This week we are invited to embark on a thrilling, hair-raising, musical and dramatic roller-coaster of an expedition that takes us from the devil’s infernal realm to the Judea of King Herod. In between, we cry for the protagonists conflicted between love and honor, and between wealth and love, we wish we could somehow warn the Trojans about that infamous horse and save Dido from suicide, and in the midst of all this heightened melodrama, we get to experience some emotional and comic relief from the two masters of bel canto (beautiful singing). 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, May 25
Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust – Starring Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani, and John Relyea, conducted by James Levine. From November 22, 2008.
In Week 10 we met Faust, Goethe’s philosopher who sells his soul to the devil. Here he is again in another operatic adaptation, one that is described as a blend of opera and oratorio, so complex and difficult to stage that it is often performed in concert. The plot is based only on Part I of Goethe’s epic, Faust.
Tuesday, May 26
Verdi’s Ernani – Starring Angela Meade, Marcello Giordani, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From February 25, 2012.
Verdi’s fifth opera, and an early masterpiece that reveals facets of the composer’s blossoming genius. Victor Hugo’s play Hernani fascinated Verdi in its depiction of the conflict between love and honor. The composer strove to stay close to the original and capture the play’s poetry in the music.
Wednesday, May 27
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut – Starring Renata Scotto, Plácido Domingo, and Pablo Elvira, conducted by James Levine. From March 29, 1980.
Last week, the conflicted, luxury-loving, sensual heroine of Abbé Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut was featured in Massenet’s operatic version. Tonight it is the master composer of verismo (realism) who gives us a rendition full of searing passion and drama. This 1980 telecast features one of the greatest star sopranos of the 20th century, Renata Scotto, in the title role.
Thursday, May 28
Berlioz’s Les Troyens – Starring Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Bryan Hymel, and Dwayne Croft, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From January 5, 2013.
It’s time for Berlioz again, with his greatest opera (for which he wrote the libretto himself), Les Troyens (The Trojans), based on Virgil’s poem the Aeneid. The Trojan horse, the Greek ambush, the aftermath of the Trojan war, Aeneas’ love and abandonment of Dido—these iconic tales of the Latin epic unfold on the rich orchestration, drama, and beautiful lyricism of what is considered by many to be the greatest French opera ever composed.
Friday, May 29
Bellini’s La Sonnambula – Starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez, conducted by Evelino Pidò. From March 21, 2009.
No other composer can showcase the beauty of the human voice quite like Vincenzo Bellini, the master of bel canto. Heavenly melodies paint this story of a sleepwalking girl (la sonnambula) who, despite attempted intrigues, finds true love. The famous sleepwalking scene is a vocal challenge for lyric coloratura sopranos, but also a chance to display exquisite beauty of sound and virtuosity. Based on a scenario for a ballet-pantomime (pantomime ballet) written by Eugène Scribe, the opera is often criticized for its lame plot but the sublime music more than makes up for dramaturgical weaknesses.
Saturday, May 30
Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore – Starring Pretty Yende, Matthew Polenzani, Davide Luciano, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, conducted by Domingo Hindoyan. From February 10, 2018.
A comedy at last! The Elixir of Love is one of the most frequently performed operas by Gaetano Donizetti—who, like Bellini, is a bel canto genius. This sweet, entertaining story is inspired by Eugène Scribe’s libretto for Daniel Auber’s opera that premiered a year earlier, Le philtre. Packed with gorgeous, effervescent melodies and comical moments, it is one of the ideal starter operas for a newcomer to the lyric art.
Sunday, May 31
Strauss’s Salome – Starring Karita Mattila, Ildikó Komlósi, Kim Begley, Joseph Kaiser, and Juha Uusitalo, conducted by Patrick Summers. From October 11, 2008.
Richard Strauss returns with his revolutionary, incendiary one-act opera for which he also wrote the libretto from the German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play, Salomé. Early twentieth-century audiences were in shock at Strauss’ daring operatic cocktail of biblical, violent, and erotic themes set to music that was very progressive for its time. The opera is most famous, and, as many have decreed, infamous, for the “Dance of the Seven Veils” during which Salome takes off one veil after another until she is naked, and she demands the head of John the Baptist as her reward. Many performers wear a body stocking underneath the veils, but some have actually appeared nude at the end of the dance. Vocally demanding for dramatic soprano, the title role requires great physical agility in the veil dance, which is why some singers opt to have a dancer stand in for them. Some sopranos however, including tonight’s diva, Karita Mattila, choose to perform the dance themselves.
Top photo: Bigstock