A mini-guide to the Met’s free performance streaming and some cross-cultural suggestions for what to watch and read
Their stages may have gone dark for the next couple of weeks, but some opera houses around the world have opened up their video archives for free streaming of performances. During this period of isolation, if you choose to step into the operatic universe, I promise you that it will be time well spent.
The Metropolitan Opera begins its free streaming on March 16 on its homepage with Georges Bizet’s Carmen. All of the performances for the next two weeks will begin at 7:30pm and will be available to view until 3:30pm the following day. Due to higher-than-ever demand and web traffic, the Metropolitan Opera recommends downloading the Met Opera on Demand app to watch the streamed performances. Search for the app on Google and download it for free. The operas are divided into separate numbers that play without interruption. While watching the videos, you will have the option of adding subtitles.
Here is their schedule for the first week:
Monday, March 16 – Bizet’s Carmen
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elena Garanca and Roberto Alagna. Transmitted live on January 16, 2010 – Read synopsis
(Note: the synopses pages on the Met’s website take a little time to load, so please be patient)
Always a crowd-favorite and ideal for a newcomer to opera, the music from Carmen—like the “Habanera” or the “Toreador Song”—is so popular that it has crossed over into pop culture and often been a part of the soundtrack of commercials and films. For some cross-cultural fun, you may want to check out the 1954 film “Carmen Jones” or the Hip Hopera version of Carmen starring Beyoncé. For those interested in discovering the literary source of the opera, read Prosper Merimée’s novella Carmen free on Amazon Kindle.
Tuesday, March 17 – Puccini’s La Bohème
Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. Transmitted live on April 5, 2008 – Read synopsis
Another crowd-favorite and great introduction to the world of opera, this is one of the most-frequently performed operas around the globe. Like Carmen, it has provided inspiration to other genres from: the film Moonstruck—free with Amazon Prime – to the Broadway musical Rent.
Wednesday, March 18 – Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Transmitted live on October 3, 2015 – Read synopsis
A dramatic and melodic feast for the ears, eyes, and mind: a love triangle, a lost brother, a mother’s revenge, a woman’s self-sacrifice for love, strange apparitions, and tragic twists of fate—it does not get any more operatic than this. A scene from Il Trovatore opens Luchino Visconti’s film Senso and the tenor’s famous aria “Di quella pira” incites a nationalistic protest in the audience. For some comic relief, watch the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera (available to rent or buy on Amazon)—here the drama of “Il Trovatore” creates an effective comedic contrast.
Thursday, March 19 – Verdi’s La Traviata
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey. Transmitted live on December 15, 2018 – Read synopsis
One of my absolute favorite operas, its tragic love story of the young Parisian courtesan is based on the play adaptation of the novel by Alexandre Dumas, the younger: La dame aux camélias (literal translation The Lady with the Camellias, known in English as Camille—which you can download for free from Project Gutenberg. There are several film adaptations, but I always return to Greta Garbo’s performance in the 1936 version.
Friday, March 20 – Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. Transmitted live on April 26, 2008 – Read synopsis
After such melodrama, a comedy at last! This opera is best known for its tenor’s show-stopping aria “Ah! mes amis/Pour mon âme” with a total of 9 high C’s—a spectacular high note in the tenor voice—that have often turned into 18 high C’s when tenors have encored the piece. It also leaves room for improv: soprano Pretty Yende made history ad-libbing in her native Zulu during the performance run last year.
Saturday, March 21 – Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, and Mariusz Kwiecien. Transmitted live on February 7, 2009 – Read synopsis
Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor (download for free at Project Gutenberg) this is a Gothic story replete with a ghost, murder, thwarted love, and Lucia’s famous mad scene: a showcase piece of virtuosity for the soprano voice. This opera is a staple of the bel canto (beautiful singing) style repertory of the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century.
Sunday, March 22 – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Conducted by Valery Gergiev, starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Transmitted live on February 24, 2007 – Read synopsis
After a feast of Italian and French operas, we step into the world of Russian opera with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, based on Pushkin’s novel in verse—an absolute classic of Russian literature—available on the Poetry in Translation website. The novel has been adapted into several films; a British-American version, Onegin (1999), starring Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler.
Stay tuned for The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes – Week 2!