Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable

Article Pixel

The Met Brings the Past, Present and Future to Worldwide Audiences

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Luciano Pavarotti in BALLO

It's hardly a secret that the Met, during its shutdown, has been treating audiences to nightly telecasts of everything from the company's current "Live in HD" series to some scratchy, old videos that still had decent sound. All of them, however, can also be found on the Met's online subscription series, THE MET OPERA ON DEMAND, along with some audio highlights of extraordinary Saturday afternoon broadcasts. It's worth shelling out the money for this kind of quality.

As we look back, some of the pre-'Live in HD' productions provide memories of a time that we sometimes took for granted--quality that we didn't know we were unlikely to hear again.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Harolyn Blackwell, Pavarotti
in BALLO

Last Thursday's Verdi's BALLO IN MASCHERA from 1991 fell somewhere in the middle, with fine filming of a stellar cast led by a magnificent Luciano Pavarotti as the king of Sweden, who is assassinated just before the final curtain falls. While it may have taken him a while to warm up, even ¾-ready Pavarotti is better than many who have taken on the role and the fabulous ping in his voice was there from the first. True, he may not have been the world's greatest actor, but who cared, and he managed to rise to the occasion when it was most important. He was still a thrill-and-a-half--and then some.

His co-stars weren't exactly second rate either. Soprano Aprile Milo was a grand Amelia--his secret love ("pure et chaste" as Massenet might have put it) as well as the wife of his best friend, Renato (baritone Leo Nucci). Their love duet was wonderful. Mezzo Florence Quivar was eerily wonderful as the fortuneteller, Ulrica, while soprano Harolyn Blackwell was a charming Oscar, the page. There are two more Pavarotti Ballo's to choose from, though his pairing with Deborah Voigt was pretty much a dud, through no fault of hers. Levine conducted.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Joan Sutherland

One of my favorites--though the video quality left something to be desired, but not the audio--was Mozart's DON GIOVANNI from 1978. True, for centuries, directors have been looking for a way to make the Don's sexual exploits less repugnant (and the search goes on), the cast on this one was delicious and made any reservations matter less.

Though more recently bass James Morris has been better known for his stirring Wotan in Wagner's RING, his early Don was a revelation and he was surrounded by nothing less than some sensationally cast females, including the awesome Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna and soprano Julia Varady as Donna Elvira (who sang much too infrequently at the Met). His Leporello was the first-rate Gabriel Bacquier--who did an amazing "Catalog aria" for Varady. The production may have looked old fashioned but it served the Met well for many years and they haven't come up with a decent replacement. Richard Bonynge--Sutherland's husband and conductor de choix led the orchestra.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
June Anderson, Marilyn Horne

Much less well known is Rossini's SEMIRAMIDE, which brought ancient Babylon and the mythic queen Semiramis to the Met's stage for the first time in 100 years. It was in the able hands of the inimitable Marilyn Horne in the pants role of army general Arsace and the elegant June Anderson as the queen, with Samuel Ramey as the evil Assur nearly running away with the show. It's a spectacular opera in the right hands and that's what we had here. In addition, tenor Stanford Olsen showed off his best voice in a pair of arias for the Indian King Idreno. James Conlon was on the podium for the sparkling production.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Leontyne Price as Aida

The last that I'll mention is a classic and proves that technique can conquer all. Far into her career but still in amazing voice, Leontyne Price said her farewell to the Met with what many considered her best role: Verdi's Aida. She could still float those high notes with the best of them and seemed remarkably unaffected by the passing years. Her costars were memorable in their own ways: James McCracken as Radames (who has that killer of an entrance aria, "Celeste Aida"), Fiorenza Cossotto as Aida's rival, Amneris, and Simon Estes as Aida's father, Amonasro, the Ethiopian king. James Levine conducted.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth

There are lots of oldies from the Met's archives--like Pavarotti and Battle in ELISIR-- that are well worth watching and hearing, but so are newer ones from the HD series. To name a few: Anna Netrebko in MACBETH or TROVATORE (the latter with Hvorostovsky);

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Joyce DiDonato as Agrippina

Joyce DiDonato in AGRIPPINA or CENDRILLON; AKHNATEN with Anthony Roth Costanzo; LA FILLE DU REGIMENT with Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena, ELISIR D'AMORE--also with Yende but opposite Matthew Polenzani; the 'Rat-Pack' RIGOLETTO with Diana Damrau and Piotr Beczala, who, as Lensky, nearly stole an ONEGIN from Netrebko and Mattei.

BWW Review:  Today's Biggest Stars plus Pavarotti, Price, Sutherland, Battle and Others Make MET ON DEMAND Indispensable
Jonas Kaufmann

And there's a trio of performances with Jonas Kaufmann: PARSIFAL, FANCIULLA DEL WEST and FAUST. And there are plenty of others to choose from, like the pair of John Adams operas, DOCTOR ATOMIC and NIXON IN CHINA, both in HD.

If you ever get tired of watching opera in performance ("Out, damned spot!"), there are also some documentaries to distract and excite: For me, the biggest treat was THE AUDITION, from 2007, which showcased an amazing group of young singers who just might surprise you. There are also THE OPERA HOUSE, from 2017, which explores the development of the Met over the last half century; and for those who like a look at the nitty-gritty, there's LIVE AT THE MET: FROM STAGE TO SCREEN, which looks into the preparation and production of a "Live in HD" telecast of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA/PAGLIACCI from 2015.

For more information see the Met's website.


Related Articles View More Opera Stories

From This Author Richard Sasanow