Operagoers and Met HD viewers from 46 countries around the world can expect lots more in the category of new from the Met next season: seven new productions, a Met premiere, new directors, new stars, new 3-D special effects, new curtain times, and even new and shorter intermissions.

The new season opens on September 26 with Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, a Met premiere, starring Anna Netrebko in the title role. “Next year, Anna Netrebko is performing at the Met more than any other house in the world,” said General Director Peter Gelb during the announcement of their 2011-12 season. Other new stagings include Don Giovanni opening October 13 with Marius Kwiecien in the title role, the last two Ring operas—Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and the world premiere of The Enchanted Island, a pastiche featuring the music Baroque composers combined with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and starring Plácido Domingo and Joyce DiDonato.

Another twist of newness for 2011-12 includes the presentation of three complete cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen in April and May of 2012, all conducted by James Levine. Cycle 1 opens April 7 with Das Rheingold.

The last two completely new-to-the-Met productions are two co-productions recently performed in England: Gounod’s Faust in cooperation with the English National Opera starring Jonas Kaufmann, designed from the outset to play in both houses; and Massenet’s Manon, also starring Netrebko, which premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2010.

“Our commitment to new works is not just to works we commission,” Gelb said. “We are not shy about choosing other works that have been recently performed successfully elsewhere [but are] new to the Met.”

The press representatives packed into List Hall for the hour-and-a-half season announcement weren’t shy either, particularly about voicing their dissatisfaction with some of the Met’s newer artistic endeavors asking questions such as, “As the Met is veering towards more modern pieces, are the traditional standards going south?”

“We do not believe we are experimenting,” Gelb said without equivocation. “We are committed to presenting the most dynamic productions possible.” He then conceded not everyone will agree with what they are presenting. “However, we have made a commitment to expand the repertoire as well as refreshing repertory pieces,” he said firmly. “If we do not present new productions, opera becomes an extinct art form.”

For the house that presents more opera than any other in the world, the 2011-12 season augurs extraordinary promise. Besides the new productions, they are also reviving some gems (Britten’s Billy Budd and Verdi’s seldom presented Nabucco) and acclaimed portrayals (Renée Fleming in the title role of Handel’s Rodelinda) as well as presenting a few rarely seen operatic masterpieces such as Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, Leoš Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, and Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, not heard at the Met since 1999.

One of the surprises of the afternoon was hearing the Met’s top brass (Gelb and James Levine, music director) gush over the success of the Live in HD productions. Eleven transmissions are planned, beginning on October 15, with Anna Bolena. “The HD productions have been a real way to increase our audience while building a new audience for the opera. An unexpected benefit Gelb mentioned is that the HD transmissions are improving performance levels. “Performers are excited to know they are being beamed into 46 countries and it translates into great performances.” Levine added that The Met house during the day of Live in HD loves the fact that the show they are watching is being simulcast to millions of other viewers worldwide. To date, more than seven million tickets have been sold worldwide to The Met: Live in HD.

Other notable new things about the upcoming season include Met role debuts from Natalie Dessay as Violetta in La Traviata, Juan Diego Flórez as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, Thomas Hampson in the title role in Macbeth, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Carlo in Ernani, and Nathan Gunn in the title role in Billy Budd.

“Our product is great art,” Gelb said with a cool confidence buoyed by the surge in younger Met audiences and highest ever charitable giving levels. “We are in a very good period,” Levine added.

Find the 2011 - 12 Metropolitan Opera season here.

by Gale Martin