A Report Card for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012-2013 Season
by Richard Sasanow (via Broadway World) - The regular season just ended for the Metropolitan Opera–all that’s left is a series of HD rebroadcasts on Lincoln Center Plaza and a couple of low profile concerts in New York City parks–and it’s time for a look back at what kind of season it was. With seven new productions and 21 other operas in rep during a season that ran from the end of September to mid-May, the Met was nothing if not far-reaching in its repertoire. And that’s the way it should be. But how did its ambitions work out?
There were some winners and losers among the productions. Don’t get me wrong–I really don’t go in with my mind made up. And I don’t believe that the Met should always do productions that would have been suitable for Caruso and the turn of the 20th century or Zeffirelli-ish extravaganzas. (I also don’t think they should be automatically discounted, when done with style.) They just need ones that don’t look like the director never heard an opera, was too lazy to think things through or, worse, just underestimate the audience.
And the winners were…
For me, there were three unqualified (or almost) successes, Donizetti’s MARIA STUARDA, Verdi’s RIGOLETTO and Handel’s GIULIO CESARE.
- The Donizetti deserved points for the combination of vocal talent and a production that, while scenically was not necessarily among the Met’s all-time greats, was nonetheless sensitive to the composer and singers. Three cheers for mezzo Joyce di Donato and soprano Elza van den Heever and to Sir David McVicar for seeing that the Met’s first outing of the opera was memorable.
- McVicar was also responsible for another of the Met’s best evenings, GIULIO CESARE. Here, everything about the production was close to perfect, with countertenor David Daniels in peak form and soprano Daniele de Niese–subbing for an indisposed Natalie Dessay–wonderful, whether jumping through the vocal hoops of the Handel score or doing the Charleston in McVicar’s production.
- RIGOLETTO worked out better than one could have dared imagine, with a great cast headed by Diana Damrau as Gilda and Piotr Beczala as the Duke. Too bad director Michael Mayer didn’t quite figure out how to make his concept of the court jester-as-insult-comedian come together for baritone Zeljko Lucic. But he and his production team (Christine Jones, Kevin Adams and Susan Hilferty) generally did a remarkable job in bringing Mantua to Las Vegas.
To sum up:
Giulio Cesare A+
Maria Stuarda A+ (for singing) B+ (production)
The best of the rest
As for the other new productions, they were a mixed bag, some for vocal reasons, others for concept. For example:
- Wagner’s PARSIFAL had much wonderful singing but I found parts of the production dreary, with costumes for the knights that looked like casual Friday at a hedge fund. I was in a minority about this, but I found the production, by Francois Girard a bit arid.
- On the other hand, while the Bartlett Sher production of L’ELISIR D’AMORE was charming, it was built around soprano Anna Netrebko. Her dramatic voice has become so large that it took quite a while to hear the bel canto in it. When it finally opened up, she was wonderful, but until then, I kept wondering why she was singing this opera. (She later announced that she would no longer be singing the bel canto repertoire.)
- THE TEMPEST by Thomas Adès had an interesting production staged by Robert Lepage and Simon Keenlyside in excellent form, but it was, well, a tempest in a teapot to my thinking, with some of the most unflattering vocal music (particularly for Ariel) that I’ve heard in quite a while.
- As for UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, I always think it might be better appreciated by audiences if it had another composer’s name on it, coming as it does after the middle Verdi trifecta. As it is, its middling popularity leaves it open to the triflings of directors like David Alden. He seemed to have had two ideas, either of which might have worked: film noir and the King/Gustavo as Icarus, who in his vanity flew too close to the sun and melted his wings. Too bad Alden didn’t decide to develop one of them rather than just smooshing bits and pieces of both together. Unfortunately, the singing alone couldn’t pull it off, with not enough help from the production. Sondra Radvanovsky dropped in ably after Karita Mattila decided that the role wasn’t for her, but I’d rather hear Dmitri Hvorostofsky sing in Russian, where he feels best at home.
Parsifal A+ (for singing) B (production)
The Tempest B
Ballo in Maschera B-
Some revivals need reviving
As for the revivals, I heard one beauty, some interesting ones and at least one bad one.
First off, hooray for LES DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES! Back for only three performances this year, it was perhaps the most memorable production–old or new–of the season. The cast was impeccable, from Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force to Felicity Palmer as the Old Prioress to Patricia Racette as Madame Lidoine, and everyone in between.
It was the bicentennial anniversary year for both Verdi and Wagner and the Met gave them their due, including all three middle Verdi operas, with Rigoletto coming out best (see above).
- OTELLO was a great evening that added up to more than the sum of its parts. Jose Cura was, I think, madder than most of the OTELLOS I’ve seen and maybe not the most persuasive vocally. He was, however, riveting to watch and scary as hell. Krassimira Stoyanova and baritone Thomas Hampson sounded good–and stayed out of Cura’s way.
- Patricia Racette was also in IL TROVATORE, and even though she’s now retired this Leonora because she doesn’t fit her personality, I thought she sounded very well indeed. This is another David McVicar production and it looked good–but can anyone really make sense of this opera? Sometime in the future, it will only be done in concert form, where it doesn’t have to make sense dramatically…because it doesn’t.
- Even though it was refreshing when it debuted two years ago, I can’t say that Willy Decker’s production of LA TRAVIATA holds up very well, even with soprano Diana Damrau and baritone Placido Domingo on tap. (I heard the same uninteresting tenor, Salvatore Cordella, covering Alfredo as I did in MARIA STUARDA.) He had Violetta running around like a chicken without a head, jumping up on furniture and on the ledge surrounded the stage. Damrau fell during the season’s opening performance but got up and back in without missing a beat but, really…?
- As for AIDA, too bad there wasn’t a camel in the production. It would have been more interesting than anything in the second cast: You know who you are.
- Besides PARSIFAL, the Met took on the four operas of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” again. Katarina Dalayman was Brünhilde in the GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG I heard and, once she warmed up, did some exciting singing; the same was true of Jay Hunter Morris, who had been outstanding when he debuted in the role last year but was less-so this time around. Eric Owens doesn’t have much to do as Alberich in this opera–but managed to walk away with it anyway. Bravo to him. I hope to hear him again soon…in a new Ring.
Dialogues des Carmelites A++
As for the rest, there were some performances I regretted missing. I was sorry that I didn’t hear Pretty Yende’s debut (with Juan Diego Florez, of course) in Donizetti’s LE COMTE ORY, Lisette Oropesa’s role debut as Magda in Puccini’s LA RONDINE and Brian Hymel’s to-the-rescue Aeneas in LES TROYENS. From all reports, they gave the kinds of performances that keep audiences coming back to the Met. Myself included. (On the other hand, I was happy to have missed Zandonai’s FRANCESCA DA RIMINI–once was enough, long ago, when the production was new.)
A final note: A big round of applause goes to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. It’s always a pleasure to hear its musicians put another notch in their belt. The wonder of hearing them go from one century and style to another, on consecutive days or even on the same day, leaves me filled with admiration. And delight. Fabio Luisi, as Principal Conductor, had a sure hand in leading this exemplary organization.
I give the Met’s 2012-2013 season a B++/A–. That’s not bad quality considering the quantity on view. Well done!