The New York Metropolitan Opera’s annual press conference is seldom surprising. Held last Wednesday at Lincoln Center, this year there were the usual revisions of old favorites and a handful of modern works. Let’s face it, the Met is not going to fully submerge its pen into more experimental inks any time soon. But that’s not the point, that’s not what the Met stands for, and it really isn’t what the Met is good at.
And so, very diplomatically, General Manager Peter Gelb stated that the Met would continue with its “commitment to expand the repertoire” as well as “refreshing repertory pieces” in the 2011–2012 season.”
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated production is the conclusion to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. This past season, audiences were dazzled with Robert’s Lepage interpretation of “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walküre,” the rotating ‘machine’ that featured as the centrepiece of the set causing quite the stir.
If the technical wizardry in the first two instalments wasn’t enough, a 3-D rotating backdrop that will feature in “Siegfried” (scheduled for April and May 2012) should surpass expectation. Using “the latest technology,” the production team has created a 3-D projection that self-corrects as it rotates, appearing 3-D from every angle without glasses. Designed to emphasize the role of the senses and emotions in of Siegfried’s self-discovery, this gimmick should provide the audience a visual experience like never before.
In an increasingly visual culture, this is a savvy method to attract people that might steer clear of Wagner. In any case, it is an inventive way to incorporate new technology with an Opera that is nearing the 150-year mark.
The other new productions are perhaps a little less extraordinary. The 2011–2012 season will see the gifted Anna Netrebko star in two new productions. She will open the season in the title role of Donizetti’s “Ana Bolena” (directed by David McVicar) and then in April 2012 will play the title role of Massenet’s “Manon” (directed by Laurent Pelly). Other productions include a new interpretation of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” directed by Michael Grandage, and an unconventional staging of Gonod’s “Faust,” directed by Des Macnuff.
But the real draw of this season is a completely new composition entitled “The Enchanted Island,” directed by Julian Crouch with an original libretto by Jeremy Sams. The Opera’s raison d’être is a fantastic example of how canonical composers and styles can create contemporary works.
“The Enchanted Island” is a pastiche Baroque Opera that uses fragments of compositions by Handel and other lesser-known early XVIIth century composers. The same can be said for the plot and libretto, which centering around a supernatural battle between Prospero and Sycorax, combines elements from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest.” With such great music and literature in the mix, this production is sure to be a fruitful endeavour.
The fact that the Met is working closely with librettists and musicians to reinterpret old art forms for modern audiences is admirable — an intelligent way to inject new life into an art form that is seen by many as elitist and antiquated.
The Met also intends to continue programs — like the HD live streaming scheme and the “MetOperaStudent” ticket program — that bring a wider audience to the Opera house. It is initiatives like these that have lowered the average age of Met Opera goers from 65 to 57. Big news in the world of the opera world.
Still, the Met is sticking to its guns. This week’s press conference showed that there will be no major attitude shift from previous years, at least not the coming season.
“The Enchanted Island” may be a sneaky, novel addition, the Met will — fortunately — continue with its role as the guardian of the Western Musical Canon.