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Met Plans a Gala to Celebrate Its 125-Year History
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March 5, 2008

The Met Plans a Gala to Celebrate Its 125-Year History

After relentless efforts to modernize, the Metropolitan Opera will pause a moment, look back and celebrate its 125th anniversary in the 2008-9 season with a gala performance, the house said Tuesday.

The gala, planned for March 15, 2009, will feature stars, so far unnamed, performing in costume before projected sets recreating historic moments at the Met, which opened in 1883, said Peter Gelb, the general manager. The venerable scenes may come from the 1967 Marc Chagall ''Magic Flute'' and the house's first production, Gounod's ''Faust,'' Mr. Gelb said in an interview.

Galas ''can be musically glorious but dramatically tedious,'' he said, but this one ''should be much more fun.'' It will also celebrate Plácido Domingo's 40th anniversary with the company.

The Met on Tuesday released next season's plans, the last programmed by the administration that preceded Mr. Gelb. Now in his second season leading the house, he has imposed his stamp each year with several new productions and a broad effort to deliver opera through other media: the movies, the Internet, DVDs and school curriculums.

Performances will begin on Sept. 19 with a free Verdi ''Requiem,'' conducted by the company's music director, James Levine, in memory of Luciano Pavarotti, who died on Sept. 6, 2007.

On the formal opening night, Sept. 22, there will be a gala performance by Renée Fleming. She will sing excerpts from three of her signature roles: Violetta in ''La Traviata,'' the title role in Massenet's ''Manon'' and the Countess in ''Capriccio.''

In the past Mr. Gelb has disparaged opening-night excerpt menus. He even scrapped plans by his predecessor, Joseph Volpe, in favor of a new production of ''Madama Butterfly'' last season.

Asked to explain the change of course, Mr. Gelb said that the evening had already been promised to Ms. Fleming and that her schedule did not allow time to mount a new production for her.

''She is the great reigning American diva of the Met,'' he said. ''I'm certainly not going to deny her the opportunity of singing these three roles, which will delight the audience.''

Other works to bear Mr. Gelb's imprint next season include the first John Adams opera to be performed at the Met: a new production of ''Doctor Atomic,'' from 2005, which has already played at the San Francisco Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera. Penny Woolcock will direct. Alan Gilbert, who takes over as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009-10, will conduct, making his Met debut.

Mr. Gelb said that the original version of ''Doctor Atomic,'' ''though powerful, was not perfect,'' and that it deserved another production. Noting that Mr. Adams's ''Nixon in China'' will be presented in 2010-11, he added, ''This is not just a flash-in-the-pan John Adams appearance.''

He also said he had engaged the director Robert Lepage for ''La Damnation de Faust'' by Berlioz. The work's only previous run at the Met was in the 1906-07 season.

This version reflects the present era. Mr. Lepage is reconceiving a production from the Paris Opera, which has sold the Met its sets, Mr. Gelb said. Mr. Lepage will use projections and special lighting effects that will change with the singers' motions. He used similar technology in the Cirque du Soleil show ''Ka'' in Las Vegas. The methods will foreshadow a Lepage ''Ring'' cycle set to start at the Met in 2010-11, Mr. Gelb said.

The current Met ''Ring,'' the Otto Schenk production, will be back next season, conducted by Mr. Levine.

Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez will star in a new production of Bellini's ''Sonnambula,'' directed by Mary Zimmerman. This season Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Dessay joined forces for another bel canto staple, ''Lucia di Lammermoor.''

All told there will be 6 new productions and 18 revivals. Returnees include Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko, sharing duties in ''Lucia di Lammermoor.'' Deborah Voigt will sing ''La Gioconda.'' And Karita Mattila will reprise her much-acclaimed 2004 performance as Salome, in which she stripped naked in the ''Dance of the Seven Veils.'' Asked if she would uncover herself this time too, Mr. Gelb said, ''I have no reason to believe that the staging is going to be changed.''

On other fronts, the Met will expand its high-definition transmissions in movie theaters from 8 operas to 10; expand its educational program from New York City public schools to several dozen school systems nationally; and install artworks on the metal curtain required by fire laws in front of the stage. The screen is rarely seen by the audience but will be kept down right before performances. The first work will be by Jeff Koons.

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