Friday, September 29, 2006
Over the past several weeks the opera-blogging world has been abuzz with the announcement by newly appointed general manager Peter Gelb that New York’s Metropolitan Opera will increase its music distribution far beyond Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, a staple of the airwaves since 1931. For most of those years these broadcasts were sponsored by Texaco, which bailed out not long after being bought by Chevron. Ever since then, Saturday afternoons at the opera have been financed by a variety of sponsors, the latest of whom—Toll Brothers, the luxury home builder—is currently struggling with some less profitable times.
The Met will expand its public face in threefold fashion by embracing technology that has become second nature to much of the music-consuming public. While a number of details remain to be disclosed, the gist of Gelb’s initiatives includes the following:
- More than 100 audio-only broadcasts throughout the 2006-07 season, via their newly signed deal with Sirius (satellite) Radio, and possibly also available as subscription podcasts
- Paid access to the Met’s library of historical Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts—1500 performances in total, a third of which are purported to be available by year’s end—sold via download, the exact medium of choice yet to be determined (RealPlayer, perhaps?)
- High-definition video distribution of six live performances via satellite to select movie theatres in the U.S., Canada and Europe; also available as streaming online video, followed later in the year as television broadcasts on PBS for free
Opera lovers are fairly salivating over the prospects of downloading legendary Met performances by some of the world’s greatest singers. A quick scan of opera blogs yields numerous posted wish-lists, with contributors declaring “I can’t wait to hear…
As with many folks “of a certain age,” those Met Texaco broadcasts were our introduction to the world of opera—especially for people who lived in the hinterlands, far from the Met’s stage where miraculous things were happening thanks to Zinka Milanov, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters and Anna Moffo, along with so many others. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I would occasionally spend the weekend at my aunt’s apartment, where we’d play cards and listen on my grandma’s old Crosley tabletop radio to that afternoon's opera being broadcast on the local FM classical music station, WCLV.
With all of the technological innovations introduced over the past decade, it’s great to see the Met finally embrace 21st-century concepts. As far as I’m concerned, anything that makes opera accessible to more people is truly a good thing.
Among the bulleted options noted above, the one methodology that holds the greatest fascination for me is the third—Hi-Def video distribution. No matter how delightful it is to hear a great opera performance, it’s even better to both SEE and hear it, so long as the lighting is adequate, the camera work makes sense, and the sound reproduction is equal to or better than the visuals. I’m sure that those of us who own operas on DVD have at least one performance where one or more of those factors leave something to be desired.
For a long time my wife tried to convince me that “Doctor Zhivago” was a great movie. I never saw it when it was first released and had somehow managed to miss out during its subsequent theatrical re-releases. The bits and pieces I’d caught on television—whether on cable or interrupted by commercials during network broadcasts—did not make any particular impression on me. But some years ago our neighborhood movie theater (Denver's Continental, purchased by United Artists) went through a significant remodeling. Rather than tear down the single, giant-screen edifice, the new owners turned it into a multiplex while retaining the massive auditorium. As a result, it’s the last remaining big screen in the state. When a one-week run of “DZ” was announced, we made sure to see it that Saturday night. My wife was right, as she usually is about these things. Seeing “Doctor Zhivago” on the giant screen made me realize just how magnificent a movie it is.
I’m guessing that a similar opportunity might cause movie-theatre goers to say the same thing about “Il Trovatore,” or any other opera that would find its way to the local Cineplex. Sure, there have been operas made into movies—Placido Domingo has participated in several such productions—but “movie-izing” an opera lends to it an unfortunate artificiality. In recent years I’ve watched movie versions of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” It seems that the director’s primary motivation is to broaden the viewer’s perspective, but in a very distracting way. Attending an opera requires some suspension of disbelief, especially concerning the stage setting. [More is required when someone like Joan Sutherland sings the role of 17-year-old Lucia, but that’s an entirely different matter.] When “Otello” opens with a storm-tossed boat on stage, one’s imagination (and a skillful lighting director) helps to create the illusion of the moment. Actually seeing a boat tossed about, rain falling in the singers’ faces while lip-synching to a pre-recorded track, would hardly provide the same thrill.
