Sorcery, ambition, fate, enlightenment, and self-sacrifice! The operas of Week 14 pull at our heartstrings, thrill us with vocal virtuosity and ravishing music, and inspire us with insights into the philosophies of enlightened historical figures. The literary sources of this week’s operatic works are as varied and fascinating as the music, ranging from ancient Greek tragedy, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, and an Assyrian legend to a 16th-century First Crusade epic and plays by celebrated 18th and 19th century writers like Voltaire, Schiller, de Saavedra, and Dumas fils. 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 15
Rossini’s Armida – Starring Renée Fleming, Lawrence Brownlee, John Osborn, Barry Banks, and Kobie van Rensburg, conducted by Riccardo Frizza. From May 1, 2010.
Based on scenes from Gerusalemme liberata (The Liberation of Jerusalem) by Torquato Tasso, this opera offers one of the most demanding roles for the soprano voice—the beautiful sorceress Armida—with an abundance of coloratura. Armida’s character has inspired several operatic and ballet adaptations. The opera is also very rare for having six tenors in its cast. This production was the work’s Metropolitan Opera premiere.
Tuesday, June 16
Rossini’s Semiramide – Starring Angela Meade, Elizabeth DeShong, Javier Camarena, Ildar Abdrazakov, and Ryan Speedo Green, conducted by Maurizio Benini. From March 10, 2018.
Another Rossinian gem and a spectacular bel canto coloratura showcase for four voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass. Considered by some to be the last opera of the Baroque tradition, this is the story of the ancient Babylonian queen Semiramis and the various plots and twists around her ambitious pursuit of power. The libretto is based on the play Semiramis by Voltaire whose source is the legend of Semiramis of Assyria.
Wednesday, June 17
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride – Starring Susan Graham, Plácido Domingo, and Paul Groves, conducted by Patrick Summers. From February 26, 2011.
The ancient Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides is the original source for this opera, while the most famous dramatic adaptation in the late 18th century is Goethe’s play Iphigenie auf Tauris. With this work Gluck continued his reform of the operatic art. Most exceptionally, he used the orchestra to depict inner truth and psychological conflict in the contrasts between the singing and the instrumentation, especially when the character of Orestes sings Le calme rentre dans mon coeur (Calm re-enters my heart)—the orchestra’s undercurrent of agitation illuminates his guilt. It was also highly unusual for an opera at the time not to depict any kind of love interest.
Thursday, June 18
Verdi’s La Forza del Destino – Starring Leontyne Price, Giuseppe Giacomini, Leo Nucci, and Bonaldo Giaiotti, conducted by James Levine. From March 24, 1984.
This telecast from 1984 features renowned diva Leontyne Price in one of her signature Verdi roles: Leonora, the noble heroine doomed to tragedy by the twists of fate. The libretto is based on the Spanish play Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino (Don Álvaro or the Force of Fate) by Ángel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas, with a scene adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein trilogy play, Wallensteins Lager (Wallenstein’s Camp). Like Macbeth in theatre, this opera is surrounded by superstition because of its history of bad luck—including baritone Leonard Warren’s death during a performance at the Met—which, allegedly, is why some singers like Luciano Pavarotti, have refused to sing in it while others, like Franco Corelli, would perform small rituals before singing to dispel the bad luck.
Friday, June 19
Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (Read synopsis here) – Starring Dísella Lárusdóttir, J’Nai Bridges, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Aaron Blake, Will Liverman, Richard Bernstein, and Zachary James, conducted by Karen Kamensek. From November 23, 2019.
A hypnotic, mesmerizing contemporary opera about the revolutionary Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) who tried to establish a monotheistic religion with the sun (Aten) as the sole deity his society should worship. The text is based on ancient sources including decrees and letters from Akhenaten’s rule and a poem by Akhenaten himself, the Hymn to the Aten, from The Egyptian Book of the Dead. This is the last installment in Glass’ “Portrait Trilogy”—a trio of operas based on the lives of important historical figures
Saturday, June 20
Philip Glass’s Satyagraha (Read synopsis here) – Starring Rachelle Durkin, Richard Croft, Kim Josephson, and Alfred Walker, conducted by Dante Anzolini. From November 19, 2011.
The second in the “Portrait Trilogy” operas by Philip Glass. Sung in Sanskrit and without percussion or brass in the orchestra, Satyagraha (meaning “insistence on truth”) is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s development of his philosophy of nonviolent resistance to injustice. There is no traditional plot structure. With Gandhi at the center, the opera is a meditative hybrid of history, politics, and philosophy. Each of the three major acts also highlights an important figure in humanity’s history: Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sunday, June 21
Verdi’s La Traviata – Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Michael Fabiano, and Thomas Hampson, conducted by Nicola Luisotti. From March 11, 2017.
We return to Verdi’s operatic version of Alexandre Dumas fils’ tragedy La dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), the tale of the young courtesan who finds redemption in true love and who is forced to sacrifice that love on the altar of societal restrictions. This production features an enormous clock onstage making time itself a character and a dooming presence in the heroine’s brief life.
Top photo: Bigstock