Each fall, donors to the Support the Met Broadcasts campaign receive a handsome program guide to the upcoming opera season.
I’ve kept mine, going back to 2005, and find they make a fine reference collection regarding both the plots and performers.
My own listening experience goes back to Joan Sutherland’s first role there in late 1961 or ’62. It was exciting, even through all of the AM radio static of the day.
While much of the core repertoire remains the same, there are also new productions and new or rare works, and it’s interesting to see how these are lined up.
What struck me in the new booklet is how few of the singers’ names I recognized.
When I first started listening, the leading performers were celebrities, often household names and gossip column fodder.
It was a tight circle at the top, in this country and in Europe, enhanced by handsome multidisc LP albums.
Think Pavarotti or Callas.
Well, times have changed, as has the focus. The singers are often more musically informed, and they’re required to physically to act and project their roles in sometimes demanding stagecraft. As for the sets and costumes? This is the height of theater.
The amazing thing is how many fine performers there are now, and they’re active far beyond the confines of the Met and its elite sisters.
There’s a similar shift in the conductors. I recognized only six who will be in the pit. The biggest surprise was seeing the Pittsburgh Symphony’s maestro among them, and he’s considered solid but hardly superstar. (Consider that a compliment, by the way.)
What’s significant is that one-fifth of them are women, one leading two separate operas. The cadre is growing.
What’s missing, though, is American-born conductors. They are active on the symphonic scene globally.