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The dullest Met season in years?

February 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht

32 comments.


In an age of braggadocious Trumpery, it is incumbent upon the arts to offer refuge, enlightenment and distraction.

The Met’s new season – five new productions, three of them weary warhorses – offers scant relief.

Tosca and Norma are being freshened up by the workmanlike David McVicar, almost half the new shows in one pair of hands.

Cosi imports a Broadway star, Kelli O’Hara, to play Despina.

Massenet’s Cendrillon, never staged before at the Met, is a star vehicle for Joyce DiDonato.

And Thomas Ades conducts his own Exterminating Angel.

Plus 21 revivals.

‘It’s a season of repertory favourites and stimulating rarities, with something for neophytes and aficionados alike, said general manager Peter Gelb.

No wonder the Met plays one-third empty.

Like Donald J. Trump, Gelb still believes most of the people can be fooled most of the time.


Comments (32)

  1. Daniel F. says:

    While I have often been critical of NL for his unrelenting criticism of the Met Opera, the 2017-2018 season, published yesterday on the Met’s website is cause for ANY opera lover to be hugely disappointed. Usually the many performances of staples pay for something to look forward to, but apart from the Ades pemiere and Levine conducting the Verdi Requiem, a work that is no longer performed very often on these shores, there is nothing on this year’s table I would travel to see and hear.

    1. CDH says:

      You’re kidding — here in Canada you have to step out of the way to avoid Verdi Requiems. Pop up north if you fancy one some time soon — maybe not this coming season as it has nto been that long since the last…

      1. Max Grimm says:

        The Verdi Requiem seems to have been performed with some frequency in the New York area during the last years as well. The New York Phil performed it in January 2015 and the London Symphony did so in November 2016, both at David Geffen Hall. Carnegie Hall saw performances in 2012 and 2015 and Prudential Hall in Newark had it in 2014.

    2. B Bailey says:

      The greatest Elektra of our time, Christine Goerke, and you wouldn’t go? Semiramide after decades finally coming back? Ditto Luisa Miller. Nothing wrong with Cendrillon either. Plus a revival of a fine Parsifal (with a better Kundry). Plenty to criticize in the Gelb regime but to say there’s nothing worth going to at all is silly. Back in the Volpe and Bing days, five new productions would have been considered bountiful.

      1. Daniel F. says:

        Heard Goerke do Elektra with the Boston Symphony two years ago. Lots of power, of course, but the level of intensity seemed unvaried over the 80-minute span. Perhaps the new Met MD will provide her with the help Andriss Nelsons was unable or unwilling to give. On the other hand, the applause from audience and critics alike was so deafening that everyone thinks all’s well with the world. As for Luisa Miller, yes: but it’s really a perverse curiosity to see how long the “Placido & Jim” show can keep going. So far, so good, it seems–at least for the most part. Not big on Rossini’s stuff: a little (this year’s “Italian Girl in Algiers”) goes a long way and will hold me for a while.

  2. Alexander says:

    Almost all sopranos I am excited about are not presented there, so I have a strong hope I will be able to hear them in more comfortable ( for me) life settings 😉 yay 😉

  3. MWnyc says:

    No need to sneer at Kelli O’Hara, Norman. (Apologies if you meant no sneer.)

    Her degree is in opera performance, and last year I heard her sing a very fine Purcell Dido.

    O’Hara’s fellow Broadway royalty, Kristin Chenoweth and the great Audra McDonald, also have opera degrees. Audra studied at Juilliard (and has, it’s been reported, turned down many offers to sing Mimi); Kristin got a full scholarship to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, but turned it down at the last minute when she got her first big New York role.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      No sneer intended. Thanks for the b/g. She seemed to be the headline item in Gelb’s weak package.

      1. Russell Platt says:

        O’Hara was a lovely and sparkling Valencienne in 2015’s “Merry Widow.” She might do well with Despina.

  4. Cubs Fan says:

    Opera’s Greatest Hits – that’s what most companies are doing these days. The safe and familiar to draw people in and (hopefully) fill seats. For those of us who have seen these operas repeatedly there’s nothing to make me want to go to New York, pay the high ticket prices and deal with rats. I yearn for a company to do Korngold’s The Dead City, Weinberger’s Schwanda, or Schmidt’s Notre Dame. Will never happen, at least in the US.

