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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Popcorn and Papageno

Well Met Dept.: The summer opera season at theaters nearby is reinforced by the summer rebroadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera – also at a theater nearby. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about the phenomenon. The dates don't apply and prices have changed (dropped, even!) but the broadcasts persevere.


“IT’S NOT THE SAME as seeing it live on stage,” said once audience member, “but I love the close-ups.”

Matthew Polenzani as Tamino
We’d just watched Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” in Julie (“Lion King”) Taymor’s production, as it was performed at the Met on Dec. 30, the broadcast that opened a new and revolutionary “Live from the Met” concept: see it live in a theater near you. Only it wasn’t Dec. 30 – it was a couple of Tuesdays ago. And it was a rebroadcast. And that’s why there were tickets available.

When the Met released tickets for this new series, shown locally at a theater at Crossgates Mall, it sold out almost instantly. If, like me, you were paying only moderate attention, you were out of luck.

With rebroadcasts added to the schedule, seats are available. And with the overwhelming success of this series, here and throughout the world, more screens are being added and tickets even for the live broadcasts are again becoming available.

For Albany-area opera fans, the Metropolitan Opera is a mere three hours away. But you still need to shell out from $40 to $300 to see the upcoming “Eugene Onegin.” The Crossgates ticket, on the other hand, is $18. And you can bring popcorn to your seat.

Generations of opera lovers have been created and maintained by the weekly Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts; more recent “Live from the Met” television events have added a look at the productions. But the Met’s new managing director, Peter Gelb, has upped visibility with a series that satellite-beams high-definition transmissions to specially equipped theaters around the world.

Ten high-def cameras are positioned both in the house and backstage; microphone placement recreates the surround-sound experience of listening in the hall. True, you’re looking at close-ups of singers in stage makeup, and the singers themselves might not be Hollywood’s first choices. My ten-year-old daughter was disappointed in what she believed was the not-terribly-royal appearance of the “Magic Flute’s” Prince, but she has more exacting standards of beauty than I. Papageno, however, swept her heart away.

In technological terms, these broadcasts are a huge advance over watching “Live from the Met” in your living room. Sound and screen are both greatly enhanced, with the audio surrounding you. It’s not classical-music grade sound, being tuned for car crashes, explosions, and bad John Williams music, but it’s sufficient. Picture quality looks to be outstanding, although Taymor’s “Magic Flute” production was designed to be dark and video, unlike film, lacks richness at that end of the spectrum.

But you’re watching the opera amidst a like-minded audience, and there’s no substitute for the energy an audience generates. Add to that the fillip of knowing that what’s onscreen is live – at least for many of the broadcasts. My informal poll of audience members suggests that live-ness is a compelling draw, which may explain why the live “Flute” sold out, while empty seats abounded during the re-broadcast.

The next live event features Valery Gergiev conducting Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at 1:30 PM Sat., Feb. 24. This sold out weeks ago, but the broadcast has since been moved to a theater with a larger screen and tickets are again available as of this writing. The next rebroadcast is Bellini’s rollicking “I Puritani” with soprano Anna Netrebko at 7 PM Tues., Feb. 13; tickets go on sale Feb. 3. For a complete schedule, navigate the Internet to the Met's “Watch & Listen” site, and you’ll also find links to online ticket-buying.

Keep an eye on that website: what appears as sold out one day may sprout tickets the next. And be sure to get there early. Seats aren’t assigned, and you don’t want to have to forcibly elbow your way past a phalanx of determined oldsters to get the best view of the screen.

Metroland Magazine, 1 February 2007

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