By Jasmine Wilson
Returning for its fourteenth season on PBS, Great Performances at The Met brings the very best of the Metropolitan Opera into the homes of opera and classical music fans across the country. Lovers of music, drama, and glamor will delight in a fantastic season filled with audience favorites and modern classics. Great Performances at the Met is excited to also spotlight two productions – Turandot and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – with primetime broadcasts.
As you change into your favorite at-home concert attire, here are five must-watch productions this season:
- Manon – Sunday, January 5 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
We open the curtain of Season 14 of Great Performances at The Met with the French tale of Manon. Perhaps an operatic precursor to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Massenet’s Manon follows the life of an irresistible young woman at odds with herself to choose love over luxury. Starring the exquisite soprano Lisette Oropesa in the title role, the production carries audiences through the journey of a tragic beauty in search of true romance. The incredible tenor Michael Fabiano plays the lovestruck Chevalier des Grieux in a gripping performance conducted by Maurizio Benini. Brace yourself for Massenet’s passionate and sensual score that will surely pull on your heart strings.
Fun fact: Lisette Oropesa is devout runner, known to train for marathons when off stage. She challenges the perception that a large voice comes from a large body, and credits running to helping manage her breath control while singing on stage for hours. Also, Michael Fabiano happens to be a pilot when he’s not dazzling audiences. Talk about being jet set! This sensational duo masters the land, sky and stage!
- Turandot – Friday, March 20 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
The stunning soprano Christine Goerke returns to the Met stage in the title role of Puccini’s final opera, Turandot. Set in ancient China, this work has a rich score that transports the audience to the realm of an epic fairy tale. Goerke plays an alluring, yet cold-hearted princess in mythic Peking. Eligible bachelors from near and far travel to answer her three riddles. A suitor may win Turandot’s hand in marriage only if he answers all three riddles correctly, otherwise he will die. Yep, you read that right. Watching the countless failed attempts at courtship has become an entertaining pastime for the locals. That is until Calàf, portrayed by tenor Yusif Eyvazov, steps up to the plate. Turandot may have been Puccini’s final masterpiece, but this opera will reverberate in your soul long after you see it.
Calàf also sings what is perhaps the most famous tenor aria of all time, “Nessun Dorma.” Even your friend who thinks they know nothing about opera, has likely heard this breathtaking song at some point in their life. This outstanding cast features soprano Eleonora Buratto as Liu and bass-baritone James Morris as Timur, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. And if you can’t get enough Puccini, remember to tune in to Madama Butterfly and Tosca this season!
- Akhnaten – Sunday, April 5 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
Starring in the title role is marvelous countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, portraying the radical pharaoh of ancient Egypt. The brilliant mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges makes her Met debut as his wife, Nefertiti. Set in 1350 B.C.E., Akhnaten (meaning spirit of Aten, the sun god) ascends to power and makes some controversial changes— most notably, transforming Egypt by replacing the ancient nation’s polytheistic religion with monotheism. Akhnaten is the third work in composer Phillip Glass’s series of three operas (preceded by Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha). This opera explores the complicated force that ensues when power and faith clash.
Skillfully crafted, Akhnaten intertwines diverse sacred texts and even a Fodor’s Egypt travel guide into the libretto. The minimalist score features subtle and gradual shifts that will mesmerize you. Expect to be further captivated by an entrancing stage design featuring virtuosic acrobats and jugglers that animate this thrilling production. Making her Met debut, Karen Kamensek conducts and is the only woman taking the baton this season.
- Agrippina – Sunday, June 7 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
The fabulous Joyce DiDonato stars in the title role of Agrippina, the tale of a ruthless mother determined to make her son Nerone the emperor of Rome. Although based on serious events, Handel crafted a black comedy offering a lighthearted and satirical spin. Reimagined for present times, this Baroque opera’s theme of political malfeasance will ring clear with modern audiences. Agrippina gives you everything you want in an opera—royalty, scheming and intrigue. The powerhouse cast features mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey in a “pants role” as Nerone, soprano Brenda Rae as Poppea, countertenor Iestyn Davies as Ottone, and Matthew Rose as Claudius.
Fun fact: You may wonder why Nerone, the son of Agrippina, is portrayed by a woman. In fact, the role was originally performed by a male castrato singer. Castrati (plural of castrato) underwent a surgical castration during puberty to preserve their high range. Modern audiences may find this practice alarming, but the castrato’s ability to powerfully interpret vocal passages was highly popular during the Baroque era when Agrippina was composed.
- The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess Friday, July 17, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
For the first time in nearly 30 years, The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess returns to the Met stage featuring the stunning Eric Owens and Angel Blue in the title roles. Audience members travel to Catfish Row, a fictional town inspired the African American “Gullah” culture of South Carolina. This dynamic production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess features masterful singing, contagious dance and a tragic love story that will stimulate all your senses. The invigorating productions also includes Golda Schultz, Latonia Moore, Denyce Graves, Frederick Ballentine, Alfred Walker and Donovan Singletary. The choreography is by Tony-nominated Camille A. Brown.
Fun fact:Celebrated writer and poet Dr. Maya Angelou performed as a dancer in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess in a 1950s production that toured in Europe, turning down an offer for a principal role in a different Broadway production.
Check out the complete schedule for season 14 of Great Performances at the Met. Please be sure to check your local listings, as dates and times can vary widely across the country. (In New York City, THIRTEEN usually airs the Met Operas on Sundays at 1 PM.)
- Manon—Sunday, January 5, 2020
- Madama Butterfly—Sunday, February 2, 2020
- Turandot—Friday, March 20, 2020
- Akhnaten—Sunday, April 5, 2020
- Wozzeck—Sunday, May 3, 2020
- Agrippina—Sunday, June 7, 2020
- Der Fliegende Hollander—Sunday, July 5, 2020
- The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess—Friday, July 17, 2020
- Tosca—Sunday, August 2, 2020
- Maria Stuarda—Sunday, September 6, 2020