Saturday, February 15, 2020

The 2020-2021 Metropolitan Opera Season announced

The 2020-2021 Metropolitan Opera season sounds very exciting. It will open with a new production of Aida. This is a risky move by General Manager Peter Gelb and the company since the current production of this work is one of the grandest, and as a result one of the most popular productions in the house repertory. Lately, however, the production has been mostly populated with singers who are either up-and-coming, or who have been up and down the Nile one too many times. The MET will rectify that with a stellar September 21 Opening Night cast that features Anna Netrebko in the title role, Piotr Beczała as Radames (he will try out this role in the Festival Castell Peralada, Catalonia Spain in August of this year a month before the MET opening), and Anita Rachcelishvili as Amneris. Opening night will also serve as the official debut of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin who will become the MET's new music director.

Another debut which promises to be interesting and, no doubt, controversial is the much anticipated house debut of director Ivo van Hove helming two productions: Mozart's Don Giovanni, a staging that the MET shares with the Paris Opéra, and Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, based on the novel by Sister Helen Prejean, both conducted by Mr. Nézet-Séguin.

Perhaps the most challenging debut next season is that of Barrie Kosky. Mr. Kosky, who hails from Australia and calls himself a "Jewish gay kangaroo" is no stranger to European theaters where his productions have entertained and have added to the polemic of Regietheater. At Bayreuth, his entertaining and controversial production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, which focuses on the antisemitic aspects of the work, drew boos from a segment of the audience at its opening night. I have seen this production twice, once in its debut year and again the following year. Boos were heard during my second visit to this interesting vision of the work. At the MET, Mr. Kosky will direct a rare Sergei Prokofiev work called The Fiery Angel. The staging, which comes from the Bavarian State Opera, features the chorus dressed as Jesus, complete with bloody crowns of thorns as well as a devil with a dildo. As critic Michael Cooper wrote in the NY Times "Zeffirelli's Boheme this isn't." Here is a preview of this staging.

The rest of the season features great revivals including Tristan und Isolde, Lulu and Rusalka. Especially great is the return of Richard Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten in its 2001 Herbert Wernicke production and The great John Dexter production of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, still going strong since 1978.  Exciting artists taking on new roles in existing productions include Ms. Netrebko's first Abigaile in Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco, Angela Meade in Vincenzo Bellini's Norma, as well as tenor Javier Camarena in Bellini's other great work, Il Pirata.

An interesting change to the calendar is that the MET will close its doors during the month of February, traditionally a period when audiences tend to stay home, and the company ends up losing money. The season will be extended up to June 5 cutting into the traditional American Ballet Theater season.

It promises to be a very exciting season, and perhaps this might be the right time when New York's conservative audiences finally accept Mr. Gelb's tireless crusade to bring the MET to the 21st century. The MET has been notoriously lagging behind in comparison to the great European houses when it comes to presenting works by visionary, avant-garde directors. Older audiences, as well as the MET's own Board of Directors and patrons, have been reticent to spend money on productions that may not be popular because of the new approach they take to beloved works, and those other works that have become very popular older productions. Luminaries of Regietheater not likely to be seen at the MET in the near future include iconoclastic Catalan director Calixto Bieito. His proposed La Forza del Destino was cancelled. Stefan Herheim's clever Die Meistersinger, which was first staged at the Vienna State Opera, was also cancelled.

Will the MET ever get rid of their popular cash cow Franco Zeffirelli Boheme? Not in the cards thus far, but you never know. I never thought their Aida would go. Now we look forward to a new staging. Let us see how the New York crowd reacts to this major leap forward.

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