An Analysis of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2017-2018 Season

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 12:00 PM

Phelim McDermott's new production of Mozart's 'Così fan tutte' will be at the Met in the 2017-2018 season. (Martin Smith)

The Metropolitan Opera has announced the details of its 2017-2018 season and it is full of enticing repertory, wonderful singers, a few controversial choices (which is fine!), some puzzling gaps and plenty of reasons to be happy and hopeful. I plan to go often and hope you will too. Ticket prices have not been increased for the third season in a row and subscribers will have a 15% discount when they buy a series.

Let me just say that any season that includes the seldom-revived, wonderfully cast Semiramide by Rossini (following his Guillaume Tell this season); a new opera by Thomas Adès (The Exterminating Angel); the Met premiere of Massenet’s Cendrillon with a terrific cast and that composer’s Thaïs with Ailyn Pérez and Gerald Finley); Christine Goerke as Elektra with Elza van den Heever as Chrysothemis; superb casts in Parsifal, Hansel and Gretel, Le Nozze di Figaro, Luisa Miller and Norma (the season’s opening night), has a lot to be thrilled about. Oh, and Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel are finally returning to the Met in the male leads of a new production of Tosca by David McVicar starring Kristine Opolais with her husband Andris Nelsons conducting.

There will be 26 works and, on close examination, certain trends emerge. There will be only four operatic languages. Fourteen will be in Italian (La Bohème, Cavalleria Rusticana, Così fan tutte, L’Elisir d’Amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Luisa Miller, Madama Butterfly, Norma, Le Nozze di Figaro, Pagliacci, Semiramide, Tosca, Il Trovatore, Turandot). There will be four in French (Cendrillon, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Roméo et Juliette, Thaïs), three in German (Elektra, Parsifal, Die Zauberflöte) and one composed in English (The Exterminating Angel). Three operas will be sung in English translation from the original German (Hansel and Gretel, The Merry Widow, The Magic Flute). Verdi’s Requiem will be sung in Latin. No operas are being done in Russian or Czech.

Last year I wrote, “The Met has projected titles in English, German, Spanish and, when the opera is in that language, Italian. Given the high number of French operas next season, it might be time for the Met to seek a donation from a luxury brand such as LVMH or a foundation interested in French culture to fund the creation of French-language titles.” I still think that the proper development pitch to a French corporation, wine importer or patron who promotes French culture could result in such underwriting.

The oldest opera next season is Le Nozze di Figaro (1786) while the newest is The Exterminating Angel (2016). While the Met had made some gestures toward works by Handel, it has hardly been a full embrace. There are so many talented singers available in this repertory and we are not hearing them at the Met. 2017 is the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi, the first important opera composer, and it would have been the right time to do one of his works that are an integral part of the offerings in many European theaters.

The two titans of nineteenth-century opera, Verdi (Luisa Miller, Il Trovatore, Requiem) and Wagner (Parsifal), are not present much next season. Their fortunes seem to wax and wane at the Met. In 2012-2013 the Met had seven Verdis and five Wagners in the year marking the bicentennial of their births. The following season, 2013-2014, only had two works by Verdi and none by Wagner. 2014-2015 had six Verdis and one Wagner. 2015-2016 had four Verdis and one Wagner. In the current season there are four Verdis and two Wagners.

I find it interesting that, in the period from Thanksgiving to early January, there will be 21 performances in English of Hansel and Gretel, The Merry Widow and The Magic Flute. The Exterminating Angel will have eight performances just before Thanksgiving. I cannot recall the Met ever having had such a large amount of English in one part of a season.

Another trend is that the Met seems to be moving its artistic emphasis to a new generation of younger female singers, mostly sopranos. It is always important to bring along the next generation and give them a place, but this year the artistic nucleus seems focused on a talented young group who promise a bright future for opera. There is the Y Factor, with Sonya Yoncheva (La Bohème, Luisa Miller, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro) and Pretty Yende (L’Elisir d’Amore, Lucia di Lammermoor) shining brightly. But Angela Meade also gets two big assignments (Norma, Semiramide). Maria Agresta (Liù in Turandot, Leonora in Il Trovatore) Ailyn Pérez (Thaïs, Juliette) and Anita Hartig (La Bohème, Les Contes d’Hoffmann) all have gained prominence, as have Nadine Sierra (Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro), Marina Rebeka (Norma) and Kristine Opolais (Tosca).

