The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes—Week 33: Politics in Opera

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. (Plato)

In the week leading up to Election Day, the Met is offering us seven of the most fascinating political operas ever composed. History, politics, philosophy, and passion mingle in these gripping works that remind us of the inextricability of political actions and personal motivations. May this week’s historically-based dramas and their illustration of injustice, totalitarianism, and corruption motivate us all to exercise our right to vote. 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, October 26
Verdi’s Don Carlo – Starring Renata Scotto, Tatiana Troyanos, Vasile Moldoveanu, Sherrill Milnes, and Paul Plishka, conducted by James Levine. From February 21, 1980.

A supreme masterpiece, Verdi’s greatest political opera highlights the complex conflicts between politics, religion, friendship, and love like no other operatic work. Rooted in sixteenth-century Spanish history and inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s play, Don Carlos, Infant of Spain, the story turns on the life-and-death psychological power struggle between King Philip II and his son Don Carlos for the love of Elisabeth de Valois, and the freedom of Flanders.    

Tuesday, October 27
Handel’s Agrippina – Starring Brenda Rae, Joyce DiDonato, Kate Lindsey, Iestyn Davies, Duncan Rock, and Matthew Rose. From February 29, 2020.

The title character is modeled on the ambitious and scheming mother of future Roman Emperor Nero, the historical Julia Agrippina the Younger, who schemes and plots to secure the throne for her son. This ironic and darkly humorous opera became an immediate success and established Handel’s reputation internationally.

Wednesday, October 28
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra – Starring Adrianne Pieczonka, Marcello Giordani, Plácido Domingo, and James Morris. From February 6, 2010.

The story is based on the play Simón Bocanegra by Antonio García Gutiérrez, whose play El trovador inspired an earlier opera by Verdi, Il trovatore. Political intrigue, self-sacrifice, paternal love, and young passion are at the core of this complicated plot about a 14th-century Doge of Genoa, his long-lost daughter Amelia, and her lover, Adorno.

Thursday, October 29
John Adams’s Nixon in China – Starring Kathleen Kim, Janis Kelly, Robert Brubaker, Russell Braun, James Maddalena, and Richard Paul Fink, conducted by John Adams. From February 12, 2011.

This pioneering opera premiered in 1987. Inspired by President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, Adams’s work is an enduring and impactful contribution to contemporary American opera. 

Friday, October 30
Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov – Starring Ekaterina Semenchuk, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Oleg Balashov, Evgeny Nikitin, René Pape, Mikhail Petrenko, and Vladimir Ognovenko, conducted by Valery Gergiev. From October 23, 2010.

Mussorgsky’s only completed opera is based on a play by Alexander Pushkin (available in English translation on Project Gutenberg), and depicts key moments in the turbulent life of the Russian Tsar, Boris Godunov, who reigned from 1598 to 1605. Grandeur, guilt, political maneuverings, and a Coronation scene unequaled in all operatic repertoire. 

Saturday, October 31
John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles – Starring Teresa Stratas, Håkan Hagegård, Gino Quilico, Graham Clark, Marilyn Horne, and Renée Fleming, conducted by James Levine. From January 10, 1992.

In the past opera stream weeks, we have experienced Pierre Beaumarchais’ Figaro plays in adaptations by Rossini (The Barber of Seville) and Mozart (The Marriage of Figaro). Here is an opera very loosely inspired by the last play in The Figaro Trilogy (the play’s title is La mère coupableThe Guilty Mother). For its 100th anniversary in 1983 the Metropolitan Opera commissioned the work from composer John Corigliano, but the opera actually premiered in 1991. This opera-within-an-opera brings together fantastical elements, fictional characters, ghosts of historical figures from Louis XVI’s court, like Marie Antoinette, and Beaumarchais himself as a character.

Sunday, November 1
Philip Glass’s Satyagraha – 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.

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About Maria-Cristina Necula (68 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.