"All of my career," says Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera since 2006, "my goal has been to connect performing artists to as broad an audience as possible." From Horowitz in London: A Royal Concert, in 1982, to Handel's Agrippina, broadcast live in HD from the Met on February 29, 2020, video has been Gelb's most powerful means to that end. His next act, tailored to the pandemic, is the 12-part pay-per-view series "Met Stars Live in Concert," opening July 18 with Jonas Kaufmann in recital at Bavaria's picture-postcard-perfect Polling Abbey and continuing through December 19.
No, this is not a reboot of the makeshift, partly prerecorded At-Home Gala that Gelb masterminded for the Met this past April, with artists on lockdown Zooming in from the four corners of the earth, at the mercy of often iffy transmission. "While there's always the chance of a momentary glitch," Gelb said to me, "the satellite technology on which we're relying in the new series will deliver very high quality audio and picture resolution. The programs are being produced with multiple cameras and top-notch audio equipment."
The recitals are airing from glamorous spaces few concertgoers ever see, at least one of them outdoors. Gary Halvorson, who has been with "The Met: Live in HD" since its inception in 2006, thus confronts a slew of fresh logistical challenges. "Each location has its own parameters," he says. "Picking different equipment and positions for each one—it's very difficult. In our first show, we'll have cameras hidden behind the columns in an abbey. In a show from a palace in Oslo, we literally have to shoot through doorways, because the rooms are so small. We work with a script, but you have to be ready for the unexpected. And the unexpected happens all the time. It's like a football game. You never know where the ball will be."
Music documentaries that Gelb has produced in the past, material staged exclusively for the camera, show artists in the privacy of their workshops, without an audience present. In the new series, the same arrangement serves a different purpose. It removes a barrier. "I think the most expressive artists, whether vocalists or instrumentalists, transcend the medium," Gelb says. "At a time when artists and audiences are unable to physically reach each other, we're hopefully going to supply the means by which they connect. This is certainly the first time I've produced live performances without an audience in the room." Like Magdalena playing the organ in the Elton John hit "Sixty Years On," the Met top stars are singing just for you.
From Jonas Kaufmann and his pianist Helmut Deutsch, you'll be hearing most-requested Puccini, Bizet, and more. Later programs are under construction, and several locations have yet to be announced, but for many fans, picking and choosing among the talent may prove impossible. There will be solo programs from the durable divas Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Anna Netrebko, and Sonya Yoncheva, as well as from two of the best and brightest of the rising generation, Lise Davidsen and Angel Blue. Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak, who are husband and wife, share a bill, as do the ad hoc duos Sondra Radvanovsky with Piotr Beczała, Diana Damrau with Joseph Calleja, and Pretty Yende with Javier Camarena.
Completing the lineup is the baritone Bryn Terfel, force of nature, crowd-pleaser, and the lone lower male voice on the roster. "I'm over being disappointed and being fed up and walking around this house like a crybaby, reading about cancellations left, right, and center," Terfel announced at an online presentation of the new series. "At last, there's positive elements!" Terfel's program on December 12 falls during Advent. As for the place, his eye is on the open-air St. Fagans National Museum of History, in Cardiff.
"It has many different buildings," Terfel said. "So maybe I'll have a bike or a special car that can drive me around, and singing in different locations. I have to think of Christmas. And maybe some guests. And hopefully the semblance of an orchestra."
Following the live event, each recital may be viewed on demand for 12 days. For tickets, priced at $20, visit metopera.org