By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Dear Opera Fans,
It’s hard to believe that four months have sped by since I began doing daily summaries for the Met’s free streams each evening – I’ve done well over 100 operas at this point. Truly, it has been a labor of love, and I am definitely grateful to have had something useful to “do” in these challenging times. Unfortunately, I have to be traveling the rest of the week – family necessity. The good thing is it’s finally the case that there are more ‘repeat’ operas each week than new ones, making it an ideal time for me to cut back – at least a bit. If you still want to read a summary for an upcoming repeat performance (same story, different cast) – there are many options. You can search by the opera’s title on RenoArtsNews to find my previous summaries or look back at my past articles you may have saved on your computer – or in your email. There are also fine summaries on the Met’s website for most of the operas they stream.
When I return, I’ll continue to do complete synopses for the new operas that come along – and give you just some brief comments on the repeat showings which feature new casts or different production designs to help you decide whether or not you want to watch.
This week’s lineup offers us two charming repeated comedies, one by Rossini and one by Mozart, three repeated classics by Puccini, as well as one by Verdi, plus Alban Berg’s harrowing 20th-century masterpiece Wozzeck—it’s a lineup that definitely runs the operatic gamut. For Manon Lescaut, Turandot, Cenerentola, and Nozze di Figaro this will be the second time around; for Bohème and Traviata we are already on the fourth go around, and only Wozzeck is new.
So – here are quickies for the first three operas streaming on July 13-15. I’ll send a Wozzeck summary from the road, as well as “quickies” for the last three repeats later in the week. In the meantime, stay safe and all the best – Lynne
Monday, July 13
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut ~ 2Hrs 24Mins
Starring Kristine Opolais, Roberto Alagna, Massimo Cavalletti, and Brindley Sherratt, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From March 5, 2016.
The previously streamed Manon Lescaut was the 1980 classic with Placido Domingo and Renata Scotto. This week, the charming Kristine Opolais is the young woman whose conflicting desires for both love and the Parisian high life lead to her tragic end. Roberto Alagna plays the man who falls for her in this beautiful early Puccini hit. Richard Eyre’s production, which sets the action in occupied France in the 1940s, was produced for the Met’s 2015–16 season. Massimo Cavalletti is Manon’s brother and Brindley Sherratt plays her aging’ patron.’ Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
If the young Puccini was undaunted by two operas about Manon – “Why shouldn’t there be two operas about Manon? A woman like Manon can have more than one lover….” certainly the Met isn’t either – this is the second Manon Lescaut they have streamed, along with two versions of Massenet’s Manon – the rival take on this tragic heroine.
In this production, the first and second act sets (an Inn in Amiens outside of Paris and Geronte’s palatial house in Paris) are pleasing enough. The third act – near the harbor in Le Havre and the fourth, “a vast plain near the outskirts of New Orleans” – are less satisfying, especially the last act which seems here to take place in a bombed-out hotel of some kind – near New Orleans! It is difficult for Manon and des Grieux to move around on the jagged floor, making the already challenging singing even more difficult – to say nothing about how they got there and why.
While I really like Opolais in this role, I am not nearly as happy with Alagna. In fairness, perhaps I should confess that I had tickets to see this production twice in New York – in the hopes of hearing Jonas Kaufmann and Opolais sing it – twice. Instead, I had to sit through Alagna twice – and needless to say, I was not a happy camper, so you will forgive some bias in my lack of enthusiasm for Alagna. He is adequate in the role, but certainly not inspiring.
Nevertheless, Puccini’s score is one of his most beautiful ever with wonderful melodies and moving arias throughout. It is definitely worth a listen if you missed the Scotto/Domingo version.
Tuesday, July 14
Verdi’s La Traviata ~ 2Hrs 9Mins
Starring Ileana Cotrubaș, Plácido Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil, conducted by James Levine. Transmitted live on March 28, 1981.
For the fourth go-around on Verdi’s great masterpiece, we have James Levine leading a remarkable – and classic – cast featuring Ileana Cotrubas, who is a poignant and touching Violetta, the consumptive courtesan who finds true love with Alfredo Germont, sung by the great Plácido Domingo. Cornell MacNeil plays the elder Germont, Alfredo’s father, who forces the two lovers apart for the good of his family’s name and thus sets in motion the events which ultimately lead to the tragic conclusion. Colin Graham’s production features design by Tanya Moiseiwitsch and choreography by Zachary Solov.
Few operatic figures are as beloved as Violetta, the dignified, selfless – and sickly – heroine of Verdi’s tragedy. She is an elegant courtesan with a heart of gold, who chooses true love over the amusements and riches of her glamorous Parisian life – unlike Manon, then sacrifices everything for the sake of a young woman she’s never even met. All of this—the glitter of her earlier life, the heat of her passion for the ardent young Alfredo, the pain of their separation, and her tragic end—lands with devastating musical weight thanks to Verdi, whose score stands as one of music’s greatest depictions of love and loss.
At once beautifully romantic and arrestingly decadent, La Traviata, which loosely translates to ‘The Fallen Woman’ has been streamed three times before – most recently with Yoncheva and Fabiano in the Willy Decker (red dress) version, as well as that version with Dessay and Polenzani. The Met’s newer – and far more beautiful to the eye version – featured Damrau and Flórez. It is hard to imagine a better cast than Cotrubas and Domingo, so I will watch this one just to check out a nearly 40 year old classic version. Find a fresh box of tissues and join me.
Wednesday, July 15
Puccini’s Turandot ~ 2Hrs 8Mins
Starring Maria Guleghina, Marina Poplavskaya, Marcello Giordani, and Samuel Ramey, conducted by Andria Nelsons. From November 7, 2009.
This time, Franco Zeffirelli’s breathtaking, lavish production (that has been around for well over 30 years!) stars Maria Guleghina in the title role of the icy Chinese princess, who happily beheads all suitors who are unable to solve her riddles. Last time around, we heard Christine Goerke – alias ‘Heldenmommy’- and Yusef Eyvazov – a wonderful cast. Marcello Giordani is this evening’s Calàf, the prince who eventually wins Turandot’s love – and her hand. Marina Poplavskaya sings Liù, the slave girl who loves Calàf, and sacrifices her life for him, and Samuel Ramey is fabulous as Calaf’s father, Timur. Maestro Andris Nelsons conducts. This production is certainly well worth watching – whether or not you caught the first one.
Don’t miss the wonderful antics of Ping, Pang and Pong – the comic relief in this legendary tale that certainly has its gruesome moments, but also features some of Puccini’s finest and most spectacular music—not to mention “Nessun dorma,” (no one sleeps) one of the catalogue’s most beloved tenor arias, as well as Liù’s heartbreakingly beautiful, “Tu che di gel sei cinta…” (You who are made of ice …. you will love him (too)), before she stabs herself to escape from Turandot’s torture and to save Calàf’s life. You’ll want to stay for the visually stunning and musically gorgeous last act – even if, like me, you aren’t so fond of Calàf’s choice in women! It still makes for one of opera’s grandest experiences.
1. Kristine Opolais in the title role and Roberto Alagna as des Grieux in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”. Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
2. Kristine Opolais in the title role and Roberto Alagna as des Grieux in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”. Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.
3. Ileana Cotrubas as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Met Opera Archives.
4. A scene from Act III of Puccini’s “Turandot.” Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
5. A scene from Act II from Puccini’s “Turandot” with Eduardo Valdes as Pong, Joshua Hopkins as Ping and Tony Stevenson as Pang. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.