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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
Met HD broadcasts give you the best seat in the house
Arts & Entertainment
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Met HD broadcasts give you the best seat in the house

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

It makes me want to scream! I know too many opera lovers, as well as people who go sometimes to the opera and enjoy it, who have yet to see any of the Met Live in HD in movie theaters. So, while I'm banging my head on something hard and becoming vocally incoherent, let me calmly type out the reasons I want these people to see a shrink or do whatever it takes to get them rational. I will also pass on a couple bulletins of note, regarding a new venue for the Live in HD shows as well as a newer series of operatic performances from world-famous stages in Europe, all available for a pittance at the cinema.

Did I say a pittance? Well, with great seats at the top opera houses going for well over $100, it's an understatement to call these Met Live in HD experiences a bargain at around $20. And for that price you get an experience that is visually almost always better than you would get from anywhere in the opera house. (I say visually, because the best cinema sound cannot yet approach the aural excitement of hearing live, un-amplified operatic voices.) Gone are the days when cameramen forced you down Jessye Norman's gaping maw as her tongue danced in time to her vibrato. Many of today's opera singers are actually good actors, and moderate close-ups greatly enhance their dramatic impact. Camera angles now even include shots from on-stage, putting you in the action, right among the singers. It's almost like being a member of the chorus. (Take it from one who has been there, in "Gotterdammerung," singing in both the German and English performances at Seattle Opera.)

One of the best examples, preserved and available on commercial DVD, shows the gorgeous Anna Netrebko, lying on her back with her head hanging down into the orchestra pit while singing the most difficult coloratura passages in I Puritani. The camera angles show every detail of her superb acting in this "mad scene," including a shot that no member of that live audience could have seen: you look from the extreme side, along the lip of the stage, as she dangles precariously over the orchestra players. The effect is breath-taking, while underscoring her madness! And this was no patched-up video; we at the cinema saw it live as it happened, early on a Saturday morning (mid-day matinee, of course, in NYC).

Any music lover who is not wowed by such an experience may as well give up on opera altogether. Stay home and watch the vapid movie of Phantom of the Opera instead.

During the live performances (not, however, at the summer "encore" showings), you also get live interviews with the lead singers and sometimes the directors, conductors, designers, and stage technicians. You are privy to stagehands changing the scenery. (Once a man cranking a moving set piece had trouble and let out a loud expletive that I'm sure some Met staff wished could have been cut!) You see athletic Karita Mattila doing amazing stretches as she waits for the curtain to rise on her fabulous Salome. You see the great Beverly Sills making hilarious commentary on I Puritani.

In short, the extras that no Met audience gets to see more than make up for the artificial cinema sound, which isn't bad in itself - it's just not the real thing.

So, in my opinion, if you have any interest in opera, you're absolutely nuts not to see these easy-to-find and affordable performances. The next season of the Met Live in HD can be found and purchased at www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_current.aspx. The local cinemas showing them are also listed there. And the summer "encore" shows are on now: all on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., they include La Bohème (7-14), Turandot (7-21), and the must-see Carmen (7-28).

And here's great news for those north of the ship canal: Thornton Place Cinemas (at Northgate), with their brand-new and plush stadium-seating auditoriums, have just begun showing the Met Live in HD, including the summer reruns being shown over the next three weeks. Thornton Place has digital projection and superb sound.

But the biggest news of all is that Columbia City Cinemas (4816 Rainier Ave. S.) is now joining forces with Emerging Pictures to show programs of live (but delayed) performances from the stages of European Opera companies (La Scala, etc.) Parking at Columbia City is easy. See their website at www.columbiacitycinema.com for details (exact schedule still being determined). At present, the manager at CCC thinks the first showing will be Aida on July 28 (one matinee at 4 p.m. and one evening showing at 7 p.m.). Admission is $15 for matinee, $20 for evening. What a deal!

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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