Why the Same Few Operas Seem to Be Staged Over and Over

Act 2 of Puccini’s “La Boheme.”

There are many reasons why certain operas stay popular year after year, irrespective of the director or casting choices: It often boils down to the right combination of compelling stories, relatable characters and great melodies. 

In a new piece for FiveThirtyEight I look at the four “greatest hits” of the Metropolitan Opera: Puccini’s La Boheme, Verdi’s Aida, Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s La Traviata. The so-called ABC’s of opera (plus Traviata) are the most-performed works in the company’s 133-year history and all will appear on its 2016-17 season schedule, which was announced this week.

For those keeping score: La Boheme has been performed 1,274 times at the Met; Aida 1,148 times; Carmen 1,000 times and La Traviata 996 times. Next year they’ll account for nearly one out of four Met performances.

There’s more to the picture, of course. The Met has 22 other operas planned in 2016-17, including a new production of a challenging rarity – Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (previously staged only 31 times). There will also be a Met premiere: Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de Loin (2000), the first work by a woman at the Met since 1903.

None of the new productions next season will be of the top four. Carmen was last given a fresh Met production in 2009 and La Traviata saw a revamp in 2010. Current stagings of La Boheme and Aida both date to the 1980s and there are no signs that they’re about to be replaced. The Met under Peter Gelb has sought to freshen up its repertory and hire directors with edgier, non-traditional concepts. But with so much at stake, one treads carefully on the biggest blockbusters.

The least-performed opera on next season’s schedule? Cyrano de Bergerac, which got its U.S. premiere in 2005 at the Met, in a production by Francesca Zambello and starring Placido Domingo. Roberto Alagna is slated to play the dashing nobleman in each of next year’s four performances.

La Boheme Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

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