Back in the spring of 2008, New York opera-lovers were aflutter over Juan Diego Flórez’s nine spectacular high Cs in “Ah, mes amis (Pour mon âme)” from La Fille Du Régiment at the Metropolitan Opera, with Natalie Dessay, whose Marie wasn’t exactly chopped liver. And guess what? You can hear them again during the Met’s free summer HD festival which begins on August 29 with that Donizetti opera.
Just like an ongoing television series set for a new season, it’s always useful to re-run the previous season, to get in the mood and to reacquaint yourself with your favorite heroes and villains. The mood in the city is a little less upbeat than in spring of 2008, when the economy’s unraveling was less in full swing. The Met opens its season on September 21 with Karita Mattila in Tosca, but for the city’s recently downsized and underemployed workers, the HD broadcasts may be one of the Met’s most opera affordable options this year. Certainly the weather was splendid on July 14, when the New York Philharmonic performed in Central Park, but you have to wonder if such employment factors are what attracted the unusually large crowd.
Outdoor presentations provide a special sort of anticipation, combining elements of the planned (the presentation has been announced in advance) and the unplanned (will an up-and-coming Broadway actor be plunked down in the chair or blanket next to you, or will it be a text-message addict pounding away on a luminescent screen all night?). The summer is full of free outdoor options in the city, and they only seem to be increasing. Heck, even television is getting in the act. This past Sunday, the season premiere of Mad Men aired on screens in Times Square; I wasn’t there, but I’d love to have heard the street reaction during the scene in the hotel with in-the-closet Salvatore.
I expect thousands of people will be seriously perturbed if it rains on any of the nights of the Met HD broadcasts—2,800 people, to be exact, which is how many can be seated into the viewing space set up in Lincoln Center Plaza. There are no rain dates. As I write this the plaza is in the middle of a particularly ugly period of digging-up during the ongoing renovation, and I hope it’s all cleaned up in time. If it’s operatic love you’re after, the ten Met broadcasts will run the gamut from
* Tragic teenage love (Romeo et Juliette with Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna)
* Naive-Russian-country-girl-meets-jaded-sophisticate, rejections ensue (Eugene Onegin with Dmitri Hvorstovsky, Ramon Vargas, and Renee Fleming)
* Love of power, Verdi-style (Macbeth with Maria Guleghina and Zelijko Lucic)
* Silly-jumping-out-windows-to-avoid-getting-caught love (The Barber of Seville with Joyce Didonato, Juan Diego Florez and Peter Mattei)
* Poor-starving-artists-in-Paris love (La Boheme with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas)
* Boy-loses-girl-in-underworld-gets-girl-back-loses-girl-again loop, play until arrival of deus ex machina (Orfeo ed Euridice with Stephanie Blythe and Danielle de Niese)
* Wife-has-affair-husband-kills-lover, verismo style (one of three plots in Il Trittico with Stephanie Blythe, Maria Guleghina, Barbara Frittoli, Salvatore Licitra, and Alessandro Corbelli)
* Tragic failure-to-understand-the-prenup-agreement love (Madama Butterfly with Patricia Racette, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft, and Maria Zifchak)
Sorry, there is no love theme for Peter Grimes, set for HD broadcast on September 3, with the superb Anthony Dean Griffey in the title role. But there’s drinking and bruises, if that’s what you’re after.
By the way, New York is not the only city providing free outdoor opera for its citizens. In Washington, D.C., the resident opera company (Washington National Opera) is having a live simulcast on September 12 from the Kennedy Center of The Barber of Seville … in Nationals Park, where up to 25,000 fans can drink in opera (and maybe beer?) from the vantage point of the outfield. The Spanish mezzo Silvia Tro Santafe will sing Rosina, tenor Lawrence Brownlee will sing Almaviva, and bass-baritone Simone Alberghini is Figaro, and all will be viewed on the park’s enormous 4,811-square-foot screen.
Image: Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Renée Fleming star in Eugene Onegin. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera