“Met at the Movies” – Macbeth (Željko Lučić, Maria Guleghina)

This is not a review of “Met at the Movies” – 1/12 and 1/13 Macbeth – this is a personal account, a testimony, if you will.  To read some reviews, scroll all the way to the bottom.


“Met at the Movies” became “Met to the Masses” this weekend around the country (and the globe) with the HD Broadcast of Verdi’s Macbeth – there is no Macbeth like white middle class suburb huge-movie-theater Macbeth.  I shall begin with major complaints: please, dear marketing department at the Met, please stop this patronizing and utterly idiotic campaign of “Met to the Masses”!  “Masses” are not going to go to the opera because it is expensive and absolutely counter-intuitive… Wait, did I just speak for the masses? My bad, masses.  Seriously, I realize that Met wants to bring the high art to the masses, but if it really cared about such artistic “enlightenment” it would broadcast its operas for free.  Opera is not going to save anyone from unemployment or poverty or lack of health insurance.  Its only chance is to be the opium for the people, but that particular role is already played by TV, sports, alcohol, actual opium, and pies…

Second complaint: stop showing me workmen mopping floors, collecting garbage with a plastic bag, pushing decorations around and generally huffing and puffing backstage between acts! Interviews with singers? Maybe. Quiet shots of the audience? Yes! But please no more “behind the scenes” footage – opera is a superficial enough artform, I don’t need to be reminded every act that not only do people not sing in regular life (or die with such exciting frequency), but also all of this magic that I witness from the orchestra is created by a bunch of sweaty overweight stage hands and is guided by a creepy jar-of-candy-next-to-the-mixing-board dude who says mysterious things like: “Ok, kill the maestro now… Do we… Do we have 54922 like we did yesterday? No? Ok, now move to 833.”  Seriously!

Ok then, to the opera.  Macbeth was sung by a Serbian baritone Željko Lučić, not Lado Ataneli who was, as I understand, originally scheduled for the performance.  Lady Macbeth was a Russian soprano – speaking of Russian sopranos, here’s a fresh entry in the Netrebko personality cult – Maria Guleghina who, I thought, sang quite beautifully, even if she was not much of an actress – I mean I find it difficult to evaluate opera singers’ acting abilities, but I thought she could have done a better job with her complex character, but this is opera, so voice is more important – her sleepwalking going-crazy scene was rather stiff, I always imagine that people would go crazy with a bit more excitement and agitation…  But this could be, partly, Verdi/Piave libretto – there is not much in terms of character development opportunities there.  In that sense, later Verdi of Don Carlo or Otello is, in my view, much superior. 

Now the production was very strange – I have seen some strange productions and I think there should certainly be more experimentation and daring in this particular area of operatic art, but this one was just awkward and confusing as to the actual meaning of all the various soldiers’ uniforms and actions.  I thought it was very confusing at times to figure out who is who, even though I know the story quite well and saw other attempts to stage it – especially the final scene (first image below)…

And, as usual, some fresh reviews/mentions (I’ll add more as they come out):

Watching a performance of the Metropolitan Opera on a 40-foot screen in a concert hall is to being in the opera house as watching the Giants on TV is to being at the Meadowlands, without instant replay. Roving cameras take you up close and personal, offering views backstage and shots of the performers that operagoers never see. Well-placed microphones and surround-sound guarantee that the performance you hear never varies in strength as the singers move about the stage. The rest is here.

Since becoming General Manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera in August 2006, Peter Gelb has busily promoted a slate of new ideas aimed at revitalising the marketing and presentation of opera. One of his most successful initiatives to date is an extension of the house’s long tradition of live Saturday matinee radio broadcasts (which can still be heard on Radio 3) into transmission via satellite into cinemas, using high-definition picture and sound.  The rest is here.

The NYTimes review of the premiere (10/24/2007) on the same production: “There was much news at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night. For the first time in nearly 20 years the company presented Verdi’s breakthrough early masterpiece, ”Macbeth,” in a stylistically eclectic, grimly effective and, at times, intriguingly playful production by the English director Adrian Noble, making his Met debut. As Macbeth, the baritone Zeljko Lucic, little known to Met audiences, gave an honorable and affecting performance of an intimidating role.” The rest is here

La Scena Musicale Review: Last October, the Met unveiled a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth to rather mixed reviews. Audience and critics praised the strong musical values, but the modern production didn’t sit well with the more tradition-bound segment of the Met audience. Yesterday, the Met at the Movies audience got to decide for themselves. Once again, I saw the show at Sheppard Grande. I am not sure if everything was sold out, but the crowd appeared to be larger than the New Year’s Day Hansel und Gretel. As a bonus, the new concessions with a more upscale menu opened just in time for the occasion. Judging by the huge line, it was more appealing to the mature opera audience than pop corn and soft drinks. The rest is here.

Boston Herald: Even opera fans need a miracle once in a while. As I enter New York’s Metropolitan Opera live-via-satellite broadcast of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at Boston’s Regal Fenway Stadium movie theater Saturday, I’m waylaid by a smartly dressed, middle-aged woman. “Are you going to the opera?” she asks. The rest is here.

