Has it been only a year since I wrote about reluctantly trying opera in HD? This summer I attended all eight with a great deal of enthusiasm and mourned the cancellation of the first two due to hurricane Irene. It is evident by now that the combination of the operatic arts and the cinematic arts is of great value. Many people in the audience let me know that they had never seen an opera live and only came because it was free and there was nothing better to do in the waning days of summer. In every case they manifested a high level of enjoyment and indicated a willingness to shell out some real dough for a live performance. So, in terms of audience building, the Metropolitan Opera’s offering, supported by a generous grant from The Neubauer Family Foundation and corporate sponsorship by Bloomberg (a big thank you to both!), is an unqualified success.
The 3000 groundlings who crowded the Lincoln Center Plaza were treated to an unending cascade of delights to the eye and ear; we saw more than the trust-fund babies saw, sitting in prime orchestra seating during the season. Many details of staging that were missed during live performances, details that helped make sense of the stories, were not only visible but highlighted by the respective HD Directors.
Barbara Willis Sweete, who impressed me last year with her “Carmen”, continued to do excellent work with Gluck’s “Iphigenie en Tauride”. Now the Prologue, indicating Iphigenie’s rescue by the goddess Diane, was gloriously visible as were the memories and fantasies of the unhappy siblings. Likewise Sweete’s direction of “Fanciulla del West” allowed us to see Minnie’s hiding of the cards in her sock so she could win the poker game with the Rance. Her “Lucia” was equally impressive and permitted us to understand the ghost in the fountain. I recall the live performances in both cases when I wondered what was going on.
Gary Halvorson who had a hit and a miss with last summer’s offerings was right on the money with this summer’s productions. For example, in his “Don Carlo”, he was wise enough to give us a close-up of the photo of DC that King Philip finds in his wife’s jewel box so we would have no doubts as to why the King was so angry.
Brian Large’s “La Rondine” gave us great views of the details of Magda’s opulent quarters and costumes so we would know just how privileged and irresistible was her life as a “kept woman”. In his Boris Godunov he chose to focus on the Holy Fool in the opening and closing scenes, giving this character the significance he deserves. We see the faces of the suffering in the crowd instead of a massed chorus.
The one “miss” of the festival was Peter Sellars’ “Nixon in China”. His HD direction of his own production could not do anything to make this musically boring and dramatically inert opera worth watching or hearing. It was the only night that people fled in droves. His HD direction only compounded his felony by offering the audience a close-up of Chairman Mao forcing one of his acolytes to masturbate him. This was matched in offensiveness only by the scene of Scarpia being fellated in last year’s Tosca. The Bad Boy of Opera just cannot resist his puerile impulses. Well, thankfully, the one rotten apple did not spoil the barrel of delights on the other seven nights.
With such fine direction by Sweete, Large and Halvorson I am willing to allow the HD director to guide my gaze. Relieved of the burden of shifting from opera glasses to full stage to titles, we become free to follow the story and enjoy the music. During the overture, if nothing is happening onstage we are treated to close-ups of the musicians. In sum, HD has taken opera to an entirely new level. This is to be celebrated!
(c)meche kroop for The Opera Insider
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