When my mother remarried this spring, I became part of a much larger blended family spread out across the continent. I also gained new step-siblings, which is a relatively novel situation for an only child. One of these is an award-winning younger step-brother who just made his debut performance with New York’s Metropolitan Opera last month, with my mother and stepfather in attendance.
On Saturday I had the opportunity to see my famous stepbrother in the Met’s grandiose production of Turandot, via The Met: Live in HD. Now I’ve seen him perform with the TSO and other companies before, but that was a pale shadow of the sumptuous spectacle put on by the Met. The staging, costumes and set design of Franco Zeffirelli’s Turandot are light years beyond the complexity of any other opera production I have ever seen in this country. It simply beggars belief.
The experience of watching opera at the cinema is a tad surreal. There’s the usual gaggle of teenaged ushers and attendants, and the usual refreshments (popcorn, candy, snacks) too. In many ways it feels wrong to partake of high culture in such a lowbrow venue, but it does have its advantages.
One such advantage is that the audience sees through the lens of the cameras; allowing close-ups, medium and wide shots as they best fit the dramatic conceits of the scene. And I will say that the Met’s camera work was excellent, fitting the flow of the story; only once or twice in the whole three hours did I feel that the director selected a sub-optimal shot. Another is that the cameras go backstage during the two intermissions, interviewing cast and musicians, and permitting us to watch an army of stage hands tear down the first act set and replace it with the absolutely mammoth palace courtyard set for the second act (which takes no less than 30 minutes).
Saturday’s broadcast was, however, hampered by some severe technical difficulties (repeated breaks in audio/video feeds, between 5 and 15 seconds in duration) that reportedly emanated from the Met itself. Cinema management at the location we attended smartly announced after the first act that due to the technical glitches, each patron would receive two complimentary “special event” passes, thus ensuring that we would, in all likelihood, end up using them to see two more “Met: Live in HD” performances (I’ve got my eye on Aida and Carmen).
Historically I have not been much of an opera seria enthusiast, and I tend to stay away from the sturm und drang of the Wagners—but like any kid who grew up watching Rabbit of Seville, I do have a sentimental fondness for the opera buffa genre. This may be one of the few times I have outright enjoyed a traditional grand opera; although the first act of Turandot failed to hook me, I was completely reeled in by the second act; whether that is due to Puccini’s orchestration, Zeffirelli’s lavish staging, or the magical combination of the two, who can say.
But at the end of the day, I liked it. I want to see more.