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CLASSICAL  January 2007

CLASSICAL January 2007

Subject:

Met Live in Framingham, Massachusetts

From:

"Stephen E. Bacher" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 2 Jan 2007 11:31:37 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (120 lines)

As this is virtually in the backyard of the church where I am music
director, this is of particular interest to me.

   Boston.com
   The Boston Globe

   CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK
   Opera fans enjoy the Met live -- in Framingham
   By Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff  |  January 1, 2007

   It was like something out of a C.S.  Lewis novel, or maybe an
   Aldous Huxley fantasy.  On Saturday afternoon at the AMC Framingham
   cinemas, plenty of families were out to see films like "Rocky
   Balboa" and "Casino Royale." But if you ventured down one corridor
   and turned left into the theater across from "Charlotte's Web,"
   you were instantly transported to New York City, to the Metropolitan
   Opera.  Or at least the Met was transported to you.

   There it was, the grand house on the big screen, just minutes
   before the opening of the Saturday matinee.  You could watch the
   New York operagoers ambling in to find their seats just as the
   Framingham movie audience was doing the same.  People mostly
   skipped the popcorn.  One moviegoer said she felt underdressed.
   This was the opera, after all.

   Welcome to the Met's latest feat of high-tech operatic populism.
   Thanks to an initiative championed by the company's new general
   manager Peter Gelb, the Met's Saturday performance of Mozart's
   " The Magic Flute" was simulcast in high-definition to roughly
   100 theaters across North America, Europe, and even, with a time
   delay, Japan.  It was the first in a series of broadcasts that
   will run through April 28.  Framingham's AMC was the only
   Boston-area theater to carry the first broadcast, but theaters
   in Marlborough and Swansea will soon be joining the action --
   and no doubt more will do so in future seasons if the series
   continues.  It certainly should.

   It's a bold idea that will bring the Met's offerings to much
   wider audiences who, thanks to geography or ticket prices, or
   both, are prevented from attending the real thing.  Tickets for
   the Framingham screening cost $18 and sold out in a single day.
   (Bellini's "I Puritani" on Jan.  6 and Tan Dun's " The First
   Emperor" on Jan.  13 have also sold out in Framingham.)

   To prepare for my first experience of HD simulcast opera, I
   stopped by a live performance of "The Magic Flute" at the Met
   about two weeks ago.  It was not exactly a rigorously controlled
   experiment, as the earlier performance featured a different cast
   and a different version of the opera.  (Saturday's broadcast was
   the Met's new family-friendly "Magic Flute," an abridged
   English-language version that lasts about 100 minutes.) But both
   performances were featured on Julie Taymor's fantastical production,
   with its virtuoso puppetry, dancing bears, and a majestic bird
   that flies slowly across the stage.

   Compared to Row N of the Orchestra, the view from Framingham,
   all things considered, was excellent.  The broadcast was streamed
   in Dolby surround-sound, making it easy to enjoy the labors of
   the impressive cast, not to mention the Met orchestra's polished
   playing under James Levine.  The camera brings you right into
   the center of the action, with lots of detailed close-ups of
   singers and a much more intimate view than I had in the house
   itself.  An opening sequence during the overture even whisks you
   backstage through the labyrinth of dressing rooms.

   The broadcast's virtues notwithstanding, local opera companies
   need not fear that the new technology will undercut the hunger
   for the real thing.  There is still no substitute for directly
   experiencing an unamplified voice sailing into the rafters.
   During Saturday's broadcast, the acoustic properties of the Met's
   auditorium did not really come across -- there is no aural
   illusion of being present in the house.  And visually speaking,
   the 10 cameras rolling on Saturday actually overdid the close-ups
   and tight shots, making it difficult to appreciate the grandeur
   of the Met's stage and the actual scale of the sets.  It is
   certainly interesting to see the details of Kabuki-style makeup
   used in this production, but bringing the viewer too far inside
   the action can also generate a cognitive dissonance as the mind
   subconsciously starts to wonder whether this is an opera or a
   film, and which visual conventions should apply.  Is all that
   puppetry high-tech stagecraft or very low-tech special effects?

   The crowd on Saturday seemed to be made up mostly of seasoned
   opera veterans, several of whom said they had been to the Met
   before but not in a long time.  Watching the performance in real
   time seemed to bring the crowd an extra jolt of excitement, a
   sense of participating in the event albeit remotely.  A few
   people even clapped after impressive arias.  And there were no
   shortage of them from a cast that featured Matthew Polenzani as
   Tamino, Ying Huang as Pamina, Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Erika
   Miklosa as the Queen of the Night, and Rene Pape as Sarastro.

   It is, of course, impossible to tease out the broader implications
   of the medium from one screening alone, but it should be fascinating
   to see the technology's long-term impact on the opera world --
   sociologically, demographically, and artistically.  One has to
   wonder, for instance, if the numbers of virtual viewers begin
   to dwarf those of the live audience, will singers begin to sing
   and act differently?  Will their physical appearances become a
   bigger factor in casting decisions?  Will directors begin altering
   their ideas to cater to the big screen?  The new medium certainly
   provides an interesting twist on the recent trend toward engaging
   filmmakers in opera direction.  Whatever the case, for these
   broadcasts to succeed without undermining the art form they are
   designed to help, it seems clear that the big-screen imagery
   must remain merely a vehicle to access the staged performances,
   rather than a visual end in itself.

   To be sure, there's no doubting the democratizing potential of
   the new medium.  It's also refreshing to find a trend in new
   media that doesn't tie us more tightly to our lone desktops but
   preserves at least some semblance of the communal nature of the
   public ritual.  Or at least for now.  I haven't heard of watching
   live opera performances on iPods or cellphones -- but it seems
   only a matter of time.

   Jeremy Eichler can be reached at [log in to unmask]
   Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

 - seb

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