10 thoughts on ““Met at the Movies” – Macbeth (Željko Lučić, Maria Guleghina)

  1. hear. hear.

    i fell in love with the opera, going to the opera, because i could go and just be entirely swept away. but being swept away by the illusion and music and everything means i don’t want to see actual brooms!!

    my only other unmentioned complaint is that the ending scene (green flag photo above) is strikingly reminiscent of scenes from les miserables… and i think the opera should not necessarily make me think of broadway musicals.

  2. i forgot to mention my non-complaint: chicken tacos go well with pre-opera excitement and a bucket of soft drink – if they want to bring opera to the masses, they seriously need to rethink the whole powdered stiffness of the affair and throw in some good food and beer – and away with snoring old ladies!

  3. This breaking of the 1st through 3rd walls startled me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was genius. Despite apocalyptic reports about the decline of classical music in America, the Met has actually increased its revenue since Gelb took over. I don’t have the numbers but I’m sure this is partly a result of the simulcasts (tickets go at around $22). “So people are paying $22 to see a 3 1/2 + hour opera on a movie screen? How boring!” you might say. Ah, but here is the genius of it.

    If the Met wants to expand its audience beyond aging opera devotees, it will have to compete with a culture aesthetically trained through film. A culture which expects verisimilitude or, in the least, only wants to suspend disbelief at moderate levels. But you can’t expect opera to do this. Unlike film or theatre, opera doesn’t seek to represent life, it seeks to represent music. That’s why you can have a 300 lb soprano playing the “fair” Desdemona or, in the case of the first simulcast, a 44 year old Romeo.

    So Gelb is left with a choice. In order to reach a larger audience, he could try to make productions “more real” but the style that opera demands and the experience (read: age) needed to perform it often precludes this. Or: he could tear away the veil and show you how “unreal” it really is: watching the lovely Juliette chugging a gatorade between acts, seeing Stephano practice his (her) dueling scene, hearing Romeo warming up. And now that we know (with our own eyes and ears!) it’s all an act, we can begin to appreciate the medium of the art, its making and makers.

    With opera, it’s all about the music. Yes, there has been a growing trend toward casting “prettier” people to play the parts, but it still comes down to your voice: if you can’t sing beautifully for 2 hours without a break then you won’t get the part, looks or not. Maria Callas could have stood like a pillar of stone on stage and I bet she would still sell out the house.

    Just a few thoughts. I did also have issues with the green flag (reminded me of War and Peace). But I live in LA and if this is as close to the Met as I can get, then I’ll take it!

  4. John, thanks for your thoughts – I don’t really follow the apocalyptic pronouncements on the death of classical music – as far as I can tell, it’s still going pretty strong – however, I am not very comfortable with an assertion that revenue should be an indicator of music’s quality – maybe popularity, but then if you look around the classical music spaces throughout US, you’ll see that it’s the same old worn-out repertoire. i don’t think Gelb is really doing anything special for the opera, just for the marketing of the opera – it’s good to see a Met production outside of Met, but it’s hardly the same experience, especially since the production is so “live-from-the-scene” like – Gelb’s efforts remind me of those by Major League Soccer: on the surface, a desire to make a game popular, but clearly visibly right under that surface a simple desire to make money…

    i don’t think that opera is ALL about music, in fact, I would say that acting is pretty important as well as singing. opera is, first of all, a narrative, even if a sung narrative – history of opera knows plenty of examples of good music and bad libretto and consequently a bad opera.

    i don’t think either film or theater “seek to represent life” and opera certainly does not attempt to be “realistic” – but i think it is misleading to suggest that opera seeks to “represent music” – it seems to me that opera came a long way from a series of arias loosely connected by a narrative to a complete artform where everything is equally important.

    going behind the scene in the opera production is like showing us what happens after the director yells “cut” in a film – it’s good for the DVD extras but not as a part of an actual production – i want to hear one person tell me that they actually liked this whole “behind the scene” angle as opposed to being quietly annoyed by it – it’s not about destroying the magic, it’s about some idiot producer thinking that s/he is sooo cool and experimental – cut it out!

  5. But I live in LA and if this is as close to the Met as I can get, then I’ll take it!

    Don’t you go to the LA Opera? I saw ‘Vanessa’ there with Kiri TeKanawa in 2004 and ‘Parsifal’, the Robert Wilson production in 2005 with Larry Lehman and Linda Watson (she was a magnificent Kundry). Either were quite equal to Met productions. I cannot IMAGINE paying $22 for a simulcast of an opera, and even though it may be fundraising genius as long as it lasts, I predict it won’t. They have started doing this with ballet, too, and they put them in places that won’t have live Nutcracker audiences, as at Xmas this year, to compete with them. They did San Francisco Ballet one day, National Ballet of Canada the next. I was in LA at the time, and they didn’t show them there, of course, but I did see the 2-year-old Los Angeles Ballet’s Nutcracker, and it was wonderful in many ways, though there was no live orchestra. (In some ways, this was a place; the gorgeous NYCBallet production seems always to have a conductor who speeds the orchestra through ‘waltz of the flowers’ so that Dewdrop is more Sweating Woman than Delicate Little-Girl Flower, so that the tape in LA was at a perfect tempo, and this prodigiously talented 15-year-old, Lilit Hogtanian, danced perfectly with her Flowers.)

