The 2022-23 Season of the Metropolitan Opera is a great mix of contemporary works and classics. We bring an overview of the productions that will be screened at the NCPA this year.
The ongoing screenings season of the Metropolitan Opera in New York is being hailed by critics as “one of the best” it has produced in some time, and that is reflected in their screenings on offer at the NCPA. The Met: Live in HD season for 2022-23 began with a screening of Cherubini’s Medea at the Godrej Dance Theatre in January followed by Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata towards the end of the month. Pulitzer-winning American composer Kevin Puts’s The Hours, which had its world premiere as an opera-in-concert last November in Philadelphia, comes to Mumbai in March as part of the ongoing season.
A Novel Project
The Hours is based on Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, published in 1998, and on Stephen Daldry’s film adaptation of the book, which was released in 2002. The film had a superb cast with Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles, with Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Miranda Richardson and Allison Janney as the supporting cast. It received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and a win for Kidman for Best Actress. The surging minimalist score by Philip Glass won the Anthony Asquith Award for Original Film Music at the BAFTA in 2003.
The idea for the opera arose from a conversation between soprano Renée Fleming and Puts when they were collaborating on his 2019 song cycle The Brightness of Light. The opera tells the story of three women from different eras who grapple with their inner demons and their roles in society. It centres on a single day in the lives of book editor Clarissa Vaughan (sung by Fleming, returning to the Met after a long hiatus) in New York’s West Village in the late 1990s; novelist Virginia Woolf (sung by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato) in Richmond, England, in 1923; and housewife and mother Laura Brown (Kelli O’Hara, soprano and Broadway veteran) in Los Angeles in 1949. The tripartite setting of the opera is an essential aspect of its story.
Operatic tenor Sean Panikkar, who is of Sinhalese, Indian and Tamil ancestry, plays the supporting role of Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband. The two-act opera begins with the chorus singing fragments of the opening line of Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (the working title of which was The Hours): “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Librettist Greg Pierce distils the essence of each personality, making every word count as he crafts duets and trios in which they traverse time and space through the lush orchestral colours of Puts’s score.
The Met programme notes elaborate on the music: “In adapting Cunningham’s novel, Puts sought to follow the shifting perspectives between the heroines while maintaining their separate dimensions—an ambition that can be uniquely accomplished with the tools of opera. The music for and around each of the heroines has a distinct style: a stripped-down quality for Woolf, with harmonic shifts mirroring her fraught mental instability; an appropriately light-pop sensibility for the oppressive suburban conformity surrounding Laura Brown; and a rich, colourful soundscape for Clarissa that evokes the vibrancy of urban New York City and alludes to contemporary film and Broadway composers. Initially, these worlds exist as separate musical entities, but over the course of the opera, they transcend the boundaries of time and space and increasingly overlap, culminating in a climactic trio for the three women that encapsulates their diversities and commonalities.”
“The great thing that opera can do is simultaneity,” The Met’s dramaturg Paul Cremo told IndieWire. “You can have three people in three different decades singing onstage at the same time. And that’s something you can’t really do quite the same way in a movie, unless you’ve got a split screen. So it presented a lot of really exciting musical and dramatic challenges.” At a panel discussion about the opera in advance of its Met performance, conductor and Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin recalled what his mentor Carlo Maria Giulini had once said to him: “A great opera has to have a great libretto, great music and a great dramatic arc.” He asserted that The Hours has all three, and quipped, “It’s good, when it’s called The Hours, to get the timing right.”
The compelling drama was deemed by critics at its premiere as a “stunning triumph.” Jude Dry from IndieWire praised Phelim McDermott’s ‘creatively staged production’ and Tom Pye’s ‘clever set and costume design’ adding that “gathering three of the singing world’s most revered divas onto one stage for a rare collaboration… this alone is reason enough to see it.”
Opera in Jazz
Six-time Grammy award-winning jazz composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s second opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones (which was screened at the NCPA in June last year) created history in 2021 as the first opera by an African American composer ever staged at the Met in its long history. His first opera, Champion, based on the life of African American welterweight boxer Emile Griffith, is the other contemporary work on offer this season. It also evolved from a conversation, this time between Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL) and Jazz St. Louis.
