Thoughts on the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series 2012/13

The Metropolitan Opera has announced the HD broadcast line up for next season.  Here it is with my entirely objective and unbiased comments.

Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore New Production – October 13, 2012
Cond – Maurizio Benini, Dir – Bartlett Sher, Cast – Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ambrogio Maestri

Bartlett Sher?  Again?  Clearly Gelb’s “Broadway show of the year” (one of them, anyway).  Probably worth seeing for the cast who are capable of being funny in the drabbest production.

Verdi’s Otello – October 27, 2012
Cond – Semyon Bychkov, Dir – Elijah Moshinsky, Cast – Johan Botha, Renée Fleming

Well we are not going to see much acting here.  Probably one to stay home and listen to on the radio,

Adès’s The Tempest Met Premiere – November 10, 2012
Cond – Thomas Adès, Dir – Robert Lepage, Cast – Simon Keenlyside

Probably the highlight of the season.  A must see.

Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito – December 1, 2012
Cond – Harry Bicket, Dir – Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Cast – Elīna Garanča, Giuseppe Filianoti, Barbara Frittoli

Is this production any good?  I’ll probably go but I’m not as excited about this as I am about seeing Michael Schade in Christopher Alden’s production in February.

Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera New Production – December 8, 2012
Cond – Fabio Luisi, Dir – David Alden, Cast – Marcelo Álvarez, Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Kathleen Kim, Stephanie Blythe

This looks promising.  On the list.

Verdi’s Aida – December 15, 2012
Cond – Fabio Luisi, Dir – Sonja Frisell, Cast – Liudmyla Monastyrska, Roberto Alagna, Olga Borodina

I’d quite like to see Monastyrka but I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a spork then watch this dreadful old production again.  Thank you CBC Radio.

Berlioz’s Les Troyens – January 5, 2013
Cond – Fabio Luisi, Dir – Francesca Zambello, Cast – Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft

I have my doubts about Debbie as Cassandra but this is definitely worth a look.

Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda Met Premiere – January 19, 2013
Cond – Maurizio Benini, Dir – David McVicar, Cast – Joyce DiDonato, Elza van den Heever

Can McVicar raise his game to a higher level than his rather dismal Anna Bolena?  Worth going to see probably.

Verdi’s Rigoletto New Production – February 16, 2013
Cond – Michele Mariotti, Dir – Michael Mayer, Cast – Piotr Beczala, Željko Lucic, Diana Damrau

Another of Gelb’s Broadway buddies takes a crack at opera.  It’s been such a successful strategy after all.  The bland leading the bland?

Wagner’s Parsifal New Production – March 2, 2013
Cond – Daniele Gatti, Dir – François Girard, Cast – Jonas Kaufmann, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Mattei, Evgeny Nikitin, René Pape

Fabulous cast!  This is a co-pro with Opéra de Lyon and the COC so (a) the reviews from Lyon will be in before we have to decide and (b) I’ll eventually get to see it in Toronto.  Still, that cast…

Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini – March 16, 2013
Cond – Marco Armiliato, Dir – Piero Faggioni, Cast – Eva-Maria Westbroek, Marcello Giordani are the doomed lovers.

This is a new piece for me.  Curiosity calls.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare New Production – April 27, 2013
Cond – Harry Bicket, Dir – David McVicar, Cast – David Daniels, Natalie Dessay

New production?  This is the Glyndebourne production set in 19th century British occupied Egypt complete with red coats, kilts etc.  It’s available on Blu-ray and DVD with a stronger cast (Connolly/de Niese) and period instruments. The Blu-ray has better production values than any MetHD broadcast I’ve ever seen so go buy that instead.

Bottom LIne

Yes: The Tempest, Un Ballo in Maschera, Les Troyens, Maria Stuarda, Parsifal, Francesca da Rimini

Maybe: L’Elisir d’Amore, La Clemenza di Tito

Not a chance: Otello, Aida, Rigoletto (is there a pattern here?), Giulio Cesare

Will the Met’s Live in HD series significantly affect live opera?

