Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Opening Night at the Met Opera - 2015

It’s been many years since my last Opening Night, but I do remember how exciting they were – the Opera house at her most elegant, crystal chandeliers sparkling like diamonds, the fragrance of red roses and perfume even more intoxicating than the champagne that flowed freely. 

You couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with the glitterati -- Jackie “O,” a true patroness of the arts, and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, movie stars, Broadway actors, TV personalities, politicians and anyone with even the slightest connection to New York’s beau monde were there.  It was all very heady stuff. 

Then as now, Opening Night is less about opera and more about those who want to be seen and what they choose to be seen in.  Think of it as opera’s annual Red Carpet event. 

Last night was Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Met launched its 2015-16 Season with a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece, “Otello.”  Verdi was 74 when “Otello” debuted at La Scala in Milan.  Six years later he would again turn to the Bard for his final masterpiece, “Falstaff.”  Imagine!  After much prodding and poking by his publicist, Verdi comes out of a long, self-imposed retirement to write his two greatest operas in his waning years!!   

The title of Anthony Tommasini’s review in the New York Times of last night’s “Otello” is an interesting one:  “Metropolitan Opera’s New ‘Otello,’ Bold and Tentative.”  I tend to take all opera reviews with the requisite grain of salt until I actually see and hear the opera for myself, at which point the critics are either brilliant and insightful because they agree with me or fools and idiots because they don’t.  I think that’s a pretty good system, don’t you?  I’ll be seeing this new “Otello” in a few weeks, so I’ll let you know how it all shakes out. 

Latvian tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko, made his Met debut in this role last night, and he reportedly delivered the vocal goods.  Again, I’ll let you know.  

Over the years, I’ve seen many fabulous tenors rise to the vocal and dramatic challenges of this title role.  Inevitably, there have also been a few casualties along the way. 

My very first Otello still makes my heart skip a beat when I think of him.  I had such a crush on him!!

Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) was born in the beautiful city of Florence.  He spent his boyhood studying the violin, but, thankfully, he decided to pursue his true passion – the voice.  And what a voice it was!!  It was huge and exciting on a level I have never known in any other tenor.  Singers spend years learning how to sing from the diaphragm.  Del Monaco sang from somewhere decidedly south of his diaphragm.  His nickname was the “Brass Bull of Milan.”  Get the idea? 

With his matinee idol looks (He had the dreamiest eyes!!) and virile voice and body, he was born to play the role of Otello. 

Here’s an old black-and-white clip of del Monaco’s Otello making his entrance in the first Act.  After being tossed about in a raging sea, Otello’s ship arrives safely in port to the great relief of the people of Cyprus, who have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new Governor. 

A triumphant Otello greets them with what is probably the most famous and vocally difficult entrance any tenor has to sing.  It begins with the word “Esultate!!” -- Rejoice!!

Mario del Monaco asked to be buried in his costume, and so he was.  


  1. Hi M-T.

    When I was dating my husband in the 1970's & we were getting serious, he introduced me to his Aunt & Uncle. They were big-time Opera buffs, went to the Met often & had a large Opera record collection. But the one person they were obsessed with was - Maria Callas. Fanatical really. I am pretty sure they saw her perform at the Met in the 50's.

    They explained why Callas was better than Renata Tebaldi. I guess they were arch rivals - those two divas The conversation was really above me & I vaguely knew Tebaldi from her TV appearnces on TV shows - probably The Ed Sullivan Show. When Callas died in the late 1970's in her early fifties, I swear my husband's Aunt & Uncle went into mourning & cursed Onassis for her death.

    I did have some Opera knowledge before meeting his family,mostly from my Italian family, particularly my mom. Saw my first Opera at the Met. It was my 8th grade class trip with the nuns. The Opera was Il Trovatore & we students sat in what was called "the nosebleed section".

    Thanks again for another interesting post


    1. Ah, yes. Callas, referred to as "La Divina" was worthy of obsession. I, too, was wild about her. As to the Callas-Tebaldi rivalry, it was definitely real vocally. Whether the rivalry was temperamental (divas behaving badly) and/or vocal (they were both dramatic sopranos and sang many of the same roles), I guess that's for the biographers to sort out. I just know that it was great fun to watch.

      "Il Trovatore" is such a wonderful opera -- silly story, fabulous music! It's never too young or too old to expose yourself to an art that combines it all -- great music, great voices, great productions and, frequently, great balletic moments.

      Rosie, you'll be interested in this personal tidbit. My husband and I were married on the first anniversary of La Callas' death and, yes, like your husband's Aunt and Uncle, I think Onassis had a great deal to do with her broken heart, which stopped beating on Sept 16, 1977.

      As always, love your comments.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    That would be lovely to go to such an Opening Night at the MET!
    It is a very special world and a beautiful one as well.
    You are so right about those reviews; some writers are not able to judge by knowledge!
    We did have a very lovely Sunday evening for which we drove through traffic jam for 3-½ hours to the west of Atlanta. But the performance by Chloë Agnew (once for 10 years with Celtic Woman) and Tenor Dermot Kieran with The Atlanta Pops Orchestra was wonderful. We also had Riverdance alum Scott Porter perform on Lord of the Dance. We spend the night at the hotel, only 4 miles away and came home on Monday after running our shopping loop at Costco, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. We both enjoy such outings tremendously and hope there will be many more events in the future years; God willing.
    Sending you hugs and enjoy this precious weather. We had 85ºF by 7:00 PM for this Concert!

    1. Dearest Mariette,

      What fun you have been having at the theater lately. Brava! On the subject of reviewers, did you ever hear the story (absolutely true!!) of the reviewer who reviewed a performance that never took place? He gave it a mixed review.

      Thanks for stopping by, as always, ma chère amie.

      Bisous, M-T

  3. Thank you for this little treat! I was unfamiliar with Mario del Monaco, but really appreciated the clip you shared. My, but that set for this year's production looks stunning! Hope they do a DVD or, for those of us in the Midwest, a movie theater experience. . .where we can see it live. Can't wait to read what your impression is.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the little clip of del Monaco. He was fabulous!! I still get all tingly when I hear him.

      The Met is absolutely planning on broadcasting the "Otello" in theaters this year. Check their website for dates on all the HD performances coming up this season.

      It looks like a very interesting season, indeed.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Cheers, M-T

  4. I feel like the philistine here. My mother listened to opera every Saturday afternoon when I was growing up and I hated it. All that screeching, I thought. But years and years later, a friend told me I would enjoy it if I knew the stories and went to a live performance. I did see Marriage of Figaro a couple years ago and really loved it. Maybe there's hope for me :)
    I would go to the Met opening just to see Jackie O and her sister. What a great memory for you.

    1. I would never call you a Philistine, Deborah. When it comes to opera, it's never too late. I took my husband to his first ("The Barber of Seville" by Rossini) when we were dating. It was, as we say in French, a "coup de foudre" -- love at first sight.

      "The Marriage of Figaro" is one of my favorites. Why don't you consider attending some of the Met Opera broadcasts in HD this season? There's probably a movie theater near you that will show them.

      I do remember the old days at the Met when you would frequently see Jackie and her sister, as well as a host of other famous faces. It was great fun. Let's just say that today's celebrities do not seem to have the same cultural proclivities as those of years past. "Hélas." (There's your favorite, new French word, Deborah.)

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Cheers, M-T


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