 

Two of our best sopranos are being underused next season: Eva-Maria Westbroek is Santuzza (in the terrible production of Cavalleria Rusticana) and Anna Netrebko will only be singing six Toscas in the second cast.

There will be five new productions. Two are by David McVicar, whose Met productions of Il Trovatore and the “Three Queens” operas by Donizetti (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux) were largely deemed successful. He will do the opening night of Norma (Carlo Rizzi leading Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato and Joseph Calleja) and the hugely anticipated Tosca on New Years Eve. McVicar has hired Leah Hausman as movement director for Norma and choreographer for Tosca. Who will get to dance in that opera? 

The Exterminating Angel (based on a classic film by Luis Buñuel) arrives from the Salzburg Festival with Thomas Adès conducting his score (libretto by Tom Cairns, who also directs). Cendrillon, starring Joyce DiDonato and a delicious cast including Alice Coote and Stephanie Blythe, will be conducted by Bertrand de Billy and the production is by Laurent Pelly. The Requiem (Nov. 24, 27, 29; Dec 2) will fill some of the dates vacated by the cancellation of Calixto Bieto’s planned production of La Forza del Destino. The Reqiuem will be conducted by James Levine and star Krassimira Stoyanova, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Aleksandrs Antonenko and the splendid Ferruccio Furlanetto. These last two were supposed to be in Forza.

The production I am most interested in is Così fan tutte, which opens on Mar. 15, 2018. The Met announcement says it has been set in Brooklyn’s Coney Island in the 1950s. Normally, such a notion would give me pause because the particular values and social strictures of Così are not necessarily translatable to other times and places. But the producer (director) is Phelim McDermott, whose work I greatly admire.  His productions of Satyagraha and The Enchanted Island at the Met, as well as a gala in 2009 that conjured up highlights from the Met’s first 125 years, were all brilliantly creative but served the material rather than overwhelming it.

I see a particular challenge here for McDermott. There is the highly able conductor David Robertson. The cast is gifted: Amanda Majeski (Fiordiligi), Serena Malfi (Dorabella), Ben Bliss (Ferrando), Adam Plachetka (Guglielmo), Christopher Maltman (Don Alfonso) and the unusual but plausible choice of Broadway star Kelli O’Hara as Despina. On paper, though, I don’t see much chemistry among these singers in an opera that screams out for it. If anyone has the gifts to bring this cast together and to life, it is McDermott. I would be very happy to be proved wrong.

Next season’s offerings in The Met: Live in HD series begin on Oct. 7 with Norma. Then come  Die Zauberflöte (Oct. 14), The Exterminating Angel (Nov. 18), Tosca (Jan. 27), L’Elisir d’Amore (Feb. 10), La Bohème (Feb. 24), Semiramide (Mar. 10), Così fan tutte (Mar. 31), Luisa Miller (Apr. 14), and Cendrillon (Apr. 28). Therefore, there will be all five new productions and some appealing revivals. One might wonder if we really need another La Bohème. By now, most of the works have already had at least one HD transmission so some repetition is inevitable. That said, I might have preferred Lucia di Lammermoor with Pretty Yende.

