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March 24, 2008


Bruce Hodges

Adroit work on both of these, as usual, Steve. And you may have caught one of the best performances of Tristan und Isolde of the entire run--coupled with the good fortune to see it in the house. Friends who saw the movie theater broadcast are all complaining about the use, or misuse, of split screens. It's a shame, since the original 1999 taping, with Heppner and Eaglen and directed by Brian Large, was just fine.

Eric Skelly

"Complaining" is putting it mildly. I was angry enough to write to The Met via their website:

My comments have to do with the Movie Theater HD Simulcast tis past Saturday of "Tristan und Isolde." Personally, I’d have to say it was THE worst video direction of an opera production I’ve seen in nearly 30 years of watching opera telecasts. The director, Barbara Sweete, decided to go with a Brady Bunch approach, isolating singers and areas of the stage in as many as 6 little boxes on the screen, often ostentatiously opting to start with a tiny little box that gradually expanded to full screen size (what’s next…3-D opera a la Monster Chiller Horror Theater?!...I’m picturing John Candy as Scarpia intoning “Un ventaglio!” while rocking l’Attavanti’s fan toward the camera, away from the camera, toward the camera, away from….). Her camera work completely negated the impact of the set design (which I experienced in the house the Friday before), the sheer scale of the performance and the advantage of seeing these larger-than-life performances on the large screen; I might as well have watched at home on a television screen. The camera work constantly called attention to itself and yanked me right out of the performance as I scrambled to decide which box to focus on, and it pretty much ruined Deborah Voigts magnificent Liebestod. When the director’s name was displayed during the end credits she was lustily booed in my theater in Houston, TX.

Having set such a high standard last season with "Eugene Onegin," "The Barber of Seville" and "Il Trittico," Saturday's simulcast left me deeply disappointed and angry with The Met's choice of telecast director. I will want to know if she’s directing any future simulcasts so that I can avoid them. Please forward my comments to Mr. Gelb.

Steve Smith

Thanks, as always, for the very kind words, Bruce. And Eric, I appreciate your sharing that strongly worded statement regarding the movie-theater presentation.

Glutton that I am, I intend to go back tomorrow night for Heppner, who is currently in rehearsals according to the Met's press office.

Eric Skelly

I probably should have sat on that message and cooled down a bit before sending it. I certainly don't know Barbara Sweete, after all, and should have not taken such personal affront over her telecast direction. It was just so frustrating to have to experience a performance that was great in so many ways through a prism that seemed designed to undermine the performance at every turn. I'm sure the director didn't set out to sabotage the performance for the movie-theater audience, but that's exactly what it felt like every time the screen picture began to shrink into a little box which shuffled around the screen with 2 to 5 other little boxes. If The Met is afraid that the static nature of Wagner will scare away its new movie theater audiences without some fancy camera-work to "help" it along, then it shouldn't do Wagner simulcasts. I'd hate to miss the experience personally, but I would never recommend "Tristan" to someone who was relatively new to opera even under the best of circumstances (e.g.: a telecast director who actually trusted the work to hold the audience's attention).

Marc Geelhoed

RE: the Marlboro review. Admit it: You've been aching for a chance to use "eldritch."

Steve Smith

Ha! Not only was "eldritch" completely spontaneous, it was the only word that fit what I heard.

Lisa Hirsch

First time I've seen "eldritch" used outside an H.P. Lovecraft story. Steve, I was so relieved that you drew that concert instead of H******.

You mention that Smith was overwhelmed a couple of times. His voice sounded a size too small on the radio as well, for such a big house.

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