des Grieux, I'm sure Mr. Beczala will easily headline more new productions at the Met.
For more information on Beczalas Manon read our review.


Modern Opera at the Met should be part of the standard Repertoire
This year the Met showed not one but three modern masterpieces that rarely get performed: Satyagraha, Billy Budd and The Markopulos Case. All three operas benefited not only from exceptional casts but also from outstanding productions. Satyagraha's revival marked the second run of the opera at the Met with the original cast reprising their roles. The production's visuals still marveled and the theatrical experience still delivered the same powerful emotions that Glass intended the work to do. The revival of Billy Budd brought back the 1970s John Dexter production with Nathan Gunn in the leading the role and James Morris in his signature role of Claggart. Not only was the production still refreshing but the cast brought new life to the work. Finally, The Makropulos Case by Leos Janacek brought back a diva driven work that starred Karita Mattila. Mattila was seductive, cold, calculative and most importantly moving. She was Emilia Marty and every aspect of the 337 year old woman was seen through her portrayal. Richard Leech finally returned to the Met after 7 years singing with the same strength he was recognized for back in the late 90s and early 2000s. These modern masterpieces proved that they should not only play more often but should remain in the standard repertoire year in and out. 
For more on Satayagraha and The Makropulos Case read our reviews.
De  Biasio may be the Next great Verdi tenor
Robert De Biasio made his debut in 2010-2011 replacing an ailing Ramon Vargas in Simon Boccanegra. He immediately became talked about for his ardent Verdian voice and the fact that he had only started singing four years prior to that debut. Hearing about the hype, I was expecting a lot from Mr. De Biasio. The result was a a vibrant, potent voice suitable for the Verdi repertoire. Mr. De Biasio showed no signs of wear throughout the opera and instead got better, his voice climaxing to a heart-wrenching trio and an unforgettable death scene. It's a shame he won't be singing more than one performance next season, but if he continues singing the way he did this year, there is no doubt De Biasio has a bright future in the opera world.
For more on De Biasio read our review for Ernani.

Latonia Moore makes an unexpected debut
Latonia Moore made an unexpected Met debut in the role of Aida. What had been a disastrous run was redeemed for millions. Latonia Moore was not only making her Met debut, she was also being transmitted through the Toll Brothers radio broadcast. She stole the show even from the incomparable Stephanie Blythe. I was not there on this occasion but I did hear the broadcast. Her voice reminded me of the great Leontyne Price. After a sub-par "Celeste Aida" from Marcello Giordani (though to his credit, the aria is not favorable to any tenor), I was ready to turn off the radio When Moore entered in the trio, she gave new life to the performance and every singer stepped their game up. Moore's voice was irresistible and lush with great expressivity. I had not had this type of experience since the great debut of Angela Meade, an occasion I was in the theater for. 

Fabio Luisi conducts 20 performances in April
Fabio Luisi was orignally scheduled to conduct Manon and La Traviata during the season. However after James Levine withdrew, the Met was forced to scramble for conductors. Fabio Luisi stepped in not only for the Ring Cycle but also for Don Giovanni. Luisi led swift and refined performances throughout the season. His April scheduled mounted to 20 performances and it was a shock he did not cancel any of them. While this heavy schedule did not allow him to dive extensively into the music as one would have liked, he was able to lead effective performances throughout the month.

Thomas Hampson moves with Macbeth
In one of the least hyped revivals, Thomas Hampson made his role debut as Macbeth. Reviews may not have been kind but as I heard Hampson sing he moved me with his passionate singing and his tremendous acting. His Macbeth was no villain, he was an insecure and weak man easily manipulated by his demon wife. The audience also responded to his interpretation and he was greeted with an immense standing ovation.
Failures/ Disappointments

