In Week 12 we get to span four centuries of opera: from 1762’s Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck to 2016’s The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès. We dive into the musical visions of evolutionary, reformative composers like Gluck, Berg, and Adès alongside Bellini’s soul-soothing magic, Puccini’s scorching theatrical realism, Verdi’s peak of musical and dramatic perfection, and Massenet’s romantic, spiritual exaltation. The nightly opera stream starts at 7:30 p.m. on the Met’s homepage and can be accessed for 20 hours. Please click on the title of each opera below for more information and the link to the full synopsis. To discover even more about the operas featured this week, check out the weekly guide along with articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, and educational resources.
Monday, June 1
Bellini’s I Puritani – Starring Anna Netrebko, Eric Cutler, Franco Vassallo, and John Relyea, conducted by Patrick Summers. From January 6, 2007.
Vincenzo Bellini’s final opera and a gem of the bel canto repertoire. I puritani (The Puritans) is based on the historical play Têtes Rondes et Cavalieres (Roundheads and Cavaliers) by Jacques-François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine. A virtuosic tour de force for the lyric coloratura soprano, especially in the “mad scene”—a musical and dramatic feature typical of but not limited to the bel canto period—the opera was an instant success. Some of the music is featured in Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo—a story about an Irishman, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald, determined to build an opera house in the Peruvian Amazon city of Iquitos.
Tuesday, June 2
Berg’s Lulu – Starring Marlis Petersen, Susan Graham, Daniel Brenna, Paul Groves, Johan Reuter, and Franz Grundheber, conducted by Lothar Koenigs. From November 21, 2015.
Alban Berg himself adapted the libretto for his opera from Frank Wedekind’s two plays featuring the notorious character of Lulu: Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box). Berg mixed genres and included a silent film at the opera’s midpoint to advance the action. With the original film lost, each production requires a new film to be shot and some stage directors forego the film completely. The story of the downfall of the young femme fatale, Lulu, is fascinatingly depicted in Berg’s progressive music.
Wednesday, June 3
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – Starring Danielle de Niese, Heidi Grant Murphy, and Stephanie Blythe, conducted by James Levine. From January 24, 2009.
Based on the myth of Orpheus, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s most popular opera was revolutionary for its time (1762), breaking with old Italian operatic conventions and influencing many subsequent German composers. It is even called a “reform” opera as, through it, Gluck intended to simplify the complicated plots of earlier 18th-century operas, and to make his work’s emotional and dramatic appeal more direct. The Orpheus myth has inspired an immense number of literary, musical, cinematic, painting interpretations, including the Broadway musical Hadestown.
Thursday, June 4
Puccini’s Tosca – Starring Shirley Verrett, Luciano Pavarotti, and Cornell MacNeil, conducted by James Conlon. From December 19, 1978.
We return to the electrifying opera about an opera diva, based on Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca. Intense, passionate, and tragic, Tosca is one of the most popular operas in the entire repertoire. This 1978 telecast features operatic legends Shirley Verrett as Tosca, and Luciano Pavarotti as her lover, Mario Cavaradossi.
Friday, June 5
Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel – Starring Audrey Luna, Amanda Echalaz, Sally Matthews, Sophie Bevan, Alice Coote, Christine Rice, Iestyn Davies, Joseph Kaiser, Frédéric Antoun, David Portillo, David Adam Moore, Rod Gilfry, Kevin Burdette, Christian Van Horn, and John Tomlinson, conducted by Thomas Adès. From November 18, 2017.
Thomas Adès collaborated on the libretto with Tom Cairns who directed the Metropolitan Opera production that the composer himself conducted. Based on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 surrealist film by the same name, this nightmarish story takes place at a high-society dinner during which the guests realize that, bizarrely, they cannot exit the mansion. Fun fact: the soprano playing the role of Leticia must sing an A above high C, which Audrey Luna does in this production. This is said to be the highest note ever sung on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.
Saturday, June 6
Verdi’s Otello – Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Aleksandrs Antonenko, and Željko Lu?i?, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From October 17, 2015.
“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” This is just one of the many iconic lines of Shakespeare’s Othello from which Giuseppe Verdi created one of his greatest masterpieces (known by its Italian spelling of the name: Otello). The composer’s maturity as well as his musical and dramatic sophistication permeate this opera and bring it to the height of perfection. Opera doesn’t get any better than this seamless combination of music and theatrical drama! Many cinematic adaptions of Shakespeare’s Othello have graced the screens; a more recent one is the 1995 film with Laurence Fishburne in the title role and Kenneth Branagh as Iago.
Sunday, June 7
Massenet’s Thaïs – Starring Renée Fleming, Michael Schade, and Thomas Hampson, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos. From December 20, 2008.
Based on a novel by Anatole France, this is the story of an alluring Egyptian courtesan and the monk who attempts to convert her to Christianity. However, he ends up falling in love with her while she renounces her lavish life to find redemption and purity. The opera has lent itself to controversial productions as some directors have highlighted the religious eroticism and irony in it: an ascetic monk falls prey to lust while a courtesan attains spiritual transformation. It is most famous for its “Méditation” (Meditation) for violin and orchestra, a piece often performed in concert.
Top photo: Bigstock