More than in most Met seasons, in which I see a strong roster of American and international artists with just a handful of top singers missing, the upcoming season seems to lack quite a few artists whose presence would make for a richer, more diverse experience. I drew up a list of names that immediately came to mind and was shocked how long it is. Most of them have appeared at the Met, a few have not. They include sopranos Anna Caterina Antonacci, Janai Brugger, Eleonora Buratto, Leah Crocetto, Diana Damrau, Barbara Frittoli, Ana Maria Martinez, Karita Mattila, Adrianne Pieczonka, Patricia Racette, Dorothea Röschmann, Anne Schwanewilms, Nina Stemme; mezzos Daniela Barcellona, Olga Borodina, Sarah Connolly, Elīna Garanča, Marianna Pizzolato, Violeta Urmana; tenors Paul Appleby, Fabio Armiliato, René Barbera, Lawrence Brownlee, Juan Diego Flórez, Brandon Jovanovich and John Osborn; baritones and basses Thomas Hampson, Ambrogio Maestri and Eric Owens.

I did not see the superb mezzo Tamara Mumford on the list of names. If she is in a minor role, it was not listed. She deserves a higher profile. The absence of works from the first 150 years of opera means that most of the world’s top countertenors are absent from the Met stage. Only the excellent Iestyn Davies will be heard in The Exterminating Angel.

That said, most of the casts are appealing, even if there is some degree of sameness. What is alarming is the paucity of top-flight conductors. When Yannick Nézet-Séguin was chosen last year as the Met’s music director designate (moving James Levine to music director emeritus status), it was revealed that the Canadian would not become music director until the 2020-2021 season. I wrote an article in which I expressed great concern that there would be a maestro vacuum in the intervening years. If the 2017-2018 season is any indicator, my worries were justified. If the Met Orchestra is to retain its pre-eminence, it needs to work with the world’s top maestros.

Among those who should be there but are not: Daniel Barenboim, Paolo Carignani, Riccardo Chailly, James Conlon, Daniele Gatti, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Philippe Jordan, Vladimir Jurowski, Fabio Luisi, Susanna Mälkki, Michele Mariotti, Gianandrea Noseda (who will conduct one concert), Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Franz Welser-Möst. Antonio Pappano has not conducted at the Met since 1997. He has been doing outstanding work at the Royal Opera in London and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. For the first time in a long time he will have a significant visit in New York next season, appearing at Carnegie Hall and with the New York Philharmonic. A shame he will not be at the Met.

There are, of course, excellent conductors including James Levine (leading Luisa Miller, Il Trovatore, the Verdi Requiem and Die Zauberflöte), Nézet-Séguin (Elektra, Parsifal), Andris Nelsons (Tosca), David Robertson (Così fan tutte), Harry Bicket (Le Nozze di Figaro), Donald Runnicles (Hansel and Gretel), Emmanuel Villaume (Thaïs) and the ever-reliable Marco Armiliato, who shares duties on La Bohème, Madama Butterfly and Turandot but should have been given a production of his own.

In writing about Nézet-Séguin last season, I said, “I think it would be wise to bring in as many great conductors as possible so that the orchestra, the company as a whole and, especially, audiences will have the benefit of superb musical leadership. This, more than anything else in the next few years, will make attending a live performance at the Metropolitan Opera house with its wonderful acoustics worth the time spent and the price of a ticket.” We shall see.

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Comments [24]

Richard Pairaudeau from Madrid

To CastaDiva from New York NY,

Thank you for an interesting and detailed reply!

Feb. 21 2017 01:00 AM
CastaDiva from New York, NY

Sorry, meant "seven performances weekly", not daily!

Feb. 20 2017 09:20 PM
CastaDiva from New York, NY

Response to Richard Pairaudeau from Madrid:

The Met is a very large House, seating nearly 4,000, and has a very long season, some 33 weeks, with seven performances daily. But it’s now the only opera venue in the city, except for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which each season offers a limited run of various forms of entertainment, incl. opera. Other opera houses did exist in NYC, none comparable to the Met, and have since closed, namely New York City Opera and lesser known ones like Da Capo Opera.

Yes, the Met is indeed too large for the more intimate operas requiring a smaller theater, and many such, e.g., the operas of Rameau and Lully, are performed at the BAM, notably by William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. Before Carnegie Hall’s Zankel auditorium was built some dozen years ago, there was some talk of it filling the need for operas requiring a smaller space, but this never happened, as Zankel is a concert hall, with no provision made for staged performances.

