Opera Streams: Weekly Guide
Multiple English monarchs, an Ethiopian princess, and a Slavic prince hold court in this week’s lineup of free opera streams. The guide below will help you keep up with all the royal intrigue. By Joel Rozen
Donizetti drafted his three dazzling “queen” operas, a trilogy chronicling the courtly conspiracies of the 16th-century Tudor monarchs, over a seven-year burst of creativity. The three are rarely performed all in a row, or even in the same season, so taxing is the intricate vocal writing, although there have been a few notable and ambitious exceptions. The intrepid soprano who tackles the lengthy first installment about Anne Boleyn, second wife of the matrimonially prolific Henry VIII, joins a cast of infamous history-book characters revived for the operatic stage.
A prime example of the lyrical and virtuosic bel canto style of singing, this second Tudor tragedy tells of two queens—Mary, Queen of Scots, and her jealous cousin, Queen Elizabeth I—who are both vying for the English crown. The end of the opera’s first act becomes a battleground for dueling divas, with each prodding the other to bravura vocal heights. A must for lovers of the female voice, Donizetti’s electrifying masterpiece is also a treat for history buffs, with its nods to the real-life events that defined the British Isles.
In 2015–16, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky pulled off a rare feat: tackling all three of Donizetti’s Tudor queens over the course of one season. The payoff was immense, as it gave opera-goers a chance to experience the subtle trajectory of his character portraits—from the tragedy of circumstance facing the young Anne Boleyn to the touching inner turmoil of an aging Elizabeth I as she worked through her feelings for Robert Devereux, a much younger nobleman charged with treason, in the final opera of the trilogy.
Composer Nico Muhly’s contemporary thriller, which had its Met premiere in 2018, is a haunting adaptation of the 1961 Winston Graham novel that also spawned Hitchcock’s film of the same name. Chronicling the exploits of a disturbed young con-woman whose repressed childhood trauma triggers multiple shifts of identity, the opera supplies a plum role for a mezzo-soprano, a cinematic staging, and some of the most colorful and vibrant 60s-inspired garments ever to grace the Met stage.
After a career spent headlining legendary performances of Tosca, Il Trovatore, and La Forza del Destino—as well as the world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, which opened the new opera house at Lincoln Center in 1966—Leontyne Price bid farewell to the Met in 1985 as Aida, her signature role. In this historic telecast, Price is a commanding, velvet-voiced Ethiopian princess, and perfectly captures the Verdian anguish of one caught between political duty and romantic love.
This gripping opera kicked off Verdi’s staggering “middle period” and gave the opera world its first glimpse of the composer’s burgeoning genius. The tale of a pious and naive Tyrolean maiden in love with the wrong villager, the opera includes several trademark Verdi features: a soaring aria for the lead tenor, a nuanced and poignant father-daughter relationship for baritone and soprano, and a sublime third act that ends in tragedy.
Absent from the Met stage since 1917, Borodin’s masterwork about an introspective prince’s military campaign against the invading Polovtsians returned in 2014 with a first-rate cast and an astonishing production by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Well worth the wait, the sets feature visually striking projections interlaced with lush flowering fields, and the first act delivers one of opera’s most exciting dance medleys, a portion of which went mainstream in the 1950s when Tony Bennett recorded “Stranger in Paradise.”
Joel Rozen is the Met's Staff Writer.