The Met’s decision to broadcast its programming directly to movie theatres via satellite is an interesting one. Since the late ’90s, the movie distribution industry has been looking for ways to streamline a process that’s remained essentially unchanged since movie houses first opened back in the early years of the 20th century. Every week, giant octagonal metal cases show up at a theatre’s door, while others await removal. Inside are reels and reels of 35mm film, ready to be loaded onto projectors.
There are many drawbacks to this manner of distribution. Complete prints of an average-length feature film can run as high as $2000. Multiply that times the number of theatres showing that particular movie (500? 3,000?) and you see how quickly these costs add up. Then there is the problem of the film itself. Early movie stock was printed on a nitrocellulose film base, which was highly flammable. Remember that traumatic scene in “Cinema Paradiso” when the theatre catches on fire? In 1949 Kodak introduced “safety film” printed on cellulose triacetate, and today a polyester-based safety film is in use. But regardless of the medium, every subsequent viewing causes a degradation of the film’s surface. Over time, scratches and dirt make watching movies a far less pleasant experience, creating the need to replace old prints with new ones. There’s another two grand of sunk costs to consider.
A move to digital distribution offers a wide range of benefits, many of which are discussed here in a fascinating albeit self-serving Windows Media white paper on the topic. But expenses aside—based upon prices for the Sony system that debuted in 2005, including projectors, lenses, servers and management software, the estimated cost to outfit a screen could run as high as $140,000—the main concern involves security. After a brief interlude, I’ll pick up this thread a few paragraphs farther down the page.
A Cautionary Tale
In the early days of cable television, subscribers essentially had two programming choices—basic or premium. The padlocked, dome-shaped box in your back yard was equipped with a line filter if you had selected the less expensive option. Upgrading to premium service meant that a service person would come out to your residence, unlock the box, and remove the filter. Back in the early 1980s a friend of mine made a bundle by offering “unauthorized upgrades,” armed as he was with a pair of bolt cutters, some wire-splicing material, and replacement padlocks. The only way the cable company could discover the theft was if they sent someone out on a service call—rarely necessary since the service was pretty bulletproof—who would then realize that the key he/she carried didn’t fit the lock.
All this changed with the development of addressable cable devices. Premium subscribers were given set-top boxes that could deliver specific content directly to them, based upon the device’s unique electronic “address” and whatever services they had ordered. This technology allowed cable viewers to customize their TV packages as well as take advantage of pay-per-view options.
The introduction of small-dish satellite television added yet another viewing dimension. Here in the States there are two competing providers—DirectTV and DISH Network. Both operate with similar technology, where subscribers set 18-inch-diameter receivers on rooftops or balconies, pointed into the sky to capture television signals being beamed across a broad geographic “footprint.” The signals coming off the satellite contain every possible channel—with some systems having so many channels that two dishes and multiple satellites are necessary to receive them all—and a SIM card placed in the consumer’s receiver at the time of installation is coded with the level of programming that’s been purchased.
As with many things technological, scammers are usually right behind the developers, and oftentimes one step ahead. For a while now, black-market SIM cards make it possible to watch all the premium channels while paying only for the basic ones. Many of these cards are pirated copies of masters carried by repair technicians who work directly for the satellite providers. When setting up a new subscriber it’s necessary to test every channel for receptivity, since most systems allow their customers to purchase premium programs on a show-by-show basis. If I choose to watch something special on HBO but that channel is not part of my monthly subscription, I can call (or sometimes e-mail) my provider and ask for digital permission to access it. But if my ability to receive it hadn’t been properly tested, I might be charged for something I can’t view, which can be a customer service nightmare.
Satellite providers develop new versions of SIM cards every few years, shipping them to existing subscribers along with installation instructions. By changing security codes they’re hoping to defeat signal thieves, but it’s only a matter of time before the codes are cracked and new black-market cards are available to those who wish to buy them.
On a related commercial topic, the pirating of newly released feature films has become a huge business, especially in overseas markets (China, for example) where copyright laws are lax, nonexistent or difficult to enforce. The typical way in which the latest blockbuster finds its way onto DVD and thence for sale on the streets of Hong Kong, Tokyo or New York, is by the low-tech method of screen filming. Someone with a digital camera sits in a first-run theatre and shoots the movie right off the screen. Drawbacks are many, including poor-quality reproduction, ambient noise—people chatting in the auditorium, the sound of crunching popcorn, etc.—and the obviousness of some guy watching the movie with a viewfinder glued to his face.
