Week 24 is perfect for Verdi fans who might enjoy a particularly concentrated dose of seven of the master’s greatest works – even though they have already been separately streamed in the last five months. Yep – it’s been more than five months of daily opera offerings – and by my count – this is the very first time in all those (160+) evenings that the Met has repeated any performances.
As a reminder – to see the nightly free opera go to metopera.org and scroll down past the pay-per-view concert ads until you see a smaller box on the left that says “Nightly Opera Stream” and gives the current opera’s title – then just click on WATCH NOW…. The ‘nightly opera’ is available from approximately 3:30 in the afternoon Reno time on the advertised day, until around 3:00 in the afternoon of the following day when the new opera for that evening becomes available.
For more complete descriptions of each opera you can always go to RenoArts.News and search by the opera’s title.
Monday, August 24
Verdi’s Rigoletto ~ 2 HRS 31 MIN (first streamed – May 16)
Starring Diana Damrau, Oksana Volkova, Piotr Beczała, Željko Lučić, and Štefan Kocán, conducted by Michele Mariotti. From February 16, 2013.
Michael Mayer’s “Rat Pack Rigoletto” was first seen in the Met’s 2012–13 season. Believe it or not, it sets the action of Verdi’s masterpiece in early 1960’s Las Vegas—a neon-lit world ruled by money and ruthless, powerful men (actually, not all that different from the original’s Mantua in the 16th century). Piotr Beczała is the “Duke” – now, not of Mantua – but a wealthy and popular Vegas entertainer and casino owner who is in the habit, shall we say, of getting anything he wants. Željko Lučić sings Rigoletto – now, not the Duke’s hunchback jester – but his comedian sidekick (think Don Rickles). Diana Damrau is Gilda, Rigoletto’s innocent, sheltered daughter. Dramatic bass, Štefan Kocán is the slimy assassin Sparafucile and Michele Mariotti conducts.
When Gilda is seduced by the Duke (initially disguised as the student, Gaultier Maldè), Rigoletto sets out on a tragic course of murderous revenge. You might want to consider taking a quick look at all the neon and the splashy Las Vegas glitz of these sets – just for the fun of it, and then mostly listening while you get other stuff done – the cast is quite good. While the listening is pleasant – much of the rest is just an unnecessary – if clever – distraction. Listen for the Duke’s famous “Questa o quella” (This woman or that”- it really doesn’t matter, they’re all the same!); his somewhat disingenuous “Ella mi fu rapita!” (She has been stolen from me) and “Parmi veder le lagrime” (I see the tears) – before he learns his henchmen have kidnapped Gilda for him; and, of course – “La donna è mobile” (Woman is fickle) – accusing women of being exactly what he himself actually is. And you will also want to hear Gilda’s beautiful “Caro nome” (Dearest name) and the incredible Act III quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore” (Fairest daughter of love) – sung by the Duke to a prostitute while Gilda is outside listening with her father.
Tuesday, August 25
Verdi’s Il Trovatore ~ 2 HRS 39 MIN (first streamed – March 18)
Starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Stefan Kocán, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From October 3, 2015.
A star studded cast came together for the first Live in HD transmission of the Met’s 2015–16 season. Anna Netrebko is Leonora, the young noblewoman at the center of the story, who is in love with the troubadour of the title—tenor Yonghoon Lee—but who is also pursued by Count di Luna, sung by the great Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Dolora Zajick completes the quartet of principals in one of her signature roles as Azucena, the mysterious Gypsy woman who sets the dramatic events in motion. Marco Armiliato conducts David McVicar’s Goya-inspired production.
Featuring Reno’s very own opera superstar, Dolora Zajick, the story is somewhat convoluted and definitely hard to follow, but it includes some of Verdi’s most memorable music – the ‘Anvil Chorus,’ ‘Di quella pira,’ ‘Stride la vampa’ and ‘Il balen del suo sorriso.’ Basically, babies are mistakenly swapped in infancy and two brothers grow up as mortal enemies who then fall in love with the same woman. The story of the mad gypsy who started the whole thing and how they all wind up killing each other at the rather messy end is well worth trying to follow – but don’t worry about the story too much….. just sit back and enjoy the music
Wednesday, August 26
Verdi’s Luisa Miller ~ 2 HRS 37 MIN (first streamed – May 2)
Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Olesya Petrova, Piotr Beczała, Plácido Domingo, Alexander Vinogradov, and Dmitry Belosselskiy, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. From April 14, 2018.
