Two important productions at the Met — Mussorgsky's epic Khovanshchina and Janácek's opera-noir, The Makropoulos Case — were not televised. The only challenging choice for the telecast repertoire was Satyagraha, Philip Glass's minimalist opera from 1980 about Gandhi, sung in Sanskrit, with tenor Richard Croft transcendent in the title role.
Among the more traditional operas, Don Giovanni had a strong cast (seductive Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, soprano Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira, baritone Luca Pisaroni's delectable Leporello, tenor Ramón Vargas's vocally imposing Don Ottavio), but the production itself was drab. Not as stupid as Willy Decker's imported Euro-trash La traviata (the consumptive courtesan, Violetta, crucified on a gigantic clock) or Des McAnuff's updated Faust (with an atom bomb lying on the witches' table in the Walpurgisnacht scene), which I saw both at the Met and in Revere. As Marguerite, soprano Marina Poplavskaya sounded thinner in the house than she did on the big screen, but looked more expressive in the theater. Joseph Calleia, not the glamour-tenor that Jonas Kaufmann was in the telecast, filled the house and sang with style and power.
I also saw both the live performance and the telecast of one of the Met's hits: a new opera called The Enchanted Island, a pastiche assembled by British director Jeremy Sams from a sampling of relatively unknown 18th-century arias by, among others, Handel, Rameau, Vivaldi, and the obscure Giovanni Battista Ferrandini, with a new English libretto by Sams. The plot mixes farcical elements from A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. I wasn't completely won over either by the reduction of Shakespeare or the music's stylistic grab-bag (Italian and French Baroque are really from two different worlds), but it was very well conducted by William Christie and ffor the most part very well cast, with no less illustrious a star than Placido Domingo singing a magnificent Neptune.
BAROQUE IN ENGLISH Luca Pisaroni
(Caliban) and Joyce DiDonato (Sycorax) in the
Met's Shakespeare pastiche The Enchanted
At the Met, countertenor David Daniels seemed weak as Prospero and left after the first act. He was replaced by Anthony Roth Costanzo, who was scheduled to sing Ferdinand. As Prospero, he suddenly brought this complex role to vibrant life, and ignited the production. In the televised version, Daniels remained unimpressive, though he seemed in better voice, but I didn't much care for Costanzo as Ferdinand. I think they'd both been miscast. Pisaroni made a touching Caliban, though his heavy make-up made him look too grotesque. On the big screen, you could at least see his nuanced facial expressions.
The real star of The Enchanted Island was DiDonato in the manufactured role of Sycorax, the witch-mother of Caliban, who never actually appears in The Tempest. Her exquisite singing of the poignant aria "Hearts that love can all be broken" (from a Ferrandini cantata once attributed to Handel) was the emotional highpoint not only of this opera but of the entire season. It sounded ravishing in person, filling the vast reaches of the Met. But it also sounded ravishing on the big screen. With artistry on the highest level, the medium itself matters less.
The Met Live in HD summer “Encore” series begins with a presentation of the full “Ring” cycle, starting May 9, at the Regal Fenway theater and in the suburbs. For more information, go to metoperafamily.org.