If Giacomo Puccini, almost 100 years after his demise, may have attended the Metropolitan Opera’s latest New Yr’s Eve gala, he absolutely would have been impressed. The night featured Anna Netrebko, the corporate’s reigning prima donna, in acts from three of his operas — “La Bohème,” “Tosca” and “Turandot” — and she or he was in her glory.
But Puccini would possibly nicely be perplexed by Ms. Netrebko’s profession. He would in all probability surprise why she sings solely roles which can be a century previous, not less than. In spite of everything, the star singers of his day coveted alternatives to create characters in new works. The place are the brand new roles written for Ms. Netrebko?
Don’t get me mistaken. We opera lovers rely on singers of at this time with very good voices and riveting stage presences to maintain the nice works of the previous alive. Ms. Netrebko is poised to turn into an exhilarating Turandot; she debuts the entire half onstage on the Bavarian State Opera in Munich later this month and can sing it on the Met in the course of the 2021-22 season. Depend me in.
However the truth that so many singers of her stature hew to the usual repertory suggests how stultified the world of opera has turn into for the reason that days when Puccini’s operas took the world by storm. Of the 25 operas the Met is presenting this season, 5 are by Puccini; not a single providing is new. (The latest is Philip Glass’s 35-year-old “Akhnaten,” which was a sold-out hit within the fall.)
All of us love “La Bohème.” However the steadiness of previous and new is approach off, and Ms. Netrebko and different artists of her caliber may use their star energy to assist the scenario. I want they’d: When Renée Fleming is the event for a new “Streetcar Named Desire” opera, or Plácido Domingo places his movie star behind an adaptation of “Il Postino,” it’s the exception that proves the rule.
Let’s check out the celebrities of the early 20th century, whose repertories had been dominated by new and up to date operas. When Enrico Caruso, who created a raft of roles in Italian works, sang Radamès in Verdi’s “Aida” to open the Met’s 1904-05 season, that opera was a newer piece than “Akhnaten” is at this time.
And think about the sopranos who created the roles Ms. Netrebko sang on the gala. Cesira Ferrani, who had already premiered Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” sang Mimì within the 1896 premiere of “La Bohème.” Ferrani’s repertory additionally included Wagner’s Elsa and Eva and Verdi’s Gilda — all in works of the previous 50 years.
Verdi’s Violetta, Desdemona and Aida had been basically fashionable elements when sung by Hariclea Darclée, who premiered the title function of “Tosca” in 1900 and had already created the main elements in Catalani’s “La Wally” and Mascagni’s “Iris,” amongst different premieres. Rosa Raisa — who dazzled Puccini and, throughout an extended profession, received acclaim as his Mimì, Tosca and Butterfly — sang the title function in “Turandot” for its 1926 premiere in Milan. Seven months later, “Turandot” had its North American premiere on the Met that includes Maria Jeritza, who additionally debuted the title roles in each variations of Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos,” in addition to the Empress in his “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.” Jeritza was each a mainstream star and what we’d now describe (and often ghettoize) as a “new-music soprano.”
Creating new works had been the central focus of opera since its delivery within the early 17th century, a mission that continued into the early 20th century. What occurred over the following many years to make new operas, and the artists who sang them, appear to be individuals in a specialised nook of the style?
One issue was the falling away of audiences for modern “classical” music. That story often places the blame on composers for writing complicated, atonal works that nobody wished to listen to. That is an unfair simplification of an advanced historical past. Many of those supposedly off-putting items are thrilling. And lots of composers throughout these many years wrote in musical languages that, nevertheless new and difficult, additionally had nice attract and wonder. However the harm was performed.
A extra vital downside got here from the advertising and marketing of classical music as soon as star performers, and their promoters, realized that huge careers could possibly be made out of sticking to the classics. (It’s no shock that this was the daybreak of recordings.) And there’s no disgrace in sustaining a repertory, or in uncovering earlier works along with creating new ones.
This honorable purpose entails a major shift. Within the days earlier than operas had been obtainable on recordings, audiences had insatiable starvation for brand spanking new works and complete swaths of the repertory had been allowed to basically disappear — for instance, a lot of the operas of the bel canto period of the early 19th century. It was not till the 1950s that many once-hailed works by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini had been heard once more, because of highly effective champions like Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.
We must always not let these, and different necessary earlier works, slip away. However do we’d like 5 Puccini operas in a single Met season to maintain him on prime? It’s onerous to see how opera could be disadvantaged if “Tosca,” “La Traviata” or “Carmen” had been introduced again solely every now and then with top-notch casts and freshly directed productions. Evaluate opera to musical theater, the place a brand new Broadway manufacturing of “Gypsy,” one of many nice musicals, comes alongside occasionally and every time is handled like a significant occasion. Maybe audiences clamor for “Aida” as a result of that’s all they’ve been given.
If the Netrebkos and Jonas Kaufmanns of at this time usually are not fostering the creation of recent operas, some notable artists are taking on the slack, amongst them sopranos like Julia Bullock and Barbara Hannigan.
Ms. Bullock, who first gained consideration as a scholar on the Juilliard Faculty in operas by Janacek and Massenet, has lately turn into a composers’ muse. She sang the lead within the 2017 premiere of John Adams’s “Girls of the Golden West” in San Francisco, and an important supporting function within the premiere of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” on the Opera Theater of St. Louis final summer season. She has collaborated on unconventional new works like “Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine,” a mirrored image on the life and artwork of Josephine Baker, and “Zauberland,” a mash-up of recent music and Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.”
I may think about Ms. Bullock making, for instance, an exquisite Susanna in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.” However she is clearly extra drawn to new music — on this approach, she’s paradoxically a sort of throwback.
Ms. Hannigan, who can be a conductor, has memorably sung the elusive heroine of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” and the title function of Berg’s “Lulu,” already on the perimeters of the usual repertory. She helped make historical past by creating a number one function in George Benjamin’s “Written on Pores and skin,” maybe a very powerful opera of the 2010s, and likewise his “Classes in Love and Violence.”
Artists should make their very own selections and carry out the works that encourage them. That goes for Ms. Netrebko, too, who received reward early in her profession for taking up some 20th century operas by Prokofiev. When she brings blazing depth and vocal splendor to Aida, Woman Macbeth and Turandot, it’s maybe unfair to ask for extra.
But it surely stays onerous for me to grasp how any artist of her items wouldn’t be drawn to new music as nicely the revered repertory. When sure artists dedicate themselves to dwelling composers and others sing solely the classics, it sends an unlucky message: that new and previous music are separate worlds.
It makes me admire all of the extra these singers whose careers mixed the acquainted and the brand new, like Renée Fleming, who created roles in works by Conrad Susa and André Previn (that “Streetcar”); Nathan Gunn, who turned the go-to baritone for brand spanking new operas by Tobias Picker, Daron Hagen, Jennifer Higdon and Peter Eotvos; and Daybreak Upshaw. I’ll always remember listening to Ms. Upshaw as Clémence within the premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin” at the Salzburg Festival in 2000. On the Met she additionally created the function of Daisy Buchanan in John Harbison’s “The Nice Gatsby,” and appeared there as Mozart’s Susanna, Despina and Pamina; Stravinsky’s Anne Trulove; Mélisande; and extra.
Ms. Netrebko has formidable plans, together with the daunting title function of Strauss’s “Salome.” Extra energy to her. But think about if she unfold the phrase that she was desirous about singing one thing actually new. Composers would line up for the chance.