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."
Fall Preview: Voices of Autumn
Wednesday, September 07, 2016 - 03:00 PM
One good thing about the days getting shorter is that the evenings are longer — a wonderful excuse to be inside an opera house, concert hall or theater. This fall, the New York area is brimming with enticements for people who love to hear the human voice in opera and recital. What follows are some of my selections from among the many nights of potentially glorious singing in New York, as well as a couple of other choices worth traveling for.
New York City Opera Presents a Full Season
Sept. 8, 10, 11, 13: Aleko and Pagliacci. Nov. 17-20: Fallujah. The resurgent New York City Opera has scheduled a varied and ambitious season of mostly new or rare operas, along with a couple of classics always worth hearing. Rachmaninoff’s Aleko seldom comes our way. The title role will be sung by bass Stefan Szkafarowsky, with soprano Inna Dukach as his wife, Zemfira. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci stars Francesco Anile as Canio, and Jessica Rose Cambio as Nedda. From Nov. 17-20, NYCO presents the New York premiere of Fallujah, the first opera about the most recent Iraq war. It is by Canadian composer Tobin Stokes and Iraqi-American librettist Heather Raffo.
Opera Philadelphia Opens in Grand Style
Sept 22-Oct. 2. One of America’s most innovative opera companies is just 90 minutes away from New York. This month it presents a cavalcade of productions for all tastes. These include one world premiere and one American premiere, quite an achievement unto itself, and that is only part of the offerings. I am most interested in Breaking the Waves, with music by Missy Mazzoli and a libretto by Royce Vavrek. It is based on the eponymous 1996 film by Lars von Trier that made a star of Emily Watson. Christine Goerke will appear in the title role of Turandot.
Così fan tutte at LoftOpera
Sept. 16-18, 23-25. Is it possible that LoftOpera, born in 2013, can be described as one of New York’s most established and admired opera companies even though it still is a toddler? I think so, in part because this troupe has one of the highest percentages of successful productions and enthusiastic audiences in town. Almost everything they do is fresh, original, musically sound and dramatically engaging. Così fan tutte is one of the hardest works of all to stage and I am interested to see how Loft’s youthful audience responds to the sexual politics of this edgy 226-year-old opera. Next up is Verdi’s Macbeth on dates to be announced in December.
Nina Stemme Opens the Met Season as Isolde
In repertory Sept. 26-Oct. 27. Swedish soprano Nina Stemme’s brilliant career was mostly confined to Europe until 2016. Earlier this year, she was a fabulous Turandot and Elektra at the Met and then a gripping Brünnhilde at the Washington National Opera. Stemme is part of a superb cast that opens the Met season in a new production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde staged by Mariusz Trelińsk, conducted by Simon Rattle and co-starring Stuart Skelton (Tristan) and René Pape (King Marke).
Don Giovanni at the Met
In repertory Sept. 27-Nov. 10. There is little to love about Michael Grandage’s staging, but there is a wonderful lineup of vocalists whose singing should more than compensate for dramatic shortcomings. Fabio Luisi leads performances with changing casts that include Malin Byström (alternating between Donna Anna and Donna Elvira); Serena Malfi and rising star Nadine Sierra (Zerlina); Simon Keenlyside making a welcome Met return and Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni); and luxury casting of Don Ottavio with Paul Appleby, Ramón Vargas and, especially, Rolando Villazón’s first appearance at the Met since 2013. There will be yet another excellent cast April 26-May 11, 2017.
Anne Sofie von Otter Sings with Brooklyn Rider
Oct. 13. Anne Sofie von Otter, the evergreen Swedish mezzo, has not sung at the Met since 2010, and she is missed. Her fans can catch her at Carnegie's Zankel Hall with Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet, doing a program of mostly New York premieres by seven contemporary composers, including John Adams, Björk and Nico Muhly.
Mariza at The Town Hall
Oct. 15. Fado is the hauntingly beautiful music of Portugal and its foremost living performer is Mariza. She makes a rare New York appearance at The Town Hall that lovers of great singing should not miss.
Gerald Finley is William Tell at the Met
In repertory Oct. 18-Nov. 12. Rossini’s final masterpiece and one of the greatest operas of all, Guillaume Tell, has not been staged at the Met since 1931. It is one of my favorites and I have seen all the recent European productions. The Pierre Audi version from Amsterdam has its shortcomings (this is a very hard opera to mount), but it was the best I saw and should work well enough on the Met stage. Fabio Luisi leads a large ensemble that is mostly cast from strength. Every appearance on our stages of the wonderful baritone Gerald Finley is to be savored and he will be the moral and emotional core of this production. Bryan Hymel will sing most of the performances of the incredibly hard part of Arnold, and John Osborn will sing one and be at the ready if needed for more. These two American tenors are the leading exponents in the world of the role and they do their country proud. The female leads are the fine soprano Marina Rebeka (Mathilde), the excellent Italian mezzo Marianna Pizzolato making her debut as Hedwige, and the lovely Janai Brugger in the trouser role of Jemmy, the son of Tell and the person who places the fateful apple on his head for his father to split with an arrow.
