Go for the gold

Vancouver may have the Winter Games, but New York is awash in Olympic-class musical talent this month.

Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Team Peru: Juan Diego Flrez
He famously broke the no-encores rule at Milan’s La Scala opera house and is regarded as the new King of the High Cs. Does hitting each of the nine death-defying top notes feel like a Michael Phelps--ian feat to the Peruvian powerhouse? Yes and no, he says. The notes are “like scoring goals—something that will make you succeed at the end. There is a lot of adrenaline flowing on those high notes; when you hit them as you want, there is a great satisfaction.” Don’t miss Flrez in La Fille du Rgiment at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday 13.

Photograph: Felix Broede

Team Netherlands: Janine Jansen
Talk about a Dutch treat: The vivacious violinist joins compatriots Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday 16 for a program that includes Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, which is about as invigorating as plunging into an ice bath after a day on the slopes.

Photograph: Marco Borggreve

Team Canada: Yannick Nzet-Sguin
As red-hot as a suite reservation in Whistler, the Montreal maestro brings the Rotterdam Philharmonic to Avery Fisher Hall Wednesday 17 and February 19, coinciding with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw. “We see it as Team Netherlands,” said the conductor, laughing off the idea of an orchestral face-off. “However, within that I think there is a small competition. Which is very good in music in general—Rotterdam Philharmonic is definitely an orchestra that is less famous than the Concertgebouw but, we believe, as good. So we want to go and show off.”

Photograph: Todd Rosenberg

Team Italy: Riccardo Muti
About as long overdue as South America finally getting to host an Olympiad, this venerated Italian conductor makes his Metropolitan Opera debut leading Verdi’s Attila (opening February 23) with a production team that includes fashion designer Miuccia Prada. (And while Chicago may have lost its 2016 Olympics bid, it did land Muti, who takes over the Chicago Symphony Orchestra this fall.)

Photograph: Ruven Afanador

Team Russia: Anna Netrebko
Opera’s Anna Kournikova, Trebs shows no sign of slowing down. Catch her as Mim in La Bohme at the Met February 24 and 27, but don’t let her effervescent exterior fool you: It masks a tough-as-nails work ethic. “Studying at the conservatory in St. Petersburg was very intense and very competitive,” she says. “In some ways it is like training to be an athlete, because during that time you are constantly working to improve your skills. As a vocalist in training, you also have to be very mindful of your body, because it is your instrument.”

Photograph: Chris Lee

Team USA: Jeremy Denk +Joshua Bell
Two homegrown heavy hitters—genre-crossing violinist Bell and marathon pianist Denk—appear at Carnegie Hall February 24, making for a fantasy pairing on par with Brian Boitano and Johnny Weir. Though fiercely intellectual, Denk’s top choice for cereal endorsement would be Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries. “It’s not healthy,” he says, “but it’s a great love of mine...like the taste of forbidden fruit. Crunch Berries are like the tree of knowledge.”

Photograph: Boyd Hagen

Team Israel: Gil Shaham
Though Israel just won its first Olympic gold in 2004, it has long been able to boast about quicksilver violinist Gil Shaham. As dexterous as an archer and agile like a gymnast, Shaham comes to Lincoln Center to perform Barber’s Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic February 25--27.

See more in Opera & Classical