Monday, September 7, 2009

Highlights of the Metropolitan Opera's 2009-2010 Season

The 2009-10 season at the Metropolitan Opera promises great things.
After a hiatus, the Met is again performing a German-language version of The Magic Flute, re-using Julie Taymor's production. I've only seen the production on the computer screen, but what I saw impressed me. The Magic Flute, with its improbably fantastic plot and its ethereal music, offers the gifted producer an opportunity to explore new scenic possibilities and remain faithful to the letter and spirit of Emanuel Schikaneder's libretto.

In a similarly whimsical but eminently musical vein, the Met offers again its English-language production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. 

Last year's production was my first time hearing and seeing Humperdinck's minor masterpiece, and I was pleasantly surprised by the real musical virtues of this fairy tale opera. I was, however, non-plussed by the production; it certainly compares unfavorably with Taymor's Magic Flute

Exaggeratedly grotesque, the production lacks the essential faerie quality that inspires Humperdinck's lyrical music. All in all, it seemed a missed opportunity to create a production as stunning and faithfully original as Taymor's Magic Flute. The Met also intends to reprise what I deemed a serious artistic mistake: the use of a tenor, rather than a soprano, for the role of the Witch. Philip Langridge, an otherwise talented singer, seemed uncomfortable in the role. And if the Met intended the production as child- and family-friendly, the mistake seems all the more unfortunate.

Despite these reservations, I cannot recommend the opera itself highly enough. It's too easy to assume a haughty attitude to works as whimsical as Humperdinck's fairy tale, but it would be a serious mistake to do so. 

The Met is also staging Richard Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander, with Deborah Voigt singing the role of Senta. The first of Wagner's operas to lodge itself in the canon, Der Fliegende Hollander is famously difficult to stage, so I look forward to seeing how the Met's creative team resolves the difficulties. With Voigt at the helm, we can confidently expect a stunning musical performance.

The last production I'd like to highlight is the Met staging of Leos Janacek's From the House of the Dead. I've never heard the opera, but in preparation for hearing it at the Met, I've ordered a copy from the New York Public Library. I am cautiously pessimistic about the production itself, if only because it is the work of the iconoclast Patrice Chereau, designer of the infamous Bayreuth Ring cycle of 1976. 

Janacek is a favorite of my favorite contemporary philosopher, Roger Scruton, and so I anticipate hearing something quite marvelous.

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