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Global opera fans, your elixir awaits: The Met launches seventh season of live HD

Submitted by on Oct 12, 2012 – 4:24 pm

Preview: Tenor Matthew Polenzani, a tenor with Chicago roots whose career is skyrocketing, stars in the opening cinema broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012-13 Live in HD season, which will reach 1900 movie screens in 60 countries.  

By Nancy Malitz

The Metropolitan Opera’s wildly popular, worldwide cinema broadcasts start up Saturday, Oct. 13, with a new production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” (The Elixir of Love) about a lovesick villager who resorts to a quack doctor’s potion to secure the fickle heart of the woman he loves.

The role of the elusive female in Bartlett Sher’s new production is sung by soprano Anna Netrebko,  the Met’s reigning Russian diva, a beloved prima donna who says she’ll soon wave goodbye to buffa girlishness in favor of heavier roles.

Her besotted pursuer is Illinois tenor Matthew Polenzani, who is singing the lead role in a season-opening production at the Met for the first time in his career, and he is sweetly holding his own.

Like any quack worthy of the name, the traveling “doctor” is passing through, offering cheap wine as wondrous elixir. Polenzani plays Nemorino, the gullible villager whose tipsy abandon, which grows with each swig, keeps everybody guessing for a while.

I caught “L’Elisir” live at the Metropolitan Opera House  earlier this month, and was struck first of all with how very little slapstick there was in this touchingly romantic version of an opera that’s often way over the top with broad visual humor, and secondly, with what a tender grip Polenzani had on his audience.

For all the vocal high-jinks and funny plot lines, not to mention the enthralling effect of Netrebko, the American tenor had a magic moment of his own at the dramatic height of his aria “Una furtive lagrima,” when Nemorino dares to hope the tide of love is turning in his favor. As Polenzani drew a breath in the cadenza, it became apparent that the 3,800-seat house had fallen completely silent in rapt attention.

“That is one of the most rewarding things for a singer, to feel that,” says Polenzani, clearly joyful at the memory when I caught up with him by phone a few days after that performance. “I guess there are a couple of things that tell me we have succeeded. When Adina and Nemorino get together near the end, the audience claps as if they are rooting for us, as if they needed for it to happen, as if it really means something to them. Of course ‘L’Elisir’ is a comic opera that is well-known, and whether we are going to get together is completely foregone. It’s impossible that it will not end well, but we’re treating it like it’s not a fait accompli, like the jig’s not up until the last second, and I can feel that the audience is buying into it.”

So how do you take something that’s working all the way to the back of the fifth ring in the Met’s spacious auditorium and still make it work when the HD camera zooms in on behalf of cinema audiences?

“I don’t change much,” Polenzani says. “They make a scratch tape on Wednesdays, mostly for the camera crew and to fix things like lighting cues or entrance cues or a singer’s position in relation to a camera.  We are allowed to look at the tape, and we’re free to make suggestions.”

But Polenzani, who’s a veteran of several Met HD broadcasts, says that in the days leading up to Saturday he looks at very little, if at all:

“I had a conversation with (Met general manager) Peter Gelb about watching the tapes when we were doing ‘Don Pasquale’ back in 2010 and Peter said, ‘I’m happy to give you the scratch tape. That’s what it’s for, to improve things, especially from the scenic and dramatic side. However, keep in mind that we love what you are doing, and if you watch yourself, it could cause you to be a little less spontaneous and a little less real. If you’re thinking about a movement you made, or a face you made rather than just being in the moment and acting and singing with the same dramatic intensity that we love, it could make you seem more stilted and planned.’ ”

Polenzani says he took the advice: “It’s a difficult line to walk, because part of me wants to see what I’m doing, so that things I don’t like I can take out. But the other part of me absolutely buys his argument.”

Singing in the opening night production at the Met is generally seen as a sign that a singer has arrived, and Polenzani’s having a heady season. After the autumn performances in “L’Elisir,” the tenor heads to Chicago’s Lyric Opera, where he’ll star as another heartsick lover in the title role of Massenet’s “Werther” opposite French mezzo Sophie Koch. It’s a modernistic new production by Francisco Negrin and Louis Désiré, commissioned jointly with the San Francisco Opera, which presented it in 2010. (The Lyric nurtured the Evanston-born Polenzani when he was a young artist, and he remains devoted to the company.)

After that, Polenzani’s back at the Met for a New Year’s Eve gala launch of a Met first, Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda,” which is part of his dramatic trilogy about Tudor queens. The Met asked Polenzani to step into the role of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, when Francesco Meli decided to withdraw the role from his repertoire. The consequence is that Polenzani will be in not one, but two, Met HD broadcasts this season.

Here’s the full schedule of the Met’s Live in HD 2012-13 season:

U.S. ticket prices vary cinema to cinema from $20-$27, with students admissions available from $11.50 to $20.

Note: First performance dates are live Saturday presentations of Metropolitan Opera matinees. The curtain times are fixed at Eastern time, as indicated. But the starting time for Encore performances, the Wednesday evening re-runs, is 6:30 p.m. in your local time zone.

For the the U.S. presenting cinema nearest you, click here.  For international information country by country, click here.

