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Opening Night Closed

What a lovely opening night it was! The second portion was wonderfully executed. All of the principal singers did their arias and ensembles to perfection and the final ensemble at the end of the opera was everything one could want for it to be.

It’s been such a pleasure to live-blog/tweet this season’s opening night. Here’s to a new fantastic season with a very promising start!

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Opening Night: Intermission Post

The Met’s Figaro is going swimmingly. James Levine has maintained his signature adherence to the score. The orchestra playing is clean and clear. Ildar Abdrazakov is a wonderfully virile Figaro and Marlis Petersen’s playful voice perfectly pairs with Abdrazakov’s. Peter Mattei is a consistent pleasure to hear as the Count, and Amanda Majeski’s “Porgi Amor”, though showing some minimal nerves, was beautifully executed and her voice is especially distinctive as Mozart singers go. The act was capped off with a wonderful ensemble.

Can’t wait to hear the rest!

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Met Opening Night: Pre-Performance Post

The performance is about to start! We heard a series of relatively awkward interviews with Richard Eyre, Pretty Yende, Bryan Hymel, and Peter Gelb. We’ll speak to Anna Netrebko in a coming intermission. Celebrities in attendance:

  • Christine Baranski
  • Vera Wang
  • Susannah Phillips
  • Anna Netrebko
  • Andrew Rannels
  • Renee Fleming

Let’s get this show on the road!

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Opening Night at the Met: Everything you need to know

After cast changes, director changes, and a union crisis that almost toppled the season, it feels good to say(er, write), with certainty, that Opening Night at the Met is finally here! For those unaware, tonight’s performance is Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” in a new production by Richard Eyre with sets by Rob Howell. The production stars Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Peter Mattei as the Count, and Met debutante Amanda Majeski as the Countess. Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo are sung by Susanne Mentzer and John DelCarloJames Levine conducts. To see some more extensive opinions on tonight’s presentation as well as the rest of the season, I refer you to Season Predictions Parts 1 and 2.

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This is the first night of the Met’s 131st season, and there are many for you to be a part of it. The Met relays the opera live in Times Square as well as onto Lincoln Center Plaza, but a drawing for seats to the latter event was held last week. For those who aren’t able to make it into New York City, don’t fear because you can listen to the online live-stream on the Met’s website, of on channel 74 of Sirius XM radio, Metopera Radio. Coverage starts at 5:45 and includes red carpet interviews with the celebrities that only go the the Met once a year as well as specials on singers and the opera. If you’re listening at home, you can find a libretto with an English translation here.

As usual, I’ll be blogging before, during intermissions, and after about the performance. In addition to that, I’ll be live-tweeting the performance on my Twitter page. Enjoy!

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Met 2014-15 Season Predictions- Part 2

Part 2!

The Merry Widow: I’m glad the Met has realized that cheerful operettas are the best choice for New Year’s Eve performances. Tony-winner Susan Stroman’s new production opens with Renee Fleming as Hanna and Broadway debutant and personal favorite Kelli O’Hara as Valencienne in a cast that also stars Nathan Gunn and Alek Shrader. Later in the run, Susan Graham, Danielle DeNiese, Rod Gilfry, and Stephen Costello take over. Sir Andrew Davis and Paul Nadler conduct. December 31- May 7

Les Contes d’Hoffmann: Matthew Polenzani and Vittorio Grigolo sing that vaguely irritating poet. Polenzani should be a real treat to hear as Hoffmann. Grigolo is a singer whom, while very capable, also appeals to the playfulness of the audience, which is easier done in Boheme as opposed to Hoffmann, so it should definitely stretch his limits. Hibla Gerzmava, Susannah Philips, Erin Morley, Audrey Luna, Christine Ride, and Elena Maximova are singing the four heroines(Gerzmava has unfortunately decided not to attempt all three at four at once) and Kate Lindsey brings her smoldering Niklaus back to the Met. Thomas Hampson plays the four villains and Yves Abel and James Levine share score duties. January 12- March 21

Iolanta/ Bluebeard’s Castle: The Met is lucky to get Netrebko in such a wide variety of rep that she has become known for. Here, she sings the blind princess Iolanta opposite Piotr Beczala. On the other half of the double bill, Nadja Michael, one of the most derided singers that I’ve come across in my time in the opera world, sings Judith opposite Mikhail Petrenko as her super creepy husband. Valery Gergiev conducts both of Mariusz Trelinski’s new productions. January 26- February 21

