Die Frau ohne Schatten Audio Slideshow

Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) opens at the Met on November 7 for six performances only! The cast includes Anne Schwanewilms, Christine Goerke, Ildikó Komlósi, Torsten Kerl, and Johan Reuter. Check out an audio slideshow from the final dress rehearsal!


All photos: Ken Howard/Met Opera

Posted in Opera Background, Photo Galleries | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Die Frau ohne Schatten: In Focus

Die Frau ohne Schatten In Focus

Premiere: Vienna State Opera, 1919

The fourth collaboration of Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal was in many ways their most ambitious: a heavily symbolic morality tale about love and marriage that unfolds in a fairy-tale world of multiple dimensions, from the gritty and earthy to the ethereal. The authors saw their work as a thematic heir to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, but the two operas—separated by 130 years of music history—present radically different profiles. Die Frau ohne Schatten (“The Woman without a Shadow”) is a highly poetic fantasy replete with the psychoanalytical asides typical of the Viennese milieu in which it was created. Its five lead roles are daunting even by Strauss’s demanding standards, while the orchestral requirements and staging challenges alone assure this opera a unique spot in the repertory. The story concerns two couples: the Emperor and Empress—he a mortal human, she the daughter of the spirit god Keikobad—and Barak the Dyer (the only character who has a name), a poor but decent man, and his dissatisfied young wife. Between them stands the Empress’s Nurse, a diabolical woman of the spirit world who hates anything human. After a year of marriage, the Empress is still without a shadow—Hofmannsthal’s symbol for motherhood. If she doesn’t acquire one within three days, she will return to her father and the Emperor will be turned to stone. In order to prevent this, the Nurse plots to steal a shadow from the Dyer’s Wife, and the Empress must confront the implications of her choices and the challenge of becoming a complete human being. Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s creation of such a grand tale of husbands, wives, and children was informed by the trauma of World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. The resulting opera is unique: a colossal structure of lofty fantasy that glorifies the simple pleasures of family life and love over exotic illusions of happiness.

The Creators
Richard Strauss (1864–1949) composed an impressive body of orchestral works and songs before turning to opera. After two early failures, Salome (1905) caused a theatrical sensation, and the balance of his long career was largely dedicated to the stage. His next opera, Elektra (1909), was his first collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), a partnership that became one of the most remarkable in theater history. Hofmannsthal emerged as an author and poet within the fervent intellectual atmosphere of Vienna at the turn of the last century. The two artists’ personalities were very different—Hofmannsthal enjoyed the world of abstract ideas, while Strauss was famously simple in his tastes—which makes their collaboration all the more remarkable.

The Setting
The opera takes place in the mythical Empire of the South-Eastern Islands. The story moves between the humble dwelling of the Dyer and his Wife, in and around the palace of the Emperor and the Empress, in the forest, and in a grotto beneath the realm of the spirit god Keikobad.

The Music
Strauss’s score calls for extraordinarily large musical forces, including an on-stage orchestra of winds and brass (plus thunder machine and organ), in addition to a large pit orchestra with such augmentations as glass harmonica, two celestas, and an extravagant percussion section that features a slapstick, castanets, and Chinese gongs. The opera begins without a prelude; orchestral interludes throughout the three acts convincingly facilitate the transitions between the levels of existence. The vocal writing is remarkable, including such unusual touches as the three sopranos and three baritones that represent the voices of the Dyer’s and his Wife’s unborn children. The Emperor’s heroic solo scene (Act II, Scene 2) is a notable and rare example of Strauss’s extended writing for tenor. All five lead roles require great strength, stamina, and musicality: beyond penetrating the dense orchestration, the singers are also expected to produce elegant and even delicate passages (the Empress’s entrance aria includes coloratura and trills). The final moments of Act I offer a good example of some of Strauss’s surprising musical effects: while much of the opera’s otherworldly music is assigned to the spirit world, one of the score’s most ravishing sequences is sung by three offstage baritones who wander through the dirty town as Night Watchmen, urging husbands and wives to love and cherish each other throughout the dark hours.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met
The Met premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten was a memorable event: a spectacular staging directed and designed by Nathaniel Merrill and Robert O’Hearn, unveiled as the fourth of nine new productions during the company’s inaugural season at Lincoln Center, on October 2, 1966. Karl Böhm conducted a cast led by Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Irene Dalis, James King, and Walter Berry in his Met debut. Others artists who appeared in this production include Inge Borkh, Helga Dernesch, and Bernd Weikl. Erich Leinsdorf led five memorable performances in 1981 with singers including Eva Marton, Mignon Dunn, and Birgit Nilsson in her final staged Met performance. The current production by Herbert Wernicke (which remained his only Met staging) premiered in 2001, with Christian Thielemann conducting Deborah Voigt, Gabriele Schnaut, Reinhild Runkel, Thomas Moser, and Wolfgang Brendel.