Luisa Miller premiered immediately before Verdi’s enduring masterpieces Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata and incorporates the youthful vitality that had made him an international sensation while looking forward to the dramaturgical discipline and sophistication of those later works.
In this Live in HD performance, soprano Sonya Yoncheva takes on the tragic title role, capping off a season in which she starred in three cinema transmissions. As her father, Miller, the legendary Plácido Domingo adds another baritone role to his growing repertoire. Tenor Piotr Beczała as Rodolfo, Alexander Vinogradov as Count Walter, and Dmitry Belosselskiy as Wurm round out the illustrious cast, and Bertrand de Billy conducts.
The story centers on the deep bond between a father and his daughter as they are victimized by a hostile world they cannot control. It is an opera very much like its title character—one that has a multitude of genuine virtues and eschews superficial flashiness. In addition to Verdi’s signature soprano and tenor arias (particularly Rudolfo’s passionate and anguished aria “Quando le sere al placido”), watch for the rare duet for two basses in Act II which also reflects the preponderance of lower voices throughout the score – the dark voices are set against the high tessitura of Luisa’s soprano which thus takes on an additional feel of lightness and purity amidst the prevalent darkness and tragic conclusion.
Thursday, August 27
Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera ~ 2 HRS 41 MIN (first streamed – May 20)
Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Kathleen Kim, Stephanie Blythe, Marcelo Álvarez, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From December 8, 2012.
David Alden’s elegant 2012 production moves Verdi’s dramatic love triangle into a timeless setting inspired by film noir. Marcelo Álvarez is Gustavo III, the Swedish king in love with Amelia (Sondra Radvanovsky), the wife of his best friend and counselor, Count Anckarström (Dmitri Hvorostovsky). When Anckarström joins a conspiracy to murder the king, the tragedy spirals out of control. Stephanie Blythe is the fortuneteller Madame Ulrica Arvidsson and Kathleen Kim sings the wonderful page Oscar. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
This is another production well worth the hearing, even if its strange setting leaves you a bit conflicted – and probably wondering exactly where it is that Icarus (complete with wings!) is supposed to fit in. We first meet Gustavo III at a public audience going over the guest list for the soon to be held masked ball of the title. We are made aware that there are unsympathetic conspirators lurking around and hoping for Gustavo’s overthrow. Privately, his best friend and advisor, Count Anckarström warns him of the conspiracy, but he ignores the warning. The page Oscar informs him that a fortuneteller, Madame Ulrica has been accused of witchcraft and is about to be banished (in the 20th century? – right!) and so, of course, he decides to pay her a visit (in disguise and with the court) to check her out for himself.
Since we know already that this is another classic Verdi tragedy, it remains only to enjoy the wonderful music that accompanies Gustavo’s and Amelia’s passionate – but completely chaste – meeting that night, Anckarström’s incensed over reaction to his wife’s presumed (not actual) infidelity, his threat to kill her and his consequent joining of the conspiracy to assassinate the innocent Gustavo at the aforementioned masked ball. The music is extraordinary, and if you are not burdened by my preference for settings that make sense to the original story, you may well enjoy this production.
Friday, August 28
Verdi’s La Traviata ~ 2 HRS 51 MIN (first streamed – March 19)
Starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From December 15, 2018.
Any new Met production of Verdi’s most beloved tragedy La Traviata would be noteworthy, but Michael Mayer’s elegant staging, which premiered during the 2018–19 season, was doubly significant as it marked Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first performances as the Met’s Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director. From the podium for this Live in HD transmission, Nézet-Séguin led a starry ensemble cast. As Violetta, the consumptive heroine fighting to find true happiness, soprano Diana Damrau delivered a beautiful and compelling portrayal. Bel canto heart throb, tenor Juan Diego Flórez sang his first Verdi role at the Met, as Alfredo, Violetta’s ardent yet impetuous lover and baritone Quinn Kelsey rounded out the principal cast as Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s implacable father.
