Dysfunctional family operas for Thanksgiving

Nina Stemme (top) and Adrianne Pieczonka

There’s nothing quite like a dysfunctional family gathering for the holidays. The Metropolitan Opera is ensuring that we can all be part of one (or more) during Thanksgiving week. In an unusual display of ironic humor, The Met is offering a series of free online broadcasts on the theme of family drama — and, in opera, that means bodies littering the stage by the time the final curtain falls.

The fun starts on Monday, Nov. 23, with Verdi’s Il trovatore. A top-tier cast is led by Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, and the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and it enacts a tale that includes infanticide, a suspected witch burned at the stake, suicide by poison, and a nobleman who unwittingly has his own brother hanged.

Nico Muhly’s Marnie is the offering for Tuesday, Nov. 24. Isabel Leonard was terrific in the title role, but the opera itself was a dud. This would be a good night to prep for Thanksgiving dinner if you’re cooking one, or to take in an early Christmas offering from the Hallmark Channel.

Opportunities to see and hear Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet come but rarely, especially with singers as fine as Marlis Petersen, Jennifer Larmore, Simon Keenlyside, and James Morris. That makes it a Thanksgiving Eve must-see, except for Shakespeare purists. It ends with Hamlet as the newly crowned King of Denmark, instead of a corpse. (Ophelia and Claudius are still dead, however.)

The pièce de résistance is Richard Strauss’ Elektra on Thanksgiving Day, perhaps programmed to remind viewers to get their carving knives honed before the turkey comes out of the oven. (The plot climaxes with two ax murders, usually occurring offstage.) There are no turkeys in the cast, which features Nina Stemme, Adrianne Pieczonka, Waltraud Meier, and Eric Owens, and the opera itself is one of Strauss’ most brilliant creations.

The free broadcasts stream at 5:30 p.m. at metopera.org and are available until 4:30 p.m. the following day. 

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