Marian and I discovered these productions a couple of years ago, and I, to my amazement, have become a serious opera fan. I have always liked certain music from operas, but live opera included such things as long drives to San Francisco, difficulty in finding a parking place, expensive tickets, cramped seats, and inability to see very well (the closer seats were more than expensive). A theater in Palo Alto a few blocks from my house presents the simulcasts, and throws in free parking 100 feet or so from the door, extraordinarily comfortable seats with lots of leg room and usually empty seats on each side of you, $25 tickets, excellent coffee and ice cream as well as popcorn, and a very large screen and outstanding sound.
And a presentation that puts you in the action both on and off stage. I am still trying to understand how they do it. Although the performances are broadcast live, the camera work is of movie quality, and the views of everything from singers to orchestra members, to scenery, to back-stage activities are seamless, shot from all angles and distances, seemingly perfectly integrated, and needless to say, up close.
Before these simulcasts, I had not appreciated such things as the acting skills of the performers (relatively cheap seats), or the effort spent to stage an opera. The last one Marian and I saw was Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, which entranced us for 6 hours (it is not easy to entrance the two of us for that long), plus two long breaks in which we could watch the 100 person stage crews do such things as erect a full-sized section of old-time Nurnberg and scenery for the final act, which begins as a discussion in the interior of a house and ends with a huge pageant in the town park. And sandwiched in between were the usual interviews with performers, which shows them to be regular people with excellent senses of humor.
One of the all-time great interviews in the Simulcasts we have seen was of a formerly little known tenor named Jay Hunter Morris, who grew up in Paris, Texas, and worked his way from church choir to back-up roles in less known opera houses. The performance was Siegfried of Wagner’s Ring cycle, one of the most difficult roles in the opera. Siegfried sings almost constantly through the several hour-long opera. Only a few tenors in the world are thought capable of performing this role at the top level, and eight days before the first performance the tenor scheduled for this production realized he could not do the performance. In came Jay Morris, who not only performed it brilliantly, and loved the part, but when interviewed proved to be a more than lovable small-town boy-makes-good. I shall never forget him lying on a couch trying to recover for the next act, and excitedly saying things such as “I am so tired, but this is so fun”, and “who’d believe someone from Paris, Texas could wind up singing at the Met?”. He had definitely been discovered. Needless to say, he is now world famous and the receipient of many honors.
I am usually a believer that live performances are superior to media ones (obvious exception of movies). But I am well aware that attendees at Stanford’s new football stadium are often watching the big TV screens hanging in the middle of the field rather than the live players, and such heresy even occurs at Giants baseball games. And I certainly realize that the Met Simulcasts have made me lose my interest in attending the live opera in San Francisco, or in New York for that matter. And I am very happy to see technology remain quietly in the backround, which I think should be the case, and yet deliver a product with the value of these Simulcasts.