I would think that living in Europe, as you evidently do, you would enjoy far more varied a choice in opera per city, given that major cities like Paris, London and Berlin boast more than one opera house, all of excellent repute.

Feb. 20 2017 08:25 PM
Richard Pairaudeau from Madrid

Dear Mr Plotkin,

I think any non-New Yorker will feel some envy at just how much opera you have! You are right to point out the season's lack of operas prior to 'The Magic Flute', but is the Met's auditorium too large for the smaller orchestral forces? Does New York City have a 1000 seat theatre where Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi could be engagingly staged and well heard?

Feb. 19 2017 03:27 AM
Leonard Lehrman from Valley Stream, NY

Two operas that ought to be in the Met repertory are Elie Siegmeister's THE PLOUGH & THE STARS, which he considered his mos important opera, and SACCO & VANZETTI, which Marc Blitzstein called his magnum opus, and which was commissioned for and optioned by the Met and completed by
Yours truly,
Leonard J. Lehman

Feb. 18 2017 01:31 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Disappointed as well that there is no Russian or Czech opera the new season.
Whenever I remark Thank God for the Russians, I am asked why and reply Prokofieff, Rimsky Korsakov, etc. and my Beloved Borodin.

Feb. 18 2017 12:42 PM
Byron Nelson from Morgantown, WV

It's great to have a new Tosca, and perhaps Opolais and Nelsons will be able to expel those bad memories of the awful Bondy production. It's a shame that there's no room for Czech or Russian opera in the new season; when will we get to see Cunning Little Vixen, The Tsar's Bride or the much-missed Bartered Bride? Where is the great Piotr Beczala when we need him?

Feb. 18 2017 08:53 AM
Constantine A. Papas

Anna Netrebko has appeared on HD every year (one year twice),but not in 2017-2018. Is her association with the Met being fazed out, or is a pay-back time for dropping out of Norma?

Feb. 17 2017 01:52 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

@CastaDiva" Ms.Racette does not have a great voice but she has something we of Neapolitan desent(?) call l'arte. Te l'arte we say.
Her finale of Madama Butterfly had me in tears. I do not do that too often as I am a crusty old woman.
Best wishes

Feb. 17 2017 07:26 AM
misha harnick from new paltz

boring boring BORING!!!!!!!!!!!

EVERY year I itch, in particular, for revival of Damnation of Faust, Lohengrin, Doctor Atomic, Peter Grimes, From the House of the Dead, Dialogue of the Carmelites? and many others.

wasteful wasteful WASTEFUL!

Bondy's Tosca was JUST fine!!! WHY a new one?????

this season I had to make a big effort to pick 6 operas. the new season: I may have to only do "my own 3 operas series"

Feb. 17 2017 07:14 AM
Fred Plotkin

Thanks, readers, for your comments. I don't think I will be writing an article about Nicolai Gedda for the simple reason that I only heard him live on a couple of occasions at the end of his career and never had any personal interaction with him. But I too cherish the recordings I have. About French language coaching, I agree but would only add that I recently heard a French-born performer at the Met whose diction was incomprehensible. It is not a given that native speakers have better command of language unless they pay attention to such things. I point to Gedda as an example of someone who was Swedish/Russian but had glorious phrasing in most major operatic language. About having the Met revive Forza, whether in the existing production or perhaps a new one, I don't have such powers by encourage you to write to Met management and explain why you believe this is important. As to doing more operas by contemporary composers, I am all for that, but they come with a special problems in that they have all kinds of royalties to pay that old works in the public domain no longer require. And I do hope that the Met will not only look forward but back to opera's first century and a half. There is so much wonderful repertory from that era that other big opera companies present every so often.

Feb. 17 2017 04:42 AM

Test. WQXR does not seem to recognize me.

