Weekly Guide: December 7–13
Featuring seven musical masterpieces composed over the course of the last 90 years, the next week of free Nightly Opera Streams showcases operas sung in English. Learn more about the full lineup with this guide.
Monday, December 7
Thomas Adès’s The Tempest
More than a few composers have run aground trying to adapt Shakespeare’s mercurial tale of revenge and reconciliation, but a dazzling sense of playfulness and experimentation keeps Adès’s modernist score sailing. Crafting incisive portraits of the Bard’s inimitable characters—from the usurped Milanese duke Prospero to the enslaved “monster” Caliban to Ariel, Prospero’s Tinkerbell—Adès creates an ever-shifting musical language that is brilliantly matched by Robert Lepage’s kaleidoscopic production.
Tuesday, December 8
John Adams’s Doctor Atomic
An operatic exploration of a pivotal moment in human history, Doctor Atomic examines the birth of the nuclear age through the eyes of one of its most important midwives, Robert Oppenheimer. The brilliant physicist and the awesome and terrible power he and his fellow scientists unleashed upon the world receive a nuanced portrayal in John Adams’s 2005 opera, which hauntingly depicts the first atomic bomb test at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and the conflicted emotions of those who made it possible.
Wednesday, December 9
Britten’s Peter Grimes
The operas of Benjamin Britten are exceptional in many ways, not least the composer’s unsurpassed genius at setting the English language to music. Based on a collection of poems by George Crabbe, his Peter Grimes is the story of an enigmatic fisherman, the deaths of two of his young apprentices, and the judgments made about him by the close-knit community. It is a perfect vehicle for Britten’s music, which breathes convincing life into the characters and the story and masterfully communicates the confusion and conflict of the situation, forcing the audience to make up their own minds. The opera also shows off Britten’s sophisticated orchestral writing, every moment of the score conjuring the sights and sounds and sea spray of the small Suffolk fishing village in which the opera is set.
Thursday, December 10
Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel
The Exterminating Angel, Thomas Adès’s explosive third and most recent opera premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2016, before arriving at the Met the following year. Based on Luis Buñuel’s surrealist film about an invisible force that prevents the attendees of a dinner party from leaving, it is a powerful exploration of isolation and confinement that feels particularly relevant today. The composer creates a unique and captivating sound world, incorporating a number of unusual instruments into the orchestra—including the eerie, otherworldly-sounding ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument invented in 1928 and rarely heard since—and asking for increasingly acrobatic vocal feats from the singers to match the escalating confusion and desperation of their characters as their captivity stretches endlessly on.
Friday, December 11
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
A supremely American operatic masterpiece and one of the last and most ambitious works by one of the nation’s greatest musical talents, Porgy and Bess returned to the Met stage for the first time in 30 years to open the 2019–20 season. The opera’s score features a rich cache of individual arias—“Summertime,” “It ain’t necessarily so,” and “I got plenty of nothing,” just to name a few—many of which have become classics of the Great American Songbook. Much of the work’s dynamism comes from Gershwin’s explorations of the Gullah music of Tidewater Carolina, which he melds seamlessly with the then-contemporary language of jazz.
Saturday, December 12
Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Created by genre-defying composer Kurt Weill and pioneering dramatist Bertolt Brecht, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is a cynical tale of an imaginary yet plausible boom town peopled by fortune seekers, prostitutes, and shady businessmen (and women) where absolutely anything goes—except having no money. This modern myth features a spectacularly inventive score that blends grand opera, popular song, and jazz-infused rhythms into a highly original mix. Sopranos Teresa Stratas and Astrid Varnay, two of the great singing actresses of the 20th century, head an ensemble cast that also includes tenor Richard Cassilly and baritone Cornell MacNeil.
Sunday, December 13
John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles
Commissioned by the Met in 1980, John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles takes as its jumping-off point Beaumarchais’s La Mère Coupable (The Guilty Mother), the final entry in the trilogy of plays that began with The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But in a triumph of imagination, Corigliano and librettist William M. Hoffmann set their scene in an otherworldly version of Louis XVI’s court, populated by the ghosts of familiar figures such as Marie Antoinette, Count Almaviva, Figaro and Susanna, and Beaumarchais himself. Despite the modern twist, however, the opera revels in the same intrigues and hijinks that turn the gears of Mozart’s and Rossini’s earlier Beaumarchais adaptations.