Many years ago, when my brother and I were teenagers, my mom occasionally drove us to New York City, to the Metropolitan Opera House. It was always special and memorable. Two years ago, I got to go back to the Met, albeit only virtually, without flying to Manhattan. Instead, I drove ten minutes to the Quality 16 and saw Les Contes d’Hoffman, broadcast live in HD from the Met.
Now it was I who was taking my teenage daughter to her first time at the Met. And we were running late. She kept hurrying me, saying we may not get in if we arrive at the last minute. I reassured her, “This is opera. There’ll be plenty of seats.” Wrong. Two theaters at the multiplex were nearly full by the time we got there.
It’s easy to see why: if you can’t fly to New York and shell out up to $445 per ticket, you can spend a Saturday afternoon enjoying incredible music, in comfortable seats, probably seeing and hearing everything better than you would at the Met, all for only $23. And you sure can’t bring popcorn and Pepsi into the Met!
Oh, and forget beefy belters, the stereotypically corpulent opera singers. These broadcasts feature not only glorious voices, but also gorgeous sopranos, hunky (so I’m told) tenors, performers who can act nearly as well as they sing, and staging, sets, and choreography that rival Broadway and Hollywood.
Seeing opera in a movie theater instead of a concert hall is like watching football on TV rather than in a stadium: you gain some and lose some. The cameras allow us to see sights, like a coloratura’s facial gymnastics as she navigates the intricate passages of her aria, that we’d probably never see even from front-row seats at the Met. But, as with sports broadcasts, I find the commentators intrude into the game/opera. I don’t really want to hear even a super diva–previous commentators have included Deborah Voigt and Rene Fleming–interviewing a tenor off stage seconds after he’s witnessed his lover’s death on stage. (Though it was hilarious hearing prima donna Anna Netrebko’s response when asked what’s her favorite thing about her role in Les Contes d’Hoffman: “It’s short.”)
The Met’s 2011-2012 eleven-event broadcast season began in October and will conclude this month with Massenet’s Manon on April 7 and Verdi’s La Traviata on April 14. Both plots revolve around strong, complicated, and ultimately tragic heroines and the men who fall for them despite their own fathers’ objections. Both are wonderful vehicles for superb sopranos and will be portrayed here by, respectively, Netrebko and Natalie Dessay, two of the finest divas of our time.