METROPOLOITAN OPERA - INAUGURAL SEASON
One of the truly great years of the Metropolitan Opera can be found in this remarkable new set. September 1, 1966 was the first performance in the grand new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, an exciting event indeed, as the old house was inadequate in many ways. Now, with the latest technology, it would be possible to present truly grand opera. Fortunately it turned out acoustics of the huge theater were very good. For the first season, the Met presented a strong array of operas with exciting casts in productions that presented these masterpieces as the composers intended. Unfortunately, since then under new management, the Met has disappointed with many ill-advised productions that were inappropriate and usually very costly. To mention just a few, their Rigoletto that takes place in Las Vegas, their Rung Cycle with a heavy, lumbering set awkward to perform on, unpleasant to view (it reportedly cost more than $5 million), when projections would have cost a fraction of that). Their recent Hansel in and Gree;e with drug addicts, their Prince Igor that robs this masterpiece of its grandeur and cost a fortune, a Salome that cheapens Strauss' concept, and another Strauss debacle ,Elektra in Chereau's ill-advised concept—all more examples of opera gone wrong. . This sort of thing would not be tolerated a half-century ago.
September 16, 1966, the new Metropolitan Opera House opened with the world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, with Leontyne Price, Jess Thomas and Justino Díaz/. Franco Zeferelli wrote the libretto and directed, and the event is considered to be one of the major operatic disasters of the century. Everything went wrong apparently, and Leontyne price found herself locked inside a pyramid, lighting cues were missed and confusion reigned. There was only this one performance.. Barber made a scaled-down version that received a few performances, but this is not Barber at his best. It is interesting to hear, but perhaps only once. Another gem is the Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland and Richard Tucker—spectacular in every way. James McCracken is a sterling Otello (how the Met could have used him this season!) and this cast also features Montserrat Cabalée and Tito Gobbi. . Renata Scotto was in relatively good vocal form in this Madama Butterfly; she makes a 90% successful attempt at the high D flat at the end of Butterfly's entrance (which she could not do in her other recordings). It always is a pleasure to hear Price as Aïda, and she has the advantage of Carlo Bergonzi's Radames. Jon Vickers stars in Peter Grimes, one of his signature roles. Cornell MacNeil is a tragic Rigoletto, with Roberta Peters a perfect Gilda. She also appears in an all-star cast of Mozart's The Magic Flute conducted by Joseph Krips.
For me, prime interest here is Die frau ohne schatten with the perfect cast: Leonie Rysanek as the Empress, Christa Ludwig as the Dyer's Wife, Walter Berry as the Dyer, and James King as the Emperor. Irene Dalis is the Nurse, and the Met Orchestra is inspired udder Karl Böhm's inspired direction.. This cast and conductor gave a number of performances of this great Strauss opera and some of them are available on disk—look particularly for the one with the Vienna Philharmonic. What a pleasure it is to hear superb artists giving 110 percent. Thrilling indeed. Don't miss it.
There is a bonus disk that offers excerpts from other operas: Elektra, Don Giovanni, La Gioconda, Lohengrin, La Bohème, La traviata, Il trovatore and Mourning Becomes Elektra.. Each of the ten operas has its own cardboard folder with a brief pamphlat of program notes. No libretti.
A negative aspect of this issue is audio quality. It is very bright and emphasizes voices but orchestral sound is lacking bass and resonance, almost as if a filter had been used to cause this. Perhaps when you play these disks, your equipment will permit you to adjust this.
Opera lovers surely should investigate this set. It is reasonably priced and contains many treasures‚and one major oddity..
R.E.B. (December 2016)