You Say You Want a Revolution? Don’t Look for It in L’Elisir d’Amore

Bartlett Sher’s Risorgimento-inflected production gets the Met off to an awkward start

Mr. Sher is the appropriate mascot for a company that tends to flail between high-minded artistry and a silly attempt at populism, even if Robert Lepage, who directed the extravagantly expensive, woefully empty-headed production of Wagner’s Ring cycle, has gotten the lion’s share of attention as the symbol of Peter Gelb’s Met. Despite the well-deserved drubbing he got for the Ring, Mr. Lepage has been re-engaged for Thomas Adès’s The Tempest, the first New York performance of the brilliantly creative 2004 opera. It opens on Oct. 23, perhaps the highlight of the Met’s mostly bland fall, which is dotted with a just a few interesting revivals—an unexpectedly good Il Trovatore, a highly promising La Clemenza di Tito—and new productions.

A couple of weeks after the premiere of The Tempest, on Nov. 8, David Alden makes his company debut directing Verdi’s seething tale of personal and political intrigue, Un Ballo in Maschera. Mr. Alden is that great rarity at Mr. Gelb’s Met: an experienced opera director. He is known for intriguing, well-considered concepts and a talent for eliciting good acting from generally uninspiring singers, which will come in handy with the tenor Marcelo Álvarez.

All in all, that Ballo may well prove a tonic to the Met’s featured productions over the past few years. While Mr. Lepage’s Ring was proudly brainless, Mr. Sher goes a step further, offering the illusion of cerebral activity without the trouble of actual thoughtfulness. Like so many of the Met’s artistic decisions, his ideas sound great on paper, but just don’t play.

The program says it best: “What, you might ask, does the 19th-century Italian struggle against Austrian domination have to do with the story of a simple peasant who thinks a magical elixir will win him the love of his life?”

What, indeed.

editorial@observer.com