Don Giovanni: Michael Grandage’s blah production returns with a strong cast. Tough-as-nails soprano Elza van den Heever sings Donna Anna, Emma Bell is Donna Elvira, and Kate Lindsey is Zerlina. Peter Mattei and Luca Pisaroni sing Don Giovanni and Leporello. However, the most exciting aspect may be that Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, is making his Met debut conducting the score. February 4- March 6

La Donna del Lago: Joyce DiDonato can continue to check the boxes on her “Bel Canto Mezzo Role Domination” sheet as she brings her Elena to the Met in a supposedly boring production by Paul Curran. She is joined by a battalion of bel-canto superstars  like Juan-Diego Florez, Daniela Barcellona, and John Osborn in what promises to be some of the best music making of the season. February 16- March 14

Manon: While Netrebko and Beczala’s performances of the unfortunate lovers in Manon may be as thrilling as it gets for the Met, Laurent Pelly’s half-baked(but not in the good way of the ice cream flavor way) production returns with two singers who will make equally interesting statements in the roles. Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo sing the parts for the first time at the Met. Russell Braun and Nicholas Teste join the cast with Emmanuel Villaume conducting. March 9- 28

Lucia di Lammermoor: Albina Shagimuratova, last season’s successful Queen of the Night, sings the title role in Mary Zimmerman’s production which isn’t nearly as bad as her Sonnambula. Joseph Calleja is Edgardo and Fabio Capitanucci is Enrico. Bel-canto specialist Maurizio Benini conducts. March 16- April 10

Ernani: Of all the early Verdi operas that the Met could pick to perform on a regular basis, why do they choose this one? Placido Domingo sings more baritone rep in the role of Carlos. Francesco Meli sings the title role and Angela Meade sings Elvira, which has become a signature role of her’s and for good reason. James Levine conducts. March 20- April 11

Don Carlo: Barbara Frittoli is a seriously underrated artist. While Elisabetta might be too demanding a sing for her, she’s nonetheless a hugely affecting performer. Yonghoon Lee sings Carlos, Ekaterina Gubanova sings Eboli, and Feruccio Furlanetto sings his signature King Philip in another routine revival of Nicholas Hytner’s Blokus-like production. A bright spot, however, it the conducting of Yannick Nezet-Seguin. March 30- April 25

Manon- Photographer unknown

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci: Those of you who are new here might not know how fiercely defensive I am of these two operas. Well, I am. David McVicar, please do a good job. Get intense. Get loud. Get dangerous. It’s verismo and no choice is too audacious. Marcelo Alvarez sings both Turridu and Canio and his supporting women are the lovely Eva- Maria Westbroek and Patricia Racette, whose Tosca last season showed signs of vocal uneasiness.  Zeljko Lucic and George Gagnidze round out the cast with Fabio Luisi conducting. April 21- May 8

Un Ballo in Maschera: James Levine conducts the return of David Alden’s film-noir inspired production which stars Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, Piotr Beczala, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in what promises to be a night of fine Verdi singing.

The Rake’s Progress: The Met once again remounts Stravinsky’s neoclassical masterpiece. Sparkling soprano Layla Claire is Anne Trulove and Paul Appleby is Tom Rakewell. Gerald Finley is Nick Shadow and the always-on-point Stephanie Blythe is Baba the Turk. James Levine conducts Jonathan Miller’s production.

There you have it! An abbreviated version of the season that will start in the blink of an eye. As is Opera Teen tradition, I’ll be livetweeting and liveblogging opening night before, during the intermissions, and after the performance. The afternoon before, I’ll post a series of helpful links so everyone’s equipted for the broadcast, and then liveblogging will begin! See you then!

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Met 2014-15 Season Predictions- Part 1

Opening night at the Met is one of my favorite days of the year. A new season connotes discovery, excitement, and a whole other slew of exciting performances to look forward to. Especially after the Met’s unusually long summer break, a new season brings back that sense of currency and anticipation to the opera community. Since my season predictions are unusually late this year, let’s jump right in!

Le Nozze di Figaro (Opening Night): Richard Eyre, who directed a sleepy “Werther” last season, returns to the Met on what was a short-notice takeover from Michael Grandage. Fortunately, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a Figaro that looks sleepier than the recently-retired Jonathan Miller one. I’m especially looking forward to the lauded American soprano Amanda Majeski’s opening night debut, as well as the formidable bass/baritone duo of Ildar Abdrazakov and Peter Mattei. Am I the only person who’s tired of Isabel Leonard? The production returns later in the season with Danielle DeNiese, who should sparkle as Susanna, as well as Mariusz Kweicien and Erwin Schrott. It’s nice to have Levine back in the pit on a more regular schedule to conduct the first run of performances, with Edo de Waart takin over later. September 22- December 20

La Bohème: The Met must have set aside whatever feud it has with Angela Gheorghiu, because the notoriously-difficult Romanian soprano is back at the Met for the first time in over a year. Later in the season, Kristine Opolais makes a scheduled return to the role she sang on short-notice last spring. While a hugely convincing performer, Opolais’ voice lacks the sweetness and fluidity of many famous Mimis, like Gheorghiu. Met renor-of-the-moment Bryan Hymel and Ramon Vargas share Rodolfo and Riccardo Frizza conducts. September 23- January 24.

Macbeth: Anna Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth has arrived, and sooner than expected. Netrebko takes her second stab(pun very much intended) at the intense Verdi heroine in a cast for the ages. Zeljko Lucic is Macbeth, Joseph Calleja is Macduff, and Rene Pape is Banquo(can you say “luxury casting”?) in Adrian Noble’s WWII setting of the classic play-turned-opera. Fabio Lusis conducts. September 24-October 18

Carmen: In what must be the year of Richard Eyre, one of the more successful productions of Gelb’s tenure(Eyre’s 2012 Carmen) returns. Anita Rachvelishvili(you know that you’re getting good at what you do when you can spell that without looking at anything) and Elina Garanca present their two different interpretations of the eponymous gypsy. Their Don Joses are Aleksandrs Antonenko(a future met Otello, if the gossip is to believed), Roberto Alagna, and Jonas Kaufmann. Anita Hartig(a positively magnificent Mimi in Boheme last season) and Richard Tucker Award Winner Ailyn Perez makes her long-awaited Met debut in a mostly thankless role as Micaela. Massimo Cavaletti, Ildar Abdrazakov, and Gabor Bretz share Escamillo and Pablo Heras-Casado and Loius Langree share conducting responsibilities. September 30-March 7

Die Zauberflote: Julie Taymor’s puppet-full production returns to the Met in it’s original German for the first time in a few seasons. Most notably, Pretty Yende returns to the Met after her overnight success in “Le Comte Ory” last season to sing Pamina. Also in the cast are Marcus Werba and Toby Spence as Papageno and Tamino. Kathryn Lewek makes her MEt debut as the Queen of the Night later in the run. Adam Fischer conducts. October 6- November 8.

The Death of Klinghoffer: While Peter Gelb’s idea of new productions is important, it’s new, attention-getting works that will keep opera thriving in the 21st century. The Met’s programming of Klinghoffer, I believe, is the best artistic decision of Gelb’s tenure. A landmark opera by an American composer about a controversial topic can and will stimulate public discussion about opera the way it hasn’t in quite a long time and embodies everything the Met should stand for. Paolo Szot, a treat in any performance, is the captain of the Achile Lauro. Leon Klinghoffer is played by Alan Opie, and Micaela Martens plays Marilyn Klinghoffer. David Robertson conducts in an English National Opera co-production by Tom Morris. Here’s to putting opera back into the public eye! October 20- November 15.

Aida: If there’s anything that needs replacing at the Met, it’s that tired Sonja Frisell Aida. However, it’s back and the casts are notably excellent. Liudmyla Monastyrska, Tamara Wilson(making her debut replacing a pregnant Latonia Moore), and Oksana Dyka, a shimmering soprano who made met Met debut last season, share the title role. Olga Borodina and Violeta Urmana, who has sung the title role multiple times at the Met, sing Amneris. Marcello Giordani and Marco Berti share the role of Radames and Marco Armiliato and Placido Domingo conduct.

Lady Macbeth of Mtensk: You could say that I’m most excited to see the Lady Macbeths this upcoming season, and you’d be correct. Coming out of the mothballs is Graham Vick’s production and Eva-Maria Westbroek, a personal favorite, is ready to bring her most famous role to the Met. Brandon Jovanovich is Katerina Izmailova’s paramour, Sergey. James Conlon conducts the score that got Shostakovich in trouble with Stalin. November 11-29

Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Bart Sher’s best Met production(and that’s saying something) is back again, this time starring Isabel Leonard(feigned surprise) and Lawence Brownlee as Rosina and the Count. Christopher Maltman plays Figaro and Michele Mariotti conducts.

Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg: Otto Schenk’s picturesque production breaks the Met’s season-long Wagner fast with a case headed by Johan Botha as Walther, Annette Dasch as Eva, and James Morris and Michael Volle as Hans Sachs, taking over for Johan Reuter. Get ready for 6 hours of fun with James Levine conducting. December 2- 23

La Traviata: Marina Rebeka and Marina Poplavskaya(You can never have too many Marinas, can you?) share the central role of Violetta in Willy Decker’s production that has overstayed its welcome on the stages of the world. Stephen Costello and Francesco Demuro share Alfredo, and Ludovic Tezier sings Alfredo’s father. Since Poplavskaya cancelled her scheduled Countesses in Figaro at the Met and has not been in the best vocal health as of late, it is open for speculation whether or not she will cancel and, if she does, who will take her spot. Marco Armiliato conducts. December 11- January 24

Hansel and Gretel: The Met’s haunt-your-dreams frightening production FOR FAMILIES returns for the holidays. Christine Rice and Aleksandra Kurzak are the siblings and Robert Brubaker will do wonderfully as the Witch. Sir Andrew Davis conducts. December 18- January 8

Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few hours!

Photo: Unknown

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New York State of Mind: Ariadne auf Naxos and An American Tragedy at the Glimmerglass Festival

I’m always amused by the fact that Cooperstown, NY, a small, random, classically American town situated over four hours north of New York City, can support a world-renown summer opera festival as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame. Resting on Otsego Lake, the Glimmerglass Opera Festival provides a welcome escape for opera fans who flock to the beautiful and practically constructed Alice Busch Opera Theater to see three operas and one musical be performed in repertory every summer. It’s always a little baffling how an opera festival draws so many people to the rural, baseball themed Cooperstown every year, but breaking even budgets and a sense of community integration and enthusiasm for the performances being presented must be what keeps the festival an opera destination every year.

This was my second year up at Glimmerglass, after having seen Camelot and King for a Day last year. Recently, under the artistic leadership of Francesca Zambello, the festival has been re-branded and rejuvenated with young-artist lead performances, audience-accessible events(weekly free tours of the opera house, free pre-performance lectures, and myriad recitals and concerts).

This year, the four presentations at the Glimmerglass Festival were Ariadne auf Naxos, An American Tragedy, Madama Butterfly, and Carousel. I was up at Cooperstown over the weekend of August 8th and saw all four performances. This first half will discuss Ariadne and American Tragedy, with reviews of the other two productions which will follow later this week.

Each year at Glimmerglass, Francesca Zambello has made it her mission to have an “artist in residence” every summer. In the past, it has been singers like Deborah Voigt and Nathan Gunn. The artist in residence usually performs in one production and a recital, with smaller concerts and mentor-ship roles throughout. The artist in residence this year was the dramatic soprano Christine Goerke.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival. (L to R): Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad, Jacqueline Echols as Echo, Christine Goerke as Prima Donna, Adam Cioffari as Agent, John Kapusta as Dance Captain, Catherine Martin as Composer, Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D'Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
(L to R): Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad, Jacqueline Echols as Echo, Christine Goerke as Prima Donna, Adam Cioffari as Agent, John Kapusta as Dance Captain, Catherine Martin as Composer, Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate.

This year, the mammoth-voiced Goerke returned to her Glimmerglass roots as the Prima Donna in Richard StraussAriadne auf Naxos. Ariadne has always been a fascinating work for me. The opera itself is a masterpiece. While musically it’s mostly quite compelling and entertaining, the psychological aspect of the piece is my favorite part. The creation of these mostly-nameless characters is thought provoking beyond belief when the squabbling opera troupe and raucous comedians come together to form the “opera” portion. I’ve always found the prologue more musically interesting, and after picking my brain about it, I realized why. The prologue is written by Strauss. The opera is written by the Komponist who dominates so much of the prologue. It is a first venture into opera, for this young composer, so of course it is flawed. The Ariadne/Bacchus duet always manages to feel long, but Strauss really understood the cycle of composition for a young composer. The two vitally important pieces of the piece could not exist without each other. Strauss asks more questions than he answers with Ariadne, but isn’t that what good theatre is about? This is just my personal analysis of the piece, so feel free to leave your impressions in the comments.

The “mostly-nameless” characters whom I brought up in the first paragraph are the members of the two rivaling factions slated to perform at the home of the “richest man in Vienna” or, as Zambello’s production would have it, upstate New York. Zambello sets the production in a barn in upstate New York, decked-out with goats, chickens, and tractors. Part of what makes Glimmerglass so special is its surroundings, which were referenced in this production. The production was mostly funny and created some pleasant stage pictures. The crowd scenes were stimulating, but a lack of clear blocking in the opera portion made a scene that can easily feel long feel endless. Too bad Strauss didn’t write a part for the “direktor” that we can stick the blame on. Also, in the beginning, Zambello had the characters enter from the house, chattering and running throughout the theater as the prelude was going, drowning out some of Strauss’ lovely music, conducted with almost too much delicacy and lightness by Kathleen Kelly.

