The Met Opera’s At-Home Gala: Informal Yet Profoundly Moving

This second, in fact, is something however festive. The coronavirus pandemic has swiftly reshaped life worldwide, and the Met, like theaters virtually all over the place, has been shuttered for the reason that center of March, ad infinitum. It stands to lose as much as $60 million simply by means of subsequent month, and it’s too early to say whether or not it can open its subsequent season in September.

Yet on Saturday afternoon, the corporate summoned its estimable assets and placed on a digital At-Home Gala, which streamed dwell on its web site (and stays available until 8 p.m. on Sunday).

For four hours, more than 40 of the opera’s stars gave performances from their homes around the world, transmitting arias — and, given some lucky marriages, duets — over their smartphones, tablets and laptops, with remarkably few snafus. It was a charmingly informal yet profoundly moving marathon.

Though things are bleak all over, and certainly for the Met, it was inspiring — and fun — to see beloved artists relaxed, smiling and sounding splendid, some in gala attire and some, well, not. The baritone Peter Mattei, dressed in a casual shirt and slacks at his lakefront home outside Stockholm, sang the serenade from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” — with the usual mandolin accompaniment played on accordion by a neighbor. The tenor Roberto Alagna and the soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, appearing together from France, delightedly hammed up a selection from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” with Mr. Alagna clambering up the ladder attached to their bookshelves.

The mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, in Atlanta, brought sumptuous intensity to “O don fatale” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” her Harry Potter books visible behind her on the piano. (She was accompanied live by Jonathan Easter but most singers used prerecorded pianists.) The soprano Lisette Oropesa, in Baton Rouge, La., sounded radiant in an aria from Meyerbeer’s “Robert le Diable.”

Renée Fleming, at her home in Virginia, was in lovely voice for the “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s “Otello,” one of the defining works of her career. The recorded piano accompaniment she used was barely audible, yet the flawed balances actually lent extra poignancy to the performance. At the end, when she teared up, so did I. We have all sometimes taken opera, and opera houses, and opera singers, for granted. No longer.

As a pianist, I was especially impressed by the singers who accompanied themselves, like the tenor Matthew Polenzani, at home in Pelham, N.Y., who played and sang “Danny Boy.” (His family erupted in applause from behind the camera after he finished.) The bass Günther Groissböck, in Lugano, Switzerland, accompanied himself ably in a stirring aria from Strauss’s “Die Schweigsame Frau.”

From Paris, the baritone Étienne Dupuis and the soprano Nicole Car, another married couple, performed a duet from Massenet’s “Thaïs” with Mr. Dupuis at the piano. And the soprano Erin Morley, in New Haven, Conn., accompanied herself in a coloratura showpiece from Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment,” demonstrating nimble piano technique while tossing off ornate runs and gleaming high notes, and asking those watching to join in for the choruses. The countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sang Handel with a bewigged head behind him on his mantel; the tenor Stephen Costello contributed a Gounod aria alongside his wife, the Met violinist Yoon Kwon Costello.

It was one of several prerecorded performances involving members of the Met’s orchestra. The others were led by the company’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who hosted the gala from his home in Montreal, along with Peter Gelb, the general manager, in his apartment in Manhattan.

Rather than keeping the musicians together with a mechanical “click track,” everyone recorded their parts by following a video of Mr. Nézet-Séguin air-conducting. The results were beautifully responsive, especially when the players were joined by Met choristers for “Va, pensiero” from Verdi’s “Nabucco.” The tiny squares on my computer screen — I counted around 90 musicians — crowded together did evoke how gathering closely is central to the performing arts, especially opera: from orchestra players packed in the pit, to the choristers and soloists onstage, to the audience members in their seats.

Indeed. In a matter of weeks, the performing arts have been confronted with devastating challenges. The Met’s orchestra players and chorus members have not been paid since the end of March (though their health benefits continue), a state of affairs that, unfortunately, went unmentioned during the gala, for which the participating singers generously donated their performances.

It is, as Mr. Nézet-Séguin said, a “strange and terrible time.” But in his final words, he spoke directly to music students, urging them not to give up on their passion.

“Music and the arts cannot be silenced,” he said. “We shall return.”

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