Learn more about Die Frau ohne Schatten: “Strauss, A Composer at the Top of His Game”

Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
Posted in In Focus | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Tosca in photos

Puccini’s Tosca is one of the most frequently-performed operas at the Met. This season, Patricia Racette, Roberto Alagna, and George Gagnidze step into the lead roles for the first run of this operatic thriller. Here’s a look (all photos: Marty Sohl/Met Opera):

Posted in Opera Background, Photo Galleries | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Der Rosenkavalier: In Focus

Der Rosenkavalier In Focus

Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

Premiere: Royal Opera House, Dresden, 1911

Strauss’s most popular opera was an instant success at its premiere, earning a secure spot in the repertory that has not wavered in the 100 years since. Set in an idealized Vienna of the mid-18th century, it concerns a wise woman of the world who is involved with a much younger lover. Over the course of the opera, she is forced to confront and ultimately accept the laws of time, giving him up to a pretty young heiress. Octavian, the “Knight of the Rose” of the title, is sung by a woman—partly as an homage to Mozart’s Cherubino, and partly as a nod to the power of illusion, which emerges as an important theme in the opera. Strauss’s frequent collaborator, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, created a fascinating libretto that deftly combines comedy (of both the sophisticated and the slapstick varieties), dreamy nostalgic fantasy, genuine human drama, and light but striking touches of philosophy and social commentary. Strauss’s magnificent score, likewise, works on several levels, combining the refinement of Mozart with the epic grandeur of Wagner. The result is a unique achievement: a grand opera that is as vast and complex as it is humane and charming.

The Creators
Richard Strauss (1864–1949) composed an impressive body of orchestral works and songs before turning to opera. After two early failures, Salome (1905) caused a theatrical sensation, and the balance of his long career was largely dedicated to the stage. His next opera, Elektra (1909), was his first collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), a partnership that became one of the most remarkable in theater history. Hofmannsthal emerged as an author and poet within the fervent intellectual atmosphere of Vienna at the turn of the last century. Their personalities were very different—Hofmannsthal enjoyed the world of abstract ideas, while Strauss was famously simple in his tastes—which makes their collaboration all the more extraordinary.

The Setting
The opera takes place in Vienna in the 1740s. Genuine historical references (to the Empress Maria Theresa, the wars in the Low Countries, and the Imperial “Morals Police”) are merged with fictitious inventions (like the “noble custom” of the presentation of the silver rose to a fiancée, which never actually existed) and anachronisms (like the Viennese Waltz, which did not yet exist at that time). It’s a mixture that creates a seductive mythical landscape, a ceremonious and impossibly beautiful Vienna-that-never-was.

