NEW YORK >> Two tragedies of love and death, along with the inspiring story of a patriot who leads his people against foreign oppressors, top the critics' picks for the upcoming Metropolitan Opera season.
The Associated Press asked music reviewers and writers around the country which single production they were most looking forward to. Of the two dozen who responded, virtually all chose one of these three:
• Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," which opens the season on Monday. Wrote Tim Smith of The Baltimore Sun: "If I could pick only one Met production, it would have to be the new 'Tristan,' since I've always found Mariusz Trelinski to be an incisive, imaginative director; any chance to hear Nina Stemme's Isolde should be jumped at; and (conductor) Simon Rattle is all too rare a presence on these shores. Seems to me this one has the ingredients for something that just might be downright historic."
• Kaija Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)," premiering Dec. 1. Steve Smith, formerly of The Boston Globe and now director of publications for National Sawdust, praised "the moody, atmospheric, and original recent work that established the brilliant Finnish composer" adding, "... its arrival addresses in a forceful way the Met's historically modest interest in modern works and the inexplicable lack of women composers represented there. A marvelous cast and the company debut of the dynamic conductor Susanna Malkki help to guarantee a fascinating evening."
• Rossini's "Guillaume Tell," premiering Oct. 18. Philip Kennicott, former music critic and now art and architecture critic for The Washington Post, noted that "it's been more than 80 years since Rossini's last opera has been heard at the Met. It's long, complicated, and fiendishly difficult to cast well, but an opera of great importance in the history of the form, a work that pointed to a new age of opera. ... So I have high hopes for this rarely staged but magnificent work."
Asked which individual performers they were most anticipating, several critics mentioned singers from the productions mentioned above:
• Nina Stemme, the Swedish soprano who stars as Isolde. Vivien Schweitzer, former contributor to The New York Times who is now writing a book on opera, said she was impressed with Stemme's "stunning performances in 'Turandot' and 'Elektra' last season at the Met; she sang both title roles with a powerful, luxuriant voice and imbued her portrayals with myriad emotional nuances. So I'm excited to hear her sing Isolde, her signature role."
• Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, who portrays the title role in "Tell." Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine said, "Finley has long been one of the great singing actors on the stage, and his work seems only to be deepening with time."
• American tenor Bryan Hymel, who takes on the notoriously difficult role of Arnold in "Tell." James Jorden, who covers opera for the New York Observer, wrote: "Much as I adore my divas, the performance I'm already losing sleep over is Bryan Hymel as Arnold, a meeting of a skyscraper of a role with a once-in-a-century voice that seems literally to have no upper limit."
Other respondents looked farther afield through the 33-week season. Among their favorites:
• Karita Mattila, who portrays the heroine's stepmother in Janacek's "Jenufa," opening Oct. 28. Micaela Baranello, who blogs about opera at likelyimpossibilities.com, said of Mattila, "She's often really over the top and I've mostly seen her in femme fatale-type roles. I think she'll be amazing as a super-villain."
• Elizabeth DeShong, who stars as the title character in Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algieri," beginning Oct. 4. F. Paul Driscoll, editor-in-chief of Opera News magazine, wrote of her: "She is a terrific young American mezzo who is a first-rate Rossini singer; she's not yet had an opportunity this good in New York, and Isabella suits her ideally."
• Javier Camarena, who stars in Bellini's "I Puritani" starting Feb. 10. Greg Sandow, veteran critic, composer and consultant, wrote that the Mexican tenor "sings with melting beauty and irresistible appeal. This is one of the hardest tenor roles, and Camarena, a big audience favorite, should soar."
• Anna Netrebko. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle singled out the Russian soprano's appearances in Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," beginning Nov. 14, writing that, "I'm still sort of reeling from the stretches of it on her magnificent new 'Verismo' disc and would love to hear and see her do the whole role."
• Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer and appears as the title character in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," beginning March 30. "Given the state of his health, every performance he gives is something to be savored," wrote George Loomis, who covers New York for Opera magazine and MusicalAmerica.com. "And with Anna Netrebko joining him in Onegin it is sure to be a performance one will not forget."