This was a truly difficult piece to put together as this Met season had great casts for almost every single opera. But the casts listed below were simply exquisite with no weak spots whatsoever. As always, bear in mind that these represent our favorites. We look forward to reading about your favorite casts of the 2016-17 season.
David’s Favorite 5
Don Giovanni (April and May performances)
There were two Don Giovanni casts this season, but the one that really delivered through and through was the terrific cast from latter run in the season. Led by the unstoppable Mariusz Kwiecien, the team, that also featured Erwin Schrott, Angela Meade, Marina Rebeka, Isabel Leonard, Jeongcheol Cha, and Matthew Polenzani, delivered an adventurous take on Mozart’s exquisite opera. Led by Plácido Domingo in the pit, the ensemble concocted a vision of a violent Spain, one where every character was in constant conflict with one another, the tension building as the titular character became more and more aggressive in his actions. You could feel the drama boiling over from one scene to the next, each performer at his or her both vocally and dramatically.
I’ve already mentioned the greatness of Marina Rebeka and Gerald Finley in the “Best of” for male and female performers and we also mentioned the exquisite singing of John Osborn on his single night in the opera. But Bryan Hymel was also potent and riveting throughout the run as Arnold and Janai Brugger provided innocence as Jemmy. John Relyea, with a harsh timbre, was the perfect Gesler while Fabio Luisi surged through Rossini’s score with complete command. I didn’t love the production of this opera, but the artist managed to keep the lengthy work exciting and unpredictable, providing the rare Rossini opera with the importance that it truly deserves.
While Matthew Polenzani was the centerpiece of this drama, delivering a nuanced portrayal of the conflicted king, the remainder of the cast members provided emotional support that fully realized the world of the drama. Alice Coote provided innocence and tenderness, matching Polenzani’s own sense of love. Nadine Sierra’s innocence gave this world a sense of youth and purity while Elza van den Heever was on the opposite end of the spectrum, her madness growing and poisoning the ambiance. In the pit was James Levine as the master chef, taking all of the brilliant forces at his disposal and concocting a delicious Mozartian feast.
As I saw Plácido Domingo, as Nabucco, hold the dead Abigaile, played by Liudmyla Monastyrska, in the opera’s final moments, I could not help but feel consumed by emotion. Here was a man, holding the woman that had caused him pain, and nearly killed his daughter, all because he loved her as a daughter. This cast really dove deep into the psyche of the characters providing empathetic portrayals for some of the most morally questionable beings in opera. And even the truly good guys, Jamie Barton’s Fenena and Russell Thomas’ Ismaele and Dmitry Belosselskiy, delivered vocally and dramatically. Throw in James Levine, the Met Opera Orchestra, and, most importantly, the Met Opera chorus and this was truly a great night at the opera.
Elina Garanca and Gunther Groissböck were the pillars on which production was built, the ever-escalating conflict between these two the true core of the Strauss masterwork. But Renée Fleming’s ability to make the Marschallin both a fading presence and yet an irresistible force gave the work its soul. I saw Kathleen Kim as Sophie, and she provided vulnerability and strength to counterbalance the two men fighting for her heart. Matthew Polenzani stole his scene as the Italian tenor while the remaining players all made their respective marks. Throw in the polish from the orchestra under Sebastian Weigle and you have one of the strongest casts of the 2016-17 season.
Francisco’s Top 5
La Bohème (January)
Whenever I think of “La Bohème” I think of young inexperienced lovers with great vitality. That doesn’t always happen when you see this opera. Often times it feels like a routine with no direction, many singers struggling to imbue the protagonists with youth. But in January, Ailyn Pérez and Michael Fabiano exuded that energy and brought down the house with full spirited characterizations. And they were accompanied by an incredible ensemble that included Susanna Phillips, Alessio Arduini and Christian Van Horn. What could sometimes be seen as a routine, was more vivid than any new production this season.
Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien may have stolen the show in this revival but the Metropolitan Opera assembled a cast that was colorful all around. From Elena Maximova’s vibrant Olga to Alexey Dolgov’s passionate Lensky to Stefan Kocan’s firm yet lovable Count, there was not one sour note in this production. And then luxury casting with Larissa Diadkova and Elena Zaremba and what you got was a wonderful evening of brilliant characterizations and incredible music making.
The ending of Fidelio is filled with euphoria and it is impossible not to feel alive when the music ends. And under the direction of Sebastian Weigle, Beethoven’s gorgeous score never sounded better. Of course, there was tenor Klaus Florian Vogt who showcased a beautiful tone and large voice while Adrianne Pieczonka showed that dramatic sopranos can filled the room with Bel Canto singing. Faulk Struckmann was also impeccable while Greer Grimsley carried dramatic intensity with his Don Pizzaro.
I have to mention Karita Mattila first because at the heart of it all was her incredible performance as the Kostelnicka. It was heart wrenching and riveting and yet her performance would not have worked if Oksana Dyka didn’t bring the tortured Jenufa to life, showing the naive’s youth tragedy. Daniel Brenna’s Laca exhibited a jealous man filled with rage and passion while Joseph Kaiser’s Steva was the embodiment of a wreckless young man. David Robertson conducted with a great sense rhythmic precision, making the Slavic melodies feel alive and vibrant.
There was a time when Bel Canto operas were cast solely on the diva. However, the Met managed to put together a cast that reminded audiences of the golden age of opera. Diana Damrau may have been ill but she still delivered the vocal fireworks while Javier Camarena soared to the highest of tenor ranges with ease. Alexey Markov and Luca Pisaroni showed exact Bel Canto singing and Maurizio Benini always kept the tempi flowing. It was a night to remember.