    1. Scott in PA says:

      Die Tote Stadt will turn 100 in 2020. Perhaps we will see a production then.

      1. musicologyman says:

        God, I hope not!

  5. Midwesterner says:

    The exciting opera in the US is in companies NOT the Met. And there is probably one near you wherever you live.

    1. Daniel F. says:

      Please tell me where there is an opera company “near” Yorktown,VA. And tell me of the interesting work they’re doing. “I’m beggin’ you!”

      1. Michelle Krisel says:

        Come to Charlottesville Opera: Ash Lawn Opera Transformed in VA next month to see the East Coast premiere of “Middlemarch in Spring” (based on the George Eliot novel) by Allen Shearer and Claudia Stevens!

      2. Kristin Jensen says:

        Check out Victory Hall Opera, also in Charlottesville. They are a tiny startup doing some very creative stuff. A location-specific staged Schumann recital in March, a new play/opera based on Tristan und Isolde in June, and a Rameau rarity “with high-octane hip hop dance” in the fall. May be worth the 2 hour drive.

      3. Daniel F. says:

        Thanks so much to Michelle and Kristen for passing this information along. “Middlemarch in Spring” sounds intriguing. Two hours away is not quite in the neighborhood but certainly worth paying attention to.

  6. Kevin Scott says:

    The Metropolitan Opera’s new season does not impress me in the least. I was not fond of Ades’ take on The Tempest, but I have a feeling his idiom will work well with this adaptation of Bunuel’s movie translated for the operatic stage.

    But I wish the Met would take the bull by the horns and either revive some of the glories of its past history (Very few people have seen a modern staging of works like Max von Schillings’ Mona Lisa, Italo Montemezzi’s L’Amore de Tre Rei or Howard Hanson’s Merry Mount), or stage operas that really would bring in an audience (Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane and Britten’s Gloriana), not to mention new composers never staged by the Met at all (Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow, Anthony Davis’ X, Kevin Puts’ Joyeux Noel and even Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick) as well as composers of color who have never, ever penetrated the hallowed walls of that institution (Not just Anthony Davis, but William Grant Still, Ulysses Kay and Adolphus Hailstork for starters).

    When the Met decides to stop deifying the desiccated chestnuts and throw an occasional contemporary bone to shut the detractors up and get back to really bringing opera back as a living, breathing art form and not some repository of overplayed warhorses, that’s when I’ll go back to the house and watch something.

  7. Nan Tabu says:

    There seems to be something seriously wrong at the Met & kudos to you Norman for not letting up on them. The fact that the NYTimes won’t take a serious look at the major issues that are facing the Met is mind boggling. Please Norman, keep digging.

    and I think the met would love to play to 1/3rd empty houses. The capacity this season is probably around the 50% mark…

  8. Richard says:

    Take heart.
    Not at the same level, but NYCO is having a modicum of success in making a comeback by staging some new and some rarely heard operas. There is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm at performances — something that use to be commonplace at the Met and now is sorely often lacking.

    The Met is on hard times for sure. Kelli O’Hara is a stellar Broadway musical comedy star. Yes, she was opera trained, but there is a difference. Her performance in The Merry Widow was flawed by poor direction, her silly acting made even worse by less than glamorous costuming. We can probably expect more shtick with Despina in Coney Island no less.

    Will Herr Kauffman show up?

    Maybe Netrebko will be considered for Kundry or Electra. Who knows. Anything to fill a house.

  9. Tommy says:

    Come to Wexford; Cherubini’s Medea, Alfano’s Risurezzione, Jacobo Foroni’s (!) Margherita, over about 3 weeks.

  10. Marg says:

    Id go to NY to hear Joyce DiDonato but nothing much else grabs me.

    1. Dan P. says:

      I still go to about four performances at the Met a year – these days more out of habit than anything else. But I mostly leave dispirited at either the silly production or the well meant but lackluster performance on the stage by singers who just don’t have the force of personality to make a work come alive. And, I’m not comparing them to the famous international divas of the past. It doesn’t take much to think back to someone like Maralin Niska who, standing on a bare bones stage at the NY City Opera, had everyone’s heart in her hand when, as Elena Makropoulos, she burned the formula at the end or Julia Migenes singing Lulu as a last minute replacement for Stratas. Every exasperated expression she had still sticks in the memory after all these years. She was brilliant – and it’s now on DVD. When I think of the recent Lulu at the Met, all I remember is the young lady lying on her back on the piano wiggling her legs back and forth as if she were having a seizure (or something else). I couldn’t tell you much I remember about the recent Otello, Salome, or Elektra, either and all I remember about the recent Tosca was the curious crowd hanging out in Scarpia’s apartment in Act II or the nap the Chief of Police took during Visi d’arte. But, Idomeneo from 1982 with Pararotti and Ileana Cortrubas was really something. I somehow don’t anticipate a repeat of that when I see it again next month. But I’m still hoping I’m wrong.

