Live in HD Met Simulcasts

Macbeth Live in HD Met Simulcast

Metmacbeth* Notes *
The Met's simulcast of Macbeth aired today. The production, by Adrian Noble, is new to the Met and opened October 22, 2007. Set after World War II, Mark Thompson's set and costumes are dark, lots of black, grey, olive, khaki. There were many leather jackets and machine guns, Banquo, for example, seemed to be dressed as Rambo for most of Act I. The witches were based on Diane Arbus, each witch wore some sort of hat and smeared lipstick. The purses of the witches were much too loud in Act I, it sounded like coins were dropping on the stage. There were a few supernumeraries used in this group, including three female children. A low point of the opera was the beginning of Act III, when a witches brew was created from little girl vomit, the three had to eat bread and spit it out in an over-sized chalice. I never imagined I would see simulated bulimia onstage at the Met. Sue Lefton's choreography was a little vulgar for the witches, a lot of hip thrusts and such, though when the witches set out chairs for Lady Macbeth to walk on just before she sings in her mad scene worked well.

The cast was impressive, everyone sang at a high level. Baritone Željko Lučić was a fine Macbeth, with much emotional range, going from mournful, to afraid, to defiantly angry with ease. Maria Guleghina was incredible as Lady Macbeth, her voice sounded almost angelic at times, but also could be crystalline and downright frightening. She had good control of her vibrato, for the most part, though she did have a tendency to have an occasional wobbling gasp, especially at the beginning of the brindisi in Act II. Dimitri Pittas (Macduff) sounded a little reedy to me at first, but he was incredible in his Act IV aria, singing well and even shedding tears. He was somewhat difficult to hear over the movements of the chorus and the playing of the orchestra toward the end of the opera. Bass-baritone John Relyea also had a few inaudible moments after the discovery of Duncan's body, but sang his Act II aria "Come dal ciel precipita" quite beautifully. I was most moved by the choral parts at the end of Act II and IV, everyone sounded together and James Levine had the orchestra well in hand.

I do find the May performances of Macbeth tempting, for René Pape will be singing Banquo, and Joseph Calleja sings Macduff. As for the lead roles, I have never heard baritone Carlos Alvarez, but I do avoid Andrea Gruber, whom I find grating. It might be fine, given that Lady Macbeth is supposed to be unpleasant to the ear. 

* Tattling *
The line to enter the Century San Francisco Centre 9 formed before 9:30 am, and Theater 4 was pretty full. Lado Ataneli was listed online as Macbeth today, and his name also appeared on the program I was given at the theater. Apparently he took ill, and Lucic replaced him. The picture at this theater was clearer than at Bay Street, though I did get a headache by the second half. The image did go fuzzy or slowed down at least four times, once in the first chorus, another during "Mi si affaccia un pugnal," once again in "Ah, la paterna mano," and a last time at the last scene. These were minor, more unfortunate were the disturbances in sound, one lasted half a second near the end of Banquo's last aria, the other was during Macbeth's "Pietà, rispetto, amore," in which we were treated to three brief but loud sounds. A shame, considering these are two great moments of the opera. They also did not cut the sound from backstage fast enough for the beginning of Act IV, and we could hear stage directions with the orchestra.

The host today was Peter Gelb himself, the General Director of the Met. He gave a brief interview of James Levine just before the conductor went out to the orchestra pit. The cameras moved around quite a bit, and I was better able to appreciate this by sitting a bit further back this time. It gave me a headache, but for the most part it wasn't too bad. The worst was when Banquo's ghost appeared, it was difficult to make sense of how he appeared or what exactly was going on, because there were so many close-ups. Again, I would have preferred not to see the young supernumeraries regurgitate bread up close or see John Relyea's fillings. I did enjoy Mary Jo Heath's interviewing the two leads at the beginning of intermission. Lučić told us he is a Verdi fan, and Guleghina stated "I am becoming crazy" of her character, not herself.


