Sunday, May 15, 2011

Die Walk

The Metroplitan Opera is halfway into a new "Ring." Tickets are absurdly expensive (and quickly sold out), but I've been curious to see "the machine," the massive moving set which director Robert LePage designed for it. So I joined a few hundred other priced-out opera buffs watching "Die Walküre" on Live in HD at a movie theater on 42nd Street (where it was announced as THE METROPOLITAN OPERA: DIE WALK). A few observations: The "Ring" really is about a relatively small number of individuals going through profound emotional changes, and it's nice to be able to see them up close. Especially when the cast is as strong as this one was and with James Levine conducting. And especially when the set seems a big waste of space, forcing the performers to move haltingly in the spaces it doesn't take up. I imagine watching "Walküre" from my usual perch in the Family Circle would have been like watching a few tiny figures moving slowly left to right in front of a low-calibre UFO parked on the stage.

So the machine was a disappointment. But it was actually fun to see the whole Met in HD rigmarole - Placido Domingo as host, and interviews with singers as they headed backstage at the end of an act or assembled in preparation of the next. It was like backstage interviews of athletes or guest performers on a TV show, fluffy but not in the end banalizing: everyone's reverence for the opera was evident.

In the end the main drawback turned out to be the sound. I'm listening to a CD of "Walküre" as we speak (conducted by a much younger James Levine), and my stereo system gives a deeper, fuller sound. A main star of a Wagner opera is the orchestra, and it was not served well by a sound editing which foregrounded the singers. It may be that you have to be in the house to get the full experience of the shimmering waves and moving swells of the orchestra.

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