The Ring: Wagner's Genius, Through the Prism of Our Time

Monday, September 10, 2012
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Gotterdammerung at the Met
A scene from Wagner's Götterdämmerung with Jay Hunter Morris (on boat) as Siegfried, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gutrune, Iain Paterson as Gunther, and Hans-Peter König as Hagen.
(Courtesy of Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Richard Wagner's masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, comes to WGBH in a stunning production by Robert Lepage at the Metropolitan Opera.

The complete four-opera cycle is accompanied by a documentary that takes you behind the scenes of an unprecedented theatrical achievement.

In 1876, Richard Wagner realized one of the most improbable and ambitious dreams any artist could have: his 16-hour, four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen was performed for the first time at the purpose-built opera house in Bayreuth, Germany. There is no real precedent. Wagner wrote the story, the words, and the music. He envisioned the staging, and so unique was his vision that an instrument had to be invented to realize his ideal sound.

It only makes sense, then, that The Ring would inspire some of the most ambitious opera productions in every age since. Robert Lepage's production for the Metropolitan Opera may be the most ambitious yet. Its set rivals Bayreuth itself for audacity of vision, to the degree that the Met was required to reinforce its stage just to support it.

Join us for this unique production of The Ring, with acclaimed performances by Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, Bryn Terfel as Wotan, and Eric Owens as Alberich.

Video Previews and Schedule (all on WGBH 2 except where noted):

Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold)
Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 9pm
Sunday, Sept. 16, at 12am

In the first opera of the cycle, Alberich steals gold from the Rhine River and forges a ring that gives its holder immense power. Wotan, king of the gods, steals it, but Alberich's curse on the ring sets off a series of events that leads eventually to Wotan's destruction.

With Starring Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Patricia Bardon (Erda), Richard Croft (Loge), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Eric Owens (Alberich), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt), and Hans-Peter König (Fafner); conducted by James Levine

Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 9pm

As Siegmund finds shelter in the strangely familiar arms of Sieglinde, Wotan’s daughter, Brünnhilde, intervenes on behalf of the hero. Brünnhilde thus forces her father to choose between his love for his favorite daughter and his duty to his wife, Fricka. Wotan takes away Brünnhilde’s godlike powers and puts her to sleep on a mountaintop, surrounded by a ring of magic fire that can only be crossed by the bravest of heroes.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Hans-Peter König (Hunding); conducted by James Levine


Thursday, Sept. 13, at 9pm

The hero Siegfried grows up in the wilderness, puts together the broken pieces of the sword Nothung, and uses it to slay the fearsome dragon Fafner, taking the ring for himself. To fulfill his destiny, he must overcome Wotan, now disguised as the Wanderer and cross through the magic fire to awaken his true love, Brünnhilde.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Patricia Bardon (Erda), Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Bryn Terfel (The Wanderer), Eric Owens (Alberich); conducted by Fabio Luisi

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)
Friday, Sept. 14, at 9pm

Siegfried and Brünnhilde’s love is torn apart by the curse of the ring. A trio of scheming humans separates the two heroes in a desperate attempt to steal the ring for themselves. Their villainous plan fails, but they succeed in murdering Siegfried. Heartbroken, Brünnhilde takes the ring and leaps into the hero’s funeral pyre, causing a global cataclysm and the twilight of the gods.

With Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Gutrune), Waltraud Meier (Waltraute), Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried), Iain Paterson (Gunther), Eric Owens (Alberich), Hans-Peter König (Hagen); conducted by Fabio Luisi

Wagner's Dream
Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 2am
Thursday, Sept. 13, at 2:30am (WGBX 44)
Saturday, Sept. 15, at 3am
Monday, Sept. 17, at 3am

Film maker Susan Froemke traces the story of Robert Lepage's production of The Ring for the Metropolitan Opera, from General Manager Peter Gelb's request for the production, through the conception of the staging, to the execution of the massive machinery required for the cycle, in a story nearly as dramatic as The Ring itself.


