If you want to know just how great this country is, come to Lubbock. Lubbock is at the end of the line. It’s like lactate metabolism; the only way out is the way you got in (unless you’re flying Southwest Airlines). Yet look what’s here. A major university – one of the few in the world that has its law school and medical school on the same campus as everything else. A major medical center, a great symphony orchestra, superior housing – but I gush. America’s infrastructure is so deep that it’s good to be at the end of the line. And Lubbock has the Met – at least a HD version.
Last year we didn’t get the Met telecasts, but this year we’ve been added to the list. The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, introduced the transmission. He said that it was going to 600 theaters. On the radio broadcast of the performance (I recorded it and listened to it later) it was announced that 100,000 people would see the opera – Romeo et Juliette – on TV. That works out to about 167 people per theater and about the number that were at the show in Lubbock. That number must have more than expected because an usher asked couples to surrender one of their programs because there weren’t any left for the people who were still coming in.
I’ve not been a fan of opera on TV – live or on DVD. A big problem is the close-up. Opera was meant to be seen at a distance. A 50 square foot head that’s sweating, turning blue with each high note, and wearing a fright wig is not a pleasant sight. But when it’s Anna Netrebko’s head that’s filling the screen this quibble sinks. The other big problem is the constant changing of the view. In the theater you’re in the same place all the time. But on TV your vantage is at the director’s whim. Fortunately, the direction of the production was smoothly handled, so well that the viewer paid no attention to it. The picture quality was outstanding and the sound excellent, but nothing like that heard in the opera house. Modern technology can make Juan Diego Florez sound like Lauritz Melchior. Aristotle would not have liked the backstage views of the singer and stage hands that were shown between the scenes. Suspension of disbelief is a casualty of this sort of video overkill.
The set was dominated by an astronomical mien. The moon, galaxies, and stars were projected during each scene. I know, star crossed lovers – but it worked. Frere Laurent had a telescope, and an empty bottle of wine. There so many TV cameras shooting the production that we even got top down shots a la Busby Berkeley, but without the kaleidoscope chorus girls. The doomed teenager’s nuptial bed was suspended above the stage surrounded by stars. The staging and scenery were splendid, but this opera is Romeo et Juliette. And it is with them that it succeeds or fails.
Roberto Alagna was good. Not good enough to carry the show himself, ie be the reason to go, but good enough to keep things moving at the right pace. His voice is not as luscious as it was a decade ago. But Anna Netrebko sang and acted as beautifully as she looked, and she was gorgeous. There was a mini crack shortly after she made her first entrance, but the rest was perfection. The Waltz Song was free and joyous. The vocal high point was “Amour ranime mon courage” in the fourth act. It was all passion and poignance – very moving. Her voice was round, rich, and up to all the arias great requirements. She was equally compelling in the death scene. She’s much better than when I heard in the role a few years ago in Los Angeles. A great singer.
Nathan Gunn acted well and looked handsome, but his voice sounded muffled even with all the electronic enhancement. The rest of the cast did all that was needed. Placido Domingo, or one of his numerous clones, conducted. He’s turned into a Fausto Cleva who sings. He was Romeo six times at the Met more than 30 years ago. He did a fine job.
The production had only one intermission, between acts 3 and 4. That’s almost two hours. There should have been a warning by the popcorn stand that buying a large soft drink would be a real bladder buster. Tristan und Isolde is coming later this season. I’d advise those planning to go (not me, I’m not seeing another Tristan until Brigit Nilsson is reincarnated) to see their doctor just before the show and get a shot of antidiuretic hormone and to have nothing to drink starting two hours before the performance.
If the Met can continue to meet the excellent standard set by this broadcast, I’d advise anyone with any interest in opera to go. It seems unless you live in Antarctica that there’s a theater near you that will carry them . And there were titles – the same as those displayed on the backs of the seats at the Met.