Aida at the Met 
When I wrote my Aida preview a year ago I had stated that it would most likely be an "exciting evening" at the Met. However I was proven wrong as the cast save for Stephanie Blythe proved to be boring and under prepared. The production was no longer as lively and felt like a routine. Marcelo Alvarez couldn't have been in worse shape as he almost cracked during his famous Celeste Aida, and he was overpowered by the orchestra. To add to the drama he cancelled the last three performances due to back problems leaving the reliant Marcello Giordani the part. He did not fare any better. Violetta Urmana seemed to have a weakened voice as she could barely hit her high range and even missed the high C at the end of "O Patria Mia". She too suffered  from illness during the run. In came Sondra Radvanovsky and Latonia Moore. In contrast to his Claggart, James Morris' Ramfis was pallid. It was a blessing that Stephanie Blythe was part of the cast as she redeemed the evening for the audience.    

The New Productions
It's become customary to expect mediocre new productions at the Met and this year was no exception. Gelb didn't fail to present the audience with childish and nonsensical productions with exceptions of Manon and The Enchanted Island. Whether it was the unfinished Anna Bolena, the dull and uninspiring Don Giovanni, the confusing Faust, the underwhelming Siegfried and the anti-climatic Gotterdammerung, each one of these productions gave the audience more reasons to maintain booing as a growing tradition of the Met. Anna Bolena was far from finished as the singers seemed confused on the stage trying to find an outlet to express the music. Don Giovanni gave us no new insight into the characters and instead provided us with a staging that gave no room for the actors to move on the stage, and a bunch of doors that opened for no reason. I think the only reason this production was ever accepted was because of the fire that explodes during the final Commendatore scene, providing the only exciting 2 minutes of this production. Faust tried to impose an intellectual concept that did not match the text. The evening was no longer an evening about hearing beautiful singing, it was about trying to comprehend the production which made no sense. It incorporated the building of the atomic bomb and flashbacks.  The production not only slowed the 3 hour work but also ruined the opera experience. Finally the final two installments of the Ring Cycle continued their disappointing route. Siegfried was an improvement which is not a compliment. The production was still simple minded and brought no new insight. Lepage continued to be literal making the Ring feel like a simpleminded work. It didn't help that during the performance I saw the machine broke down before the final duet, leaving us with two singers stranded and improvising the scene. The final installment Gotterdammerung was probably the most carefree of all the productions. The Machine no longer created any new projections. It felt as if Lepage was ready to end it. And it got worse during the Immolation scene as Deborah Voigt mounted the crippled "Warhorse" and rode into the pier. The horse was too slow, the fire anti-climatic and the death of the Gods or the destruction of Valhalla was represented by statues whose heads fell off. This only provided for laughter during some of the most glorious music ever written. I attended the Opening Night of this production and Lepage rightfully deserved the boos he obtained. He destroyed the final bars of Wagner's momentous score.    

Jonas Kaufmann cancels
After a glorious Faust, Mr. Kaufmann was supposed to sing Siegmund in the Ring Cycle. However due to ilness, he was forced to withdraw two performances. His fans and hundreds of ticket holders were therefore disappointed as they were all anticipating his return in the role. Luckily Frank Van Aken and Stuart Skelton provided great Siegmunds.
Natalie Dessay and La Traviata
I hate putting Natalie Dessay in this category ever year but Dessay continued to disappoint her audience. She cancelled the opening night, the open dress rehearsal, the final performance and half of the penultimate performance. All in all she was only able to sing half of the run that should have been one of the most exciting revivals of the year. For audiences it became a guessing game of whether she would sing at all. The HD, while outstanding, still showed signs of her illness. Hopefully next year Dessay will get back to form and sing a glorious Cleopatra.

Ernani does not translate to the screen
When I saw Ernani live at the Met I was astounded by the production's lavish sets, its visual motifs and its wonderful cast. Everyone was so fully committed and in great voice. However during the HD, the production looked tired and old and the direction lacked energy. The singers looked and sounded tired and overwhelmed. I fault the fact that it was the last performance and as a result the singers could have already been drained from the long run. . 
For more on Ernani read our review.

I look forward to reading any comments, critiques, or counterarguments, etc. Stay tuned for more updates and previews throughout the summer!

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