  • Oct. 13: “L’Elisir d’Amore” by Gaetano Donizetti. 12:55 p.m. Eastern Time. Encore: Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring Netrebko as Adina and Polenzani as Nemorino, as well as Polish-born baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Nemorino’s rival and Ambrogio Maestri as the quack  Dulcamara who’s peddling that potion. This ever-popular comedy includes the famous tenor aria “Una furtiva lagrima.”
  • Oct. 27: “Otello” by Giuseppe Verdi. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. local time. Starring tenor Johan Botha and soprano Renée Fleming. Verdi’s opera follows the outline of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” as the proud but jealous Moorish general succumbs to the insinuations of his trusted but embittered subordinate Iago that Otello has been betrayed by his wife Desdemona.
  • Nov. 10: “The Tempest” by Thomas Adès. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring baritone Simon Keenlyside. The opera traces Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest,” about the deposed duke-become-magician Prospero and his young daughter Miranda, whom he has raised in an island refuge while awaiting his chance for retribution. Then comes love in the form of a handsome young man.
  • Dec. 1: “La Clemenza di Tito” by W.A. Mozart. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. local time. Starring mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti and soprano Barbara Fritolli. Mozart reverted to formal opera seria for “La Clemenza,” though at the same time – the last year of his life —  he also was writing the comedy-laced Singspiel “The Magic Flute.” Set in ancient Rome, “The Clemency of Titus” is a tale of love, bitter jealously, conspiracy and compassion. The opera has enjoyed broad revival over the last decade.
  • Dec. 8: “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Giuseppe Verdi. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Jan. 9, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring tenor Marcelo Álvarez, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. It’s the eternal triangle at court, as two men struggle over the love of a woman. The real issue is that she’s married to one of them. To further complicate matters, there’s deadly political upheaval afoot. Verdi transforms politics, suspicion and passion with music of dramatic edge and lyrical beauty.
  • Dec. 15: “Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Jan. 16, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. Starring soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, tenor Roberto Alagna and mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina. The Egyptian military commander Radames is in love with Aida, an Ethiopian princess forced into slavery to the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris – who in turn loves Radames. Their tragic conflict lies at the heart of an opera celebrated equally for its lyric splendors and theatrical spectacle.
  • Jan. 5, 2013: “Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz. Noon ET. Encore: Jan. 23, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. Starring soprano Deborah Voight, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and tenor Marcello  Giordani. Based on Virgil’s “Aeneid,” Berlioz’s opera tracks the Trojan warrior Aeneas and his westward flight after the sack of Troy by the Greeks. At the opera’s center is Aeneas’ famous dalliance with Queen Dido of Carthage, where – much to her royal distress — he can only pause. Destiny calls this wanderer, who must sail on to found Rome. A prodigious masterpiece, the opera involves a huge cast and requires enormous production resources.
  • Jan. 19, 2013: “Maria Stuarda” by Gaetano Donizetti. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: Feb. 6, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and soprano Elza van den Heever. History and romantic fantasy converge in Donizetti’s profusely lyrical opera about the political and moral contention between England’s Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth is reluctant to heed her counselors and put her rival to death. It’s jealousy – Elizabeth’s realization that the man she loves is in love with Mary – that spells the Queen of Scots’ doom.
  • Feb. 16, 2013: “Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi. 12:55 p.m. ET. Encore: March 6, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring baritone Željko Lucic, tenor Piotr Beczala and soprano Diana Damrau. One of Verdi’s most beloved works, “Rigoletto” is also among his darkest, with several key scenes literally set at night. But this story of the acid-tongued jester who can’t protect his carefully shielded daughter also contains a wealth of Verdi’s greatest arias.
  • March 2, 2913: “Parsifal” by Richard Wagner. Noon ET. Encore: March 20, 2013, at 6:30 p.m.local time. New production, starring tenor Jonas Kaufmann, soprano Katarina Dalayman, baritone Peter Mattei, bass-baritone Egeny Nikitin and baritone René Pape. Wagner’s last completed opera is…well, many things, depending on whose view you’re reading at the moment. While it has the appearance and trappings of a religious opera, with its central icon of the Holy Grail, critics and scholars have never ceased debating the real meaning of the innocent young Parsifal’s journey through life’s temptations toward what might be seen as an empowering purity. But musically, the consensus word surely is  “sublime.”
  • March 16, 2013: “Francesca da Rimini” by Riccardo Zandonai. Noon ET. Encore: April 3, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. local time. Starring soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Marcello Giordani. Widely praised for its combination of fluent melody and colorful orchestral writing, this 1914 opera is the best-known work of Italian composer Zandonai (1883-1944). The story is the classic tragedy –retold in numberless versions going back to Dante’s “Inferno” — of Francesca and Paolo, who became lovers behind the back of his deformed brother, and her husband, Giovanni. When Giovanni discovers the betrayal, he kills them both.
  • April 27, 2013: “Giulio Cesare” by G.F. Handel. Noon ET. Encore: May 15 at 6:30 p.m. local time. New production, starring countertenor David Daniels and soprano Natalie Dessay. Even as a good two dozen of Handel’s operas have gained modern currency, “Giulio Cesare” — a romantic treatment of Caesar’s support of Cleopatra’s bid for power in Egypt — remains for many admirers the greatest of them all, both for its dramatic integrity and for its plethora of splendid arias.
Related Link:
  • More on the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD season, including detailed cast listings: Visit metopera.org
Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Matthew Polenzani and Anna Netrebko star in Donizetti’s comic opera  “L’Elisir d’Amore” to open the Met’s Live in HD season. (Photo by Ken Howard) Descending: Matthew Polenzani, as Nemorino,  thinks the elixir is working in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.” (Photos by Ken Howard) Tenor Matthew Polenzani, as Nemorino in  “L’Elisir d’Amore,” viewed from afar.  Johan Botha as the title character and Renée Fleming as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello.” (Photos by Ken Howard) Tenor Marcelo Álvarez and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (Photo by Brigitte Lacombe) The Trojan  horse in Berlioz’ “Les Troyens,” (Photo by Marty Soh) Tenor Jonas Kaufmann in “Parsifal” (Photo by Micaela Rossato) Below: Natalie Dessay and David Daniels in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare.” (Photo by Dan Rest and Nick Heavican)

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