  11. MacroV says:

    Agreed. Elektra, Parsifal, and the new Ades opera. Other than that? Meh. And speaking of works the MET hasn’t yet taken on, perhaps no bigger glaring gap than Messaien’s St. Francois d’Assise.

  12. Wiener says:

    Und wir in Wien bekommen den Gelb Klon Bogdan!

  13. Nick says:

    Please Norman, David McVicar is far from a mere workmanlike director. His Giulio Cesare is one of the great Handel oroductions. The recent Cosi for Australian Opera was vastly superior to the utterly dreadful Aix/Edinburgh Cosi, and his ENO Rosenkavalier was a joy. The list goes on but the above will suffice.

    1. Halldor says:

      Quite: he’s proof that relatively conventional stagings can still contain imagination and fresh psychological insight. His current Adriana Lecouvreur at Covent Garden makes the piece subtler and sadder than you might imagine possible, and still keeps the big-frocks-and-star-names crowd happy too. A major talent.

  14. me! says:

    I found much to be excited about – I’ve never seen Luisa Miller and have wanted to, I want to see Cendrillon and love DiDonato – it is a great mix for me of operas I don’t know, favorites (Tosca!) and singers (Netrebko as Tosca, Alagna in both cav/pag roles, kaufman again hopefully, Goerke in Elektra….. We are blessed in NY to have so many operas put on every year, and several new ones (unfortunately a good artistic director is needed – Lamour de loin was too weak libretto wise, so many new productions are simply poorly lit and dark and dank, etc) – I don’t think any other house puts on so many operas each year. As to fullness, it depends on the show – Magic Flute, Nabucco they were sold out or almost sold out – others, even with good reviews not so well.

  15. Daniel G says:

    As long as Gelb remains in charge of the Met we will continue to see a deterioration of this great organization. He has put stage production ahead of the actual music which is why most people go to the opera. The disastrous and expensive new productions have wreaked havoc on the Met’s budget which over the long run is unsustainable. I used to be a frequent opera-goer and this year only once to the opera to see the bleak new production of Tristan und Isolde. Let’s all hope that Gelb leaves the Met soon. He has done enough destruction since he has been in charge.

    1. Nick says:

      I suggest your opening remark – no matter how much I empathize with it – should read “As long as Ann Ziff and her Board cronies remain in charge . . . ” Let’s recall Gelb is their lackey and was picked, according to the Board Chairperson who headed the Search Committee when she addressed a Conference not so long ago, “because he was hip!” There you have it! That’s how the Met Board views running their opera company! Ziff won’t ditch Gelb. It remains to be seen when she will be pitched over the side as the ship sinks.

  16. Brian says:

    I wonder how deep the love of Thomas Ades’s operas is in the U.S. His musical language is so far removed from that of our own native-born composers, many of whom the Met never presents – i.e Jennifer Higdon, Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon, Mason Bates, etc. Northeast arts organizations are still enthralled to European aesthetics (which have their merits, I realize), but it has to be a pretty narrow audience.

    1. Kevin Scott says:

      I, for one, was not fond of Ades’ The Tempest – well, the first two acts, anyway – but I do concur with you, if you read my above post, about the Met not programming new American composers. I believe they are going to do another opera of Nico Muhly, and for those who pine for American opera of old (or not-so-old), Porgy and Bess is on the boards with Eric Owens.

      While I understand that the Met wishes to present itself as an international organization, at one time the Met was also quite open in premiering American composers, although there are some composers from our recent past they never bothered performing (Copland, Sessions, Blitzstein, Siegmeister, Still, Herrmann to name a few) for one reason or another, just as it’s puzzling to see them shun away from the many composers you or I mentioned in our respective posts.

      I seriously doubt the Met, in its present state will ever pony up in adding composers who have something to say with the medium and instead will just concentrate on one or two composers who they feel “brings in the bucks”.


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