Christine Goerke is a thrilling singer. She has emerged with power, brilliance, and sensitivity  as a dramatic soprano whose Faberin at the Met last season was the highlight, for me, of 2013. Her voice is almost too huge for the intimate Alice Busch Opera Theater, but she commands the stage with thrilling low notes, intelligent use of text,  and real comic timing. Also, it looked like she, like the rest of the cast, was having a great time onstage, which is one of my favorite reasons to be at Glimmerglass.

Rachele Gilmore’s birdlike voice soared with sensitivity as Zerbinetta, gliding over high notes during a sassy and expressive “Grossmachtige Prinzessin”. Katherine Martin’s Komponist was marred by mushy diction(which really matters when the production is partially-performed in an intelligent English translation by Kelly Rourke) and a jagged upper voice. Fortunately, her aria was performed nicely and she has a pleasant, if not indistinctive, middle voice. Corex Bix was expressive, if not a little underpowered as Bacchus.

Clockwise from top: Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Christine Goerke as Ariadne, Gerard Michael D'Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Carlton Ford as Harlequin in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Clockwise from top: Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Christine Goerke as Ariadne, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Carlton Ford as Harlequin in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Strauss’ “Ariadne in Naxos.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Of the supporting cast, Carlton Ford, Jacqueline Echols, and Matthew Scollin, all members of the Young Artists Program, were very pleasantly voiced as Harlequin, Echo, and the Farmhand.  Troy Hourie’s sets were fun to look at, with a map of New York state painted on the barn door, and Erik Teague’s costumes were fun to look at. Mark McCollough‘s fantastic lighting delivered the much-discussed firework finale of the opera with simplicity.

The (unionized, if anyone’s interested, considering the recent events at the Met)Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra was in lovely form, with special props to the clarinet section.

Saturday afternoon presented a drastically different work from Ariadne. Tobias Picker’s 2005 opera, An American Tragedy, based off the Theodore Dreiser novel and surges with emotion. Picker and librettist Gene Scheer take on the ultimate challenge of cutting an over-one-million word novel down into a 3 hour opera and pull it off with attention to detail and a variety of musical colors. While Scheer’s character development can sometimes come off a little heavy-handed, Picker’s intense and evocative musical storytelling more than make up for it.

The story of class conflict that eventually brings Clyde Griffiths, the central character and accused-murderer of Roberta Alden, to the electric chair, is effectively and deliberately illustrated in Peter Kazaras’ production. While the stage may be dominated by a large, metal scaffold, it very rarely impedes the performers and in the final scene, makes for a moving and symbolic stage picture. Also, the staging of the boat-flip was pulled off in an extremely intelligent way, as seen below.

As Clyde Griffiths, Christian Bowers evoked memories of Nathan Gunn in his earthy, sensitive performance. As Roberta Alden, Vanessa Isiguen won the most applause of the afternoon. With a beautiful smile and a warm, colorful voice, she was intensely believeable and extremely sympathetic as Clyde’s first “love”. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Cynthia Cook’s sumptuous, earthy voice swelled with vibrato and earnestness as Sondra Finchley, the second woman with whom Clyde falls in love.

Cynthia Cook as Sondra Finchley, Christian Bowers as Clyde Griffiths and Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta Alden in The Glimmerglass Festival's new production of Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Cynthia Cook as Sondra Finchley, Christian Bowers as Clyde Griffiths and Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta Alden in The Glimmerglass Festival’s new production of Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Amongst the supporting cast, Meredith Lustig’s Bella was punctuated with great low notes and Aleksey Bogdanov delivered an authoritative, snarling baritone as Samuel Griffiths. George Manahan gave an intense, brooding, and evocative reading of Picker’s lush score. The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus both delivered passionate performances, with the children’s chorus as a welcome presence in the Church Scene in the second act. Anya Klepikov and Robert Wierzel’s costumes and lighting complemented each other well in light of the story. Alexander Dodge’s sets moved on and off the stage with ease, expertly linking together the many smaller, more intimate scenes in the opera with the bigger ones.

Stay tuned for reviews of Madama Bufferfly and Carousel to follow later this week!

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