I saw my very first Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast this weekend! And my first Peter Grimes! And...well, not my first blogger meetup, but great fun all the same. Initially, I was skeptical about the whole idea of live opera on video broadcast — I was afraid it would be too much like watching opera on DVD, where the camerawork always seems to be either too static or too intrusive, and it's just close enough to live performance to remind one of what one is missing.
I'm not skeptical any more.* I'm sold. I hope the Met keeps this project up, and I'm now seriously contemplating spending something like six hours next Saturday parked in a seat at the Bridge for Tristan und Isolde, despite the scarcity of free time in my schedule and despite the fact that I'm still on the fence about Wagner. That's how good Saturday's broadcast was.
I saw it with Terry Teachout of About Last Night, who's writing a column about the HD broadcasts and who was, if anything, even more enthralled than I was. It's a terrific production, voice-wise and acting-wise — even though I'm not that familiar with Grimes, I could hear the perfectness of Anthony Dean Griffey and Patricia Racette as Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford. I'd heard that Griffey's Grimes comes across as too dark, too brutal, too unsympathetic, but I didn't get that at all, because — as Terry and I wound up discussing during the intermissions — the camera stays close enough to the singers that you can see the acting as well as the singing. Ellen's "Peter, we've failed," in Act 2, was heartbreaking, because you could see the realization hit both of them. It got me right in the throat. I've never sat close enough to the stage to pick up on that level of detail, and opera-glasses only do so much when you're in the upper tiers.
Plus, the cameras stayed on for intermission, poking into the Met's backstage spaces, following Donald Runnicles into the orchestra pit, catching up with the two leads for an interview, and switching over to the BBC for a live feature in Britten's home town of Aldeburgh. And during the sea interludes, the cameras went into the pit to show us the orchestra. I've always liked watching musicians play, so I liked the way I got to recognize their faces ("oh, there's that one flutist again!").
I went home with my head filled with Britten's amazingly pictorial sea-music, which conjured up waves and storm-clouds even while my eyes were trained on the orchestra. Then I dreamed about Patricia Racette's voice. And there are still four more broadcasts left this season!
* I also appear to have gotten over my dubiousness about a) English-language opera, b) 20th-century opera, and c) tenor-centric opera. That's rather a lot of prejudices dismantled in one afternoon.