A less common method, but one that offers up a higher-grade product, involves collusion between the film distributor and the pirate. Canisters set for delivery on Friday morning get waylaid on Thursday night, just long enough for the reels to be run through a projector/scanner, stored digitally on a PC, and then burned onto a master DVD for mass duplication. This process is considerably more expensive as the operational hardware and software costs many times more than the average digital movie camera. But selling copies of Tom Cruise’s latest action film for ten bucks apiece, the same week it debuts on the big screen, can make a pirate distributor as much as half a million dollars. That will buy a lot of software upgrades.
Back to Security
If there’s one aspect of digital film distribution that scares the bejeesus out of the movie studios, it involves theft of the transmitted signal. As noted above, lack of security is probably the biggest stumbling block to the widespread showing of digital movies in theatres, far more than the cost of retrofitting the projection booth. Intercepting a signal meant for the Googolplex down the street and using the data to burn your own DVD of the movie—or a thousand copies of it—would create theatre-quality media at pennies on the dollar, with nary a dime of royalties to the studios that produced it.
To better understand this dilemma, picture the way satellites distribute their signals. Launched into geosynchronous orbit hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface, a digital stream of data is transmitted from the movie studio or production house. After bouncing off the satellite’s receptors, data cascades toward the ground in an ever-broadening cone, available to anyone with a collection dish and a receiver equipped with the proper decoding software. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re sitting, just so long as you’re situated somewhere within the data footprint and holding a properly fitted receiver.
The reason I’m interested in this aspect of the business is due to my past experience in this field. From early 2000 to the beginning of 2003, I was director of business development for a technology start-up that had developed a unique commercial use for the Global Positioning System. Known as CyberLocator Inc.—regrettably defunct due both to lack of funding and a deliverable product salable to actual clients, the kinds of things real businesses need in order to be successful—the concept involved using GPS data to determine whether or not someone could receive specific e-mail or gain access to a GPS-protected Web site. It was developed all the way back in the 1980s by a scientist involved in the original design of the GPS satellite system, and is pretty simple to understand. If you’re in the right place—i.e., the proper pre-registered place—when you try to log on to a secure site, the password you use for access is accepted. If you’re somewhere else, even having the proper credentials does you no good. As we used to say, “Your location is your password.” If you want to know more, drop me a line and I’ll send you a white paper I wrote on the subject.
Tying this into the discussion noted above, GPS encryption/decryption is an ideal security factor for satellite movie distribution. Picture, if you will, the following scenario:
You own a movie theatre located at such-and-such a spot (latitude, longitude, altitude), one which you have already registered with your movie distributor. Mounted on your roof is a small satellite dish that has one additional element to it, a GPS sensor. Every Friday morning, which is when new movies are usually released here in the U.S., your rooftop dish collects the digital transmission of half a dozen new movies (or whatever you’re allotted) along with its public-key encoding, sending everything straight to the projector/server for storage. At this point, what you’ve received is useless because the private key needed to unlock the data has not yet been sent.
A short time later, your theatre server—connected to the Internet as well as to the dish/sensor apparatus above—receives an e-mail query from the distributor’s computer in California. The message back from your location includes encrypted raw data from the GPS sensor, which is then interpreted at the distribution point and matched against your pre-registered location. Do they match? If so, you receive a follow-on e-mail that includes the private key to unlock that week’s digital movies. If not, you get bupkes–nada–zilch.
There are tons of safeguards that prevent location data from being falsified, but there’s no reason to go into that here. Bottom line—this is pretty much the only way to ensure that the satellite transmission of digital movies is safe from being pirated.
By the way, the closest we came to commercializing this service involves the regulation of legal online gambling. Follow this Google search on “Global Cyber Licensing” and you’ll see what I mean.
Back On Topic
Anyway, I’ll be interested to see exactly how these operas end up at my local theatre, assuming that they do. As far as I know, none of the local Denver theatres is equipped with a digital projector system, so maybe we’re S.O.L. I think the closest one might be in Salt Lake City, or perhaps Las Vegas.
But coming soon to a theatre near you (we can only hope) will be more of those one-night-only musical shows that seem to always crop up in the coming attractions. You know the ones I mean—“Whitesnake in Concert” or “A Very Special Evening with the Monsters of Metal.” Only this time it’ll be Bellini’s “I Puritani” or the world premiere of Tan Dun’s “The Last Emperor.”
