Today’s Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” broadcast was Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. I was not overly impressed although whether this was a result of issues associated with the broadcast or what was happening in the house I’m not entirely sure. One issue was that, again, the cinema was forcing its sound system well past the point at which it could consistently and accurately reproduce music. It may be OK for car chases and explosions but they need to throttle the volume back for the opera broadcasts. I’m guessing that they could drop the sound 6dB and still be louder than it would sound in the house. Driving the speakers and amps at 25% of the pressure level they are currently flogging them at would surely reduce the harmonic distortion. This was particularly an issue because this was very “heavy” Donizetti. I don’t know the work well enough to know whether it has to be done this way but the Met cast large voices in almost all the major roles and Marco Amiliato in the pit seemed to be demanding a very loud and strident sound from the orchestra. It was quite dramatic but emphatically not bel canto; more like forte shouto really. The only singer who sounded idiomatic to me was Tamara Mumford as the page, Smeaton. It did get better after the interval and the big duet between Anna (Anna Netrebko) and Giovanna Seymour (Ekaterina Gubanova) was really quite affecting. Also as far as I could tell Netrebko was singing really well in the “mad scene” (which really isn’t all that mad as these things go) but unfortunately the person in the seat behind me was having extremely audible “gastric distress” and both the lemur and I were having the hardest time not dissolving into giggles during perhaps the most solemn part of the opera. And I thought the coughing at the Four Seasons Centre was bad.
The staging was literal and dull. I expected rather more from David McVicar. At the very least he’s usually good for some sex and violence. All we got here was Enrico (Ildar Abdrazakov) copping a feel of Giovanna in the first act and a bloody Smeaton who looked like he’d had a run in with Dick Cheney in the second. We even got gratuitous wolfhounds in the hunting scene. Has the Met negotiated a quota with Animals Equity? If so, we demand more wombats and platypuses rather than type casting dogs and horses.(1) The lighting was really dark much of the time which may have been effective in the house but was problematic on the cinecast. Digital video cameras respond to low light levels by amplifying what “signal” they are getting to produce a grainy, ghosting picture so, far from getting a consistent HD picture, it was fluctuating from crystal clear to what could have come from an old VHS tape.
From the applause in New York I got the impression the audience in the house were lapping this up. I felt more like I’d just spent four hours in a canning factory without ear protectors.
(1)Anybody who gets this reference wins a small, virtual prize for extreme cleverness.