Thursday, January 11, 2007

More on the Met Opera Broadcast

[Friday’s “Go!” will contain a the short review of Saturday’s Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast. Here’s more about the experience.]

My first pleasant surprise at the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of “I Puritani” occurred even before I sat down: It was the difficulty my wife and I had finding a place to sit down.

Though not sold out as the previous week’s “Magic Flute” had been, Tinseltown’s theater No. 2 was basically packed, without two seats together between the two front rows and the last row. The Met seemes to have scored a bull’s-eye regarding the willingness of audiences to sit in a movie theater to watch live opera broadcasts.

Aside from a couple of early burps, the sound was strong and vivid. The high overtones that make a human voice ring were clearly audible, and the imaging was good — you could your eyes and hear the physical proximity of one character to another. There was plenty of variety of the camerawork — there are at least 10 cameras for each broadcast — and the chosen angles were mostly satisfying and occasionally inspired: For instance, at one moment in Act 1, a from-behind view highlighted the interplay between baritone Franco Vassallo and conductor Patrick Summers during a lovely rubato. I could quibble about some of the close-ups during choruses and ensembles, but it would be mere quibbling.

The non-music extras were mostly well-conceived. Beverly Sills was a perfect choice as commentator: She not only has the instant credibility of having been one of the greatest singers of this repertoire; she’s also a charming and articulate advocate, who helped illuminate what’s best about Bellini’s score without trying to gloss over the story’s inherent weakness — or, as she put it, “This whole opera is kinda nutty.”

Renee Fleming seemed out of place as the production’s equivalent of the sideline reporter. When Fleming asked soprano Anna Netrebko how she felt after singing Act 2’s monumental mad scene, it sounded just as stupid as it has every other time a sideline reporter has asked that question. (Though the iridescent Netrebko managed to sound charming with her response — “Tired, thank you.”) I expect Fleming to make a more positive impression as a singer in February’s “Eugene Onegin.”

There was also a brief feature on Netrebko, one on mad scenes in opera — hearing such sopranos as Sills and Sutherland only intensified the impression that Netrebko’s voice is pure but relatively bland — and even the operatic equivalent of a trailer: a preview of Saturday’s opera, Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor.”

The experience wasn’t perfect. The Met had a countdown during the final ten minutes of each intermission — an excellent idea, but one that doesn’t help you if you leave the theater to get food etc. before the countdown begins. And the 11:30 a.m. starting time forces you either to eat a very early lunch or to rely on Tinseltown’s concession stand, which is not exactly cuisine of operatic grandeur.

But the amazing thing is how many things went right in a new and fairly experimental venture.

There’s only one potential downside to this new era in opera broadcasts: It could conceivably decrease the audience for live opera productions in some of the cities that host the broadcasts. Some people may choose to support a great broadcast production instead of a good-to-excellent live production.

But I doubt that this will happen. First, neither the sound nor the overall feeling of the broadcast actually matched a live performance. Second, there’s the nature of the Met productions. I didn’t hear nearly enough opera when I lived in New York, but this “I Puritani” production was typical of what I remember: Some great singers in the principal roles, coupled with boring direction. The opening scene, for instance, in which the chorus members stood like statues while Bellini’s lively music danced around them, bordered on ludicrous. So on an overall artistic level, competing with the Met is by no means impossible for smaller companies, provided they have some imagination.

See you Saturday — weather permitting.

NY Times review of opening night

Philadelphia Enquirer review of the broadcast


Post a Comment

<< Home