The Metropolitan Opera is opening its season with Verdi’s “Otello.” Although it has been staged here for over a century, there will be one difference: The title character will not appear with dark makeup. The events of recent months, especially the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, and the protests about the Confederate flag, have had an impact.
While no one who saw Plácido Domingo or Jon Vickers play the Moor of Venice would mistake it for minstrelsy, still seeing Caucasian actors in blackface evokes a painful part of our history. Banishing the practice is sensible.
The opera will undoubtedly retain its dramatic and musical clout: The title role will be played by tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who was an intense Don José in “Carmen” last season.
Soprano Sonya Yoncheva, Desdemona in the production, had one of those star-is-born experiences last season. The Met contacted her at her home in Switzerland only weeks after she had given birth to her son. She was asked to fill in for the lead in “La Bohème,” and so she quickly learned the role, and traveled to New York. She received rave reviews. Baritone Zeljko Lucic (an expert at playing heavies) is Iago.
Director Bartlett Sher is moving the action to the late 19th century, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct.
Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is one of the select group of opera singers who can make bel canto into high drama. Like Callas in her prime, Radvanovsky can handle the technical demands of this florid music and at the same time bring the characters to life. The Met is giving her a rare challenge: to portray all three of Donizetti’s Tudor queen operas in the same season.
The first will be “Anna Bolena” (starting on Sept. 26) in which Radvanovsky will be the title character. In the tragic opera based on English history, Anne Boleyn is executed after Henry VIII rejects her in favor of her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. These are the events dealt with on Broadway last season in the two-part “Wolf Hall.” Since this is a 19th century Italian opera, the heroine gets to sing a mad scene.
When Radvanovsky performed this role last December in Chicago, John von Rhein wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “The visceral quality of Radvanovsky’s vocally compelling and dramatically affecting performance was just the ticket to send sparks flying in the coloratura stratosphere.”
The rest of the cast is also first-rate. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov is King Henry VIII, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is Jane Seymour (the king’s consort), and tenor Stephen Costello plays the queen’s love interest. Sir David McVicar directs, and Marco Armiliato is the conductor. This opera will be followed by “Maria Stuarda” (about Mary, Queen of Scots) and in the spring by “Roberto Devereux.”
Alban Berg’s “Lulu” will return to the Met in a new production, directed by South African artist and director William Kentridge. His distinctive vision for the opera utilizes drawings and video projections. Met Music Director James Levine will conduct, and soprano Marlis Petersen will portray Wedekind’s perverse teenager. The cast also includes Susan Graham, Daniel Brenna, and Johan Reuter.
Lovers of Wagner will have a chance to see “Tannhäuser,” last performed at the Met more than 10 years ago. James Levine will conduct, and tenor Johan Botha will take on the role of the minstrel knight.
Eva-Maria Westbroek will be the virginal Elisabeth, Peter Mattei will be Wolfram, and Michelle DeYoung will be the love goddess, Venus.
Michael Mayer’s eye-catching production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” set in 1960 in a Las Vegas casino, will return with intriguing casts. Baritones George Gagnidze and Zeljko Lucic will alternate as the title character, here presented as a sort of Don Rickles type of comic. Tenors Piotr Beczala and Stephen Costello alternate as the Duke of Mantua. Soprano Olga Peretyatko, who made an acclaimed Met debut in “I Puritani,” is Gilda, Rigoletto’s innocent daughter who is kidnapped and seduced by the amoral duke. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts.
David McVicar’s production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” will be back with a terrific cast: soprano Anna Netrebko as Leonora, tenor Yonghoon Lee as Manrico (alternating in the role with Antonello Palombi and Marcello Giordani), baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the Count di Luna, and mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as the Gypsy, Azucena. Angela Meade sings Leonora in later performances and Marco Armiliato will conduct.
No opera season is complete without Puccini, and this one is no exception. “Tosca” will be portrayed by four different sopranos: Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina, and Liudmyla Monastyrska. Tenors Massimo Giordano, Marcello Giordani, and Roberto Aronica will play Cavaradossi. Zeljko Lucic and George Gagnidze are the baritones portraying the evil police chief Scarpia. Plácido Domingo, who often appeared as Cavaradossi, conducts.
Unlike the Met’s “Tosca,” “Turandot” wisely retains Franco Zeffirelli’s glittering production. Again, opera fans will be able to choose from a selection of singers. Dramatic sopranos Christine Goerke, Lise Lindstrom, Jennifer Wilson, and Nina Stemme will take on the daunting title role. Tenors Marcelo Álvarez, Yusif Eyvazov, and Marco Berti will be Calàf, the prince who is determined to win the princess’s hand in marriage, even at the cost of his life. Paolo Carignani conducts.
Barry has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.