I can hardly wait!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Earlier this week the U.S. not-for-profit television network PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) aired broadcast TV’s first classical music concert of the season. The series is called “Great Performances,” which shows up several times annually and features well known musicians doing what they do best—singing, dancing or playing an instrument. In between musical selections the stars provide commentary on the pieces they’re about to perform. The programs are pleasingly arranged, offering just enough conversation to punctuate the music without overshadowing it. Earlier in 2006, a 90-minute retrospective featured highlights of the series’ many years on the air, including historical performances by Pablo Casals, Joan Sutherland, Rudolph Nureyev, and others of their ilk.
This particular program was recorded live at the 2006 Salzburg Festival and honored the 250th birthday of W.A. Mozart. It was primarily a showcase of operatic arias—all in Italian, by the way—although the program began with the overture to “Don Giovanni” and ended with the playing of all three movements of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 (“Prague”).
Leading a cut-down, Mozart-sized version of the Vienna Philharmonic was Daniel Harding. The orchestra was comprised of all male players, which seemed strange in this day and age, not to mention a bit off-putting. Perhaps they were aiming for historic authenticity, as I’m sure no woman ever graced the orchestra pit during Mozart’s day.
In addition to the two aforementioned orchestral works, eight arias performed by seven different singers made up the balance of the program. The three big names were (in order of vocal appearance) bass/baritone René Pape, baritone Thomas Hampson and, in the night’s most electrifying performance, soprano Anna Netrebko. More on that farther down the page. The also-rans included tenor Michael Schade, soprano Patricia Petitbon, mezzo Magdalena Kožená, and soprano Ekaterina Siurina.
It was a shame that the only person to sing more than one aria was the tenor. Judging from his selections—“Dalla sua pace” from “Don Giovanni” plus a rarely performed aria from “La Clemenza di Tito”—Schade has an adequate voice. But his presence only served to emphasize the fact that Mozart wrote poorly for the tenor voice. That could be because there were no decent tenors during his days in Salzburg, or perhaps one might credit it to some innate dislike of tenors. It’s even possible that a tenor had once attempted to seduce his wife. Whatever the reason, I don’t believe there’s a single tenor aria in all of Mozart’s œuvre that’s worth a damn—and Schade proved that in spades.
René Pape opened the vocal proceedings with Leporello’s “catalogue” aria from “Don Giovanni.” Pape is an up-and-coming presence on world opera stages—although he’s been around the block a few times, as they say—and his animated, expressive presentation captured perfectly the essence of a character who both despises his master and vicariously revels in the man’s conquests.
Thomas Hampson, on the other hand, appeared from his singular offering to be someone on his way down the ladder. While his voice has not declined nearly as much as that of fellow American Samuel Ramey, Hampson’s rendition of a baritone aria from “Così fan Tutte”—so much more an opera about women’s voices than men’s—was pedestrian, underpowered and dull. A more dynamic choice might have served him better, such as one of the Count’s arias from “Nozze.”
Magdalena Kožená did a fine job with “Parto, ma tu ben mio” from “Clemenza.” This is an oft-heard mezzo staple in vocal competitions; in that setting—performed by a young singer to mere piano accompaniment—it can be almost tedious. But with full orchestra and sung by a professional, it’s a dramatic piece where one can clearly imagine the male soprano voice for which it was originally composed—and I mean that in a good way. Mozart’s pairing of solo clarinet with the vocal line is a brilliant touch, presaging similar effects of soprano and solo violin in Meyerbeer’s “Margherita d’Anjou” and soprano and solo flute in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
French soprano Patricia Petitbon did a decent job with her selection from “Mitridate, re di Ponto.” It’s far from a challenging piece but shows off the soprano voice to good effect. The surprise, however, is the fact that this opera debuted when Mozart was only 14. The music seems far too sophisticated for having been written by a young teenager, no matter how precocious. I guess that just shows the man’s genius.
Ekaterina Siurina sang a soprano aria from “Idomeneo,” an opera seria composed when Mozart was 24. Totally forgettable, both the song and its performance.