The Music
The score of Der Rosenkavalier is lush, rich, and romantic to an extraordinary degree—perhaps surprisingly so, considering that the composer had written the disturbingly edgy and modern Elektra only two years earlier. The presentation of the rose, with its soaring vocal lines sprinkled with flute chords reflecting the shimmering of the silver rose (a motif that reappears with renewed poignancy at the very end) is ravishingly beautiful. Waltzes are heard frequently, sometimes bumptious, sometimes elegant: the Baron’s musings at the end of Act II are both. In fact, the relationship between the banal and the sublime is part of the story being told through the music as well as the libretto: the clunky tune of the tavern music in the earlier part of Act III later on assumes a different texture and becomes the famous final trio, a gorgeous blend of female voices that is among the supreme accomplishments of lyric theater. The score also contains comic depictions of chaos and confusion, like the various characters competing for the Marschallin’s attention in Act I, the skirt-chasing lackeys of Act II, and, most of all, the screaming children and ghostly apparitions of Act III. The seemingly effortless musical craft of these passages masks the fact that the score is devilishly difficult to perform, ranked by instrumentalists among the most demanding in the repertory.


Der Rosenkavalier at the Met
Alfred Hertz conducted the 1913 U.S. premiere of Der Rosenkavalier at the Met, starring Frieda Hempel as the Marschallin. Maria Jeritza, a favorite soprano of both Strauss and Puccini, was a dazzling Octavian in the 1920s, and Lotte Lehmann, who had worked extensively with Strauss in Europe, was the reigning Marschallin from 1935 to 1945. The 1949 Opening Night broadcast of Der Rosenkavalier in the then-new medium of television featured Risë Stevens as Octavian, Eleanor Steber as the Marschallin, and the debut of Erna Berger as Sophie. Régine Crespin made her Met debut as the Marschallin in 1962 in a revival directed by Lotte Lehmann, and in 1964 Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her only Met appearances as the Marschallin. The current production had its premiere in 1969 with Karl Böhm conducting Leonie Rysanek, Walter Berry, Reri Grist, and Christa Ludwig. Its 1976 run marked the Met debut of Tatiana Troyanos on the same night that Luciano Pavarotti made his first of 15 appearances as the Italian Singer and James Levine conducted the opera for the first time at the Met. Carlos Kleiber led seven performances during the 1990–91 season. The current run celebrates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. premiere.

Posted in In Focus | Tagged , | 1 Comment

“Old-School Pandemonium” at Last Night’s Norma

A pair of National Council Audition winners, Angela Meade and Jamie Barton, teamed up for Norma and brought the house down with a performance for the ages. Meade and Barton sing one more performance together on Monday, October 28.

Angela Meade and Jamie Barton in Norma 

Listen to an audio clip of “Sì, fino all’ore estreme”:

The New York Times says of the pair: “Blazing on Thursday evening, they are a duo that every opera lover should hear…” Read the full review.

Alex Ross, critic for The New Yorker, said on his blog:
“Angela Meade and Jamie Barton both delivered tremendous performances in last night’s Norma….To see these young artists reveling together in their voices makes you believe unswervingly in the future of the art.”
Read more from Alex Ross

The New York Times’ Michael Cooper (@coopnytimes) tweeted:
“Big ovations for Angela Meade’s Norma (@SoprAngela) and Jamie Barton’s Adalgisa (@jbartonmezzo) from the Met audience tonight.”

See a photo gallery of these two rising stars from last night’s Norma:


Posted in Opera Background | 9 Comments

Two Boys audio slideshow

Two Boys opens October 21 for 7 performances only. Check out an audio slideshow from a recent rehearsal.

Posted in Photo Galleries | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Two Boys: In Focus

Two Boys In Focus


Premiere: English National Opera, London, 2011

The first full-scale opera by young American composer Nico Muhly, Two Boys is the also the first piece to reach the Met stage from the Met/Lincoln Center Theater New Works Program, a commissioning initiative launched in 2006. Loosely inspired by real events in England in the early 21st century, the opera, with a libretto by playwright Craig Lucas, centers on a police detective investigating the stabbing of one teenage boy by another. Along the way, the detective must navigate the shadowy universe of the Internet in order to unravel the complex web of stories behind a very real crime. Opera composers have long explored the possibilities of telling deeper truths about human nature through narratives utilizing disguises and deceptions. In Two Boys, the Internet is presented as the modern equivalent of that operatic tradition of assumed identities, a world in which participants have the ability to assume a variety of personas, in which social identity is fluid, and where many people willingly engage in being duped. The different spheres in which the opera unfolds—the world of physical human interaction, the internal psychological world of the characters, and the realm of online interaction—are explored through varying musical idioms and narrative techniques. Merging these realms, the story tells of isolated people, desperate for interaction, who, through the new technology of the web, resort to extreme methods to connect with others. Ultimately, Two Boys explores aspects of humanity that are simultaneously new and terrifyingly familiar.