I’ve been giving far too much thought to a range of issues surrounding the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts to cinemas. They have attracted a wide audience and are much talked about, both as performances and as to their impact on live opera; the so-called HD Generation. That said, I’ve seen little analysis of what the broadcasts really are or of their audience or of how and why the HD audience reacts to them the way it does. I want to explore those questions and then go on to look at whether and how the HD broadcasts might influence the practice of live opera. Some of this will be speculative as I am certainly not privy to the kind of data about the audience and its reaction that I would need to do what I want to do well. Some of it will be coloured, perhaps highly coloured, by my own experiences with live music, electronically reproduced music and the tricky relationship between them.

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Siegfried ex Machina

I had very mixed feelings about today’s HD broadcast of Siegfried from the Metropolitan Opera. Early reviews and comments by friends had been largely negative about the staging and there was a widespread view that “the machine” was intrusively noisy. As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised. For once Gary Halvorson’s relentless close ups were a boon. From what little we could see of them, the first and second act sets were both uninteresting and gimmicky. The 3D leaf scattering, the crudely pixellated woodbird and the laughable Wurm were just among the sillier features. To be fair , the beginning of the third act made effective use of the set but that was the only place that it did work well. So focussing on the singers made a lot of sense.

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Anna Bolena – MetHD broadcast

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.

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Upcoming HD broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera

The Met HD 2011/12 season went on sale to Friends of the Met and, in Canada, for holders of Scene cards; the loyalty card for the chain that does the Met broadcasts up here. I just got my order in. The lemur and I go to the Scotiabank Theatre at Richmond and John for these things. They use two auditoria; the roughly 500 seat Theatre 1 and the roughly 300 seat Theatre 13, for the Met broadcasts. By 1pm today when I was choosing seats roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of the seats in Theatre 1 had already gone and a fair chunk of 13 was sold too.

For the record, we decided to see only six of the eleven shows this season. We’ll be seeing Anna Bolena, Don Giovanni, Siegfried, Faust, Enchanted Island and Gotterdammerung. If any of the others get rave reviews we might catch the encore performance.

Die Walküre

Once in a while an opera performance really blows you away and it becomes quite hard to write about, especially when the work is as long and dense as Die Walküre because even with a great performance one is in overload by the end. Yesterday’s broadcast from the Met was one of those experiences. Here’s what I think I saw!

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Il Trovatore

Il Trovatore has gypsies, burning at the stake, dead babies, mistaken identity, poison, love, hate, revenge and enough plot holes to sink the Titanic. It also has some very effective dramatic moments and some utterly fabulous music. The biggest snag is probably that the utterly fantastic music needs a quartet of soloists who can deal with fiendishly difficult parts that require a combination of flawless bel canto technique coupled to Puccinian power and stamina. The power and stamina requirement being especially high in a barn like the Met. It also has a dramatical problem in that it consists if a sequence of fairly short scenes which means a production runs the risk of being chopped up by the changes of set.

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Yesterday’s Met Live in HD transmission was Richard Strauss’ last opera Capriccio. It’s a curious work and I suspect how one thinks about it seriously affects how one reacts to it emotionally. On the surface it’s a sophisticated meta opera about opera with some side splittingly funny gags about unstageable production concepts accompanied by pastiche Wagner. Taken on that level it’s funny but perhaps, ultimately heartless. When one realises that the opera was written in 1941/2 it adds a new dimension. Why has Strauss set this opera in Enlightenment Paris? Where else could be more symbolic of everything the regime he is writing under is not? This work premiered a few weeks before the German defeat at Stalingrad. Does Strauss sense that german is losing the war? Is this less an affectionate farewell to the form from an elderly composer or an elegy for an artform that may not survive the destruction of European civilization which most would have thought the inevitable consequence of a Russo-American victory (who’s to say they weren’t right?). Any way these were the thoughts that were going through my head as I watched yesterday’s broadcast and no doubt helped give the work, for me, a greater emotional intensity.

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Le Comte Ory

Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is a very silly opera about the wicked count and his equally randy page scheming to get into the pants of the virtuous, more or less, Countess Adele while all the local men, including the countess’ brother are off at the crusades. To this end in Act 1 the count appears disguised as a hermit and in Act 2 as a nun. Add to the silliness a fiendishly difficult set of vocal parts and you have a sort of bel canto comedy extreme. To up the ante, today’s Comte, Juan-Diego Florez had been up all night waiting for his wife to pop a pup which she did 35 minutes before curtain.

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