The highlight of the evening clearly featured Anna Netrebko. She is the current hot female in the opera world—and not just because she’s got a marvelous voice. She also has immense stage presence, a flair for the dramatic that’s tempered with sensitivity, and a selection of starring roles that would make any soprano drool. Take a look at her 2006-07 schedule:
Manon (title role)—Los Angeles Opera and Vienna State Opera
La Sonnambula (title role)—Vienna State Opera
La Bohème (Mimi) and I Puritani (Elvira)—Metropolitan Opera
Don Giovanni (Donna Anna)—Covent Garden
Concerts with Rolando Villazon (three) and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (one)
Closing out the vocal portion of the night’s performance, Netrebko offered “D’oreste, d’Ajace” from the opera “Idomeneo.” The strong ovation she received at the conclusion of her aria was directly appropriate to the fire she exhibited during her all-too-brief appearance on stage. For those of us seeing her for the first time, it was a validation of all the hype she’s received since setting the American opera scene on its ear last year with her appearances as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Looking at the breadth of her repertoire—Mozart, bel canto and Verdi, essentially every important operatic style except verismo—one wonders how long she can keep up this sort of pace.
Judging from the level of energy she displayed on Great Performances, I’m guessing we’re in for a long and delightful run.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Database Diving RE: The Met
Once again, some research that I’ve been doing for an essay on one subject has led me astray—and directly into another. While perusing the Metropolitan Opera’s newly designed Web site, I stumbled across some fascinating data that has prompted me to shift gears—thus the basis of today’s blog. I’ll return to my original topic—technical observations on the newest form of opera broadcasts—in a few days.
The Metropolitan in New York is generally viewed as opera’s flagship location, having supplanted over the years such venues as Milan’s La Scala and London’s Covent Garden. Much of the Met’s prominence can be attributed to Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts that, every winter and spring since the 1930s, have brought a small slice of New York culture to the world. Another reason involves the sheer number and variety of works performed there, as will be discussed below.
Much the same way that Carnegie Hall is the ultimate destination for aspiring concert musicians, nearly every opera singer hopes one day to sing at the Met. Politics aside—and there are plenty of those, you can be sure—the thrill of performing in a Metropolitan Opera production can hardly be matched elsewhere, or so I’ve heard. My own budding professional singing career began and ended on the stage of old Symphony Hall in Minneapolis, so I can only imagine what it must be like to step out into the footlights and gaze upward toward those gorgeous, sparkling chandeliers allegedly designed (or at least conceptualized) by Beverly Sills.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Met’s new Web site is its listing of every production they’ve done since the company got its start back in the mid-1880s. This Repertory Report acknowledges the title of every opera, its number of performances, the date of the first performance of that work, and the date of its most recent performance.
Only two operas have been seen more than a thousand times on Met stages—Puccini’s “La Bohème” (1178) and Verdi’s “Aida” (1093). Rounding out the top five are Bizet’s “Carmen” (936), Verdi’s “La Traviata” (917) and Puccini’s “Tosca” (880). Not surprisingly, each of those operas was featured as recently as the 2005-06 season.
For the Met’s inaugural season, here’s the lineup in order of each composition’s debut:
- Faust (Gounod) — October 22, 1883
- Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti) — October 24, 1883
- Il Trovatore (Verdi) — October 26, 1883
- I Puritani (Bellini) — October 29, 1883
- Mignon (Thomas) — October 31, 1883
- La Traviata (Verdi) — November 5, 1883
- Lohengrin (Wagner) — November 7, 1883
- La Sonnambula (Bellini) — November 14, 1883
- Rigoletto (Verdi) — November 16, 1883
- Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer) — November 19, 1883
- Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) — November 23, 1883
- Don Giovanni (Mozart) — November 28, 1883
- Mefistofele (Boito) — December 5, 1883
- La Gioconda (Ponchielli) — December 20, 1883
- Martha (Flotow) — January 4, 1884
- Carmen (Bizet) — January 5, 1884
- Le Prophète (Meyerbeer) — February 12, 1884
- Hamlet (Thomas) — February 21, 1884
- Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer) — March 19, 1884
- Roméo et Juliet (Gounod) — April 16, 1884
Categorized by the language in which the original libretti were written, this first season featured ten Italian operas, eight French operas, one German opera, and “Martha,” which may have been sung in German although is often performed in English here in the States.
These days the Metropolitan Opera is known for its extravagant productions, including elaborate sets, fancy costumes, well-known conductors and (relatively) highly paid singers. Even in its infancy the house did not skimp on expenditures, which makes the next discovery even more puzzling.
