The Metropolitan Opera’s 2011-2012 season is looking pretty tepid from this operagoer’s perspective. One look at the Met’s website and publicity materials suggests that Peter Gelb is banking on a new production of Massanett’s “Manon,” and the house’s first ever staging of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.”
This is understandable, as both productions star Anna Netrebko - unquestionably THE current reigning soprano of the Metropolitan Opera. But “Manon” is an enervating, lightweight French opera that has a questionable place in the standard repertory. The one bright spot of this new staging is the brilliant Laurent Pelly. Pelly is one of the most inventive, resourceful directors working today and Natalie Dessay groupies (including me) will remember his sparkling ”Fille du Regiment” from three seasons ago which remains an unqualified triumph.
In addition to “Manon,” we have another new production of a silly French opera: Gounod’s “Faust” starring opera’s latest pinup: Jonas Kaufmann. Perhaps the new productions will change my opinion of these operas, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve seen, at least, a dozen productions of “Manon,” and I’ve yet to be convinced of the opera’s worthiness.
The prospect of finally bringing “Anna Bolena” to the Met is enticing; I’ve always said that the Met should bring Donizetti’s ”Tudor Queen” operas to the Met, but one good Donizetti opera does not a satisfying season make. Predictably, the critical darling and all around Wunderkind, Angela Meade, will be sharing the run with Anna Netrebko, which is all the more discouraging given the fact that Anna Bolena is a role that requires a great actress as well as a great singer.
Of course the biggest, most expensive production of the season will be the two final installments of Robert Lepage’s lumbering “Ring Cycle.” Judging from “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure,” the chances of final chapters being brilliant seem slim to none. I agree with the critics in thinking that Lepage’s vision is an empty, high-tech spectacle with a hollow core. There’s a lot of scenery, but very little humanity or heart.
The biggest fly in the ointment would have to be “The Enchanted Island”: an operatic equivalent of a jukebox musical. The Met has decided to shoehorn a “plot” around several ensembles and arias by baroque composers like Handel, Vivaldi, and Rameau. Could we please put an end to baroque opera at the Met? Leaving aside the fact that I HATE baroque opera, the Met is a HORRIBLE venue for this kind of music. If the Met insists on presenting baroque works, they ought to consider holding it in one of the smaller venues at Lincoln Center, such as the Mitzi Newhouse theater.
I must admit that I really am looking forward to Natalie Dessay in Willy Decker’s spare production of “Traviata.” I know that the role of Violetta is about ten sizes to big for Dessay’s voice, but I also know her Violetta will be something completely different that we have never seen before. Dessay’s commitment to acting and drama will lend a whole new dimension to the role of Violetta. Say what you will about her voice: you just can’t take your eyes of this woman.
I’d really love it if the Met would mount a great, neglected Donizetti work for Dessay, or put her in one of the “Tudor Queen” operas. I’d love to see her in “Roberto Deveraux” or, if that is too heavy, perhaps “Maria Stuarda?” There are also TONS of other wonderfully dramatic Bel Canto operas that have never been performed and would be perfect for Dessay.
Lesser known Strauss is also sorely lacking from the Met. Strauss composed many great operas during his lifetime that are seldom performed, and it’s high time that changed. Last year’s “Capriccio” proved a surprise highlight of the season; with a uniformly superb cast led by Renee Fleming, the Met showed that this opera is a Straussian gem that deserves a regular spot in the repertory.
“Die schweigsame Frau” is another wonderful Strauss rarity that needs to be seen. Dessay scored a triumph in the comic opera earlier in her career, and it would be wonderful to see her in it at the Met one day. It is very funny and has some sublime, prime-period Strauss music.
While we’re on the subject of star vehicles, could we please give Mariusz Kwiecien his own Bel Canto opera? The new forthcoming “Don Giovanni” is nice, but haven’t we seen enough baritones warble their way through this barn burner? And, anyway, it would be hard to top Christopher Alden’s mesmerizing staging last season at “City Opera.” It’s time to mount a new star showcase for the wonderful, charismatic baritones of today! Donizetti’s “Torquato Tasso” is a fantastic, yet neglected lyric drama that would be ideal for a baritone who can really act. (The opera comes complete with it’s very own mad scene.)
If Peter Gelb really wants to shake things up, he should look into staging forgotten works by known composers that the public adores. There comes a point where you just can’t take another stultifying evening of “Manon” or “Don Giovanni.”