DuckDeadeye

Feb. 16 2017 11:40 PM
Rosanna from NYC

Interesting that Antonenko & Furlanetto had been engaged to perform the since-cancelled "Forza". Sondra Radvanovsky could likely be cast as Leonora, which would make a stellar trio in that monumental work. It doesn't need an extravagant, financially wasteful new production. "Il Trovatore" & "Don Carlo" have both succeeded in recent years in relatively traditional productions: take heed, O Gelb!!!!!!! Please help, Mr. Plotkin, to get "Forza" back at the Met ASAP ... this is Verdi attacking bigotry, oppression of women, & superstition, issues still with us in today's world.

Feb. 16 2017 10:08 PM
CastaDiva from New York, NY

What is there to celebrate about Hansel, Merry Widow and Flute sung in English? Is the Met audience so unsophisticated as to be unable to enjoy those operas in the original German? H&G is a children’s story, an enduring favorite, and kids are familiar with it; so why not have it sung in the original? And the Met should stop dumbing down Flute, as they did Barbiere some seasons ago, which, mercifully, they have revived in the original.

I heartily agree with the observation of Daniel from NYC as to French diction. Most non -French speaking singers simply cannot sing in French (there are a few exceptions: von Stade and DiDonato come to mind). Does the Met not have a French diction coach as it does for other languages?

I’m surprised to find Racette mentioned in the list of “top singers”. At least to my ear, she does not merit that accolade.

Yes, plenty in the next season to please different tastes. I am particularly looking forward to listening to Meade in Semiramide, an opera long overdue at the Met.

Feb. 16 2017 08:37 PM
Daniel from NYC

I think the Met should put more emphasis on getting either French singers for French opera or non-French singers REALLY COMPETENT in the French language, which requires precise enunciation and not the blurry approximations we usually get. It's a real shame.

Feb. 16 2017 04:01 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Yes Fred, nothing about Nicolai Gedda? I grew up listening to him.
Best wishes

Feb. 16 2017 03:00 PM
Charles Powell from Astoria,NY

Thanks Fred, but no Russian operas.Are we going anti-Russian now ?
And as regards the Tosca--I won't hold my breath for Terfel and Kaufmann making an appearance.They continually let the American audiences down. Expect Kaufmann to get yet another'cold' when the new production premieres.
Speaking of opera singers,Fred are you going to write a piece on the great Nicolai Gedda,recently departed?
Thanks again.

Feb. 16 2017 02:20 PM
Kevin Scott from Wappingers Falls, NY

In spite of two operas that are being staged for the first time (Cendrilon and The Exterminating Angel), the Met is, for all intents and purposes, once again deifying the desiccated chestnuts in new clothes (I, for one, would love to see Zeffirelli's opulent staging of Tosca once again, or the Schenk production of The Ring when the Met mounts it once again) while still ignoring some of the glories of the company's past that deserve new productions for today's audiences, among those Max von Schilling's Mona Lisa, Humperdinck's Konigskinder, Howard Hanson's Merry Mount, Italo Montemezzi's L'Amore de Tre Rei and Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.

Moreover, I still wish the company would find the backers to mount Bernard Herrmann's Wuthering Heights, Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane, Zimmerman's Die Soldaten, Strauss' The Egyptian Helen or Elie Siegmeister's Night of the Moonspell. And in seeing one opera blogger's page that the Met is once again reviving Porgy and Bess, as an African-American composer and conductor I would rather see the Met put their money on a production of operas by composers of color such as William Grant Still's Troubled Island, Ulysses Kay's Jubilee, Dorothy Rudd Moore's Frederick Douglass (as well as Kay's version of the same subject), Anthony Davis' X or Amistad or Leslie Adams' Blake than an umpteenth performance of P&B which many black Americans feel is not representative of our legacy.

Finally, when is the Met going to mount other American operas that have been lauded by many, such as Daron Hagen's Shining Brow, Kevin Puts' Joyeux Noel, Jake Heggie's Moby Dick or other operas from our past that deserve a major hearing? This is where some of the smaller opera companies that take a chance get more kudos from those who wish to see opera continue to grow rather than become a stagnated emporium of stuff elitism that keeps many interested folks from coming.