At once beautifully romantic and arrestingly decadent, La Traviata, which loosely translates to ‘The Fallen Woman’ is the tragic story of a sympathetic courtesan running out of time who finds true love, generously gives him up for the good of his family and is only reunited with him on her deathbed – when she is already far beyond saving. Find a fresh box of tissues and enjoy this beautiful, and beautifully sung Verdi masterpiece (which includes the “Brindisi” – the famous drinking song that opens each and every Met HD transmission).
Saturday, August 29
Verdi’s Don Carlo ~ 3 HRS 35 MIN (first streamed – April 2)Starring Marina Poplavskaya, Anna Smirnova, Roberto Alagna, Simon Keenlyside, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Eric Halfvarson, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From December 11, 2010.
Director Nicholas Hytner, who made his Met debut with this production, brings out the passionate intensity that is at the heart of this particular Verdi drama. Don Carlo (sung by Roberto Alagna), is the Spanish crown prince, and Elizabeth of Valois (sung by Marina Poplavskaya), is the daughter of the King of France. The star-crossed pair fall in love, only to be torn apart by international politics when Carlo’s father, King Philip II (Ferruccio Furlanetto), decides to marry Elizabeth himself. Carlo’s devoted friend, Rodrigo (Simon Keenlyside), plays a dangerous game, balancing his friendship and his political hopes to free Flanders with the trust of the monarch he serves. When the beautiful Princess Eboli (Anna Smirnova) discovers that her passionate love for Don Carlo is not returned, it is her revenge that terribly backfires and leads to the tragic conclusion. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Met orchestra and chorus.
It takes five acts to get through all the complications of this tragic, twisted plot set against wars, the Inquisition, personal and political intrigue, a gruesome auto-da-fé and even a supposed ghost, dragging our sad hero Carlo down into his grandfather’s tomb as the opera ends.
No history lessons to be had here – it is mostly pure fiction except for using the names of actual historical figures – but lots and lots of glorious Verdi music to enjoy!
Sunday, August 30
Verdi’s Falstaff ~ 2 HRS 21 MIN (first streamed – April 8)
Starring Lisette Oropesa, Angela Meade, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Paolo Fanale, Ambrogio Maestri, and Franco Vassallo, conducted by James Levine. From December 14, 2013.
Music Director James Levine conducted his first new Met production after a two-year absence from the podium: Robert Carsen’s cleverly updated staging of Verdi’s great human comedy. Ambrogio Maestri is an ideal Falstaff, leading an extraordinary ensemble cast of both veteran and up-and-coming Met stars, including Angela Meade (Alice), Stephanie Blythe (Mistress Quickly), Franco Vasallo (Ford), and Jennifer Johnson Cano (Meg). Lisette Oropesa and Paolo Fanale are the young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton.
It is more than fitting to end Verdi week with his last opera – a delightful comedy – based on scenes taken from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. Verdi himself said of the project, “After having relentlessly massacred so many heroes and heroines, I have at last the right to laugh a little.” And, in fact, his ‘Fat Knight’ is a somewhat more comical fellow than Shakespeare’s original. The wonderfully amusing plot involves Falstaff’s constantly thwarted, often farcical attempts to seduce multiple married women in order to get his hands on their husbands’ fortunes.
To delight in Falstaff’s unintended dunking in the Thames after hiding from a furious husband in a laundry basket; in his agreeing to a new rendezvous with Alice Ford – at midnight in the “haunted” Windsor Great Park; in his painful encounter with the Queen of the Fairies and her followers; in Nannetta and Fenton’s cleverly disguised marriage; and finally in the happy ending in which all discover that “Everything in the world is a jest … but he laughs well who laughs the final laugh” – tune in to the Met on Sunday!
All photo credits: Metropolitan Opera Archives