Saturday, March 19, 2005

Live from the Met

I used to joke that I had lived through all of television. Past a certain point this is no longer amusing. We are moving rapidly toward the style of entertainment carried on in the Roman Coliseum.

In the old old days operas were broadcast live from sound stages just like Playhouse 90. The camera angles were about eye level. Who knows where the orchestra was hidden? Then they moved to the opera house where performances were filmed, but still retained the title “live.” The released videos are edited from films of multiple performances. Except occasionally I notice that they’re not. When Placido Domingo was being honored after a performance of Samson and Delilah, they left in his blooped high note at the end. Hearing it, I realized how seldom this sort of thing actually happens.

The broadcast of Houston’s La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli obviously contained an extended section of a studio recording dubbed over the filmed singers. The acoustics suddenly change. Perhaps they were out of tune. Now-a-days you can impose reverberation on studio recordings. You can even choose the hall. You could produce a “live from Carnegie Hall” recording without ever having been there.

We have reached technical nirvana while the content continues to degrade. In the current issue of Opera News, all in the same article, the Metropolitan Opera brags about the sophistication of its equipment and tell us it has virtually stopped televising operas. This year there is just one: Die Meistersinger. They blame the singers, PBS, the current financial state of the institution.

My two personal favorites from the long list of televised operas from the Metropolitan are the recent Fidelio and the incredible Der Rosenkavalier with Kiri Te Kanawa and Kurt Moll, featuring the amazing performance of Tatiana Troyanos in the title role.

It feels like a terrible loss, one that can only be replaced by buying some of the pirated opera dvds sold all over the internet. Debate topic: Does the presence of the internet itself cause the current degradation of television?

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