Karita Mattila Returns to the Met
In repertory Oct. 28-Nov. 17. Karita the Great has inexplicably been missing from the Met roster since the 2011-2012 season, when she scored a huge success as Emilia Marty in Leoš Janáček’s The Makropulos Case. She is the rare artist for whom I spend frequent flyer miles to see elsewhere and am glad to have heard her in the title role of Ariadne auf Naxos in Paris, and as Marie in Wozzeck in London. I was sorry to miss her Sieglinde in Houston — apparently it was sensational. In June she did her first Kostelnička in Janáček’s Jenufa at the San Francisco Opera and brought the house down. I have not heard ovations like that since the days of Leonie Rysanek, Hildegard Behrens and, well, Karita Mattila at the Met. She sang the title role when this Jenufa production premiered in 2003; it will now be sung by the powerful Oksana Dyka, with the superb David Robertson conducting. Speaking of inexplicable things, why is the Met not presenting the never-seen Jenufa and Guillaume Tell in HD transmissions when it's showing three recent productions (Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Eugene Onegin) that are already documented on HD, though with mostly different casts? Don’t miss these two operas in the theater.
Noseda and the Verdi Requiem
Oct. 28, 30. Gianandrea Noseda was recently named the principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. They are currently on tour through Europe and taking the continent by storm. They will come to David Geffen Hall for two concerts. On Oct. 28, there is a dynamic orchestral program. On Oct. 30, there is Verdi’s Messa da Requiem with the LSO chorus and soloists Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona (wonderful in this music), Francesco Meli and Vitalij Kowaljow.
Opera Superstars at the Richard Tucker Gala
Oct. 30. More than a few cultists of great singing will do a double-header on this day, dashing from the LSO Verdi Requiem at Lincoln Center to the Richard Tucker Gala at Carnegie Hall. An A-list of singers is scheduled, including Jamie Barton, Javier Camarena, Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Kristine Opolais, Nadine Sierra and, in a rare New York appearance, the peerless Bryn Terfel. The recipient of the prestigious 2016 Tucker Award, soprano Tamara Wilson, will be honored and get to sing with her illustrious colleagues.
Renée Fleming Sings a New Song Cycle
Nov. 12, 14. Fleming, the adventurous soprano who is always open to new works, will perform the world premiere of Letters from Georgia, a song cycle based on the letters of painter Georgia O’Keeffe composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts (the opera Silent Night). The soprano will be joined by the Eastman Philharmonia under the direction of Neil Varon. Puts mostly used O’Keeffe’s letters written to her eventual husband Alfred Stieglitz, and artist and suffragette Anita Pollitzer. The premiere is Nov. 12 at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, N.Y. On Nov. 14 it comes to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.
Big Dreams at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
In repertory Nov. 13-Dec. 3: Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Christine Goerke (Cassandre), Sophie Koch (Didon), Brandon Jovanovich (Énée). In repertory Nov. 19-Dec 7: Massenet’s Don Quichotte with Ferruccio Furlanetto in one of his greatest roles. Both operas will be conducted by Andrew Davis. Aeneas and Don Quixote are two of the biggest dreamers in our cultural reference. They remain touchstones of imagination as well as cautionary figures about hubris and a lack of pragmatism. Any major staging of Les Troyens is worth the journey if you can do it. As to Furlanetto’s Don Quichotte (and his Boris Godunov), it is criminal that he has not been asked to bring these towering portrayals to the Met. Careful planning will enable you to see both operas in Chicago.
Monteverdi with William Kentridge’s Puppets
Nov. 14, 15, 16. As part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, the Handspring Puppet Company and the Ricercar Consort present Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria with live singers and what is certain to be brilliantly imaginative work by the talented William Kentridge (known to Met audiences for his productions of The Nose and Lulu). I am a big fan of opera with puppetry, which has important traditions in Amsterdam, Milan and Salzburg, but is rarely seen in New York.
Rautavaara’s Vigilia at the Church of St. John the Divine
Nov. 15. Einohuhani Rautavaara, the dean of Finnish composers, died on July 27. His music is extraordinary and easily finds its way to your soul. His Vigilia (Vespers and Matins) will receive its first complete American performance led by Kent Tritle, with soloists and chorus singing in Finnish. The performance will be dedicated to the memory of the composer. Tritle is also doing outstanding work with Musica Sacra.
Diana Damrau in Recital
Dec. 10. Damrau is a justifiably adored opera soprano who gave a couple of the best song recitals I have attended in recent years. Her upcoming recital at Alice Tully Hall will have a strong emphasis on the French language and, rather than being joined by a pianist, she will perform with Xavier de Maistre playing the harp. Damrau appears as Juliette in a new production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Met on New Year’s Eve.
Joyce DiDonato: War and Peace
Dec. 15. The beloved mezzo is audacious in her programming. To her, music is full of insights and inspirations that are ours to share. At Carnegie Hall with the Pomo d’Oro chamber orchestra and conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, DiDonato will perform a collection of Baroque arias and songs evoking discord and harmony in times of war. Everyone will be there.