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Metropolitan Opera Season Starts Strong


It’s been a magnificent start to the Met’s season as spectacular singing has electrified audiences and made the old hall ring. I’ve been to two performances in the last week; Norma last Monday and Eugene Onegin last night. At both the audiences rose for rare standing ovations.

Norma has one of the most demanding roles in the repertory; Sondra Radvanovsky knocked it out of the park. The lobbies resounded with praise during intermissions; on the night I was there at least two different people ventured the opinion that she was “better than Callas” in the part. These are not words often overheard in the lobbies of the Met; something very special happens when Ms Radvanovsky puts on her priestly robes. She’ll be singing it again on November 1; if you live in range of New York and can shake free that night, this is a ticket you don’t want to miss.

Eugene Onegin, a Tchaikovsky opera based on a story by Pushkin, featured the matchless Anna Netrebko as Tatiana. A shy and even mousy presence at the start of the first act, she transforms into a regal and utterly controlled princess at the end; Netrebko sings gloriously and acts brilliantly. She shares the sometimes cluttered stage (after two acts of beautifully staged scenes, the large columns breaking up the stage in the last act remind us that staging is the Met’s greatest weakness in this era of brilliant singing and flawless orchestral work) with Piotr Beczala and Mariusz Kweicien.

Beczala’s Lenski is a marvel; Lenski is a young, idealistic but self-centered poet whose wounded vanity and unfounded jealousy gets him killed in a duel. Beczala plays him with great effectiveness, and the aria he sings in the moments before the duel with his old friend Onegin was a showstopper.

Kweicien as Onegin gets this brilliantly written character exactly right. Eugene Onegin is a story that Dostoyevsky fans will immediately understand: Onegin watches himself behave badly, despises himself for it, longs for true virtue and beauty, wrecks any hope of happiness he might have by his inability to find a way to balance his aspirations and his behavior, and writhes helplessly in bitter self-knowledge. It’s a profoundly Russian but also universal story. Eugene Onegin is operatic in the Italian sense in its focus on characters whose lives are transformed by irresistible emotional storms, but the clash of passion and convention that shapes so many great operas is transformed into a deeply Russian story. We are at the edge of civilization here, in a society that wears a mask of elegance but is still rooted in a wild and untamed world.

Tomorrow night I’ll be seeing the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Two Boys, a contemporary piece set in the early years of the internet. I will let you know how that one comes out.

Meanwhile, it’s worth reminding readers that while the best seats at the Met can be very pricey indeed, there are plenty of ways for people who watch their spending to enjoy the thrill of great performances. Tickets in the Family Circle are under $40 each and the Live in HD performances shown in movie theaters around the world are even cheaper. With subtitles in the theaters and at the Met, it’s now possible for everybody to experience the full drama and beauty of high opera without a lot of arduous study. If you are missing out on the new opera, you are missing one of the wonders of our time.

[Metropolitan Opera House photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • wigwag

    The live HD performances are wonderfully produced and they usually only cost $25 per seat. Even better, several of the HD performances are available in public schools in New York City and around the country. The projection and sound equipment in the schools are almost always inferior to what available when the HD broadcasts are viewed in a movie theater, but the price is right; they are free. The performances are not only open to students and teachers, the entire community is welcome to the HD performances in the schools.

    More information cab be found here,

    If Professor Mead is interested in checking it out, free HD performances are available at Long Island City High School which is only about five miles from the Jackson Heights neighborhood where he lives. You need to get their early though; seating is first come, first served and a few hundred people usually attend; the school auditorium is often packed and they don’t permit standing room.

    Finally, bravo Professor Mead for patronizing contemporary opera. Few opera fans are willing to do that, but it is important and commendable.

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