Culture Magazine

The Wheels Off the Bus Go Thump! Thump! Thump!

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Superconductor breaks down the 2015-16 season at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Wheels Off the Bus Go Thump! Thump! Thump!

Politics behind the gold curtain at the Metropolitan Opera in a reworked 1990s movie poster.
Photos of James Levine and Peter Gelb © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.

This was the year the wheels came off the bus at the Metropolitan Opera. Not just for the uneasy alliance between music director James Levine and general manager Peter Gelb, but for Superconductor, which only saw nine performances at the big house this season.
The culprit turned out to be the battery on the very Mac that I'm typing this on, which is on its 600-somethingth charge and is in need of replacement. As a result, the clock on this Mac runs slow, which made the attempt to get rush tickets for performances throughout the season occasionally futile. Turns out if your computer's clock is out of sync with real time, your chances of snagging one of the $25 tickets for Met performances is more and more unlikely.
I saw the Met this year as a "split" sesson, with a bunch of performances in the Fall (before the glitch started), nothing in the Winter (at the Met, anyway--I still saw plenty of shows) and a resurgence in the Spring when I at last realized that the problem with the website was temporal in nature. And yes, I missed Pearl Fishers and Roberto Devereux but will see them when they are broadcast on PBS and will write about them then .
With that in mind, here's a breakdown (hehehe get it?) of the best and worst at the Met this year, based on the shows I saw. All opera titles link to reviews on Superconductor.
Best New Production
This was a close one, but we're going to give the edge to William Kentridge's visionary, hallucinatory version of Berg's Lulu, reviewed by the blog last November. An ace cast, a good conductor and an artistic vision to mount the drama against. Runner-up is the Patrice Chéreau Elektra which gets pipped at the post because it's not "new", it's been done in other opera houses in the last three years.

Best Revival:
Anna Bolena, which opened the "Three Queens" trilogy of Donizetti operas that play fast and loose with English history. Sondra Radvanovsky was stellar in the title role. Also worth a mention: Christine Goerke who showed New York how Turandot can...nay must be sung.
Best Leading Man:
This one goes to Johan Botha, whose surging, virile turn in the title role of Tannhäuser was a pleasant surprise. He sang with raw power and sweet tone and more importantly, acted his way through this long, emotionally complex role, with enough leftover power to sing the Rome Narration in the last act.

Best Leading Lady:
Marliss Petersen, who sang what she says is her last run of performances as Berg's Lulu. Sexy, terrifying and ultimately irresistable. She goes out on a high, atonal note in this hallucinatory production, surrounded by a terrific supporting cast.
Best Bad Guy:
We have to give love here to Hans-Peter König. The big man's comic timing and bellowing low notes remind one why Die Entführung aus dem Serail is one of Mozart's finest operas. Also, Johan Reuter as poor, doomed Dr. Schön made Lulu even better.
Best Bad Girl:
Since we can't give everything to Ms. Petersen, our winner is Waltraud Meier. Her harrowing and yet somehow controlled Klytaemnestra anchored the Met's excellent new production of Strauss' Elektra. 

Worst New Production:
Otello. Easy. Bartlett Sher's staging of the Verdi opera looks good in a broadcast but its flashing strobe lights, muddled colors and listless direction do a disservice to Verdi and to Shakespeare. A pity too, since Sonya Yoncheva and Hibla Gerzmava gave great performances as Desdemona.
Worst Revival:
Rigoletto.This just was not the year for Verdi at the Met. Maybe it's time for New York's biggest opera company to stop gambling on Vegas. It's just boring now.
OK. That's our season wrap-up for the Metropolitan Opera. In August, we'll start running previews for the 2016-17 season but until then there are other things to write about.


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