Today’s Met in HD broadcast was Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; the same production that I saw with a different cast in 2009. Today, Nathalie Dessay sang the lead with Joseph Calleja as Edgardo and Ludovic Tezier as Enrico.
Let’s talk about the production first. The director, Mary Zimmermann, chose to move the action from the reign of Queen Anne to a vaguely mid Victorian setting. This basically makes no sense as an important plot point is Enrico having been on the wrong end of royal dynastic politics to the extent that he fears being executed for treason. Also the general atmosphere of family feud, intrigue and deadly vendetta just doesn’t work in the revised setting. Picky people like me also wonder about Presbyterian ministers who wear jewelled crosses and Donizetti’s feeble grasp of Scottish marriage law (civil and canon). The production is Meh Tropolitan standard fussy with loads of stuff, enormously long intervals and a rather bizarre ghost scene. The one effective touch is Lucia returning as a ghost in the final scene to help Edgardo stab himself.
That bit is new since the 2009 version.
The singing and acting was generally very good indeed and, in addition, I’m not sure whether my reservations were problems with the singers or the quality of the sound in the cinema (see below). Dessay was wonderful. predictably she presents a more fragile, vulnerable Lucia than Netrebko and it’s effective. She sang very well and had good chemistry with both Calleja and Tezier. Calleja was lovely. He has a ringing tenor like one hears on old recordings and it’s easy to understand why he has been compared to Caruso and Gigli. I’d say he was about ideal for this role. Tezier I was less convinced about. The first scene with Enrico, the captain of the guard and Raimondo (Kwangchul Youn) was pretty horrible but he improved after that. I think he’s a bit bluff, loud and one dimensional for the role (perhaps more suited to big Verdi and Puccini baritone roles) but not bad. Not nearly as good as Marius Kwieczen in 2009 though. Youn also got better and I really enjoyed his performance overall.
The big problem again was the video direction and the technical quality of the show. I really wish they would just stick a camera on the front of the Dress Circle and let it be. This show was all super close ups and silly angles. IT DOES NOT WORK. It’s especially egregious with vast more or less monochromatic sets that are clearly designed to be seen from a distance. The sound and video quality was off too. I’m starting to think that HD stands for “High Distortion”. I can produce significantly better sound on my home theatre system. Some of the problem is the balance which was off in so many places today I couldn’t begin to enumerate them. Some of the problem is distortion. I don’t know whether this is at the Met end or is the cinema pushing their sound system too hard but it’s awful. There was a general muddying on loud, complex patches and an intermittent “ringing” around the voices that was just awful. Arturo’s Act 2 solo was wrecked by it and so was the duet between Edgardo and Enrico at the start of Act 3. This may also have been the problem in Act 1, Scene 1 but I’m really not sure. That may have been the singers. If that wasn’t enough there were two significant signal drops during Act 2 and a weird problem with lines of pixels being left shifted (most noticeable on text) that was present during the pre broadcast material and persisted to the credits. Not acceptable at all.
Bottom line, I think this was probably a pretty fantastic performance for those who were at the Lincoln Centre. They certainly thought so! For those of us in the cinema, not so much. I really think the Met needs to rethink the video direction of these broadcasts and take responsibility for working with it’s cinema partners to ensure that it’s product isn’t debased by shoddy broadcast/replay quality.