Although you might guess from this partnership that the production is a combination of opera and jazz, Blanchard himself has described the work as an ‘opera in jazz’ rather than a ‘jazz opera’. The Denver Post, in its review of the premiere production, called it “unrelentingly true to itself, over-the-top when it needs to be and unapologetic, just like Verdi.”
Nézet-Séguin, who has increasingly supported the creation of new works, returns to conduct this opera. Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green is the young boxer Griffith, who rises from obscurity to become a world champion, and bass-baritone Eric Owens portrays Griffith’s older self, haunted by the ghosts of his past. Soprano Latonia Moore is Emelda Griffith, the boxer’s estranged mother, and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is the bar owner Kathy Hagen.
The Bold and the Beautiful
The other operas being screened are workhorses from the standard repertory, including much-loved works by Mozart from the ‘mature’ final five years of his lamentably short life. Conductor and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, who was meant to make her Met debut in 2021 (cancelled due to Covid-19), will finally debut this year with Mozart’s tragicomedy Don Giovanni (1788) and Die Zauberflöte (1791).
Tony Award–winning director Ivo van Hove makes his Met debut as well, with this new staging of Don Giovanni. The tale of deceit and damnation is set in an abstract architectural landscape that explores the dark corners of the story and its characters. The opera has a starstudded cast led by baritone Peter Mattei as a magnetic Don Giovanni, alongside the Leporello of bass-baritone Adam Plachetka. Sopranos Federica Lombardi, Ana María Martínez and Ying Fang are Giovanni’s conquests— Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Zerlina—and tenor Ben Bliss sings Don Ottavio.
Die Zauberflöte receives its first new Met staging in 19 years—in a bold avatar by renowned English director Simon McBurney that The Wall Street Journal called “the best production I’ve ever witnessed of Mozart’s opera.” The orchestra pit is raised to make the musicians visible to the audience and allow interaction with the cast. In his Met-debut staging, McBurney lets loose a volley of theatrical flourishes, incorporating projections, sound effects and acrobatics to match the spectacle and drama of Mozart’s fable. The brilliant cast includes soprano Erin Morley as Pamina, tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino, baritone Thomas Oliemans in his Met debut as Papageno, soprano Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night and bass Stephen Milling as Sarastro.
Richard Strauss’s evergreen Der Rosenkavalier has Simone Young on the podium leading a dream cast with soprano Lise Davidsen as the aging Marschallin opposite mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as her lover Octavian. Soprano Erin Morley plays Sophie, the beautiful younger woman who steals Octavian’s heart while bass Günther Groissböck is Baron Ochs and baritone Markus Brück is Sophie’s wealthy father, Faninal.
Another of Verdi’s major opera is on the screening schedule. Daniele Rustioni conducts the composer’s last work for the stage, Falstaff. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, the production has a stellar cast: Michael Volle (baritone) is the rakish knight Falstaff; sopranos Ailyn Pérez and Jennifer Johnson play the shrewd women who put him in his place, while Hera Hyesang Park (soprano) and Bogdan Volkov (tenor) are the young couple Nannetta and Fenton.
Nézet-Séguin brings back Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Lohengrin to the Met after 17 years. Tenor Piotr Beczała, in the title role of the mysterious swan knight, sopranos Tamara Wilson, Elena Stikhina and Christine Goerke with bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin and Groissböck round off a stellar line-up.
Another much-awaited revival (this one after 25 years) is Umberto Giordano’s thrilling drama Fedora, led by conductor Marco Armiliato. Soprano Sonya Yoncheva plays the titular role of the 19th-century Russian princess, while Beczała returns as the ill-fated Count, with supporting roles sung by Rosa Feola (soprano) and Lucas Meachem (baritone).
Talking about the 2022-2023 season, Met General Manager Peter Gelb said: “Our lessons learned during the two years of the pandemic are that the future of the Met, and of opera, rely upon ceaselessly breaking new and diverse artistic ground. It’s our path forward.” The screenings on offer at the NCPA this season are a good example of this aspiration.
For information on future Met screenings, please visit www.ncpamumbai.com.
By Dr. Luis Dias. This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the March 2023 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.