Opera Bash 2012, Part 2

Thursday, August 23, 2012
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WGBH's Opera Bash 2012 continues on Sunday, Sept. 2 on WGBH 2 and 44, and on Classical New England

Sponsorship of Opera Bash is generously provided by Boston Lyric Opera.

Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov
12am on WGBH 2
Adapted from a play by Alexander Pushkin about the extraordinary reign of the 16th-century tsar, Boris Godunov is regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Russian operatic repertoire. René Pape sings the title role, and the cast includes Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko as Grigory/The Pretender Dimitri and Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk as Princess Marina. Other notable Russian singers making their Met role debuts in this production are bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin as Rangoni, bass Mikhail Petrenko as Pimen, and tenor Oleg Balashov as Shuisky. Bass Vladimir Ognovenko reprises his portrayal of Varlaam in this performance conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor
3:30am on WGBH 2
French soprano Natalie Dessay sings one of her greatest roles as Donizetti’s fragile heroine, with the remarkable young tenor Joseph Calleja as Edgardo, Ludovic Tézier as Enrico and Kwangchul Youn as Raimondo. Patrick Summers, the Music Director of Houston Grand Opera, conducts.

Rossini's Armida
Noon on WGBX 44
Soprano Renée Fleming triumphs as the vengeful sorceress in the title role of Gioachino Rossini’s Armida, based on 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso’s epic Gerusalemme Liberata (“Jerusalem Delivered”), a tale of the scorned seductress that has inspired more than 100 operas and ballets, including Handel’s Rinaldo and Haydn’s Armida. The cast includes multiple tenors: Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo, a knight of the Crusade who falls into the clutches of Armida; Barry Banks and Kobie van Rensburg as Carlo and Ubaldo, two knights who attempt to rescue Rinaldo; and John Osborn as their commander Goffredo. Riccardo Frizza conducts the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and cast in a prodution directed by Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman.

A Legendary All-Wagner Program from Tanglewood
1pm on Classical New England
Asher Fisch leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a reconstruction of the never-completed concert programmed for Aug. 12, 1937: Wagner's Overtures to Rienzi and Tannhäuser, "Forest Murmurs" from Siegfried, and more. (The concert was rained out, providing the impetus for the construction of the Koussevitzky Music Shed.)

Hear the concert

Conductor Asher Fisch talks about his fascination with Wagner and the composer's place in history:

Hear the story of Tanglewood's origin and the storm that led to the Koussevitzky Music Shed

Verdi's Il Trovatore
3pm on WGBX 44
David McVicar’s critically acclaimed production features Marcelo Álvarez as the heroic troubadour of the title, Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora, Dolora Zajick as Azucena, the gypsy with a dark secret, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna. The New York Times applauded McVicar’s “clear-headed, psychologically insightful and fluid staging.” This staging of Il Trovatore, which is visually inspired by Francisco Goya’s series of prints entitled “The Disasters of War,” features sets by Charles Edwards, costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreography by Leah Hausman.

Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice with Boston Baroque
3pm on Classical New England
Martin Pearlman leads Boston Baroque in Gluck's revolutionary expression of the power of love, with countertenor Owen Willetts as Orfeo, soprano Mary Wilson as Euridice, and soprano Courtney Huffman as Amor, along with the orchestra and chorus of Boston Baroque.

Listen online now
Download program notes
See a translation

Verdi's La Traviata
5:30pm on WGBX 44

Acclaimed French soprano Natalie Dessay makes her Met role debut as Violetta, the fallen woman who sacrifices her last chance for love, and Matthew Polenzani co-stars as Alfredo Germont, a young man from a good family who is willing to risk everything for Violetta. Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, who disapproves of Violetta’s lifestyle, but is moved by her plight. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads Verdi’s romantic tragedy, one of the most beloved operas of all time, in Willy Decker’s highly theatrical production, a hit when it premiered at the Met in 2010.