The Creators
Nico Muhly (b. 1981) has composed a wide scope of work for notable institutions and ensembles and has also written for and collaborated with a diverse array of popular and classical performers. His opera Dark Sisters, commissioned by the Gotham Chamber Opera, Music Theatre Group, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, premiered in New York in 2012. Muhly’s compositions include ballet music, orchestral and chamber works, song settings and solo piano pieces, film scores, and sacred and secular choral music. The stage works of American author Craig Lucas (b. 1951) include Prelude to a Kiss, The Dying Gaul, and the book for the musical The Light in the Piazza. He has also created screenplays from several of his plays as well as writing the original screenplay for the film Longtime Companion.

The Setting
The opera takes place in an English industrial city in 2001.

The Music
Muhly’s score uses distinct musical colors and languages to characterize the different environments of the drama. In the police station, the vocal lines are primarily lyrical while following cadences of everyday speech. One model for the word-setting in Two Boys, according to the composer, was the style of Benjamin Britten, which is neither strikingly dissonant nor confined to symmetrical melody. There are set arias within this musical realm, including one for Detective Strawson, in which she expresses her bewilderment at the incorporeal world of the Internet while younger people revel in its allure. The Internet itself—an important “location” for much of the opera—is characterized by a noticeably different musical atmosphere. But instead of the electronic sounds that might have been expected, Muhly opts for a purely acoustic approach, creating six choral scenes full of shimmering harmonies and layered lines that represent the innumerable, simultaneous conversations of the web. The composer’s interest in the flexibility of choral music draws on a wide variety of sources: Anglican liturgical traditions (most clearly apparent in the church scene), 16th- and 17th-century madrigals of Byrd and Tallis, the cantus firmus technique, and the vocal canon systems of overlapping patterns used by such contemporary American composers as Meredith Monk and Steve Reich. All of these influences are brought to bear in Two Boys’ vibrant and rhythmically energized choral interludes. These depictions of Internet “chatter” reflect and interact with the three-dimensional life of the characters, which is represented by more traditionally lyric methods: a sparing but dramatically effective use of arias alternating with conversational moments punctuated by soaring vocal lines. The different levels of musical expression sometimes intrude on each other abruptly, as they do in modern life, while at other times there are extended musical transformations from one “world” into the other. Dimensional shifts throughout the score are also effected by the orchestra. The instrumental writing in the opera is based in tonality and, like the vocal writing, embodies a wide spectrum of musical influences. These include Renaissance polyphony, 20th-century American Minimalism, and even Indonesian gamelan music (which also informed the evanescent finale of Britten’s late operatic masterpiece Death in Venice, another inspiration for this score).

Two Boys at the Met
This production of Two Boys marks the opera’s U.S. premiere. After a series of workshops in New York and London, it received its world premiere in June 2011 at English National Opera, in a co-production with the Met and directed by Bartlett Sher. Two Boys comes to the Met in a revised version following a final workshop in fall 2012.

