It would not be unfair to call me a Luddite. I use an amplifier that is powered by vacuum tubes. I regularly listen to LPs. I was one of the last people on earth to get an iPod. And I just got to a Metropolitan Opera high-def simulcast for the first time since they started nine years ago, for the Oct. 27 matinee broadcast of Verdi’s penultimate opera, Otello.
There are a number of venues in the Philadelphia area to catch a Met simulcast; I chose the Riverview on South Columbus Boulevard, where I encountered a nearly full house, but still managed to find a seat in the center, about a third of the way back. Technically, the production was excellent, with truly dazzling imagery and decent sound. The performance itself was fully up to the world-class standards of the Met, with superb singing from the three principals, including Johan Botha as Otello, Renée Fleming in her signature role of Desdemona and a new name for me, Falk Struckmann, as the snarling Iago.
The acting ability of the stars, which, in the opera world, is traditionally secondary to the singing, is fully exposed once an actor’s head is rendered 10 feet wide. Thus, we got Botha’s stiff gestures and constant googly eyes, and Fleming’s under-characterization. But then there was Struckmann, delivering a thunderous rendition of Iago, dripping with evil, and exhibiting fine natural acting talent, including convincing facial gestures that utterly realized the potential of high-def broadcasting.
There were some quirks of the production that bothered me. The direction was unnecessarily fussy, with too much camera movement. And I’ve never liked mid-performance interviews, which take the performers out of character. Heck, I don’t even approve of curtain calls until the end of the opera. But this is probably a minority view, as many have enjoyed the behind-the-scenes views in these broadcasts.
I will certainly return, as the $25 ticket is a fraction of what the real deal costs, and the Met is the best in the business. I might even bring my lunch, as many do, while the theater management politely waives their rules. It would be nice, though, if the median age of the audience dipped below 60. I could swear the couple behind me were eating chopped-liver sandwiches.