A new home in New York

Record Re­view’s Andrew Mcgre­gor delves into the Metropoli­tan Opera’s first sea­son at the Lin­coln Cen­ter

BBC Music Magazine - - OPERA -

This beau­ti­fully pro­duced box (Metropoli­tan Opera 1135701822; 22 discs) cel­e­brates the 50th an­niver­sary of the Met’s first sea­son in its brand new pur­pose­built home at the Lin­coln Cen­ter. And we’re there on the open­ing night: 16 Septem­ber 1966, for the pre­miere of Bar­ber’s Antony and Cleopa­tra. It was writ­ten for Met su­per­star Leon­tyne Price, but Franco Zef­firelli’s pro­duc­tion caused prob­lems as the Met trou­bleshot new tech­nol­ogy – and that ap­plies to the broad­cast as well. They were still fig­ur­ing out where to put the mics, strug­gling with the bal­ance, a dis­tant cho­rus and stage noise. But the elec­tric­ity is pal­pa­ble, and the high­lights disc al­lows us to hear the singers’ nerves in live ra­dio in­ter­views.

They’re still work­ing on the sound in Verdi’s Rigo­letto six months later, but it’s a snap­shot of the mid-1960s Met at its finest. Puc­cini’s Madam But­ter­fly is another Met warhorse, but styles have changed. Re­nata Scotto’s sim­per­ing geisha is an un­com­fort­able car­i­ca­ture, but hear­ing Ge­orge Shirley in one of the five ma­jor roles he took in this in­au­gu­ral sea­son is a priv­i­lege.

Tu­ran­dot boasts a cast to die for: Bir­git Nils­son in a per­for­mance of ter­ri­fy­ing power, Franco Corelli match­ing her for pres­ence, and a young Mirella Freni as Liu.

James Mccracken’s rag­ing Otello is another high spot, along­side Tito Gobbi’s malev­o­lent Iago, and Montser­rat Ca­ballé’s heart­stop­ping Des­de­mona.

For a proper sense of the Met ensem­ble, sam­ple the al­most all-amer­i­can Magic Flute, with Josef Krips con­duct­ing. There’s not a lot of Ger­man opera in the set, but there is also Strauss’s

Die Frau ohne Schat­ten, with Walter Berry and Christa Lud­wig su­perbly matched, and the Met orches­tra ex­celling for Karl Böhm.

Brit­ten’s Peter Grimes made its first re­turn to the Met since the ’40s, with Jon Vicker mes­meris­ing in the ti­tle role. Verdi’s Aida fields a dream team: Leon­tyne Price, Grace Bum­bry and Carlo Ber­gonzi with Thomas Schip­pers con­duct­ing. It’s an ex­pe­ri­ence so mag­i­cal you will for­get it’s mono, noisy and awk­wardly bal­anced.

With ten com­plete broad­cast op­eras, this set is a time cap­sule, a trea­sure trove, and adds up to much more than a snap­shot of a very spe­cial sea­son.

Verdi’s fields a dream team with Leon­tyne Price

ahead of the game: opera-go­ers queue for tick­ets for the pre­miere of Antony and Cleopa­tra at the Met in 1966

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