Posted in In Focus | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: In Focus

A Midsummer Night’s Dream In Focus

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Premiere: Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 1960

Wit, romance, a bewitching air of wonder, and moments of genuine human emotion—all the dramatic elements that have made Shakespeare’s fantasy-comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream an audience favorite for centuries are equally abundant in Britten’s operatic adaptation. The unique ambience of the story has attracted musicians for a long time: Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the Shakespeare remains highly popular today, and Purcell’s dramatic setting The Fairy Queen was well known to Britten. Yet for all the music inspired by the play, Britten’s opera remains uniquely rewarding in its ability to blend the story’s many layers with a distinctly accessible 20th-century musical language. The multi-faceted cast of characters includes two pairs of lovers who have quarreled themselves to the brink of separation; the King and Queen of the fairies, who are fighting about a foundling child; a lordly couple whose impending marriage appears to have set all creation speculating on the nature and limits of love; and a band of bumbling commoners who hilariously prepare and perform a play about true love gone wrong. To simply capture the essence of these diverse stories and moods in a single work of music is engrossing enough, but it is opera’s (and Britten’s) special ability to brilliantly move among them and illuminate their relationships to each other.

The Creators
British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) created works in a wide variety of genres, and several of his operas (including Peter Grimes and Billy Budd) are among the most enduring of the 20th century. The plays of William Shakespeare (1564–1616) have inspired a huge number of operatic interpretations from composers of many nations and in many languages. Britten’s collaborator in adapting A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a libretto was his life partner, tenor Peter Pears (1910–1986). Many of Britten’s operas were created with starring roles for Pears; in this one, he took the smaller yet crucial role of Flute.

The Setting
The opera, like the play, is set in the “woods outside Athens.” This locale refers to both the dim and unknown atmosphere of the forest and the city of Athens, the epitome of civilization. The play has scenes in both environments; in the libretto, most of the action taking place in the city (Shakespeare’s first act) is cut, shifting the emphasis onto the world of the fairies.

The Music
Much of the power of Britten’s remarkable score lies in the colors depicted in both vocal lines and subtle changes in orchestral tone, which masterfully reflect the aura of magical transformation so central to the story. The orchestra prepares the audience’s ear at the very beginning of the opera, moving through a sequence of 12 string chords that appear to morph imperceptibly from one to the next. The various realms that intersect throughout the story are clearly defined in the instrumentation: harps, harpsichord, celesta, and percussion are notable in the world of the fairies; woodwinds and strings are prominent for the lovers; and bassoon and lower brass are emphasized for the rustics. The onstage fairies in Act II serenade Bottom using sopranino recorders, small cymbals, and woodblocks. Vocal settings likewise illustrate the nature of the characters: the all-male rustics are mostly lower-voiced; the lovers, male and female, occupy the middle ranges; and the fairies are sung by children’s voices, coloratura soprano, and countertenor. Puck, as a sort of emissary between these worlds (including our own, since he addresses the audience directly) is a spoken role, with trumpet and snare drum often accompanying his lines. Among the score’s vocal highlights is Thisbe’s lament during the play-within-the-play in Act III. Featuring a florid flute accompaniment (with the role of Thisbe fittingly performed by Flute), it is a parody of a Donizetti mad scene. Tytania’s coloratura aria in Act II is a more modern vision of madness. Oberon’s Act I aria, “I know a bank” explores the dreaminess in this tale, while the trio “Now until the break of day” toward the end of Act III, performed by Oberon, Tytania, and the fairies, is a haunting depiction of strife giving way to concord.

Learn more about the music of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from conductor James Conlon!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Met
Britten’s opera was first seen at the Met in this production in 1996, which marked the company debuts of director Tim Albery and designer Antony McDonald. David Atherton conducted the ensemble cast, which included Sylvia McNair as Tytania and Jochen Kowalski as Oberon, as well as Met debutants Peter Rose, Barry Banks, and Rodney Gilfrey. The production was revived in 2002, featuring, among others, Susan Chilcott in her debut as Helena, David Daniels, Paul Groves, and Nathan Gunn.

Posted in In Focus | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Listen to James Conlon on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Conductor James Conlon discusses Benjamin Britten and the music of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The opera returns to the Met for the first time in ten years on Oct 11.

