Opera goes to the movies

Anna Netrebko was lovely in the Met’s latest production of Romeo and Juliet – both Jeff and I are now fervently on the lookout for more of her performances. Thank god for high definition broadcasts… they *might* even beat watching the performances live since we not only got super close ups of the performers, but also rare views of what goes on backstage during intermission. Looking forward to more HD broadcasts! It was a little odd, to be in a completely filled theatre at noon on a Saturday, and to be one of the youngest attendees at that (I’m guesing a median age of 65?)

Review: The Met has a hit with its high-definition broadcast of ‘Roméo et Juliette’
By PAUL HORSLEY
The Kansas City Star
The smash success of last season’s live high-definition broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera productions was not a fluke.

On Saturday at 600 multiplexes worldwide, including four locally, the company began its second season of live broadcasts with its production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” That’s up from 100 last year, as more theaters have hopped on the train and acquired digital capabilities.

The Cinemark 14 Palace on the Country Club Plaza was a virtual sellout for the attractive production, conducted by Plácido Domingo and starring the high-chemistry couple of Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna in the title roles.

At a time when innovation in classical music is in short supply, the Met has a hit. It’s no exaggeration to say that this venture has transformed the way the world can experience opera.

New this year are encores of each of the eight productions (up from six last year). Locally “Roméo” was to be encored in three of the local venues at 2 p.m. Sunday. (See box.)

Technical problems remain. At the Palace, the image lacked crispness and looked slightly washed out, and the treble-heavy sound was set to near-deafening volume. But the quality of vocal amplification was notably higher than last season, and the camera work was more polished. A new aerial camera afforded striking above-stage views.

The backstage shots were more extensive and interesting than ever. A winning touch was Renée Fleming’s intermission interview with Domingo, a Letterman shtick brought to the Met. As they talked, they strolled from Domingo’s dressing room through the Met’s byzantine hallways, finishing just as he arrived at the pit to enter for the second half.

It was hard not to love Guy Joosten’s fresh, visually arresting 2005 production, with ingenious set designs by Johannes Leiacker. Most of the action takes place on a two-ringed disc painted as a sort of astrological clock, each part of which could tilt in opposite directions or lie flat. The backdrops echo the disc: a gigantic moon for Frère Laurent’s study, an eclipsed sun for the bloody Act 3 fight.

Both Netrebko and Alagna have gathered strong cult followings, but I must confess to being a fan of neither. In an intermission discussion about the opera’s difficulties, Netrebko told Fleming: “My voice sits better in the lower register.”

I couldn’t agree more. Netrebko is a ravishingly beautiful woman, but her voice often seems to have no center, and her upper-range vibrato is ungainly. She struggled for precision in her big Act 1 aria, though she did rally for the Act 2 balcony scene.

Alagna is a powerful figure onstage and paints a heroic portrait of Roméo. But his voice is showing premature signs of wear, raspy at times and with pitch sometimes straying just enough to hurt the ears. His brash tenor has the wide-open quality of Pavarotti’s, but without the sunshine.

But there’s no denying the sizzling bond these two have onstage. The Act 4 bedroom scene was downright sexy, with the two nightwear-clad lovers entangled on a bed suspended high above the stage.

Domingo is not opera’s greatest conductor, but he was mostly solid in Gounod’s uncomplicated music, sympathetic to the singers and producing some splendid sound from the Met’s terrific orchestra.

Among the other singers, Nathan Gunn captured the eyes and ears every time he stepped onto the stage, with flawless vocal technique and inspired stage charisma. Likewise, Isabel Leonard as Stéphano nearly stole Act 3 with a beautifully sung “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?”

Seven more Met broadcasts remain, including the series’ first Wagner opera (“Die Meistersinger”). But if you want to be assured of tickets, hie thee hence.

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The lovely Anna Netrebko

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Nathan Gunn as Mercutio – who said good opera singers are old and fat?? Gunn’s performing at the Lyric as Figaro, can’t wait!

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One thought on “Opera goes to the movies

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