FRED PLOTKIN is one of America’s foremost experts on opera and has distinguished himself in many fields as a writer, speaker, consultant and as a compelling teacher. He is an expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information. Fred discovered the concept of "The Renaissance Man" as a small child and has devoted himself to pursuing that ideal as the central role of his life. In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as "one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy." In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that "Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian."
Analysis: The Metropolitan Opera’s 2014-2015 Season
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 06:00 PM
Opera lovers everywhere, but especially in greater New York, await the announcement of a new Metropolitan Opera season anxiously and passionately. At its best, the Met can touch greatness more often than any other opera company. If we who love it sometimes express criticism and concern, it is because we understand its potential.
There are valid complaints to be lodged against the Met—there always have been—but that is not what this article is about. The company’s plans next season fill me with hope and optimism. My chief concern is that the financial stewardship of the Met be secure enough to keep it in good health—its money troubles have been widely covered in the media of late.
The season is an engaging mix of standard repertory and unusual offerings to please regulars, newcomers and those with more experimental inclinations. The only significant repertory hole is the lack of a Baroque opera, an era full of treasures for which there are many excellent singers now available. The oldest work is Le Nozze di Figaro (1786), which James Levine conducts on opening night in a new production by Richard Eyre.
The great news is that the Met’s music director has recovered from his ailments enough to lead six operas next season. Levine brings abundant experience, wisdom and devotion to the art form and is at the heart of the Met’s potential for greatness. He also conducts Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Ernani, Un Ballo in Maschera and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress with a splendid cast (Layla Claire, Stephanie Blythe, Paul Appleby, Gerald Finley).
The conducting roster is strong next season. Fabio Luisi leads Macbeth (sure to be a hot ticket with Anna Netrebko and a fine cast), a new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci and some performances of the new Merry Widow. (Did the Met really need to spend precious money on another production of this opera? Its current version is fine.) James Conlon conducts Shostakovich’s marvelous Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, with Eva-Maria Westbroek. Yannick Nézet-Séguin helms Don Carlo with a mostly excellent cast.
I am thrilled that Alan Gilbert will cross Lincoln Center Plaza from the New York Philharmonic for Don Giovanni. He did fine work on John Adams’s Dr. Atomic a few years ago. This Don Giovanni is a dud of a production but Gilbert is talented and has good singers (Peter Mattei, Luca Pisaroni and the potentially sensational Donna Anna of Elza van den Heever). David Robertson should be perfect leading the Met premiere of Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, an important contemporary opera. Controversial, to be sure, but controversy is good when serious artistic efforts are at hand.
Valery Gergiev leads the enticing new double bill of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta (with Netrebko) and Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Missing is Gianandrea Noseda, now doing brilliant work with Prince Igor. He brings his Teatro Regio di Torino to Carnegie Hall for a concert version of Rossini’s William Tell on December 7. Not to miss.
A scene from Iolanta from the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia (Mariinsky Theater)
Next season, 14 of the 26 operas are in Italian. English is second with four, though Hansel and Gretel and Merry Widow are sung in translation. Then come three French operas (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Manon, Carmen), two Germans (Meistersinger; Die Zauberflöte), two Russians (Iolanta; Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and one Hungarian (Bluebeard). The Italian-language repertory includes Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti (Lucia di Lammermoor), Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini (15 performances of La Bohéme).
Six Verdi operas—Aïda, Ballo, Don Carlo, Ernani, Macbeth, La Traviata—provide a corrective to this season’s paltry two. Aïda might be my “total immersion” opera, with four compelling sopranos (Liudmyla Monastyrska, Latonia Moore, Marjorie Owens, Oksana Dyka) in the title role and the welcome returns of Olga Borodina and Violeta Urmana providing vocal and dramatic heft as Amneris.
Opera nirvana may come with Rossini's La Donna del Lago on February 16, 2015: Joyce DiDonato, Daniela Barcellona (finalmente!) and Juan Diego Flórez, under the baton of Michele Mariotti in Paul Curran’s Santa Fe Opera staging. I would listen to this opera with these artists anywhere, any time.
Casting next season is better, deeper and more diverse than this one. There are exceptions, of course, and places where an attractive face and voice seem to have mattered more than artistry. Some stars pass through briefly (Jonas Kaufmann is Don José in Carmen in March 2015). Several singers make welcome returns: René Pape (recital, Macbeth, Zauberflöte); Finley; van den Heever; Hei-Kyung Hong (Micaela in Carmen); Simon Keenlyside and Ferruccio Furlanetto in Don Carlo. It is frustrating that New York has not seen Furlanetto in some of his acclaimed roles, including Don Quixote and Boris Godunov.
Fewer top singers will be absent than this season. The big three are Bryn Terfel, Karita Mattila and Nina Stemme. We need to hear them in New York. Room should be found for soprano Dorothea Röschmann and mezzo Sarah Connolly. Soprano Christine Goerke and baritone Ambrogio Maestri, two of the best singers now before the public, are not scheduled for next season but will be prominent in the future.
I regret that Deborah Voigt is not on the roster. I don’t know if this was her choice, the Met’s, or by mutual consent. She has had some rough innings but many more glorious nights and is one of opera’s true stars. She can really connect with audiences in ways that few current artists can equal. When a role is right, she sings it wonderfully. Let’s hope this is just a pause to learn repertory more suited to her current strengths and that we will see her again soon.
There will be 10 HD transmissions: Macbeth; Le Nozze di Figaro; Carmen; The Death of Klinghoffer; Die Meistersinger; Merry Widow; Les Contes d’Hoffmann; Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard’s Castle; La Donna del Lago; Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci. The Carmen and Hoffmann productions have already been documented. Much better choices would be Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and The Rake’s Progress, both of which have excellent productions, conductors and singers and scarcely exist on video.
Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives next season. I hope audiences attend with enthusiasm and the Met endeavors to be fiscally responsible and finds ways to better listen to what their audiences have to say. Without us, there is no Met.