We took in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet in the boxy corner room at the multiplex here in Palookaville. This place is, from one point of view, just your typical crappy little armpit of a theatre, with broken seats and where your feet stick to the floor. And the production was, shall we say, not up to Met standards. First, early arrivals were assaulted with the same drumbeat of commercials that they feed to the slack-jawed yahoos in the regular theatres down the hall (and at the same volume—I assume the kids have all lost their hearing by the age of 14?). But then when the main event got going, we found we had no sound at all—not a plus in an opera. Dutiful, we mostly sat there, but a few truculent souls went out to the front of the house to raise a little sand. I was one of them, and I admit I felt a bit sorry for the $8-an-hour kid who got left behind with the machine gun to cover the retreat. She said she was sorry but it was a new (improved?) projector. We weren’t impressed. She said she couldn’t rewind because it was live. But it wasn’t live, it was a rerun of the previous day. She said the whole thing was run from someplace else (
But all this is details; the ship will right itself in a heartbeat. Thing is, the performance as a whole was wonderful—as remarkable as any performance I’ve ever seen. The screen seemed huge as it more or less wrapped itself around me, far more enveloping than any live performance I’ve ever intended. And the staging—well, they probably overdid it with all the jumps and swoops, but the plain fact is you can see so much more with live cameras than you can with your own paltry little eyes: live performance will never be the same again. Yes, yes, it’s not live. That’s a problem: even in the H-est of HD, there is some stuff you will never see. But there is so much more stuff that you do see that no live performance can ever offer.
[The opera itself? Oh, that… actually, it was fine, though I admit I wouldn’t have gone so gaga at a live performance. Juliet is Anna Netrebko (link) and she is certainly the woman of the hour. Roberto
Algana Alagna (Damn! Sorry about that!)(link) as her Romeo may not be a world-shaker, but he’s cheerful and warm-hearted and the chemistry (the “shimmy,” as he put it demurely) between them was all that you could hope for. The opera itself has some lovely music, and it is a dutiful representation of a remarkable play (in some ways, perhaps an improvement on the play)—but you can’t really say it is one of the majors. I have to admit I found the orchestra a bit obtrusive. I don’t think the problem was in Domingo’s conducting so much as in the score itself, which seems to me sometimes to get in the way with what the singers are up to (I suppose a more discreet sound mix could have helped).]
But the HD performance: that’s the ticklish part. Mrs. B is already disgusted with the TV screens in the balcony at the San Francisco Opera House (though I am not). Now we have one more reason to wonder whether it is worth all the time and trouble to trek down there for a live performance (we are, be it noted, 170 miles away). Indeed, can any opera house compete? Well, yes, the Met—surely one of the great public spaces on the planet, on a par with the Piazza San Marco in
I can see that this stuff is only beginning. They’re noodling around with the equipment now in ways that will look amateurish, primitive, five years down the line. On the way out I repeated my crack about how I’d hate to be an opera company manager today because I wouldn’t know what business I am in. My friend Dick waved his arms at the theatre around us. “This,” he said, “is the business they’re in.” I think he may be right.Footnote: And it's not just HD screening. For a full display of what the Met is up to, go here.