The Metropolitan Opera in Your Homes—Week 9

The Metropolitan Opera’s Nightly Stream continues. Drawing inspiration from “Werther fever,” Shakespeare, and an artistic encounter between commedia dell’arte and opera seria (serious opera) to works by Victor Hugo, George Crabbe, Sir Walter Scott, and a biblical epic, the operas of Week 9 are as versatile as it can get. The nightly 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 11
Massenet’s Werther – Starring Lisette Oropesa, Sophie Koch, Jonas Kaufmann, and David Biži?, conducted by Alain Altinoglu. From March 15, 2014.

The German epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther catapulted its author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to fame overnight and inspired a Werther craze in fashion and love throughout Europe. Composer Jules Massenet and his librettists drew their inspiration from the novel to create an emotionally-intense, poetic, and passion-charged opera. For a fictionalized account of how love catalyzed the young Goethe to write this novel, watch the film Young Goethe in Love! available on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 12
Thomas Adès’s The Tempest – Starring Audrey Luna, Isabel Leonard, Alek Shrader, Alan Oke, and Simon Keenlyside, conducted by Thomas Adès. From November 10, 2012.

Based on Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, this opera by English composer Thomas Adès and Australian playwright Meredith Oakes premiered at the Royal Opera House in London in 2004. Oakes wrote the libretto by compacting much of Shakespeare’s text into its essence. This work is one of the greatest achievements in contemporary opera.  

Wednesday, May 13
Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos – Starring Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Tatiana Troyanos, conducted by James Levine. From March 12, 1988.

One of Strauss’ brilliant collaborations with writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal, this opera combines elements of commedia dell’arte (literally, “comedy of the profession”—an early form of professional theatre that originated in Italy and was characterized by masks, improvisation, and pantomime) with those of serious opera. It underlines the competition for audience attention between what was called “high” and “low” art. At the musical soirée of a rich Viennese, two troupes of musicians and singers—one operatic, the other burlesque—must perform at the same time, since dinner is running late. In one unforgettable evening of entertainment the Greek mythological tragic tale of Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus and the slapstick world of the commedia dell’arte mingle with hilarious results. 

Thursday, May 14
Britten’s Peter Grimes – Starring Patricia Racette, Anthony Dean Griffey, and Anthony Michaels-Moore, conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles. From March 15, 2008.

The literary source for this mid-twentieth-century operatic masterpiece is “Letter XXII: Peter Grimes” in George Crabbe’s The Borough, a collection of poems arranged as a series of 24 letters. A huge success, this opera was, in Britten’s words: “a subject very close to my heart — the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual.” The title anti-hero is one of the most complex roles for dramatic or heroic tenor in the operatic repertoire.

Friday, May 15
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor – Starring Joan Sutherland, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Elvira, and Paul Plishka, conducted by Richard Bonynge. From November 13, 1982.

We return to Scotland, this time with a historic telecast performance starring the stupendous soprano Joan Sutherland. Based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel The Bride of Lamermoor, this tragic story of doomed love, forced marriage, and murder abounds with unforgettable melodies and offers one of the most famous “mad scenes”—a Donizetti specialty that was taken to new vocal and dramatic heights in this opera.

Saturday, May 16
Verdi’s Rigoletto – Starring Diana Damrau, Oksana Volkova, Piotr Becza?a, and Željko Lu?i?, conducted by Michele Mariotti. From February 16, 2013.

The play Le roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himselfincluded in this collection on Amazon) by French novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo was banned in France after the first performance in 1832 for what the censors believed to be insulting references to the king. Verdi, in turn, encountered censorship from the Austrian authorities in Venice when he and his librettist adapted Hugo’s play into the opera—and the plot’s location had to be changed from France to Mantua. The opera became so popular instantly that the Duke’s famous aria “La donna è mobile” (“Woman is fickle”) was being sung on the streets the day after the premiere. This production by Michael Mayer sets the story in Las Vegas during the Rat Pack era.

Sunday, May 17
Verdi’s Nabucco – Starring Liudmyla Monastyrska, Jamie Barton, Russell Thomas, Plácido Domingo, and Dmitry Belosselskiy, conducted by James Levine. From January 7, 2017.

Verdi’s third opera and the work that firmly established his reputation. The composer himself declared: “this is the opera with which my artistic career really begins. And though I had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star.” The libretto is based on biblical books of Kings (2)JeremiahLamentations, and Daniel as well as the 1836 play Nabuchodonosor by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu. It follows the plight of the Jewish people as they are conquered and exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar II). It is most famous for its rousing “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” (Fly, thought, on golden wings), a chorus that has become a symbol of resistance and patriotism, is often encored in performances, and is considered by many to be Italy’s unofficial anthem. 

Top photo: Bigstock

About Maria-Cristina Necula (30 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives" (performed at Canterbury Christ Church University, U.K.), three poetry collections, and numerous articles and interviews in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." A classically-trained singer, she has performed in the New York City area at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and released four albums, among which two are of her own songs. Maria-Cristina has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, UCLA Southland, the White Plains Library. Fluent in six languages, she honed her language skills at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and obtained her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center. Besides music and writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, playing tennis, skiing, and spending time in nature. www.mariacristinanecula.com