The Met Opera's new season: What we want to see

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The Met Opera's new season: What we want to see
Peter Mattei, left, and Johan Botha perform in “Tannhauser” conducted by James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct. 5, 2015. With contemporary music dominating new productions and returning in some revivals, the Met is entering a new era of programming. (Caitlin Ochs/The New York Times)

NEW YORK, NY.- The Metropolitan Opera has long been known for classics like Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Rigoletto.”

But starting this autumn, the 140-year-old company will usher in a new era, sharply increasing the number of operas by living composers in its repertory; they will make up about one-third of the 2023-24 season, the Met announced Wednesday.

The shift is part of the Met’s efforts to recover from the pandemic and attract new audiences, particularly younger patrons and people of color. Faced with lackluster ticket sales and a cash shortfall, the company has withdrawn $23 million from its endowment and cut the number of performances next season by about 10%. Newer operas, however, have been a bright spot; several have outsold the classics in recent years.

“We have to offer new experiences,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “Without reinvention, without expanding the repertoire, opera cannot succeed in the long term.”

The season will begin in September with the company premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” and will feature the Met’s first performances of Anthony Davis’ “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” Daniel Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” and John Adams’ “El Niño.”

Two popular new operas from previous seasons will also be revived: Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” and Kevin Puts’ “The Hours,” with its three divas — Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and Kelli O’Hara — reprising their roles.

Repertory staples will still dominate, including new productions of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” and Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino,” featuring Lise Davidsen, one of the company’s leading sopranos.

Here are 10 highlights of the season, chosen by critics for The New York Times.


‘Dead Man Walking’

One of a tiny handful of contemporary operas to have found a place in the worldwide repertory, “Dead Man Walking” benefits from Heggie’s poignant, plain-spoken music and an acute libretto by Terrence McNally, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s memoir about her experience ministering to a convicted murderer on death row. It will open the Met’s season in a production by Ivo van Hove, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting a cast that includes mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, an experienced Sister Helen, and Susan Graham, who sang that role when the opera premiered in 2000, as the inmate’s mother.


‘Un Ballo in Maschera’

David Alden’s production of this Verdi opera is crucial to have in the mix. Just when revivals can start to feel rote, Alden’s staging — sleekly symbolist yet not too abstract — can help us recall that the composer himself was an ambitious creative spirit. Still, the piece rises or falls on the casting. (A 2015 run with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sondra Radvanovsky produced real sparks.) This time, the tenor Charles Castronovo plays the doomed king, joined by soprano Elena Stikhina and baritone Quinn Kelsey, with Carlo Rizzi at the podium.


‘X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X’

In 2021, Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” became the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. Next season, the company will take on Davis’ 1986 bio-opera, which pioneered some of the stylistic effects heard in Blanchard’s breakout hit. Once again, you can expect swinging percussion coming from the pit — in addition to improvising players threaded throughout the orchestra. Baritone Will Liverman will star in the title role, directed by Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”). This production, from Detroit Opera, features Davis’ rich and newly revised score, which ranges between Duke Ellingtonian accents and Second Viennese School influences with verve to spare.



The Austrian tenor Andreas Schager has a major career in Europe but has appeared at the Met in only three performances as Siegfried in 2019. He returns to Richard Wagner in the title role of “Tannhäuser,” in Otto Schenk’s decades-old production, one of the house’s last vestiges of classic, treasurably overstuffed naturalism. Elza van den Heever sings Elisabeth, alongside Ekaterina Gubanova as Venus and Georg Zeppenfeld as Hermann. It’s an accomplished cast, but perhaps most anticipated is the peerlessly eloquent baritone Christian Gerhaher, making his Met debut as Wolfram. Donald Runnicles, who led an intense “Elektra” at the Met last season, conducts.


‘Florencia en el Amazonas’

Daniel Catán’s 1996 opera “Florencia en el Amazonas” — a Spanish-language, Gabriel García Márquez-inflected tale of a diva who returns home to Brazil in search of an erstwhile lover in the jungle — isn’t for everyone. When it came to New York City Opera in 2016, critic Anthony Tommasini was wearied by its “overwrought lyricism and lack of musical subtlety.” Yet this work’s arrival at the Met has artistic promise: in the title role, the charismatic and brilliant soprano Ailyn Pérez; at the podium, Nézet-Séguin, who is at home in lush melody; and in the director’s chair, Mary Zimmerman, one of the company’s go-to minds for myth and fantasy.



On New Year’s Eve in 2009, a production of Bizet’s “Carmen” premiered at the Met, bringing the company debuts of Richard Eyre, who directed, and Nézet-Séguin, who is now the music director. Next season, this beloved opera will bring another director to the house for the first time on another New Year’s Eve: Carrie Cracknell, who will update the action to the present-day world of human trafficking. Aigul Akhmetshina and Piotr Beczala star, alongside Angel Blue and Kyle Ketelsen, with Daniele Rustioni, well liked by the Met’s administration, conducting. (Diego Matheuz leads Clémentine Margaine, Michael Fabiano, Ailyn Pérez and Ryan Speedo Green later in the season.)


‘La Forza del Destino’

The Met’s recently instituted winter break turns the midseason doldrums into an opportunity to retrench and recharge. It also demarcates the spring season, with the pomp of another opening — in this case, a new staging of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” by Mariusz Trelinski, whose previous productions show a strong aesthetic sensibility that might help him gather Verdi’s sprawling epic. The score suits Nézet-Séguin’s penchant for music with a fateful edge, and Davidsen’s dramatic soprano can be relied upon to blow the roof off the opera house in Act IV.


‘El Niño’

The Met has staged — though not revived as often as it should — John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer” and “Doctor Atomic,” all of which were created with Peter Sellars as the director or librettist (or both). Now it’s time for the finest of their collaborations, the 2000 oratorio “El Niño.” Director Lileana Blain-Cruz makes a much-welcome house debut, along with conductor Marin Alsop, a master of American music; and soprano Julia Bullock and bass-baritone Davóne Tines, who sang this score as if it had been written for them when they performed a scaled-down adaptation at the Met Cloisters in 2018. Also onstage with them then and next season: the sumptuous mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges.


‘Madama Butterfly’

Consider yourself warned. Soprano Asmik Grigorian — a fearless and fierce presence who shot to international fame as Salome at the Salzburg Festival several years ago — is coming to the Met. A singer who treats opera as fundamentally theater, she devotes herself intensely to each role she takes on; for her debut, she will step into Anthony Minghella’s spare and shellacked production of “Madama Butterfly.” Also making her debut: Xian Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, who is crossing the river from Newark to conduct.


‘Roméo et Juliette’

In “Roméo et Juliette,” Charles Gounod’s music expresses the emotional growth of Shakespeare’s young lovers: Juliet’s frothy waltz and Romeo’s swooning soliloquy early in the opera give over to the sensual, intense duets of Acts IV and V, which have a new maturity informed by their love story’s mortal stakes. It’s pure romance, the kind of music you want to hear delivered by lithe yet sumptuous voices like Nadine Sierra’s and Benjamin Bernheim’s. Nézet-Séguin conducts.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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