The Met Champion
The Met Champion

The Metropolitan Opera’s New Season of Cutting-Edge Theatricality

Long before there were Broadway musicals, theater audiences were drawn to a form of popular entertainment that told thrilling stories by fusing music and drama, enhancing them with scenic and costume design, and reflecting the talents of a diverse array of artists. Today, one of the leading international venues for that form — opera — remains just steps away from the Theatre District… in the same building complex, in fact, where Lincoln Center Theater presents its Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

That would be the Metropolitan Opera. And this season, fans can enjoy both new productions and revivals steered by some of theater’s most distinguished and successful directors. They can also take in a contemporary work, Champion, composed by celebrated jazz musician Terence Blanchard, whose music has been showcased in a couple of Broadway presentations, including the most recent revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.

A scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Photo by Charles Duprat / Paris Opera.
A scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Photo by Charles Duprat / Paris Opera.

Other new outings include a Die Zauberflöte, the Mozart classic known in English as The Magic Flute, helmed by British stage director and actor Simon McBurney, whose various Broadway credits include a 2008 revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Another Mozart gem, Don Giovanni, is directed by Ivo van Hove, the renowned Belgian innovator whose fresh takes on West Side Story and two other Arthur Miller favorites, The Crucible and A View From the Bridge, have run on Broadway.

The season’s revivals include productions of enduringly popular works, such as Puccini’s Tosca and La Bohème, Verdi’s Aida, and, for Shakespeare fans, Falstaff. Perpetually busy Broadway director Michael Mayer’s take on Verdi’s beloved romantic tragedy La Traviata will be performed through March 18. And a witty, rhapsodic presentation of Donizetti’s comedy L’Elisir d’Amore by esteemed theater and opera director Bartlett Sher — one of this century’s top interpreters of classic American musicals, who’s also staging a new Camelot at Lincoln Center Theater this spring — has performances through April 29.

When current Met general manager Peter Gelb assumed that position in 2006, one of his priorities was to deliver productions that were cutting-edge in terms of their theatricality. That mission involved enlisting directors celebrated for their work in other arenas, including theater. Notably, some of those directors — among them Sher, van Hove, Peter Sellars, and Richard Eyre — have also earned acclaim for their work in opera at other venues.

Act II of Puccini's "La Bohème." Photo: Evan Zimmerman / Met Opera
Act II of Puccini’s La Bohème. Photo by Evan Zimmerman / Met Opera.

Van Hove, whose Don Giovanni is set to open May 5 and run through June 2, sees the genres as deeply connected. “In a way, directing a Mozart opera is like directing Shakespeare in the theater,” he says. “Why would you be an opera director if you’re not interested in Mozart? He so fundamentally reinvented what opera could be — how dramatic it could be, how human it could be, and how it could deal with big ideas and big themes.”

Big talent is, of course, another hallmark at the Met, where the world’s leading singers, musicians, designers, visual artists, and choreographers also contribute to a sensory experience that’s unique in its scale and majesty. “You understand why it’s the Met, because everybody there is on their job,” says Blanchard, whose Champion, inspired by real-life boxer Emile Griffith, will be performed between April 10 and May 13. “Everybody is extremely talented. There are no weak links. And that shows in the productions they put on.”

And like the most compelling Broadway productions, those at the Met find these various artists lending their gifts to a distinctive creative vision — in this case, that of the composer and librettist as channeled through the director. Discussing Die Zauberflöte, scheduled to begin performances May 19 and wrap June 10, McBurney says, “The point is to be true to something as you find it, not listen to what people have said about it, or not to think about how people have done it before — but to try and listen to its own beating heart.” (Tony Award winner Julie Taymor’s own take on The Magic Flute has been a holiday favorite at the Met for years.)

Joshua Hopkins as Papageno in a scene from Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
Joshua Hopkins as Papageno in a scene from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Photo by Marty Sohl / Met Opera.

McBurney notes that Mozart had been asked to craft an operatic production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest when he crafted Zauberflöte, “and you can see all sorts of echoes with The Tempest” in the opera. “If you think about The Tempest, it’s hilariously funny, but it’s deeply serious at the same time. It is both fantastic and political. It is both a social comment and a great flight of the imagination” — everything, in other words, that a theatergoer could ask for.

Blanchard muses, “I’ve been telling all of my friends, ‘Stop thinking opera, stop thinking opera.’ Because when you say opera, in your mind you start seeing a Viking with horns and a staff. You have to think about this being the greatest musical experience that you could have. It’s the highest level of musical theater that you can experience. And when you look at it from that standpoint, the sky is the limit. Everything is available to you.”

Header image is Ryan Speedo Green as Young Emile Griffith in Terence Blanchard’s Champion. Photo by Zenith Richards / Met Opera.