Old Friends, New Voices

This year, Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin embarks on his busiest season yet as the Met’s Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director. From the historic Opening Night premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones through two concerts with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in June, Nézet-Séguin will be a constant presence at the house, taking the podium for no fewer than three company premieres as well as revivals of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Puccini’s Tosca. As he looked eagerly forward to getting back into the rehearsal room, the maestro spoke with the Met’s Jay Goodwin about reuniting with beloved colleagues and introducing audiences to important new works.

As Opening Night approaches, how are you feeling about the Met’s return from the pandemic closure and the return in to live musical performance in general?
I’m just so excited for our singers, our orchestra members, the music staff, the chorus—and everyone else in the house—to be able to share the music with each other and with the audience again. I insist on the word “share” because sharing is at the core of making music, and this sharing can only happen when we are all in the same room. It’s incredible after all this time to reconnect, and I’m sure that we won’t take for granted the privilege that it is to be together and create beauty.

How would you describe the 2021–22 season, and what are some of your personal highlights?
This is the most diverse, most eclectic season we’ve done so far. I think it shows the path of the future, with a variety of genres and the blend between the old and the new—but especially by representing the stories of today, and the preoccupations of our audiences, with more immediacy. I’m especially looking forward to the two new operas I’ll be conducting: Fire Shut Up in My Bones and Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice, both Met premieres and modern masterpieces. I also can’t wait for Verdi’s Don Carlos, which is one of my absolute favorite operas. I’ve conducted it twice at the Met in Italian, but it will be wonderful now to conduct the Met’s first production of the original French version.

Why is it so important for the Met to work with contemporary composers and contribute to the expansion of the repertoire?
Since I became Music Director, it has been one of my highest priorities to increase the role of the Met in creating new opera. This means performing new works, encouraging new composers and librettists to share the voices of today, and embracing a more diverse representation of our world. Opera should reach everyone. It’s not just for one segment of society, so it is our responsibility to bring these new perspectives to the forefront. As much as we love to perform the great works of the past, we must also have a more resolute voice in the present.

Why was Fire Shut Up in My Bones—the first opera by a Black composer to be performed by the Met—the right choice for this particularly meaningful Opening Night?
Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a new masterpiece. Terence Blanchard has a truly individual voice in the world today, and the story is relevant in so many ways. It’s a very interesting piece musically, as well as thematically. The fact that it comes from the true life story of Charles Blow is also very special. Of course, it is sad that it is only the first opera by a Black composer to grace the stage of the Met, but the last two years have crystalized even more the issues of our time, and encouraged us to face them. It was important to mark the beginning of a new world after the pandemic by bringing this great opera to the world’s best stage, in the most prominent position on Opening Night, to signal a new era.

Moving to Eurydice, how would you describe Aucoin’s music and how it fits into today’s emerging repertoire?
Matthew is the kind of exceptional genius who, as soon as you meet, you know you’re in the presence of someone truly great. He’s so young and yet has such an individual style—very poetic but anchored in reality. The fact that he composed Eurydice as a modern take on the Orpheus myth, a story that has been brought to the operatic repertoire multiple times before, is very interesting and one of the beautiful things about our art form—the combination of tradition and innovation, stories past and present, through a new vision.

Your third Met premiere—Don Carlos—is a different animal. Why was doing Verdi’s original French version at the Met a priority for you?
I’ve been talking about bringing the French version of Don Carlos to the Met since I first conducted it in Italian here more than ten years ago. The opera was composed in French, and that is evident in the way the words connect to the notes and the melodies. It also changes the dramatic balance, given Élisabeth’s French origin and the way she feels about her place in the Spanish court. The French text enhances that particular aspect of this truly grand opera—the geography and the culture clash. What I also love about Don Carlos is how truly profound the music is, and how majestic, but it’s also ethereal, spiritual. That contrast makes the most heartfelt and intimate moments even more powerful.

Why is it so important to shine a spotlight on the Met Orchestra through the concert series at Carnegie Hall?
Featuring the Met Orchestra separately from their role in the pit is crucial to the health of the musicians and of the institution. The orchestra is a great pride of the house and an integral part of why each production at the Met is of such quality. Allowing audiences to focus on their artistry is a big part of why we did the pre-season outdoor performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony, and they also played brilliantly in Verdi’s Requiem for our 9/11 remembrance concert. I have great memories of our concerts at Carnegie Hall two years ago, and after we lost last season’s performances in the series to the pandemic, I can’t wait to share our music making on that stage once again.