The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes—Week 27: Sublime Bel Canto

Nothing showcases the operatic voice more than the art of bel canto (beautiful singing). Week 27 offers us the enchantment of bel canto in a lineup of six happy-end operas and one melodrama. Long, seamless phrasing on minimalist accompaniment, suave melodies, and vocal fireworks are some of the characteristics of bel canto operas, which can be true challenges for singers as they expose the voice in all its vulnerability and beauty, demanding impeccable breath control, mastery of vocal colors, and precise rapid-fire agility. The nightly stream starts at 7:30 p.m. on the Met’s homepage and can be accessed for 22 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, September 14
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale – Starring Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecie?, and John Del Carlo; conducted by James Levine. From November 13, 2010.

An old man marries an intelligent young woman who outsmarts him. An entertaining comedy that features a bass in its title role. Considered Donizetti’s comedic masterpiece, this opera was an immediate success and has remained one of the most popular Italian comic operas.

Tuesday, September 15
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory – Starring Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, and Juan Diego Flórez; conducted by Maurizio Benini.  From April 9, 2011.

This hilarious farce is set in the 13th century during the time of the Crusades in the French province of Touraine. Count Ory will stop at nothing to capture his love interest, Countess Adèle, even disguising himself as a nun. Rossini’s playful, lively, theatrical, and lovely music delights us throughout this comedy of mistaken identities and gender bending.  

Wednesday, September 16
Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment – Starring Natalie Dessay, Felicity Palmer, Juan Diego Flórez, and Alessandro Corbelli; conducted by Marco Armiliato. From April 26, 2008.

Another delightful comedy by Gaetano Donizetti. A young woman, Marie, has grown up in a French army regiment, and finds love with the Tyrolean Tonio. 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. 

Thursday, September 17
Rossini’s La Cenerentola – Starring El?na Garan?a, Lawrence Brownlee, Simone Alberghini, Alessandro Corbelli, and John Relyea; conducted by Maurizio Benini. From May 9, 2009.

Here is Cinderella in Rossini’s lively and playful musical vision. The beloved fairy tale with which we are most familiar originated with the story called Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper published by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697. In 1812, the Brothers Grimm penned their own version, and in 1950, Cinderella arrived on the big screen thanks to Disney. For a live action film adaptation of the story, rent the 2015 movie on Amazon.

Friday, September 18
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 is a true gem of the bel canto repertoire. I puritani (The Puritans) is based on the historical play Têtes Rondes et Cavaliers (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.

Saturday, September 19
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.

The Elixir of Love is one of the most frequently performed operas by 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, September 20
Bellini’s Norma – Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato, Joseph Calleja, and Matthew Rose, conducted by Carlo Rizzi. From October 7, 2017.

The love triangle between a Druid High Priestess, a Roman proconsul, and a young priestess makes for the tragic story of this opera. Norma’s first aria, “Casta Diva,” is a pièce de résistance for all sopranos, as is the entire role. Richard Wagner himself conducted Norma six years after its premiere, and praised it as Bellini’s “most successful composition.” Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen parodied it in his short play Norma, or a Politician’s Love (available for free with Kindle Unlimited).

Top photo: Bigstock

About Maria-Cristina Necula (54 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes the newly-released "The Don Carlos Enigma: Variations of Historical Fictions," "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives," and three poetry collections. Her articles and interviews have appeared in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." As a classically-trained singer she has performed in the New York City area at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, and UCLA Southland. She speaks six languages, two of which she honed at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and she holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center. Discover more about her work at www.mariacristinanecula.com.