Met Free Opera Streams Week 26 (French Week)

Monday, September 7
Massenet’s  Manon (first streamed, May 24) ~ 2Hrs and 53Mins
Starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczała, Paulo Szot, and David Pittsinger, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From April 7, 2012.

Star soprano Anna Netrebko scored a triumph in Laurent Pelly’s acclaimed 2012 production, singing the title heroine for the first time at the Met. Manon’s story—from innocent country girl to celebrated courtesan to destitute prisoner—is one of the great tragic tales in literature and music, and this performance brings out all of its colors, as seen through Massenet’s masterful score, from the comedic beginning to the heart-wrenching finale. Piotr Beczała is des Grieux, Manon’s lover, who decides to become a priest when she leaves him, but ultimately is reunited with her, only to lose her again. Paulo Szot sings Lescaut, and Fabio Luisi conducts the Met Orchestra and Chorus.

Based on the scandalous 18th-century novella, L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, by Abbé Prévost, Massenet’s 1884 version features one of the most challenging, yet most beguiling, soprano roles in opera. When Puccini undertook to write an opera on the same story only five years later, his publisher tried to persuade him not to because of the success of Massenet’s work. In a famous quote, Puccini is said to have claimed, “A woman like Manon can have more than one lover.”

Tuesday, September 8
Gounod’s  Roméo et Juliette (first streamed, April 10) ~ 2Hrs and 50Mins
Starring Diana Damrau, Vittorio Grigolo, Elliot Madore, and Mikhail Petrenko, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. From January 21, 2017.

Tony Award–winning director Bartlett Sher’s new staging of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette updates the action to 18th-century Verona and conjures both the magic and heartbreak of this timeless love story. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo and soprano Diana Damrau enchanted audiences as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, with Damrau displaying glittering coloratura virtuosity and Grigolo delivering passionate longing and a moving rendition of the famous aria “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” On the podium, maestro Gianandrea Noseda draws a wealth of orchestral color from Gounod’s lush score.

I’m sure I don’t need to review this particular story for you, so curl up on the couch with your Kleenex box and surround yourself with Gounod’s glorious music. Re-acquaint yourself with Juliette’s youthful enthusiasm, Roméo’s hot-headed ardor, Tybalt’s hatred for the Montagues, Mercutio’s sacrifice, the secret marriage in Frère Laurent’s cell, the missed messages and the final tragedy that brings about a sad peace after the ardently sung ending.

Wednesday, September 9
Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust (first streamed, May 25) ~ 2Hrs and 22Mins
Starring Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani, and John Relyea, conducted by James Levine. From November 22, 2008.

Conducted by James Levine, Robert Lepage’s stunning production—with its brilliant marriage of art and technology—thrilled HD audiences around the world. In Berlioz’s rarely performed vision of the immortal Faust legend, Marcello Giordani is a fiery title hero whose impulsive bargain with Méphistophélès (a commanding John Relyea) proves fatal. Susan Graham is a lovely and tragic Marguerite, the woman who gives everything for the man she loves.

Suffice it to say, the reason this opera is rarely done other than as a concert – the production was absent from the Met stage for more than 100 years – is its many challenges. There are only three main singers, but a huge chorus is required and there are many, long orchestral interludes where nothing at all happens except in the music. Initially describing the piece as a “concert opera,” Berlioz, himself, ultimately landed upon the term “dramatic legend” to characterize his genre-bending adaptation of Goethe’s story. Berlioz’s sweeping, symphonic work offers both rhapsodic and viscerally thrilling music as it recounts Faust’s ruinous bargain with the devil, Mephistopheles and his subsequent descent to the depths of hell. In addition to the huge orchestra and equally huge chorus, a large children’s chorus is required— and the soloist’s parts are highly taxing, making this full theatrical production a rare treat you might not want to miss.

Thursday, September 10
Massenet’s  Cendrillon (first streamed, June 27) ~ 2Hrs and 22Mins
Starring Kathleen Kim, Joyce DiDonato, Alice Coote, Stephanie Blythe, and Laurent Naouri, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. From April 28, 2018.

The 2017–18 Live in HD season concluded with an enchanted performance of Cendrillon, Massenet’s glittering operatic adaptation of the Cinderella story. This charming staging by Laurent Pelly, which bursts into life with the director’s characteristic wit and whimsy, stars American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the title outcast-turned-princess. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote offers a touching portrayal in the pants role of Prince Charming, while soprano Kathleen Kim shines as the Fairy Godmother. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, as the outlandish Madame de la Haltière, and bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, as the haggard Pandolfe, round out the principal cast. On the podium, conductor Bertrand de Billy leads a performance that is equal parts madcap comedy and heartfelt romance.

