Donizetti Comedy Opens New Met Season



A shot of the set from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.” Photo: Gregory Moomjy.

Many communal events begin with the singing of the National Anthem. However, when the singers in question have unnaturally good voices and wear formal attire, chances are the event in question is opening night at the Opera. The Metropolitan Opera opened September 24 with a new production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani.

Since Peter Gelb took over for Joseph Volpe as general manager of the Met in 2006, he has embarked on a campaign to reinvent opera with theatrically charged productions, in hopes of drawing wider audiences. In an editorial for The New York Times in 2011, Gelb wrote that although opera is “over the top, with its bigger-than-life personalities and the occasional 45-ton set, [we] still have to be contemporary in our theatrical choices and in our goal of achieving believable, nuanced performances.”

To that end, opening night has followed a standard formula. A director, usually someone better known in film or Broadway than in opera, mounts a new production of either a standard work or a new work by a composer who is already well-established in the canon. There is the occasional concert, as in 2009, when the Met celebrated 125 years of operation. However, the focus on stage has always been big names, in the hope of drawing big-time box office receipts.

While Sher directed at the Met in previous years, this year marked his first opening night production. Also, Netrebko, who sang the lead in last year’s company premiere of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” returned for a second consecutive year, to sing as Adina in “L’Elisir d’Amore” — making her the first Met artist of the Gelb era to perform on opening night two years in a row. According to standard practice since Gelb’s succession as general director, the performance was broadcast for audiences in Times Square and just outside the Opera House in the Josie Robertson Plaza.

When describing opening night during Gelb’s tenure, George Ortiz, a security guard at the Met who was there for both Gelb’s and Volpe’s eras, said, “It seems a little more grandiose, a lot bigger. I think the excitement level is a little higher.”

He noted that all of the Plaza’s 3,000 seats were full, although the Met’s website ticket reservation page showed that the theater itself was not sold out.

Ernest Alba, a young Opera lover from Texas who came to opening night with his girlfriend, said, “the production was very straightforward and traditional.”

However, a promotional video on the Met website suggested that Sher was going for a slightly more conceptual vision of the opera. He wanted to bring Hamlet-like undertones to this comic opera, saying, “it’s kind of two operas at the same time. It’s an opera that seems like a great entertainment and its opera that seems like there’s some other thing happening underneath it.”

Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic of the New York Times, praised Sher’s work in his review, “[that] the production’s contemporary element comes from showing the main characters engaged in a triangle of desire, distrust and gamesmanship.”