12 Modern Operas That Yannick Nézet-Séguin Must Bring to the Metropolitan Opera

By David Salazar

A few weeks ago, Metropolitan Opera Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin made the proclamation that he would be bringing newer and fresher composers to the Metropolitan Opera throughout his tenure.

A few days later it was reported that among the new composers he would be bringing would be Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking.” It’s a great start, considering Heggie, who has been played everywhere around the world, has essentially been ignored by the Met in recent years, with the only modern composers getting any true representation being Nico Muhly, Thomas Adès, John Adams, and most recently Kaija Saariaho. And there’s been some Phillip Glass, though there are numerous recent works by the iconic composer that haven’t been performed.

But there are still so many modern operas that have not gotten a look at the Met and should. Here are the modern works we want the French-Canadian conductor to bring to the Met. Let’s be clear about one thing up front. We think they all have great music. That’s table stakes. But there are other reasons why they should get a look.

1. Silent Night (Kevin Puts)

What is it? Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s opera tells the story of a Christmas truce between the warring nations in 1914. The opera premiered in Minnesota in 2011 and won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Where has it been? It Premiered in Minnesota in 2011 and has since been showcased in Philadelphia, Fort Worth, Ireland, Calgary, Cincinnati, Montréal and Kansas City.

Why the Met? For many, it is the greatest opera written in the last decade. It’s Pulitzer Prize certainly speaks to its perceived quality. Moreover, it is a holiday opera based on a true story set during the great war and has a large ensemble cast. It’s literally perfect for a company with as massive a stage as the Met.

2. Bel Canto (Jimmy López)

What is it? The 2010 opera by López and Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz takes place during the 126-day terrorist takeover of the Japanese Embassy in Peru on Dec. 17, 1996. The world premiere, which came on Dec. 7, 2015, was made possible by famed soprano Renée Fleming. The opera is sung in nine languages, including Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, Italian, and Quechua.

Where has it been? The work was recorded and presented nationally on PBS in 2016.

Why the Met? Another large ensemble opera that suits the theater. The company could potentially bring over Chicago’s ready-made sets and even some of the stars of the premiere including Danielle de Niese, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Rafael Dávila, none of which are strangers to the Met. Throw in the fact that Renée Fleming would be ready to support an opera that is essentially her baby and this would work well with the Met.

3. Appomattox (Philip Glass)

What is it? The 2007 opera relates the end of the American Civil War with Generals U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee as the central figures of the work. The opera premiered in 2007 in San Francisco.

Where has it been? The opera was also showcased at the Washington National Opera in 2015 with a revised second act.

Why the Met? Glass is one of today’s greatest composers and this is undeniably one of his more accessible works. The opera plays on the challenges of resolving conflict and would certainly be adequate for the times when the country is as divided as it has ever been. It would be more of a political statement to present this work in some ways, but who says that is a bad thing?

4. Breaking the Waves (Missy Mazzoli)

What is it? A 2016 opera based on a 1996 film by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. The film relates the troubled marriage of a religious woman whose husband becomes paralyzed and encourages her to see out lovers and tell her of her sexual experiences with them.

Where has it been? The opera premiered in Philadelphia. Co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects, it also appeared at the Prototype Festival in NYC in 2017.

Why the Met? Do you want more female composer representation at the Met? Here is the ultimate slam dunk. The opera has been a tremendous success ever since its premiere with many critics raving that it might be among the greatest operas of the 21st century. “It is not easy to find new operas that command attention, tell their story lucidly and create a powerful, permeating mood. Dark and daring, Breaking the Waves does all this with sensitivity and style,” raved Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times. Moreover, you might get film aficionados interested in checking out the adaptation of one of the greatest films in recent decades.

5. Cold Mountain (Jennifer Higdon)

What is it? An adaptation of the famed 1997 book by Charles Frazier (which also turned into the Academy Award-winning film by Anthony Minghella), this opera received its world premiere in Santa Fe on August 1, 2015. Set in the Civil War, the opera is a follows a Confederate deserter as he attempts to return to his lover. A recording of the work was released in 2016 and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award.

Where has it been? The opera premiered in Santa Fe with performances following in Philadelphia. Minnesota will feature the work in 2018.

Why the Met? A powerful love story. A female composer. A famous American film to potentially exploit for marketing.

And by the way, Isabel Leonard. The New York native and one of opera’s biggest stars led the cast during its premiere. Nathan Gunn was also the leading man in that original production and is no stranger to Met audiences. It makes it easier to put together an opera when you have a star cast ready-made for the work.

6. The Minotaur (Harrison Birtwistle)

What is it? Based on the famous myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the work places the spotlight on the half-human/half-bull as he grapples with his identity. The opera premiered in 2008 at the Royal Opera House.

Where has it been? To this point, the work has not been outside of London.

Why the Met? Arguably the greatest work by one of the prolific modern opera composers. It is a rather accessible work overall, its mythological setting likely known to most audiences. Throw in a small cast and you have a work that isn’t all that difficult to cast.

