Missionary Athaniel converts the prostitute Thais to Christianity; he even leads her to enter a nunnery. The convent door slams shut: No Men Allowed. Oh no, cries Athaniel, I've fallen in love with ...
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Season 1: The best of the series is between "Eugene Onegin" and "Il Trittico". "Eugene Onegin" may have minimalist sets, but the lushness of the orchestral playing and music(especially in the Letter scene and Lensky and Gremin's arias) is enough to reduce anyone to tears, and the performances of Fleming, Vargas and especially Hvorostovsky are wonderful, moving and charming. Of the three operas forming "Il Trittico" Gianni Schicchi was the best. And the performances are great, especially from Pons as a scary Michele, Frittoli as an ethereal Angelica and Corbelli as a hilarious Schicchi. My least favourite was "The First Emperor", it looks great and the performances are as professional as you'd expect especially from Domingo and Futral, but the score is convoluted and the story over-simplistic. This said, if you want to introduce a child to opera, look no further than "The Magic Flute" with its fairytale-like story.
Season 2: The standout of Season 2 was "La Boheme". The opera never fails to move me, and I was moved by this production. It has a very convincing garret setting, and Gheorghiu's moving Mimi and Vargas' ardent Rodolfo are well matched by Arteta's witty Musetta and Tezier's powerful Marcello. "La Fille Du Regiment" is not far off though, with the characterful Sulpice of Corbelli and the sensational Tonio of Florez really shining, and Dessay's Marie is also fun to watch. My least favourite was "Hansel and Gretel", one of only three Met HD productions that I dislike(the other two being "Tosca" and "La Traviata"). Coote, Schaefer and Held are good, but Plowright is shrill and Langridge disappointingly is ill-at-ease. The production is often disgusting with the staging unsubtle and verging on offensive.
Season 3: There are two standouts, "Thais" and "Doctor Atomic". Fleming is stunning in "Thais" and the final scene is incredibly affecting. "Doctor Atomic" uses vertical grid-like sets, and unlike the uneven "Orfeo Ed Euridice" this approach works. Finley is outstanding, and he is well matched by Cooke, Fink and Owens. I'd also put "La Rondine" for standouts, as I love that production but Ramey's croaky Rambaldo brought it down just a notch. I can understand the dislike for "La Sonnambula", people were confused and bored by it and I can understand. However I found it a riot, and I loved the singing of Florez, Dessay and Pertusi. The production that engaged me least was "Lucia Di Lammermoor". I liked Kweicien's Enrico and Bezcala's Edgardo was very promising, but Netrebko was inconsistent and the staging of the Sextet was a disaster.
Season 4: Sadly, this season got off to a poor start with "Tosca". Godnidze as Scarpia was very good actually, but I disliked the cavernous look of the production, and the staging is inept in the worst possible way. Mattila, who was so outstanding in the Met "Salome"(which I enjoyed by the way), was off-form(over-tensed and off-pitch), Alvarez is a little better if never thrilling. Thankfully things get so much better because "Turandot" was wonderful and had a chilling Guleghina and a poignant Paplavskaya, and I loved the 18th century period detail and fantasy blend of "Tales of Hoffmann" which also had great performances from Held and Lindsay. "Armida" was bold and bright, and by far the best of the Mary Zimmermann-directed productions. Fleming is splendid, even if her voice is not entirely suited to Rossini.
Season 5: "Das Rheingold" was a triumph. All four Ring Cycle productions are worth watching, they are technically ambitious with standout scenes in each(the Rhinemaidens for "Rheingold", Golden Eye for "Walkure", the forest for "Siegfried" and the Rhine turning Red for "Gotterdamerung") and great singing with Terfel, Blythe, Konig and Owens the standouts. "Das Rheingold" stood out for me, because(apart from the occasional moment where the technicalities overshadowed the music) I couldn't actually think of any scenes that were distractingly bad, like the Walkurenritt from "Walkure", destruction of Valhalla from "Gotterdamerung" and especially Fafner's slaying from "Siegfried". "Le Comte Ory" is a close second, especially for Florez, Di Donato and Damrau. I also loved the cinematic feel of "Boris Godunov", as well as the staging of the Holy Fool Scene and the Mussorgsky orchestration of the Clock scene. "Don Carlo" is also effective for the portrayal of Elisabetta and Furlanetto's magnificent Phillip, and "Il Trovatore" fo McVicar's direction and Zajick's outstanding Azucena. Least effective was "Don Pasquale", and that was still very good, especially for Kweicien's Malatesta. All the performances are fine, even if DelCarlo lacks the natural comic gifts of Alaimo and Corbelli.
Season 6: "Anna Bolena" for me was the best of the opening season broadcasts, with interesting colour schemes for the costumes and lighting and McVicar's insightful direction. Netrebko also gives her best performance of the Met HD series, even surpassing her performance in "I Puritani", Abdrazakov embodies his role of Enrico(Henry VIII) and Grubanova if not quite as good as Garanca is very passionate as Jane. "Satyagraha" was also visually astounding, interesting structurally and has a commanding performance of Gandhi from Croft. "La Traviata" was the biggest disappointment("Faust" and "Manon" also disappointed but not as badly, and "The Enchanted Island" was also uneven), with only Hvorostovsky's Germont properly enhancing the production. The production itself was too cold and stark, and the staging was annoying with the clock and Dr Death. Dessay is off-form vocally(often shrill) and never quite captures Violetta's vulnerability.
There is also the "Opening Night Gala with Renee Fleming", which is heaven for fans of hers and "The Audition", which was interesting and moving. Overall, not entirely consistent but always brings great joy to me, can't wait for the next season. Bethany Cox
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