Feb. 16 2017 01:35 PM
Fred Plotkin

To Geo. in St. Louis, Most of the conductors I listed have conducted at the Met in the past. The Met is one of the few companies at the very pinnacle of the opera world and has, in my opinion, the best opera orchestra of all. With advance planning it can secure the services of almost every great conductor. Because it does not really have an active music director at the moment (but is lucky to have Levine to provide some sense of continuity), I believe it needs the challenges and rigors of working with the very top maestros to keep it in shape. I have said this in print for a couple of years and, if that were deemed important, it would have been made a priority by those who make such decisions. Whether or not Levine should have gone sooner is open to discussion, but the decision about maestros who would work day in and day out, like just about every decision at the Met, is made by the General Manager. It is of particular concern because the Met is putting a lot of its focus on a nucleus of highly talented young artists and the quality of their work is affected (given their relative lack of experience) by the talents and wisdom of the person in the orchestra pit.

Feb. 16 2017 11:29 AM
Geo. from St. Louis, MO

The most interesting offerings, IMHO, are "The Exterminating Angel" and "Cendrillon", for the simple reason of never having seen them. Good to know that they are also on the HD-schedule, as is "Semiramide" in the Met's repertoire for next season.

Speaking of epic-length Rossini, Peter Gelb blew it by not putting in "Guillaume Tell" on the current season's HD schedule. Admittedly, in retrospect, had Gelb put the 10/29/16 matinee on the HD-roster, that would have melted down in the wake of Roger Kaiser's moronic human ashes fiasco.

For the wish-list of conductors, that list is not realistic, because of the commitments of those other conductors. For example:
* Daniel Barenboim: busy with both the Staatskapelle Berlin / Staatsoper Unter den Linden, and the West-East Divan Orchestra
* Riccardo Chailly: busy as music director of La Scala and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra
* James Conlon: busy with LA Opera, and his new orchestra in Rome
* Daniele Gatti: busy as new chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra
* Valery Gergiev: the Met's seen too much of him anyway, besides the Mariinsky being his first priority anyway
* Vladimir Jurowski: busy with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, his orchestra in Russia, and he gets an orchestra in Berlin soon
* Fabio Luisi: he has new duties in Copenhagen and with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
* Susanna Mälkki: she's the new chief conductor with the Helsinki Philharmonic, and the new principal guest conductor with the LA Phil (this also addresses Michael R.'s point, since Mälkki is a she)
* Gianandrea Noseda: he needs to hit the ground running with the National SO in DC, and still has his opera company in Turin
* Simon Rattle: he takes over the London Symphony next season, and is winding things down in Berlin. He has no time for NYC, or the USA in general, except for Philadelphia.
* Esa-Pekka Salonen: besides his principal commitment with the Philharmonia Orchestra, he has projects with Finnish National Opera and the NY Phil
* Franz Welser-Möst: no history conducting at the Met that I know of

I love NYC for the music scene, but NYC is not the be-all and end-all, where any conductor will drop everything just because the Met invites them.

Feb. 16 2017 10:34 AM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Fine article and thanks. Glad that there is a new production of Tosca.
The present one is really disgusting.

Feb. 16 2017 09:33 AM
La Cieca from NYC

If you are upset about weaknesses in the conducting staff, perhaps you might mention the person who was the company's musical director until last spring. Nézet-Séguin could have been in position five years ago had it not been for the former MD's having to be dragged out the building kicking and screaming.

Feb. 16 2017 01:17 AM
Michael Rogers from Vienna, VA

Your list of should have been invited conductors includes several female conductors. The Met list of will be used conductors appears to have not one female. Very disappointing.

Feb. 15 2017 05:42 PM
Susan from NY

Some good ones but still disappointing. A lot of names there I see missing. Use to have two subscriptions and now have a hard time picking a few out to see. Would also see a performance and after we left said we have to see it again and would buy another ticket. Now once is enough. They should drop the subscriptions or at least let you pick a seat and not just the section.

Feb. 15 2017 12:56 PM

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