7. Moby Dick (Jake Heggie)

What is it? Heggie’s other famous opera and quite possibly his best, “Moby-Dick” is based on Herman Melville’s iconic novel. Set onboard the Pequod, the opera follows Captain Ahab’s obsessive chase of a whale called Moby Dick.

Where has it been? The work premiered in Dallas in 2005 and has since been performed in Australia, Calgary, San Diego,  San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles.

Why the Met? If you are going to bring Heggie, then make sure it is more than one opera. “Moby-Dick’s” music is fascinating and the opera has been a huge hit everywhere it has been staged. Moreover, you have the tenor to take on the role of Ahab – Jay Hunter Morris, who after saving the Met’s “Ring Cycle” a few years ago hasn’t been given any other opportunities to headline a major opera. Here’s how you give him a big thank you.

8. Anna Nicole (Mark—Anthony Turnage)

What is it? Based on the life of the Playboy model, the opera premiered in 2011 at the Royal Opera House with Eva-Maria Westbroek leading the cast.

Where has it been? The opera followed its London premiere with productions in Dortmund and in New York with the City Opera

Why the Met? The work has already been to New York. Throw in the fact that Anna Nicole is pretty well-known in Pop Culture and you have something to appeal to a wider audience. An edgier opera will also bring in more youth. Who knows if Westbroek still wants to take on the role, but if she does then you have a Met darling ready-made for this opera, ridding you of the hardest challenge. If she doesn’t, then you can certainly find sopranos ready for this complex challenge.

9. Written on Skin (George Benjamin)

What is it? This is Benjamin’s first opera, which premiered in 2012 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The work plays largely on a symbolic level featuring the love triangle between a rich landowner, his wife, and an artist.

Where has it been? The opera was also featured at the Royal Opera House and then appeared in Paris. It will appear in Philadelphia next season

Why the Met? The opera has garnered strong reception, its success so great that the ROH commissioned a new work from Benjamin and his librettist Martin Crimp. It’s an intimate opera with a rather straightforward narrative with great music that won’t scare or startle audiences away.

10. Il Postino (Daniel Catán)

What is it? Based on the novel by Antonio Skármeta and the film by Michael Radford, this opera narrates the experiences of exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as he inspires a young postman to win over the love of his life and join a political movement. The opera premiered in LA in 2010 with none other than Plácido Domingo as the famed poet.

Where has it been? The opera appeared in Vienna and Paris after its LA premiered. Domingo sang in all three runs. It also appeared in Santiago, Chile, Madrid, Mexico City, Philadelphia, Saratoga Springs and even New York City at the Mannes School of Music.

Why the Met? Have you heard audiences complain that modern operas are too lacking in melody? Well here is an opera that soars with melody from one of the great composers of today. The opera has a proven track record around the world, making it an easy sell. And did I mention Plácido Domingo? There are only a handful of artists that sell out the Met consistently and Domingo is one of them. Finally, the opera is in Spanish, a language the Met has all but forgotten in recent years. And considering the shifting demographics and the growth of Latin American opera lovers that have resulted from increasing Latino opera superstars, this is another opera that could open the Met’s doors to a demographic it has not yet capitalized on.

11. Ainadamar (Osvaldo Golijov)

What is it? Another opera about a famous writer, this time Federico Garcia Lorca and features unique structure and vocal assignments. The male lead is actually played by a woman and the opera is told in reverse flashbacks. The opera’s original version premiered in Tanglewood in 2003 and a revised version got a premiere in Santa Fe in 2005.

Where has it been? It has also been showcased in Chicago, Boston, South Australia, Cincinnati, Granada, Madrid, Pittsburgh, Oviedo, Santander and several conservatories. There was also a concert version performed at Carnegie Hall. There are also a few recordings of the opera.

Why the Met? The opera plays up LGBT themes that, by and large, have not been represented at the Met. It’s time to change that and this is one way to do so. Moreover, its unique structure allows for greater experimentation at the Met.

12. The Little Prince (Rachel Portman)                     

What is it? Based on the famous story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the opera follows a pilot who crash-lands in the Sahara and finds a young boy who calls himself “the little prince.” While he attempts to fix his plane, the pilot hears stories from the little prince about his life on other planets. The opera, composed by Portman, written by Nicholas Wright, and directed by Francesca Zambello, premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 2003.

Where has it been? The work has also been to Milwaukee, Boston, Kentucky, Tulsa, Santa Fe and the New York City Opera, among approximately a total of 20 U.S. cities. It was also filmed by the BBC.

Why the Met? The Met loves its holiday specials, but over the last few years it has limited itself to pretty much the same operas, namely “The Barber of Seville,” “The Magic Flute” and “Hansel and Gretel.” Why not add “The Little Prince” to that collection? Moreover, everyone knows the story and those who haven’t heard of it will probably be checking out the new Netflix movie version of the story.

Are there any other modern operas you want to see at the Met in the future? Let us know!



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