Even With New Lockdowns, Streaming Opera Keeps the Art Lively

Contemporary operas from New York and Vienna show that even with new lockdown measures in place, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the art form.

Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak in 'Pagliacci' at the Vienna State Opera.
Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak in ‘Pagliacci’ at the Vienna State Opera. Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Poehn

The extremely promising news of a COVID vaccine notwithstanding, it appears we will have to continue taking the now-familiar precautions against the pandemic for the time being. For opera lovers here in the U.S., that means the status quo of only a limited number of live performances, and only with careful social distancing measures in place.

Europe has even had to take a step backward, again imposing lockdowns and therefore canceling live opera performances in Germany, Italy and Austria. The fallback now, as it was last spring, is streaming archival opera. This week offers a particularly rich bounty of online performances.

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The Vienna State Opera has jumped in rapidly with streams of performances from the last few seasons. One highlight this week dates from the sadly brief “reopening” period this fall, a solid revival of the double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. The latter piece is glamorously cast with the husband and wife team of Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak. The soprano accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of making the role of Nedda, the adulterous actress, both compelling and sympathetic. Her star performance can be seen this Thursday starting at 1 p.m.

More eminently watchable streams from Vienna include Tosca with Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Becalza, available this afternoon through tomorrow, as well as performances of the contemporary operas Tri Sestri (Péter Eötvös) and The Tempest (Thomas Adès).

That opera lovers’ bulwark against COVID, the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly stream, enters its 35th(!) week with a program of more relatively recent operas, which in this context mostly means “since 1900.” The jewel of this collection is a 2008 telecast of Salome with the always electrifying Karita Mattila in the title role (starting Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m.).  Rivaling it is a “disturbing, thought-provoking and curiously satisfying” double bill of Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle, starting tonight.

This week’s offerings also include very strong revivals of Lulu (Thursday) and The Exterminating Angel (Sunday) as well as the surprise smash hit from last November, Glass’s Akhnaten. Yes, this “perfectly spellbinding” production starring Anthony Roth Costanzo transpired only a year ago, though the event now feels as lost to the sands of time as the pharaonic civilization it depicts.

So much can happen in a year! Maybe by this time next fall we will all be able to participate fully in the communal experience of live opera in the theater. In the meantime, we have streaming video.

Even With New Lockdowns, Streaming Opera Keeps the Art Lively