HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Live from the Met . . . in Hilo
It’s almost 5,000 miles from the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. But now you can get all the way to the Met by simply going to the mall – specifically, to the multiplex movie theater there.
Operas have been broadcast over the radio, live from the stage of the Met, for the past 79 years; they’re on Hawaii’s NPR affiliates: 91.1 in Hilo, 91.7 in Kona, every Saturday afternoon during the Met’s season, which is autumn-to-spring.
Operas have been filmed and shown in theaters, of course, but such filming was almost always done in movie studios, and was therefore a huge expense over and above producing the opera itself. And opera is just about the most expensive theatrical production there is.
But four years ago, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, arranged to have one Saturday matinee a month televised. I know, I know: operas have been shown on TV before. But home-size sets with tiny speakers and (until recently) rather low screen resolutions, simply can not convey the scope and scale of seeing a fully-staged opera in a theater, much less at the 3,000-seat Metropolitan Opera House. (It’s not called “grand” opera for nothing.)
Gelb’s innovation was to broadcast the performances in high-definition video, and to have them shown exclusively in theaters. After all, most movies are no longer distributed on film in cans. They are digitally downloaded through satellite dishes on theater roofs, and are projected in high-definition. Taking advantage of these new technologies, the Met’s operas are seen on big screens with full stereo sound, in more than 40 countries around the world. (Go to www.metopera.org for more information.)
Go to the Prince Kuhio Theaters, pay $22 ($20 if you’re a senior), and you are, in effect, seeing an opera at the Met, right along with the audience in New York. Yes, that price is about double what a movie costs; but it’s far, far cheaper than a good seat in a world-class opera house. Besides, at the multiplex, you won’t feel embarrassed if you don’t dress up; and you can eat your popcorn or candy, and drink your water or soda during the show, which, believe me, you can not do at the Met.
The broadcasts are subtitled in English; and it goes without saying that all the performances are first-rate: the Met is where the world’s top talent wants to be seen, and there is really no other way for us in Hawaii to see them there without spending a fortune on travel and tickets.
The shows generally are hosted by the renowned diva Renée Fleming (unless she’s singing that day).
She typically says a few words about the opera’s composer and its stage history, and interviews the leading singers, either before the show starts or during an intermission. The conductor and the opera’s theatrical and/or musical director will also talk about the dramaturgical choices they have made (even the oldest of chestnuts get new-concept staging, nowadays). Such inside-stuff may seem of interest only to longtime opera buffs, but how else will a new generation of audiences be introduced to opera: it’s an open window into how this most complex of entertainment forms gets made.
Many of the Met’s broadcasts are later shown on Public TV (PBS), and the increasing popularity of opera as television programming has made an interesting change in casting. No longer is it only someone’s voice that matters. TV viewers and movie-goers expect to see close-ups of the stars, and watch vigorous action-scenes. So, to be believable, heroes have to be handsome, leading ladies have to be gorgeous, and villains have to look sufficiently evil – at least in makeup.
The next hi-def Met broadcast is “Armida,” by Gioachino Rossini, and it starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday May 1st. “Armida” is not a famous opera, but Fleming herself is the star, and Rossini’s music is always tuneful. It’s the last show of the season, but the next season starts in September, and will include the first two of Richard Wagner’s four operas in his “Ring Cycle” – arguably the most dramatic work in the operatic art-form. If you’ve never seen a professional opera performance, or haven’t gone in a long time, for whatever reason, take it from me: it’s worth twenty-two bucks to go to the Met.