The Met Live in HD at the Paramount

Two broadcasts remaining

The Metropolitan Opera’s High Definition (“HD”) live broadcasts at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater for the 2016-17 season offer two remaining productions. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin will be presented on Saturday, April 22, at 12:55 P.M. Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier will be presented on Saturday, May 13 at 12:30 P.M.

Der Rosenkavalier

Der Rosenkavalier with Renée Fleming and Elīna Garanča

Each live opera broadcast is preceded by a complimentary lecture one hour before curtain time. The Met’s HD broadcasts have been commercially successful, attracting large audiences at theaters and other venues worldwide. Among opera lovers, however, they remain controversial.

World-class opera at an affordable price

The HD broadcasts present an opportunity for patrons to see the Met’s productions at a reasonable cost (Paramount tickets are $24, $22 for seniors over 65) without going to New York.

The Met’s Saturday matinee radio broadcasts predated the Live in HD series by decades, and usually, the first cast still performs for the radio and HD audiences.

While the initial HD broadcasts sometimes were plagued by technical problems, today the broadcasts are flawless from a technical standpoint. Since the live feed originates via satellite, occasionally even today there are brief weather-related interruptions. The Paramount’s technical staff make sure the presentation at the theater is a good as it can be.

Live vs. HD – the visual

To experience opera live in the theater, of course, is unforgettable, but attending a Live in HD presentation is an agreeable option where attending live is not possible. Opera productions are conceived for the opera house where the audience is a considerable distance from the stage.

The Metropolitan Opera House, in particular, is one of the largest venues in the world, and most seats are far from the stage. The visual component of an opera production has always been important, but productions were conceived from the point of view of the audience viewing the action live on the stage from a distance.

Eugene Onegen

Eugene Onegin with Anna Netrebko

In an HD broadcast, however, the camera is not limited to the perspective of a viewer in the house. Instead, the camera can roam throughout the staging to take an intimate view of the action and of the cast. As a result, the physical appearance of singers has become much more important than formerly in opera.

That Deborah Voigt, one of the finest Strauss sopranos of her day, could be dropped from a production of Ariadne auf Naxos in London solely because of her physical appearance would have been unthinkable in the pre-HD era.

Live vs. HD – the audio

The balance of the audio components of an opera broadcast in HD unavoidably is altered from what is heard live in the house. Opera, especially when produced in a vast house like the Met, requires huge voices, but some are larger than others. In HD, all voices are amplified, so the difference between larger voices and lighter voices is subject to the engineer’s control.

The finest conductors employ a lifetime of experience to balance the audio components of the various singers on stage with the orchestra in the pit. In an HD broadcast, the volume of all voices sounds about the same, and all voices are easily and artificially heard over the orchestra. Some nuances of the performance are inevitably lost.

Live vs. HD – the audience experience

One of the pleasures of attending a live performance is that the audience member can choose to watch whatever component of the action on stage he wishes. In the HD experience, the visual choices are those of the director of the performance. The director, of course, follows the action and the principal singers in a given scene, so some nuances of the production as a whole inevitably are compromised.

The future of opera?

HD LiveFinally, it is argued that the Met Live in HD series has cannibalized the offerings of other opera companies. Given the choice of traveling to Chicago and paying full price for a ticket to the opera, a prospective ticket purchaser instead will buy an inexpensive movie ticket to see the Met’s roster of fine artists, great orchestra, and first-class chorus.

The Met’s General Director Peter Gelb argues that the Met in HD series has introduced opera to new patrons for other companies. While the evidence is not conclusive, it seems clear that the audience for opera generally is in decline.

The future is now

Furthermore, it appears that the Met in HD series is here to stay. So go to the Paramount for Eugene Onegin and Der Rosenkavalier and also support other opera companies, in particular, Charlottesville Opera, with your patronage.

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