By Robert Croan
Three operas composed in the last five decades, all Metropolitan Opera premieres, will be featured in the coming season’s The Met: Live in HD’s 2023-24 season, live simulcasts in high-definition cinemas nationwide and abroad.
The series is a valuable adjunct to live performances available in South Florida, offered by Florida Grand Opera in Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center and Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center, and by Palm Beach Opera in the Kravis Center. While the local organizations this year will produce solidly standard repertory from the past, the Met offers a mix that allows Floridian operaphiles to broaden their horizons. Sadly, the Met’s Saturday matinee radio broadcasts – a great American cultural tradition since 1931 – are not available in this area, although they may be streamed from NPR and other outside FM stations.
Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, premiered in San Francisco in 2000, will open The Met’s HD season on Saturday (Oct. 21). With a powerful libretto by Terrence McNally, this musical setting of Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book exploring the use of death penalty in the United States (also the subject of a 1996 movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn) has already earned a solid place in the opera repertory. For the Met premiere, conducted by Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will star as Sister Helen, with baritone Ryan McKinney as the death row inmate, Joseph De Rocher. Susan Graham, who played Sister Helen in the world premiere, will be featured in the cameo role of the convict’s mother.
A second Met premiere, to be screened Nov. 18, is Anthony Davis’ X: The Life and Times of Malcom X, a work highly praised but mostly neglected since its premiere in Philadelphia in 1985. The operatic counterpart to a biopic, this newly revised version, with a score that combines traditional lyricism with jazz and blues, with star baritone Will Liverman in the title part of the iconic civil rights leader who was assassinated at the age of 39 in 1965.
The third premiere, scheduled in theaters Dec. 9, is Mexican composer Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, a 1996 Spanish-language setting of a popular novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The book’s title, Love in the Time of Cholera, along with the author’s style know as magical realism, evokes the work’s fantasy elements, along with its prescience to the problems of the world we live in today. Catán’s score, also led by Nézet-Séguin, submerges the listener in lush harmonies and visionary romanticism, with virtuoso solo scenes for the protagonists, including soprano Ailyn Pérez in the title role of a famed diva on a doomed ship headed to the opera house in Manaus; with baritone Mattia Olivieri as the story’s narrator and catalyst, Riolobo.
Two more new productions are slated. Bizet’s Carmen, staged by debuting English director Carrie Cracknell in a setting that moves the action to the present day — the smugglers trafficking in human booty — stars Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina in the title part, with tenor Piotr Beczala as Don José.
Nézet-Séguin will also lead the Met’s first new production in three decades of Verdi’s magnificent La forza del destino on March 9. This sprawling, melodious work is heard less often than it should be because it demands a large, high-powered cast and is quite expensive to produce. Swedish powerhouse soprano Lise Davidson will lead the cast as the heroine Leonora.
Revivals of older productions include Verdi’s Nabucco, Jan. 6; Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette — with Floridian Nadine Sierra and French tenor Benjamin Bernheim as the hapless lovers — March 23; Puccini’s La Rondine, April 4; and Madama Butterfly, May 11.
There are repeat showings of each opera four days later, except for X, which is encored Nov. 29. A 2006 filming of Julie Taymor’s abridged, English-language production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute will be encored for the holiday season Dec. 2.
The operas are screened in cinemas nationwide and at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. For complete details including a list of theaters new you, check www.metopera.org/season /in-cinemas/, or www.fathomevents.com.