January and February are exciting months for opera lovers, as opera companies worldwide announce their upcoming seasons. And of course, none is more lavish than the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which stands in a tier of its own as far as operating budgets goes and the ability to create massive, bold new productions year after year.
Next year’s season at the Met includes a range of classics, like the much-loved Zeffirelli La Bohème and the fanciful Robert O’Hearn and Nathaniel Merrill Hansel and Gretel. Surprises include The Exterminating Angel, an intriguing new opera by Thomas Adès, composer of The Tempest. The company will also bring two seldom heard operas to their stage, Rossini’s Semiramide, known for its overture and bel canto showstoppers including “Bel raggio lusinghier,” starring Angela Meade and Javier Camarena, and Massenet’s Cendrillon, starring Joyce DiDonato.
As usual, Canadians abound in the Met’s upcoming season, both on stage and behind the scenes, and travelling Canucks can look forward to hearing Gerald Finley in Massenet’s Thaïs. Toronto audiences can feel a sense of hometown pride as the Met’s season opens with recently minted Canadian citizen Sondra Radvanovsky singing Norma, which she sang to great acclaim at the Canadian Opera Company this season. Johannes Debus, COC music director, returns to the podium for Les contes d’Hoffman and the Met’s music director designate, Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct Parsifal and Elektra, starring American soprano Christine Goerke, who Toronto audiences recently heard as Brünnhilde.
The Met will premiere new productions of Così Fan Tutte, set in 195 0s Coney Island, and Tosca, replacing the controversial Luc Bondy production, heavily criticized when it opened in 2009.
Fans can look forward to the return of Jonas Kaufmann, who will sing Cavaradossi in Tosca, opposite Anna Netrebko in a company debut of the title role.
Music director James Levine returns for numerous operas, including a full, German-language Die Zauberflöte (not just the reduced, kid-friendly English version the Met puts on for the holidays), four performances of the Verdi Requiem, Luisa Miller and Il trovatore.
A few rising sopranos are being even more prominently featured next season, firmly establishing their star statuses in a Met season without Renée Fleming or Angela Gheorghiu. South African soprano Pretty Yende returns to sing Lucia and Adina in L’elisir d’amore, the luminous Sonya Yoncheva sings Luisa Miller and Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro, Nadine Sierra returns as Susanna in Figaro, Ailyn Pérez sings Thaïs and Juliette and Kristine Opolais stars in Tosca.
Crossover artists take more prominence next season at the Met, with American crossover artist (though well-known on the opera stage) Blue Angel debuting as Mimi in La Bohème and Broadway star, Kelli O’Hara, returning to sing Despina in Così Fan Tutte. This trend further speaks to the increasing demands for singers to be as appealing theatrically and visually as they are vocally.
Baroque opera fans will be sad to note that the Met season contains no operas earlier than Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, despite 2017 being the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi, one of opera’s founders. The Enchanted Island, a pastiche of 17th-century opera that premiered in 2011 at the Met, may have been only a tease for big house opera fans also partial to Rameau and Lully.
The Met provides a place where first-time (and old-time) opera lovers can reliably experience opera at its highest level. However, though this year’s premiere of L’amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho, the Met’s first opera by a woman since 1903, drew attention to the gender gap at the Met, 2017-2018’s season will feature no female composers, directors (aside from reviving Julie Taymor’s Magic Flute) or conductors. Given the abundance of world-class female conductors, composers and directors working in opera today, hopefully the Met will set gender equality and the representation of diversity as a greater priority in the 2018-19 season. As far as the repertoire, and productions and singers go, opera lovers can go to bed happy.