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Opera Time in New York

Financial markets have never been shakier, the Middle East is riven by so many crises and conflicts that Iran has been pushed off the front page, and the European Union could be headed for the definitive crisis of its history, but art goes on — and in particular in New York, the Metropolitan Opera opens a new season later this week.

The ne0-Assyrian architecture of Lincoln Center is not my favorite, and the hall itself is less storied and less, well, operatic than venues like La Scala in Milan or the Wiener (Vienna) Staatsoper, but when the chandeliers dim and rise up to the ceiling and the orchestra begins to play, you are in the presence of one of the great cultural achievements of our time: a body of musicians, directors and singers who produce gorgeous spectacles night after night for roughly eight months in the year.

There is nothing like being there in person, and a night or two at the opera should be part of every trip to New York, but for those whose schedules, responsibilities and budgets don’t allow, the live HD theater broadcasts of Saturday matinees around the country are the next best thing.  (Get the schedule, find out what theaters participate near you and buy tickets here.)

The HD schedule this year is extremely good.  It ranges from new opera (Satyagraha and The Enchanted Island) to grand old warhorses of the repertoire like Traviata and Don Giovanni. Two of Wagner’s Ring operas will be shown, and there is some Handel and Mozart as well.  Regular attendance at this year’s HD Live matinees is a not-bad introduction to the genre, and with supertitles in English you can actually follow the drama.  (At the actual Met the dialog appears on a little panel on the back of the chair in front of you — very low key and very effective.)

Great performances of great operas require the cooperation of hundreds of talented people, and opera, in which a myriad of things can go badly wrong, is an unforgiving genre.  The Met doesn’t always get everything right, but on the not-infrequent occasions when it all comes together, the audience witnesses and shares in a genuinely sublime triumph of the human spirit.

There are very few better ways to spend some time, and very few artistic endeavors in today’s world more deserving of support.

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  • WigWag

    Thanks to the generosity of Bank of America, the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts are available free of charge in several New York City public schools. On the Metropolitan Opera website it says that the free broadcasts are open only to students and teachers, but the school in my neighborhood that showcases them invites the public to attend as well.

    For those New Yorkers who might be interested, the free, live broadcasts are available in these schools,

    Long Island City High School
    14-30 Broadway
    Long Island City, NY
    718-545-7095 x 2102 or 1754

    Susan E. Wagner High School
    1200 Manor Rd.
    Staten Island, NY
    718-698-4200 x 2192

    Celia Cruz High School of Music
    Venue: The Lovinger Theater at Lehman College
    250 Bedford Park Blvd. West
    Bronx, NY

    The Grand Street Campus High Schools
    850 Grand Street
    Brooklyn, NY
    718-387-2800 x 4171

    The Washington Irving Campus High Schools
    40 Irving Place
    New York, NY
    212-675-5000 x 6320

    I couldn’t agree more with Professor Mead; the live HD broadcasts are truly spectacular. The first time I went I couldn’t believe how close the experience was to being in the opera house itself.

    I should say that the free school broadcasts are not of the same quality as the broadcasts you pay to see in movie theaters. The schools simply don’t have the same high quality video and audio equipment that the theaters have, but considering the price (which is zero) it’s good enough.

    There is a downside to the HD broadcasts that Professor Mead didn’t mention; because the Met productions are now available all over the United States, local and regional opera companies may face stiff competition from these broadcasts. If it causes even greater financial strain for these local and regional companies, it will be a real shame.

    There is some bad news in the New York City opera scene this year. Sadly Maestro James Levine, the artistic director of the Met will not be conducting this season because of ill-health (a very bad back).

    Even worse, the venerable New York City Opera Company is in terrible shape. The Company, founded by Fiorello LaGuardia, made opera available to the masses at prices far less expensive than the Met charges. It also provided a venue for up and coming singers to perfect their craft before moving on to world class companies like the Metropolitan Opera.

    Unfortunately, the Company has fallen on very hard times since the economic crisis began in 2008 and it has suffered from mismanagement as well. They have left the space at Lincoln Center that they occupied for decades and have now become an itinerant company performing just a few operas in different venues around the City.

    There are rumors that the Brooklyn Academy of Music may end up as the new permanent home of the New York City Opera which would be a wonderful thing; the acostics there are great.

    I also agree with Professor Mead about the uneven quality of the productions that they put on at the Met. I have seen some spectacular performances but I have also walked out of performances that were terrible, especially considering the steep prices that they charge for good seats. Professor Mead understates the case about the Opera House itself; architecturally speaking, it is an abomination.

    The good news is that you get to see some of the best singers in the world at the Metropolitan Opera and the orchestra is always absolutely magnificent; the bad news is that all too often the lack of rehearsal time results in poor quality productions.

    The famous singers are not always what they are cracked up to be; more than once what should have been a lovely performance of a bel canto opera ended up being ruined by a diva who doesn’t understand the difference between “bel canto” and “can belto.” While the singing is most important, all too often the Metropolitan Opera productions neglect the importance of good acting which also detracts from the quality of the performances.

    Despite the demise of the Amato Opera Company and the sad decline of New York City Opera, New York still sports a number of very fine “micro” opera companies. If Professor Mead or others are interested, the students at the Julliard School (about 100 yards away from the Metropolitan Opera House) put on three or four very fine opera performances a year; some end up being spectacular.

    I should gently warn Professor Mead of one thing though. If he ever decides to avail himself of the free Met HD broadcasts in the Schools that I mentioned earlier, he may want to think twice about attending a performance at the school in Queens which is just a few miles away from his home in Jackson Heights. You see, Long Island City High School is only a seven or eight block walk from the Queensbridge Housing Complex. Several months ago, Professor Mead wrote a post about urban decay and he illustrated his post with a picture of Queensbridge which was the first public housing project in the nation. To the tens of thousands of people who live in the neighborhood, the Housing Project offers no problem at all, but if being in close proximity to Queensbridge makes the Professor squeamish, he might be better off paying the exorbitant prices necessary to watch live opera on the Upper West Side.

  • Eurydice

    The HD broadcasts are terrific – I’ve been buying season tickets for a couple of years now. And they’re so popular that there’s actually kind of a mob scene at every broadcast. Here in Boston, in order to get a good seat one has to arrive an hour early and fight off a phalanx of Russian ladies all chanting “You haff teeekets? You haff teeekets?”

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