Mounting a new opera involves a lot of costs, directly recoverable only by amortizing them over many performances. There are certainly opportunities where costumes, props and sets can be employed for more than one opera—the priestly garb and Renaissance-era furniture from the first act of Meyerbeer’s “L’africaine” will serve equally well in a production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo”—but other expenses involve a one-time outlay that is unique to that production. This would include renting or purchasing musical scores, paying performers for rehearsal time, the cost of stage direction, and so on.
These days, opera companies from different cities share productions over the course of multiple seasons. That’s another way to keep costs down. One of the exciting things about Denver’s new opera house is the fact that performances here are no longer being done “in the round”—an execrable practice for much of the past 20 years due to the venue the company was forced to use—which allows productions done in more conventional spaces to play here. For example, the version of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” that will close our company’s 2006-07 season was created in cooperation with the Boston Lyric Opera and the Minnesota Opera.
But the Met doesn’t often share productions with other houses, choosing instead to design and build everything on its own. So it was interesting for me to see so many operas listed that barely made a dent in the overall performance history at the Met. And what’s even more fascinating, some of the works performed a bare handful of times are quite popular, if not downright important.
Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” first appeared at the Met in January 1894, only three years after its Rome debut. The opera has been seen only five more times there, most recently in 1923. Other reasonably well known operas with a mere half-dozen Met performances include Puccini’s very first composition, “Le Villi” (last performed in 1909), Lalo’s “Le Roi d’Ys” (last performed in 1922) and Massenet’s “Le Roi de Lahore” (last performed in 1924). Here are some other surprises. Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” (soon to be a subject of this very blog) has been performed only four times at the Met (most recently in 1916), as well as Catalani’s “La Wally” (last performed in 1909). The biggest surprise of all? Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia,” often considered his greatest dramatic triumph after “Lucia,” has only been seen ONCE on Met stages—on December 5, 1904. What’s up with that?
A listing of the other singular operatic performances at the Met (six works in addition to the Donizetti) dredges up an unsurprising number of forgotten compositions. The only other name on the list familiar to me without requiring further research was “The Telephone,” a Gian-Carlo Menotti P-O-C whose only redeeming value is that it’s short. The other one-time wonders include “The Happy Prince” (Malcolm Williamson), “Santus Francisus” (Adriano Ariani), “Mors et Vita” (Charles Gounod), “Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor” (Otto Nicolai) and “Cecilia Valdes” (Gonzalo Roig)—although the latter is more properly classified as a zarzuela, the uniquely Spanish form of opera.
Some additional operas that have seen surprisingly little life at the Met include Boieldieu’s “La Dame Blanche” (3x), a three-act opera that had enjoyed incredible popularity in 19th century Paris, Rossini’s “Il Signor Bruschino” (5x), the most acclaimed of his five one-act comedies, Cimarosa’s “Il Matrimonio Segreto” (2x), the composer’s best-known work and probably the finest example of “opera buffa” to come out of late 18th-century Italy, and Spontini’s “Fernand Cortez” (4x), one of his two operas (the better-known “La Vestale” is the other) to be recognized as having laid the groundwork for transmogrifying the art form into “grand” opera.
Since Giacomo Meyerbeer is one of my compositional heroes, I could hardly close this essay without resorting to at least a partial rant. His five French operas—taken together they constitute more total performances and greater generated revenue than any other grouping of five operas ever produced in Paris—have been shamefully underrepresented at the Met.
Meyerbeer’s three-act “Dinorah” was performed a mere total of five times, most recently in 1925. His grandest opera, “Les Huguenots,” has enjoyed 129 performances, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone is still alive who saw it at the Met, since it was last done there on April 26, 1915. I think that’s a disgrace. His final opera, “L’africaine,” clocks in at 71 performances, the most recent of which was in 1934. The opera “Le Prophète,” revived as a vehicle for Marilyn Horne and last performed at the Met in 1979, has had a total of 99 performances. And Meyerbeer’s very first grand opera, the tuneful and dramatic “Robert le Diable,” has been done there only seven times, and not since 1884!
You can validate your own rant (“I can’t believe that the Met has done “Die Fledermaus” almost twice as many times as “Eugene Onegin”) or spend countless hours checking out the depth and breadth of your favorite singer’s historical Met repertoire by visiting here and following the appropriate links. Happy hunting!