Agostino Steffani's Niobe, Regina di Tebe from Boston Early Music Festival
6:30pm on Classical New England
Soprano Amanda Forsythe sings the role of Niobe, Queen of Thebes, and countertenor Philippe Jaroussky is Anfione, King of Thebes, in Gilbert Blin's 2011 production of the rarely heard opera by Steffani. Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs direct the BEMF Orchestra and cast in a performance the New York Times called "robust" and "perfectly balanced."

Listen online now

Download program notes and libretto

Donizetti's Anna Bolena
8pm on WGBX 44

Soprano Anna Netrebko stars in her highly anticipated first North American performances of the tour-de-force title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, a compelling dramatization of the tragic final days of Anne Boleyn—whose husband Henry VIII spurns her and has her sentenced to death. Directed by David McVicar and conducted by Marco Armiliato, the cast includes Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova as Anna’s romantic rival, Giovanna (Jane Seymour); Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as the cruel Enrico (Henry VIII); American tenor Stephen Costello as Anna’s first love, Lord Percy; and American mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford as the queen’s devoted page Smeton.

Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann
12am (Monday, Sept. 3) on WGBH 2

Tenor Joseph Calleja sings the title role in what director and Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher calls "a magical journey." Soprano Anna Netrebko sings the roles of both Antonia and Stella, and she's joined by Kathleen Kim as Olympia, Ekaterina Gubanova as Giulietta, and Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse/The Muse. Alan Held sings all four villain roles, and James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and cast.

Puccini's Tosca
3am (Monday, Sept. 3) on WGBH 2

The incomparable Karita Mattila sings the title role of Tosca for the first time outside her native Finland, opposite Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi. George Gagnidze is Scarpia and Paul Plishka is the Sacristan. Joseph Colaneri conducts, and acclaimed director Luc Bondy makes his Met debut with a production that keeps Tosca in the Napoleonic era. “Directing singers in a realistic and precise way is more important than translating this kind of story to today,” he says. “What I’d like to bring out in my production is that difference between blind passion and cold strategy.”

After you've enjoyed Opera Bash, tune in during the weekend of Sept. 10-14 for Robert Lepage's production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The operas – Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung — will be preceded on Monday, September 10, by award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke’s documentary Wagner’s Dream, which chronicles the backstage story of the creation of this ambitious new staging.

Return to Part 1 of Opera Bash 2012

Opera Bash 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012
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Tenor Matthew Polenzani and soprano Natalie Dessay in Willy Decker's production of Verdi's La Traviata
(photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

The annual WGBH Opera Bash features some of today's biggest stars and incredible masterpieces, on WGBH 2 and 44, and on Classical New England.

Sponsorship of Opera Bash is generously provided by Boston Lyric Opera.

Full schedule:

Saturday, Sept. 1

Puccini's Turandot
Noon on WGBX 44
Franco Zeffirelli’s glittering production of Puccini’s Turandot features Maria Guleghina in the title role and Marcello Giordani as Calàf. Marina Poplavskaya sings Liù, Samuel Ramey is Timur, with conductor Andris Nelsons in a grand, dazzling production by Franco Zeffirelli, an audience favorite since its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1987.

Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier
2:30pm on WGBX 44
Richard Strauss’s comic masterpiece of love and intrigue in 18th-century Vienna stars Renée Fleming as the aristocratic Marschallin and Susan Graham in the trouser role of her young lover Octavian. Edo De Waart conducts a cast that includes Christine Schäfer as Sophie, Eric Cutler as the Italian singer, Thomas Allen as Faninal, and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Baron Ochs.

John Adams's Nixon in China
6pm on WGBX 44
The Metropolitan Opera’s premiere production of John Adams’s Nixon in China is conducted by the composer and staged by internationally acclaimed director Peter Sellars. Nixon in China stars James Maddalena as Richard Nixon, a role he created at the opera’s world premiere in 1987. With a libretto by American poet Alice Goodman, the opera is based on significant moments during President Nixon’s visit to China in February of 1972, with the key political figures as the lead characters: Nixon, first lady Pat Nixon (Janis Kelly) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Richard Paul Fink) for the Americans; Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Robert Brubaker), his wife Chiang Ch’ing (Kathleen Kim), and Premier Chou En-lai (Russell Braun) for the Chinese.

