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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Triumph of the Delivery Modes II

I am proud of my kids capacities and abilities, and I want to show them everything, from ballet to baseball, but nevertheless I don't want them to be out of step with current kid-culture. Yet, I have to admit that after our Shakespeare-manga moment, we had another cool new-delivery-mode experience, this time with opera. We had an arrangement to go with a couple of other grown-ups and another kid to the HD re-broadcast of La Boheme from The Metropolitan Opera. I had hoped that the opera I consider to be THE introductory opera, in a movie theatre with popcorn, at a $20 ticket price, would work as a starting point for a lifetime of pleasure in opera, but...I was prepared to leave if they got bored or really didn't like it, or couldn't sit still. On the contrary, it was the little one who wanted get a membership to The Met so we would have first access to tickets for future shows, and the big one wants to rent or buy other operas from The Met on DVD to try at home! (For interest I'll note that La Fille du Regiment and the Barber of Seville are at the top of the list, not to mention La Boheme again. Opera-movie party, anyone?)

Now, the Met is one of the best opera companies on the planet, and their staging and production values were perfect. (Which is not to say the broadcast was without flaw - the colour was improperly adjusted in our theatre for the first half of the transmission.) The "extra features" like interviews about the staging, and with the stars, and with the adorable conductor Nicola Luisotti, were delightful. The movie audience got to see a bit of back-stage business, including Ainhoa Arteta, as Musetta, actually wiping her eyes behind the curtain before the curtain calls.

In its own way, the combination of the best opera company available at the movies, is as suitable as Shakespeare available in manga. Of course it works. It is a bold and up-to-date idea from a world known to be as stodgy as they come. The Met is also flying with their success in this initiative: last season they gave six broadcasts, this season they gave eight, next season they are planning for ten. In the extensive program they say their transmissions reach one million viewers! That's a lot of people watching opera. I think the new General Manager, Peter Gelb, is responsible. I read about his plans a few months ago in The New Yorker.

I have been out of the opera-loop for nearly ten years. (See: The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer on how this works.) I know longer know all the names. I did know of Angela Gheorghiu, who sang Mimi, and she debuted professionally in that role more that fifteen years ago. Her voice was awesome. First the good: the final act was wonderful. It often requires such suspension of disbelief to fit together an opera singer, healthy (robust) in body and voice with a dying consumptive, but she did it! Here it is tempting to say that it was filming that allowed her to hold back her power, but, of course, this was recorded during a live performance, filling an opera house. How do dey do dat? Unfortunately, the filming made the first act hard to believe. Gheorghiu had to vamp her young seamstress to communicate the character, and meanwhile her not-young face was in close-up. Opera has been an art at a distance until now. I guess the new stars will be (are?) as young and telegenic as most writers are now: made for TV. I had not heard of Ramón Vargas, but I loved him in the role. He was emotional and believable. His high notes were effortless and lovely. His closing cry of "Mimi!" made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was talking with the most musically qualified among us about that note. Is it a slight discord? It sounds unresolved to me, and that would be appropriate. I'll try to look at the sheet music. Or should I write to The Met and ask them?

Kids or not, depending on the work, I really plan and hope to see more of these. Suddenly I have seen a few different opera things lately, and I am thinking opera traditions are changing. Why would people choose a quite-good but terribly expensive, local performance of standard repertoire, over, on one side, an affordable, digital broadcast of the best in the world, or, on the other, a specialized festival (ie the Rossini Opera Festival), or a company that devotes itself to non-standard repertoire performed at a high level (ie Opera Atelier) or...what else is coming down the pike? I think that, similarly to retail, the middle will die away and only the top and bottom will be left. Interesting. I'll be watching.

The marigold asks nervously:
Will opera movies work at home, or does the mystique of even a movie theatre provide some necessary seriousness? Will I kill my kids' enthusiasm by trying this at home?

PS This morning we are watching SpongeBob, so I guess they're still OK. Whew.


  1. I just found your blog and like it! I don't think that the Met broadcasts will kill smaller local companies, because while I LOVE those broadcasts, they still aren't as awesome as seeing a live performance. Plus, the Met is a very big traditional company which does hardly any new music, which is (in my opinion) SUPER awesome and important. Also, with all that opera has gone through, if it's still around, it's not going anywhere for a while. I'm a young singer myself, and my friends and I are doing our best to keep this amazing art form alive.

  2. How cool are you!

    I would say that young singers doing new music falls into the type of specialized niche that is the future of the form. The middling companies,like the Met, generally do the traditional, only they are not the best in the world at it, unlike the Met. That's why I wonder if they will ultimately disappear.

    Where in the world are you?