    Well, I just think a movie simulcast is little better than a ‘live from Lincoln Center’, the mops no worse than the terrible chatter by the hosts at intermission. Better by far to just wait and watch it on DVD if you can’t see it live. But you should be supporting LA Opera, shouldn’t you? They are first-class. The ballet is still getting started, but Domingo’s opera company can be stunning. The only thing that is really most stupendous about the Met Opera House is the subtitles on the backs of the chairs. At the Chandler Pavilion, they’re not going to do them except above the stage, and this gives the look of a ‘brand name’ or ‘price tag’ or some such sort of advert. But the Balcony of the Chandler Pavilion has very good sound, even though people complain of it in other parts. Disney Hall is supposed to be better, but I was late to the concert I had tickets for this year, a real nightmare, so I haven’t been all the way inside to hear it. I think you pay maybe $10 more for the cheapest seats to a live performance. A ‘live movie’ is all right if you can’t get to live performance, but I’d only do it if I lived far from a metropolitan center.

  6. In some ways, this was a place

    should be

    ‘In some ways, this was a plus’, I think I’m getting somewhat homonymic and sonic-spelling has started hitting me. I write ‘are’ for ‘our’ with terrible frequency.

    Also, think even in your suburbs, pastry and champagne or white wine is probably something one could tolerate. Admittedly, you want to make your Met Simulcast an authentic Southwestern experience–possibly in the same way they want to ‘bring it home to you’ with all those fat stage hands….

  7. JdC, i’m clearly with you on the whole “better than nothing” argument – i would prefer to listen to a live orchestra any day no matter how advanced and “high definition” the technology is.

    i think i might come across as too negative in my assessment, i have to correct that impression by saying that i am not against the idea, in fact, i think that once more opera companies start doing the same thing – San Francisco already anounced plans to broadcast five operas next years – the experience would be more pleasant. i think they need to realize that most people who go to these broadcasts are already “in” – they don’t need to be converted and the whole “reaching wider audience” thing is bullshit because it is not a “new” audience but simply those like me or John who cannot attend Met but would if there was a chance, i.e. a random person will not pay $22 and sit for 3-4 hours just to “check it out” – thus my beef with “opera to the people” idea…

    i realize now that i also would like to have my experience at the theater to be as close as possible to my experience at the opera house, therefore i’d prefer that they just gave me a nice feed with some angles but without this extremely exhausting and all over the place “live broadcast TV” approach…

  8. Opera is a product. It can be delivered live on stage, in pieces at recitals, on DVD, CD, videotape, cassettes, over radio, and singing to yourself in the shower.

    You can listen to it, play it, read about it or write about it.

    Personally, I enjoy seeing the brooms. I enjoy hearing what the performers have to say about the performance, before, during & after. I have no problem switching back & forth between suspending my sense of disbelief, and recovering it, and suspending it again.

    Actually, I have more trouble suspending my disbelief when a 350 lb. Tristan sings his love to a 400 lb. Isolde, live on stage.

    If my choice is to see the opera on stage, I’ll probably take that over the movie, if I have the opportunity and the money. But since I don’t live in NYC, I don’t have the opportunity, and one reason I don’t live in NYC is that I don’t have the money.

    So my plan is to pick the Met Movies I like, go see them and enjoy them for what they are. They don’t reduce my attendance at local opera; they expand my opportunity to enjoy opera.

  9. I am not supposing that seeing brooms necessarily destroys the illusion – an old gentleman taking a nap next to me during the intermission is enough to lose that illusion (and faith in humanity, if you will) – I am simply saying that I do not enjoying watching things behind the scenes because it is indicative of the whole culture of “back stage access” or “VIP rooms” or “exclusive interviews” – if you like that kind of stuff, that’s fine but how about maybe a thoughtful pre-recorded interview is a conductor or a feature about the history of the performances or a something about production, i.e. something at least educational and/or fun – feeling my time with watching brooms is telling me – we couldn’t come up with anything better to show you, when we could because it is a planned broadcast…

    opera is not a product in the same way a hamburger is a product – if it is a recital, it is not an opera but a selection from an opera – you don’t watch previews and say it’s a movie, do you? and, I’m not sure about your singing ability or the size of your shower, but I’m pretty sure it’s not opera when you do it there as well. DVD or video or a CD – maybe, still one must have all the components, opera is a complete work of art – otherwise your commercialized fragmentation of the operatic form is a kind of McDonaldization of everything – I will have a tenor aria with a recitative by secondary characters with a soprano/alto duet and some choir…

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