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Four Takeaways From the Metropolitan Opera’s Risky Season

The Met says that it saw healthy evidence of new ticket buyers for these works, and overall sales are up from last season. But the programming pivot has not been a home run.

That said, contemporary opera isn’t single-handedly dragging the company down. In general, the Met’s days of regular sellouts were gone with the turn of the 21st century. The season’s top seller, its grating family-friendly, holiday-season “Magic Flute,” sold 87 percent, excellent only by comparison with the rest; next was “Carmen,” which was almost 20 percent empty.

Some of the weakest-selling operas were revivals of standard repertory works — though ones beyond core chestnuts like “La Bohème” and “Aida.” I’m talking about titles like Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera,” Puccini’s “La Rondine,” Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” all of which ended up shy of 70 percent full.

Operas like these — known titles but not instant draws — need to be persuasively cast, and not all of them were. “La Rondine” was stiffly, charmlessly performed by Angel Blue and Jonathan Tetelman. And while Mark Morris’s “Orfeo” production remains clever, the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sounded edgy and pressed in the title role.

If poor sellers are going to justify their existence, they must be artistically meaningful. David Alden’s suggestively eerie staging of “Ballo” boasted Charles Castronovo, Angela Meade and, especially, the commanding, smoky-toned baritone Quinn Kelsey. Another baritone, Christian Gerhaher, made a memorably poised Met debut as part of a superbly cast “Tannhäuser,” conducted by Donald Runnicles with both power and nuance, grandeur and flow. Both made a case for themselves, even if “Ballo” was only about half full.

For connoisseurs still interested in comparing singers in the standard repertory, this season’s “Madama Butterfly” run brought the childlike innocence of Aleksandra Kurzak and the mature tenacity of Asmik Grigorian — very different, both effective. Lise Davidsen’s flooding soprano may be better suited to the soaring lines of Wagner and Strauss than to Verdian vulnerability, but she still married hugeness of tone to sensitivity in “La Forza del Destino.” The tenor Benjamin Bernheim was characteristically elegant as the Montague heir in “Roméo et Juliette.” The veteran mezzo-soprano Susan Graham gently commanded the stage as a death row inmate’s mother in “Dead Man Walking.”

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