Hector Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust
7pm on Classical New England
In a highlight of the 2012 Tanglewood season, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, along with baritone Willard White and bass-baritone Christopher Felgum, joins the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Charles Dutoit for Berlioz's musical drama that channels the words and philosophy of Goethe.

Hear the concert

Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet
9pm on WGBX 44
Baritone Simon Keenlyside is Hamlet and soprano Marlis Petersen is his heart-broken lover Ophélie in a performance that also features Jennifer Larmore as Gertrude, Toby Spence as Laërte and James Morris as Claudius. Louis Langrée conducts the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and cast in this production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser.

See Part 2 of Opera Bash 2012

Boston Lyric Opera's The Inspector

Monday, April 23, 2012
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Massenet's Tribute to Venice

Friday, April 6, 2012
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Charles Gounod: Venise    Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
                                        Hyperion 66112

Jules Massenet: Souvenir de Venise
            Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
                                        Hyperion 66112
Reynaldo Hahn: Venezia: Chansons en Dialecte Vénitien (Songs in the Venetian Dialect)
    Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor; Graham Johnson, piano
    with Felicity Lott, soprano and Richard Jackson, baritone
                                        Hyperion 66112

Love for Sale, in Massenet's 'Manon'

Friday, April 6, 2012
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Host Lisa Simeone presents Manon from the Bastille Opera in Paris, Sunday night at 6:30pm on Classical New England.

A scene from Massenet's 'Manon' (Courtesy of Bastille Opera)

Natalie Dessay (soprano) … Manon
Giuseppe Filianoti (tenor) ... Des Grieux
Franck Ferrari (baritone) …. Lescaut
Paul Gay (bass-baritone) .. Count Des Grieux
Luca Lombardo (tenor) ….. Guillot
André Heyboer (baritone) ... Bretigny
Olivia Doray (soprano) … Pousette
Carol Garcia (mezzo-soprano) …. Javotte
Alisa Kolosova (mezzo-soprano) … Rosette

Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus Evelino Pidò, conducto
Generally, opera is considered a serious art form. By contrast, composer Jules Massenet has been described as a lightweight -- and at times, it's easy to hear why. Even his wildly popular Manon, an opera with a deadly serious story, has plenty of froth.

But it's not only in the supposedly lofty world of opera that we find astonishingly successful composers with lightweight reputations. For another, we can look closer to home, at a legendary figure of American musical theater: Cole Porter.

Porter was a true Broadway genius, a brilliant lyricist and a first-rate composer -- the creator of dozens of hit songs and shows. Was Porter a "lightweight"? Sure, plenty of his best-known songs sound that way: "You're the Top" and "It's De-Lovely" don't pack much emotional wallop. Yet Porter did have a serious side. His classic song "Love for Sale" conjures up the gritty, workaday side of prostitution. The subject matter and its sophisticated, even disturbing tone are hardly the work of a lightweight songwriter.

Getting back to opera, the two-sided nature we hear in Cole Porter's familiar songs and shows can also be found in Massenet's Manon, an opera which touches on the same dramatic territory as Porter's "Love for Sale."

As the opera open's, it's title character is an innocent 15-year-old -- a kid whose amorous "inclinations" have prompted her mom and dad to ship her off to a convent. At first, that seems a bit harsh. By the time the opera is over, we might wonder if her parents were prescient.

During her journey, Manon falls for a well-meaning young man of modest means, who adores her. Before long, though, it's clear that Manon has a taste for opulence as well as romance -- and that she's not above cavorting with rich men she doesn't love in exchange for a luxurious lifestyle. Despite the frothy spots, Massenet's opera doesn't pull any punches, and he gave it all the complex, emotionally powerful music it needs to drive home some pointedly unsavory realities.

On this edition of World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Manon from the Bastille Opera in Paris, starring soprano Natalie Dessay as Manon and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti as Des Grieux, in a production led by conductor Evelino Pidò.

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