Sunday, June 11, 2023

A Night at the Opera

The other night, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico we went to “The Met Live in HD”. It was a simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. We saw and heard Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Magic Flute) in its new production.

In 1931 the Met started having broadcasts of their operas on the radio and I remember my father listening to them on Saturday afternoons. In 1977 the Met started to broadcast on television and on December 30, 2006, they began the HD broadcasts for theaters.

Let me say from the start that there is no substitute for seeing the performing arts in person because there is a lot missing when it is on screen. When one is at a live, in person, performance the crowd has an electricity that cannot be conveyed electronically and as good as speakers might be they add or take something away from the original. Also, you have an overall view of the stage and see what the other actors are doing while an actor is singing. Maybe, you want to watch the conductor for longer. In our case, I did because I thought the French conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann, was fantastic.

Happily, at the Lensic the speakers are state of the art. Still, it is not the same. Then, I think, when one goes to an outdoor concert, and one can’t get near the stage, why do crowds want to stand or sit outside to hear that artist and watch her on a screen with a speaker system. Is that live?

If, however, in a simulcast in a theater setting, and it is a superb performance, sometimes one cannot help but applaud. That, of course, is a reflex. But it is surely a phenomenal performer that can convey such excitement long distance. For us it was what happened when the Queen of the Night, Kathryn Lewek, sang her aria in the second act for her 50thperformance in that role, a record at the Met.

There are advantages to viewing on screen. You do see close ups of the performers and if the opera is in a language you do not understand it is easier to see the translation as captions on a screen rather than missing the action while you try to read on a tiny screen attached to the seat in front of you. If the translation is above the stage, it is truly disturbing.

At the Met there are a number of cameras in use to shoot the action from multiple points of of view. This is surely outlined in rehearsal, but the video director must still be able to decide instantly which she/he will use as the opera continues. He may choose a closeup of a singer or show some stage business. One feature of Die Zauberflöte which we saw was the participation of the sound effects artist shown at one side of the stage in a bar-like setting. Less successful was the animation artist on the opposite side of the stage who was shown creating his projections. An amusing touch was that when Papageno, played by Thomas Oliemans, was supposed to play his flute on stage and he passed it to the flautist in the orchestra who later participated in Papageno’s bells as did the sound effects artist in a scene of comic schtick.

Papageno with Sound Affects Person

We see a lot of performances in Santa Fe and the fact that I found this one worth writing about speaks for itself.

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