Mr. and Mrs. B got their first look at the tarted-up San Francisco Opera House Sunday, now complete with TV screens for enhanced balcony viewing. Let’s just say it may take some getting used to.
It was a disorienting experience, for sure. Part of the problem may have been the choice of opera: Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress. I’m a big Stravinsky fan; Mrs. B, not so much.
Anyway, we were seated almost directly under one of the new screens, so we couldn’t possibly ignore them. From our perch, they seemed just about as big as the HDTV in the Buce living room. And that was the weird part: why was the sound so low? Oh yes: the sound wasn’t coming from the TV set; it was coming from the stage, half a mile away and downhill. Oy, I never noticed how hard it is to hear the voices from up there in the cheap seats.
The next thing I (sic) noticed was how different the two parts were—the TV show, from what was on stage. At first I found myself flicking back and forth (as if I were channel surfing?). Then in time, I found myself looking more at the TV screen, as altogether more arresting and diverting than the live performance. I also harkened back to the time, just a few years ago, when we watched a goofy production of Turnadot, from perhaps these very seats--and where the set was so built up that most of the time, the balcony audience couldn't see the singers' heads and shoulders. No problem on that score with the video option. Indeed, I began to wonder: are the folks in the expensive seats going to get paranoid about this? Going to suspect (perhaps correctly?) that they are missing something?
Mrs. B took a different view. Her notion is that now that they’ve got TV up there, they can blow the balcony off altogether. For her money, she says, she just as well stay at home. Well, not home, maybe: Mrs. B has already seen two or three of those new theater simulcasts that the Met is running at movie houses around the country. From what she says about them, I gather that they are so dazzling that it’s not really clear why you go to the opera house anyway. I can’t say: I haven’t seen a simulcast yet (though we are penciled in for Romeo & Juliet next Sunday).
So, all very confusing. But if I am confused, I wonder what it’s like to be an opera business manager these days. Best I can tell, they have no idea (right now) just what kind of business are they in. Are they packing DVDs for all those new HDTVs in living rooms around the world? Simulcasts for your neighborhood metroplex? Or multimedia theatre events that are bound to please or tick off everybody with the price of a ticket? I guess the future (as the editorial writers like to say) lies ahead.
Oh, and the opera: well like I say, I like Stravinsky so I was mostly happy just to kick back and let it roll over me. The soprano was serviceable but she seemed weak. I couldn’t make up my mind whether she was spooked by the ghost of Dawn Upshaw (who owns the role, for my money) –or whether it was just that confusing new technology again, screwing up everything?