Sunday, June 05, 2011

I went to a big, local cinema to see and hear Wagner's Die Walkure performed 'live' at the Met (CON):

It seems so great to get a Metropolitan Opera Experience close to your own home, for only $18. But I may not ever do it again. The crucial problem?

It was too loud. The tenor made my whole head buzz with his resonance. After the first act, I politely asked, and they turned the volume down. It was bearable, but still too loud. A modern orchestra can be unbearably loud in a theater with good acoustics, but this was ridiculous, and it is mostly out of the movie patron’s control.

It was too long. There were two twenty minute intermissions, and in addition, there were interviews and explanations that greatly added to the fun, but let’s face it: 5.5 hours is too long for even a long opera like Die Walkure.

It was not real. In order to record the singers well, they must have been miked. (One reviewer noted that the sound changed when two singers stood close together, suggesting to him an interaction between their mikes.) Opera singers train to project their voices in vast theaters against the orchestral sounds. I would rather be sitting at the Met and know the quality of each voice, without the fake power that microphones can bestow on singers.

It was ‘produced’. This was not exactly a live performance. The video was taken from a live performance at the Met, one in which, memorably, the opening curtain was delayed 30 minutes for a computer glitch. But there were sudden cuts in the camera work, and here’s my bottom line: I want someone to tell me how this opera video was made, so that I don’t have to suspect that they made some edits to correct less-than-perfect moments. In any case, it must have been a challenge to edit together the sound from all its microphoned audio sources, and the result could be somewhat artificial. The interviews all sounded as if they were done during the live performance, but must I really believe that? Some of the artists seemed awfully relaxed at having their own intermission time eaten up by interviews. Again, I’d like to know how this wonderful video was really put together.

The video did not quite manage to do justice to the orchestral sound. I suspect that is the result of editing together the miked singers with the orchestra. One reviewer complained that the singers seemed to have ‘3D’ sound, but the orchestra was ‘2D’, that is, sonically flat, when the whole orchestra played. (The quiet sections that featured solos by orchestral players were fantastic.)

In sum, I’d like to attend another of these ‘live’ opera videos if I knew they were reasonably true to an actual performance, and assured not to be too loud. I want to know how I’m being entertained.
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