Posted in Opera Background | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Nose: In Focus



The Nose In Focus

Premiere: Maly Opera Theater, St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), 1930

The first of only two completed operas by the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, The Nose is an iconoclastic and unusual work. It is based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol and tells of Major Kovalyov, a low-ranking government official in imperial St. Petersburg, who wakes up one morning to discover that his nose has left his face. As he attempts to recover and reattach the nose, Kovalyov makes his way around the city and in the process encounters a variety of characters, including suspicious policemen, apathetic clerks, and chattering townspeople. The story has fascinated readers for decades but evades easy analysis. It teems with social and political satire, and it is funny as well as slightly disturbing. Beyond that, though, a precise interpretation of this absurdist masterpiece is as elusive as the nose of the title. The opera is similar: its music embodies the spirit as well as the letter of the story—it is brash and giddy and relentlessly defies expectations. The score was written in the early days of the Soviet Union, when a permissive attitude toward the arts allowed for a brief flush of creativity. By the time it was produced, the government had begun the strict control of artistic expression that would dog Shostakovich throughout his career. The Nose was heard in several Western cities in the 1960s, but it was not performed again in the Soviet Union until 1974. A remarkable work in every sense, the opera’s message of general dissatisfaction speaks forcefully to our own times, with the composer’s genius bursting forth in its most youthful, unrepressed form.

The Creators
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975), one of the 20th century’s most prominent composers, wrote 15 symphonies and a large quantity of chamber music, as well as works in other genres. After The Nose, he completed just one other opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Shostakovich lived almost all of his life in his native city of St. Petersburg (later Leningrad), whose turbulent political history had a significant impact on his life and career. Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884–1937) was an author best known for his 1921 dystopian novel We (which influenced George Orwell’s 1984, among other works). Playwright Alexander Preis
(1906–1942) also co-wrote the libretto for Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Georgy Ionin was a teenaged drama student hoping to become a director when he worked with Shostakovich. Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852), born in present-day Ukraine, was among the leading Russian writers of the 19th century. His mastery of both realism and satire, seen in his short stories but also in the novel Dead Souls and the play The Inspector General, was hugely influential on Russian and international literature.

The Setting
The opera is set in St. Petersburg in the 1830s. At the time, the city was the capital of the Russian Empire and the center of a vast and complex bureaucracy. In the Met’s production, the time of the opera’s composition becomes an additional frame of reference.

The Music
The score of The Nose is as difficult to categorize as the genre-defying story that inspired it. Though essentially atonal and non-lyrical (even anti-lyrical), it also contains references, often satirical, to familiar musical genres. The strident and fragmented introduction sets the tone for the rest of the opera, with brass flourishes bringing to mind a circus march. Choral prayers appear in the cathedral scene, and a grotesque interpretation of a waltz accompanies the townspeople’s banal exchange of pleasantries in Scene 7. Elsewhere, snippets of other dance forms, such as the gallop and the polka, also create a satirical background to social interactions. One of the most remarkable passages of the score occurs in Scene 5, as men place classified ads at a newspaper office. It is an eight-voice canon punctuated by a bass drum, which segues into an instrumental interlude that sounds like a jumbled fugue. Still other passages avoid all tradition as known at the time of the opera’s composition and clearly point the way to the future: the striking three-minute interlude between Scenes 2 and 3, scored only for unpitched percussion, is considered one of the earliest examples of a percussion ensemble in Western music. Some of the solos of the more than 70 sung roles (several of which can be combined to be sung by a single performer) are based on familiar forms, such as the folk-like song in Scene 6 accompanied by the balalaika, the characteristic instrument of Russian folk music. However, most of the individual passages adhere very closely to the sound of Gogol’s words. There is great opportunity to express aspects of the various characters in these solo passages. The Police Inspector’s grating and insinuating lines, for example, are written in the highest tenor register, verging close to shouting.

The Nose at the Met
The Nose had its Met premiere in this production on March 5, 2010. Valery Gergiev conducted, with debuting artists Paulo Szot as Kovalyov, Andrey Popov as the Police Inspector, and Gordon Gietz as the Nose.

Posted in In Focus, Opera Background | Tagged , | Leave a comment