“Live in HD” versus “Live at the Met”

I've never been an opera-lover, but I love the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD broadcasts, and it has increasingly made more of an opera fan of me.

The operas are broadcast at the same time as they are being performed, so they’re seen “live” all over the world:  what a Massachusetts audience sees at 1:00 PM, an Arizona audience sees at 11:00 AM, a California audience at 10:00 AM – and so on, in all parts of the country and all over the globe.  It’s exciting to know that others are watching the same event with you, at the very same moment, no matter the time zone.

And in the comfort of your seat and the murmur of the people around you, you can almost feel as though you're an actual part of the same audience that you watch trickle into the Met; it can feel a bit like they’re joining you in your theater; and that the huge chandelier is hanging over your head, as well:  the very expression of a theater-goers “willing suspension of disbelief!”

But as the hosts on screen keep reminding us, “There’s nothing like actually being to a performance at the Met” – and, of course, that’s true. The acoustics are better at the Met, and therefore, the sound; certainly, the glorious music and those magnificent voices deserve that. 

And the excitement of entering that huge and opulent theater cannot be matched by that of even the loveliest local movie theater; or even by watching on the giant screen at Times Square – though I’m sure there’s quite a feeling of excitement there, too!  

Grand Opera deserves a grand space, and the Met certainly is that!

But in that grand, huge space, it’s often very difficult – if not impossible! – to see the facial expressions of the performers; to see the cut of the jewels; the opulent velvets and silks and lace; to see how hard the performers work – to see them sweat!  In the Live in HD broadcasts, however, you do get to see all of that.  Occasionally, the camera focuses on individual members of the chorus and of the musicians in the pit: these performers are plucked out of their seemingly homogenous crowd, and are suddenly unique members of the cast in a way that cannot be experienced in the Met.

I like this – and I don’t. 

At the Met, you can see the entire stage at all times, so in a very real sense, you become the “editor” of the action, as you decide where you will look, who you will concentrate on.  In the broadcasts, the choices are made for you, and sometimes those choices leave me dissatisfied.  

Nevertheless, I prefer the HD broadcasts because of the “extras” that the HD audience enjoys and which the opera house audience does not get to see.

While the members of the audience at the Met go for a stretch or sit restlessly in their seats, we at the movie theaters get to go behind the scenes.  We enjoy interviews with performers, directors, conductors, set and lighting designers – even animal trainers! – and I find those enormously interesting – especially when it’s a conductor’s or a performer’s first time at the Met. Their excitement is contagious! Often enough, the comments they make during these interviews – their interpretations of the roles, their enthusiasm – serve to intensify one’s pleasure in what is to come. And you find yourself rooting for them!

But the “extra” I like best is that during intermissions, we get to watch the crew change the sets behind that closed curtain:  and that is a simply wondrous, remarkable experience.  Entirely new worlds are created in 20 minutes; and you're on pins and needles, never believing that they'll manage it! I think it's worth the cost of admission just to see that!

Of course, opera's vary in the complexity of the sets, so some are more interesting than others. 

SIMON BOCCANEGRA is a case in point. This opera personifies what opera is all about:  grand passions, timeless themes, extraordinarily sumptuous sets and costumes – and it’s a real tearjerker, too!  The sets for this production were staggeringly lavish, complex and diverse. 

There were over 130 workmen (yes, all men!) changing the sets.  One set was "rolled" onto the stage – with performers already in their places! – while others were built before our eyes. 

With hammers and nails, fabric and boards, a concrete-and-stone street with dark alleys and brooding gray-stone buildings was turned into a lusciously landscaped walled garden with a honey-colored "cottage" and gazebo; the garden and its walls were then turned into a palace throne room, complete with elaborately inlaid marble floors, heavily carved wood-paneled walls, and ornately painted frescoed ceilings...! 

You watch, and you just can't believe your eyes!  Some men hammer “grass” cloth onto the “stone” floor, while others make sure that there are no bumps, no snags, nothing that might make a performer trip and fall.  These are experts in their field, and despite their speed, they pay attention to the smallest details.

And all the while, on the lower right-hand corner of the screen, you watch the 20 minutes count down by seconds:  at 7 minutes to go, you just don't believe it's possible, and you sit in anxious suspense.  6, 5, 4….  At 3 minutes to go, back stage is still bustling with activity.  And at 1 minute, they’re gone! 

Poof!  The music begins, the curtains open….

This is itself a perfectly choreographed “performance.”  It is theater.  It is deserving of standing ovations.  And it is thrilling to see!

I think that the Metropolitan Opera is best for opera lovers; and that the Live in HD broadcasts are perfect for theater lovers.  Take your pick – or pick them both!  
This season’s tickets are on sale now.