Hansel and Gretel Live in HD Met Simulcast

Hansel and Gretel by Rackham* Notes *
The Met's simulcast of Hansel and Gretel aired today. The production, by Richard Jones, is new to the Met and opened on Christmas Eve. Created for
Welsh National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, the staging is rather dark. Act I is nearly all grey, Act II takes place in an oppressive green room meant to be the woods, and Act III has much grey again, though the sweets do add some color. Though many of the costumes look like Tracht, for the most part this is not a storybook come to life, but has a more contemporary and surrealistic aesthetic. The dream sequence in Act II is especially amusing, featuring many chefs and an attendant with a fish head. There are a few weaknesses in the staging, it was a bit odd when Hansel and Gretel smear berries on themselves in Act II, considering that they are supposedly starving. Parts of Act III made little sense, as there is no house, gingerbread or otherwise, representing the Witch's abode. When Hansel and Gretel sing about the tempting house, and they eat from a large cake on top of an enormous tongue sticking out of a mouth painted on a scrim.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski kept things going at a good pace, though the orchestra and singers (Rosalind Plowright and Alan Held as Gertrude and Peter, the parents) were slightly off near the end of Act I. Christine Schäfer had some shrill notes in the beginning as Gretel, but sounded fine once warmed up. I had her pegged as a German from the start, her open-mid front unrounded vowel in "black" and "cap" gave her away. This was, obviously, quite minor, she was perfectly understandable. Alice Coote sounded and looked convincing as Hansel. Philip Landridge was wonderful as the Witch. I was most surprised by Sasha Cooke as the Sandman, her voice was clear and tender.

* Tattling *
Theater 12 at the AMC Bay Street 16 was mostly full, though not sold-out. The image was not clear from the third row, the edges of light objects were not smooth and seemed to move. The effect was strangely watery. The sound was good from this location, though I heard other patrons who had been in the back heard echoes. The image did go fuzzy at one point in Act III, and the sound also was disturbed once after that, both incidences occurred when the Witch was singing.

Renée Fleming hosted the simulcast, she made us aware that there would be some shots from backstage during the overture, she spoke to the lead singers at intermission, and so forth. The simulcast had many close-ups, and one could see the performance in a way one could never experience it at the opera house itself. One could appreciate many details that could not be seen from afar. Most of the time, this was great, but I would have rather not seen Rosalind Plowright spit out her food quite so vividly in Act I. One was even able to see Alice Coote's fillings in Act III.


The Met Opera - Live in HD 2007-2008

The Met's first simulcast of the season, Roméo et Juliette, showed on 477 screens in the United States, and 100 screens abroad, selling around 97,000 tickets. The season is as follows:

Roméo et Juliette
December 15, 2007 (10:00 am – 1:30 pm PST)

Hansel and Gretel
January 1, 2008 (10:00 am – 12:35 pm PST)

Macbeth
January 12, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:50 pm PST)

Manon Lescaut
February 16, 2008 (10:00 am – 1:41 pm PST)

Peter Grimes
March 15, 2008 (10:30 am – 2:15 pm PDT)

Tristan und Isolde
March 22, 2008 (9:30 am – 3:05 pm PDT)

La Bohème
April 5, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:50 pm PDT)

La Fille du Régiment
Saturday, April 26, 2008 (10:30 am – 1:40 pm PDT)

Here is a list of participating cinemas in the United States. In the Bay Area, the South Bay seems to have the most theaters involved in this.

In the United States, one can purchase tickets online via Fathom Events by choosing the performance from the drop-down menu under the header labeled "Event Search," and then typing one's zipcode in the form that appears on the right column labeled "Find Theatres." The results page redirects the user to either Fandago, MovieTickets.com, or some other third party site depending on the cinema. There are surcharges, so the $22 ticket is actually $23-25.50, and is more expensive than standing room at the Met ($20).

As far as I could tell most of the cinemas outside the United States have some similar method of purchasing tickets online, the exceptions being the Czech Republic and Puerto Rico (the Met considers the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico an International Location). I believe I was able to navigate Cine Magnum well enough to reserve tickets for a theatre in Thuringia.


The Met Simulcasts

Simulcasts seem to be all the rage now. San Francisco Opera had one of Madama Butterfly last summer, and one of Rigoletto in October. The Met debuted their simulcast program with an English version of Die Zauberflöte in about 150 movie theatres around the world on December 30, 2006. I Puritani will be simulcast this weekend, followed by The First Emperor next weekend. Eugene Onegin, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Il Trittico will be broadcast in February, March, and April respectively.

I find it terribly entertaining that the theatre nearest me is in loathsome Emeryville. This former Superfund site notable for its IKEA and pedestrian unfriendliness.

Chronicle Article | Met HD Broadcast Web Site | Met Press Release