Weekly Guide: May 3–9
Celebrate Mother’s Day with a week of free streams showcasing some of the best—and worst—operatic moms. Enjoy popular Live in HD transmissions of Strauss’s Elektra, Bellini’s Norma, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Handel’s Rodelinda, and more.
Monday, May 3
In 1909, not five years after scandalizing the cultural intelligentsia with his lurid one-act opera Salome, the young Richard Strauss shocked them again with a darkly psychoanalytic take on the Sophocles play about an ancient Mycenaean princess’s wish to avenge the assassination of her father, Agamemnon. Sparks fly throughout her confrontations with various members of her family, and the chilling score calls for singers capable of competing with the largest orchestra in the standard opera repertory.
Tuesday, May 4
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.
Wednesday, May 5
Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet is a prime example of the grand opera tradition that flourished in Paris in the 19th century—a genre that enthralled audiences with grand choruses, elaborate ensembles, and magnificent staging that provided the framework for sensational vocal solos. Although many details of Shakespeare’s play were unavoidably altered or omitted in this adaptation, the story of a prince whose resolve to murder his stepfather is frozen by doubt and conflicting impulses translated well to the musical stage. Ophélie’s madness provided the composer with an opportunity to create one of the most riveting scenes for coloratura soprano, and the music for the title character maintains a dramatic intensity that made the role a favorite vehicle for the leading baritones of the time.
Thursday, May 6
Bellini’s fiery masterpiece about a strong-willed priestess in love with a Roman soldier is a supreme vehicle for singers with a flair for high drama and seemingly limitless technique. The opera’s standout arias, full of filigreed passagework and florid runs, have put many daring singers to the test, but they also perfectly capture the turbulent psychological states of the main characters as they endeavor to make sense of their conflicted emotions.
Friday, May 7
A brutal yet captivating piece of music and theater, Wozzeck is based on Georg Büchner’s groundbreaking play Woyzeck, a searing, shockingly modern drama that was written in the 1830s but first saw the stage some 80 years later as the First World War inexorably approached. It is the harrowing tale of a hapless soldier driven by humiliation and jealousy to murder his lover, and Berg only amplifies the suffering and horror with his brilliantly thorny, overwhelmingly powerful score—the ultimate musical depiction of a mind’s descent into madness.
Saturday, May 8
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
Anthony Minghella’s exquisite production—an instant classic at the Met since its 2006 premiere—provides an evocative setting for this tragedy about a noble but naive geisha awaiting the return of her American Navy lieutenant. Key to the staging are symbolic visuals that tap into traditional Japanese culture while honoring the searching, timeless beauty of Puccini’s mid-career masterpiece. The production never distracts from the heartrending tragedy; instead, it complements the composer’s powerful score at every turn.
Sunday, May 9
Handel’s breakout opera masterpiece, Agrippina offers a wryly satirical look at the political maneuverings and personal entanglements of the Roman emperor Claudius, his cadre of advisers and hangers-on, and his cunning wife, Agrippina. During the 2019–20 season, the Baroque black comedy had its long-awaited Met premiere in a new production by David McVicar that updated the action to the present age.