Retold with wit and whimsy, and this time encased in an atmosphere of faux French elegance, Cendrillon has everything you’d expect—heartache, humor, hijinks, and a happy ending, all delivered on the wings of Massenet’s gorgeous music. In the quite literally storybook staging by Laurent Pelly, Charles Perrault’s original words come to life right before your eyes, as the action unfolds in the pages of a book that forms the story’s backdrop. This is yet another wonderful Met offering for the entire family – a truly enchanting several hours!

Friday, September 11
Bizet’s  Les Pêcheurs de Perles (first streamed, April 3) ~ 2Hrs and 15Mins
Starring Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecień, and Nicolas Testé, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. From January 16, 2016.

Bizet’s less commonly heard opera returned to the Met for the first time in a century on New Year’s Eve 2015, in Penny Woolcock’s acclaimed new production. Star soprano Diana Damrau sings Leïla, the virgin priestess at the center of the story. Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien are Nadir and Zurga, rivals for Leïla’s love who have both sworn to renounce her in order to preserve their friendship—and who sing one of opera’s most celebrated duets, “Au fond du temple saint.” Nicolas Testé is the high priest Nourabad and Gianandrea Noseda conducts Bizet’s supremely romantic score.

Originally set in Ceylon in ancient times, the Met’s production has been updated to a modern coastal shantytown where the fishermen wear a mix of traditional and more modern clothing. The villagers intimate relationship with the sea – its bounty and its dangers – is mirrored in dramatically beautiful projections which take us from the depths of the underwater world of the pearl fishers, to serene evening meditations, to violent floods and storms, and finally, to the fiery cataclysm that destroys their entire existence.

Saturday, September 12
Berlioz’s  Les Troyens (first streamed, May 28) ~ 4Hrs and 20Mins
Starring Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Karen Cargill, Bryan Hymel, Eric Cutler, Dwayne Croft, and Kwangchul Youn, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From January 5, 2013.

Berlioz’s epic masterpiece retells the magnificent saga of the aftermath of the Trojan War and the subsequent exploits of the warrior, Aeneas. Tenor Bryan Hymel, in his Met debut, stars as the hero charged by the gods with the founding of the city of Rome. Susan Graham is Dido, Queen of Carthage, who becomes Aeneas’s lover, and Deborah Voigt sings Cassandra, the Trojan princess whose warnings about the impending destruction of Troy go unheeded. Francesca Zambello’s atmospheric production, featuring choreography by Doug Varone, is led by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi.

Based on the second and fourth books of Virgil’s epic, “The Aeneid,” the opera deals first with the fall of Troy as the result of the Trojan horse ruse and the subsequent mass suicide of the Trojan women led by the prophetess Cassandra whose warnings of impending disaster went unheeded. The drama then shifts to Carthage and the ill-fated love affair of its Queen, Dido, with Aeneas. As leader of Troy’s survivors and chosen founder of Rome, Aeneas is finally forced by the Gods to desert Dido, in spite of his great passion for her, causing her, much like Brünnhilde, to leap into the flames consuming the remains of their love.

Sunday, September 13
Massenet’s  Werther (first streamed, May 11) ~ 2Hrs and 22Mins
Starring Lisette Oropesa, Sophie Koch, Jonas Kaufmann, David Bižić, and Jonathan Summers, conducted by Alain Altinoglu. From March 15, 2014.

This one is for the hopeless romantics among us, and even though I saw it (twice!) in person at the Met – no one who comes to my classes will be surprised to hear that I’ll probably watch it yet again on Sunday! Super star tenor Jonas Kaufmann brings aching intensity and vocal charisma to the tortured title hero of Massenet’s adaptation of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Sophie Koch, in her Met debut, is an appealing and elegant Charlotte, the object of Werther’s passionate affection that will ultimately lead to tragedy. Lisette Oropesa as Charlotte’s sister Sophie, David Bižić as Albert, and Jonathan Summers as Charlotte’s widowed father, Le Bailli, co-star. Richard Eyre’s atmospheric production is conducted by rising maestro Alain Altinoglu.

The opera’s story is intimately connected to the seasons and plays itself out between a lovely summer day in July and a bleak winter Christmas Eve in December. The prelude suggests a recent winter funeral – a mother has died leaving her husband and eldest daughter to raise the many younger children. We experience the seasons changing both through the music and the extensive use of video projections which beautifully set each season’s mood from lighthearted summer, to bittersweet fall and bleak, hopeless winter. Wendall Harrington, the talented video director, begins with atmospheric projections in Act I to suggest the Bailiff’s house and the natural beauty of its surroundings, which are also passionately described in the music by the poet Werther in his first aria (“O Nature, pleine de grâce”), as he observes the warm family scene taking place in the garden. This opera is a sublime work of art in its every facet; do see it if you are able.

All Pictures are from Metropolitan Opera Archives

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