The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes—Week 34: Opera History Tour Part I

This week and the next, the Met is taking us on a unique tour through operatic history, spanning almost three centuries. Week 34 begins in the early 18th century with Handel and ends more than a century later with Wagner, honoring some of the greatest operatic composers of the 18th and the 19th centuries. 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. Take a look at the Part I Tour Guide and enjoy its array of articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, and educational resources.

Monday, November 2
Handel’s Rodelinda – Starring Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Andreas Scholl, Iestyn Davies, Joseph Kaiser, and Shenyang, conducted by Harry Bicket. From December 3, 2011.

From the master of Baroque opera, comes a quintessential work of seventeenth-century music. There were a series of previous libretto adaptations of this story. But the tale originates from Pierre Corneille’s 1652 tragedy Pertharite, roi des Lombards (Pertarito, King of the Lombards) that, in turn, derives from Paul the Deacon’s eighth-century historical work Gesta Langobardorum (History of the Lombards). Handel composed the opera for the Royal Academy of Music in London, whose prestigious reputation he helped establish.

Tuesday, November 3
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – Starring Danielle de Niese, Heidi Grant Murphy, and Stephanie Blythe, conducted by James Levine. From January 24, 2009.

Based on the myth of Orpheus, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s most popular opera was revolutionary for its time (1762), breaking with old Italian operatic conventions and influencing a great deal of subsequent German composers. It is even called a “reform” opera as, through it, Gluck intended to simplify the complicated plots of earlier 18th-century operas, and to make his work’s emotional and dramatic appeal more direct. The Orpheus myth has inspired an immense number of literary, musical, cinematic, and painting interpretations, including the Broadway musical Hadestown.

Wednesday, November 4
Mozart’s Idomeneo – Starring Elza van den Heever, Nadine Sierra, Alice Coote, Matthew Polenzani, and Alan Opie, conducted by James Levine. From March 25, 2017.

Considered Mozart’s greatest choral opera, Idomeneo is based on the French libretto by Antoine Danchet for an earlier operatic adaptation by André Campra. The opera tells the story of the King of Crete, Idomeneo, whose life is saved by the sea god Neptune at the terrible price of having to sacrifice the first creature he encounters—which turns out to be his son, Idamante. While he composed it in the Baroque tradition, Mozart introduced musical innovations, even interfering with his librettist’s text to increase the overall dramatic effect. 

Thursday, November 5
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.

Friday, November 6
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.  

Saturday, November 7
Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette – Starring Anna Netrebko, Roberto Alagna, Nathan Gunn, and Robert Lloyd, conducted by Plácido Domingo. From December 15, 2007.

Beautiful and heartrending, this opera captures the timeless love story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet  in refined, unforgettable music. There have been numerous cinematic adaptations of the play, but an iconic one is Franco Zeffirelli’s film (buy or rent on Amazon).

Sunday, November 8
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Starring Annette Dasch, Johan Botha, Paul Appleby, and Michael Volle, conducted by James Levine. From December 13, 2014.

An operatic tour de force of four and a half hours, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg provides the only comic relief this week. Its subject revolves around the art of songwriting and a song competition that must be won by the hero in order to attain love. For a change, there are no supernatural elements involved. In fact, the guild of mastersingers actually existed and Hans Sachs, one of the characters, is based on a sixteenth-century real-life mastersinger. 

Top Bigstock photo: Statue of Baroque composer George Frideric Handel at Market Square in Old town of Halle, Germany

About Maria-Cristina Necula (66 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.