Spring Arts Preview: Top 10 Opera

The Queen of Spades,
Metropolitan Opera, begins March 11
The Finnish soprano Karita Mattila shows up for Tchaikovsky’s penultimate opera, based on a Pushkin short story. The whole affair is suitably black Russian: The opera’s title refers not merely to a femme fatale but to the card encountered while gambling. The opera itself deals with the card combination needed to win a pivotal match. (It isn’t card-counting if a friendly ghost tells you!) The–yes, Russian–tenor Vladimir Galouzine takes an unusually demanding lead role in this opera, which boasts a libretto written by Pyotr Ilyich’s brother, Modest Tchaikovsky. Don’t mind the name: With a cast this stellar, the show is sure to be no modest achievement! 

Bluebeard’s Castle,
Avery Fisher Hall, begins March 18
The Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen continues his series on Hungarian-inflected music, called “Hungarian Echoes.” The “echoes” are no louder because two of the composers–Haydn and Ligeti–were not Hungarian citizens (Haydn was Austrian and worked for Hungarian aristocrats; Ligeti was ethnically Hungarian but was an Austrian citizen). Austria is amply represented in the opera world, though, and this concert presentation of Bartók’s opera is the most Hungarian-flavored (tastes like sour cream!) music event in the series. Mr. Salonen is to be joined by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and bass Gábor Bretz. A post on Ms. DeYoung’s blog reveals an infectious  enthusiasm, “Esa Pekka guides Michelle through the 7 doors of the castle. Don’t miss it NYC!!!!!!” We could hardly resist.

Le Comte Ory,
Metropolitan Opera, begins March 24
Bel canto star Juan Diego Flórez takes on Rossini’s infrequently performed opera–perhaps even more notable for another bounce back to opera from Met and Broadway director Bartlett Sher (the man behind the Met’s Barbiere di Siviglia and Tony winner South Pacific). Mr. Sher called Le Comte Ory “a place where love is dangerous. People get hurt.” (Funny–we’d describe every opera that way!) Mr. Flórez’s appearance on the stage is something of an event, though–the actor is placed opposite Joyce DiDonato in the opera equivalent of a Franco-Hathaway team-up of young stars. Given the pair’s reputation (and good looks), this should be one of the Met’s HD simulcasts for the season, despite the show’s lack of fame. 

New York City Opera, begins March 25
Like opera, but hate that fusty feeling? That what you’re watching is, how do you say, antique? New York City Opera has you covered with a trilogy of 20th-century one-acts, each featuring a single soprano. Making the most of its smaller-stage reputation, the City Opera is taking its performances alternative, with work by video artist Jennifer Steinkamp and motionographer Ada Whitney spangling the performances. Good news, too, for opera fans who also love Pink Floyd–to better represent the forward-looking obsessions of the 20th century and the dubious artistic obsessions of the 21st, a laser art “homage” to the artist Hiro Yamagata, will be included. Why spotlight one, or three, opera pioneers, when there’s modern art of all stripes to be thrown in, too? 

Metropolitan Opera, begins March 28
Renée Fleming is recovering from last spring’s Armida at the Met–a role that, many said, simply didn’t suit her. “The magic wasn’t there,” said the Post, dwelling on a cracked note. She was not “terribly believable as a villain,” said The Wall Street Journal. (The New York Times liked it, but seemed amused and perplexed by Ms. Fleming’s spring 2010 pop-rock album, Dark Hope.) Thankfully, there’s always a second chance for a star of Ms. Fleming’s stature, and she returns to a role she has performed with great success. Ms. Fleming’s character in Capriccio loves music to a degree that perplexes and blinds her when it comes to making decisions. For the opera singer who covered Death Cab for Cutie last spring, it’s the role she was born to play! 

Where the Wild Things Are,
New York City Opera, April 9
The best path to money may be through the patrons’ children–or at least through the patrons’ belief and desire that opera is the best thing for their children. The New York City Opera’s Family Benefit is to revive Oliver Knussen’s opera Where the Wild Things Are–which significantly predates the film by Spike Jonze. Another difference between film and opera: the film reflected Mr. Jonze’s darkly adult aesthetic. The opera is to have artwork created by children in the City Opera’s education programs. There may be no better way to get paretns’ attention than by forcing them to stare at their child’s artwork for hours during a family event. The guilt that forced parents to introduce opera to their child while that child was still at an age to read Maurice Sendak’s book will certainly kick into high gear. 

Carnegie Hall, April 15
How does one get from Chicago to Carnegie Hall? Have Riccardo Muti on one’s side. The star Italian conductor brings the Chicago Symphony to New York for a performance of the Shakespeare-inspired opera, more than a year after Mr. Muti’s Met debut with another Verdi show, Attila. Carnegie Hall’s second Great American Symphonies series–which gives viewers the sense of having traveled to Boston, Atlanta or Cleveland–will end with this performance, and no other ensemble performing has quite so boldface a name as Muti conducting. Rising Met star Aleksandrs Antonenko is to perform the role of the Moor: Some things, like opera stars, one can’t import from Chicago. 

Séance on a Wet Afternoon,
New York City Opera, begins April 19
This production comes from a new name in opera familiar to New Yorkers interested in theater. Stephen Schwartz composed Wicked (and Godspell, and Pippin) before taking a shine to the 1964 film Séance on a Wet Afternoon, the story of a “psychic” who concocts a kidnapping scheme in order to manipulate the kidnapped child’s parents into paying her money. (Sounds great! But isn’t this also the first half of Ghost, kind of?) The line between musical theater and opera may be blurred if the production is as well received in New York as it was in its Los Angeles debut. Mr. Schwartz, though, may see theater and opera as not terribly different: He produced a cabaret act in West Hollywood combining Séance with some of his show tunes before the show came to New York. 

Die Walküre,
Metropolitan Opera, begins April 22
Good luck getting in: The hottest ticket this side of LCD Soundsystem is the second stage of the Ring cycle directed by Robert Lepage, whose first installment bowed last fall. The New York Times‘ coverage, in September 2010, focused on the show’s challenging elements–a mezzo-soprano comes close to being crushed by a stage element, and singers complain about having to sing while flying. (This was before New York’s threshold for theatrical danger was raised when the dark was turned off.) It also indicated that the show’s here to stay, thanks to a tradition of Ring longevity. Perhaps as the production ages, details of gigantism–a 45-ton set!–will diminish in the imagination. But even if it’s just the hubbub of Ring fiends who’ll travel the globe for their next hit, they haven’t yet.

Stupenda! A Loving Tribute to Dame Joan Sutherland,
Town Hall, May 17
me Joan Sutherland, who died last year, was termed “La Stupenda” in Venice; she is to be feted at a gathering of opera singers and the ticket-buying public. Video selections of Sutherland’s work (also available on YouTube) will be played, and performers will present tributes–though those performers were nearly all born in the 1930s. Perhaps the deficiency of young blood is unsurprising: Sutherland, in 2002, noted that she no longer wanted “anything to do with opera anymore.” A person seeking to meet moneyed and graying opera patrons could do worse than dropping by this event. Spring Arts Preview: Top 10 Opera