Bravura Performance

James Gaddy, 10/02/2009

The Metropolitan Opera is not playing it safe. The company is bringing an ambitious flair to its schedule by showing challenging work and classics from the canon, crafted by longtime contributors as well as artists known for their cutting-edge sensibilities. The 2009–2010 season features eight new productions—including perennial favorites Carmen and Tosca, and a quartet of company premieres that present a diverse range of themes and moods. The libretto of composer Leoš Janácek’s From the House of the Dead, based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, consists of characters in a Russian prison camp recounting tales of woe, each more bleak than the last. In Gioachino Rossini’s Armida, one of his most unusual works, a sorceress conjures a magical realm to seduce a soldier away from the battlefield. The Nose, a 1930 opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, is based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol, in which a man wakes up to find that his nose has left his face and taken up a life of its own.

This season offers a lineup of virtuosos in new performances as well. Renée Fleming promises to enchant audiences in the juicy role of Armida; tenor Joseph Calleja plays the lead in Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, directed by Bartlett Sher; Carmen features Elina Garanča in the title role, opposite tenor Roberto Alagna and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.

In an inspired bit of collaboration, William Kentridge, the South African artist known for his painstakingly animated charcoal drawings, continues his recent foray into opera, directing and designing The Nose for its March 2010 debut. The production will coincide with the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of Kentridge's work beginning in late February. Drawings of Kentridge’s designs for staging the surreal tale were exhibited at the Marian Goodman Gallery last January.

For From the House of the Dead, acclaimed opera, theatre and film director Patrice Chéreau will team up with Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, well-known for the humor and warmth he brings to his musical interpretations. Peter Mattei sings the main role as Chéreau and Salonen make their debuts at the Metropolitan Opera. The rarely performed Attila, a Giuseppe Verdi opera conducted by Riccardo Muti that premieres February 23 of next year with Ildar Abdrazakov as the king of the Huns, will showcase costumes and sets created by fashion designer Miuccia Prada in collaboration with superstar architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (whose much anticipated residential high-rise in TriBeCa is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2010).

In addition to the Met’s eight new productions for 2009–2010 (two more than last season), the company has sought to showcase familiar voices in new roles. Deborah Voigt sings Senta in Der Fliegende Hollander for the first time on the Met stage, and tenor Plácido Domingo will sing the baritone title role in Simon Boccanegra and will conduct Stiffelio, a production originally mounted with Domingo in the main part.

Richard Eyre directs what promises to be a heady new production of the most famous of all French operas, Georges Bizet's Carmen, which will be conducted by the talented young Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Eyre plans to update the piece from the 1880s to the male-dominated context of the 1930s. "It's very violent; it's very sexy," Eyre says of the opera. "In some way, it gives you a sense of elation, as well as being gashed by the fact that this extraordinary, defiant, glorious woman is smacked down in the end by male lust."

Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, another popular production (it's been performed at the Metropolitan Opera nearly 900 times), gets a new rendering from theatre and opera director Luc Bondy. Finnish soprano Karita Mattila stars, making her first Metropolitan Opera appearance in the role after winning raves for her rendition of Salome last year. Single tickets for the 2009–2010 season are available now.