Weekly Guide: January 11–17
This week, we pay tribute to the inimitable artistry of Renée Fleming, with free streams of seven of the American soprano’s most memorable Met performances. Explore the full lineup with this guide.
Monday, January 11
Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
This immortal opera, based on a scandalous Beaumarchais play banned in the composer’s own time, delivers a parade of brilliant and memorable numbers, and is at once a riotous comedy of class and sexual politics and an incisive, still-relevant social commentary. Constructed around an upstairs-downstairs narrative, it makes ingenious dramatic use of tangled love interests, interwoven deceptions, and slapstick farce, marshals a large ensemble cast of distinctive characters, and wraps it all in Mozart’s sublime music.
Tuesday, January 12
It is the most operatic of scenarios: The devotion of an ascetic monk who has dedicated his life to God is tested against the allure of the world’s most voluptuous, seductive courtesan. And in this glorious, rarely performed jewel, Massenet milks the melodrama for all it’s worth, clothing the story in music as glamorous and sensual as the seductive title character herself. In 2008, the work made a glorious return to the Met, taking the stage for the first time in three decades.
Wednesday, January 13
Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier
After scandalizing the opera world with Salome and Elektra—a pair of stark, psychoanalytic portraits of biblical and ancient Greek heroines—Strauss composed this modern drawing-room comedy to great popular acclaim. The work, which follows the sexual indiscretions and romantic entanglements of several aristocratic characters, presents love, desire, and nobility as distinctly double-sided coins: coming-of-age discovery vs. the wisdom of aging, and the thrill of pursuing new desires vs. noble self-sacrifice for the greater good. The score draws on a rich orchestral palette that would come to define the composer’s mature work.
Thursday, January 14
A rarely seen Rossini grand opera, Armida had its very first Met performances during the 2009–10 season. Inspired by Tasso’s epic poem La Gerusalemme Liberata, this expansive musical masterpiece provides a showcase for one dazzling diva and no fewer than six high-flying tenors. A Crusades-era Damascene sorceress who uses her overpowering beauty to further her ambitious plans, even the title character is not immune to the mysterious magic of love. The true drama stems from the question of whether her allure and her enchantments will be enough to turn an enemy into a paramour.
Friday, January 15
Subtitled “a conversation piece for music,” Strauss’s final opera is a philosophical drawing-room dramedy about a French countess torn between the elemental forces of music and verse—exuberantly personified by a composer and a poet who jockey for her affection. A burlesque cast of theater types round out the story, which concludes with an elegant final monologue for the leading lady that neatly puts all the artistic negotiation to rest.
Saturday, January 16
A giant of the Baroque era, Handel created operas that—despite largely following the “opera seria” conventions of the time—outstripped those of his contemporaries in their consistent musical brilliance, especially in the way the music reveals and deepens the characters’ emotions. Dating from 1725, Rodelinda was written after the composer had moved to London and begun writing operas (in Italian) for the newly founded Royal Academy of Music. One of his finest works, it is filled with electrifying, dramatically compelling, deeply affecting music, especially for the soprano singing the title role of the seventh-century Queen of Lombardy.
Sunday, January 17
A cornerstone of Czech opera, Dvořák’s dark and melodious take on the old Slavic yarn about a water nymph who falls in love with a human entered the repertoire in 1901. In recent decades, it has become a staple for lyric sopranos, who relish the title role’s spellbinding Song to the Moon in the first act—although the greatest challenge might be the nymph’s silent second act, after the love-struck Rusalka trades her voice to a scenery-chewing witch for the chance to become human.