From very top of the War Memorial's 3000-seat auditorium, the sound is
amazing, the best in the house. The problem is that the singers whose
voices sound as if they were standing next to you appear as tiny figures
in the far distance. You sit or stand at the top of the second balcony
to hear the performance, not to see it.
Until today. As of May 30, the binocular concession is out of business.
At a rehearsal/student performance of "Don Giovanni," San Francisco
Opera caught up with rock concerts of decades past, and projected the
show live to the upper reaches of the house. Two 6x10 retractable screens
provided high-definition video alternative to watching the stage - but
well out of the way so that it was possible to ignore them or switch
back and forth.
The size is fine: big enough, but not overwhelming. Translation on the
bottom of the screens runs in tandem with supertitles on the top of the
stage, but in insufficient size.
Additional screens for "OperaVision" will be set up for latecomers (and
claustrophobics) in the lower lobby and box levels. As an in-house
device, the screens are sure to cause some controversy (I am undecided
myself, not sure if the closeups are worth the distraction), but almost
certainly, they are here to stay. General Manager David Gockley says
summer opera will serve as a test, audience reaction to be taken into
At this, the first public use of projection system, all went well -
rather surprisingly, as cameras picked up singers in black costumes
against the dark set just fine. "OperaVision" is run from the new Koret
Media Suite, touted as - and I quote - "the first permanent high-definition
broadcast-standard video production facility installed in any American
Starting on a $3 million budget, half of it from the Koret
Foundation, this miniature approximation of a NASA launch center will
also run Gockley's many-splendored media ventures, from free simulcasts
to extensive archiving. The system includes 27 high-definition LCD
monitors, three robotic operator consoles, a 16-audio channel console,
a 16-input/eight-output Sony switcher, and a 32x34 router. Performances
are captured with seven high-definition Sony broadcast cameras, including
four robotic cameras operated remotely from the production control room.
And, in addition to all that technology, there was music too. The Opera
will be lucky if "Don Giovanni" performances, June 2-30, will maintain
the brilliance of today's rehearsal. Donald Runnicles conducted perhaps
his best Mozart since the 1999 "Idomeneo."
Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role lives up to the hype. Charles
Castronovo's Don Ottavio was so wonderful that the student audience -
some from elementary schools - collectively held its breath during the
tenor's arias. Oren Gradus is the physically and vocally athletic
Leporello; Hope Briggs, Twyla Robinson, Claudia Mahnke, Luca Pisaroni,
and Kristinn Sigmundsson sang up a storm. A "Don Giovanni" without a
weak link - if you don't like the screens, just sit upstairs, close your
eyes and float along with the dreamy performance.
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