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The Met Goes to the Movies: The Magic Flute in Emeryville
If you didn’t see The Magic Flute and haven’t yet
booked to see one of the other live HiDef
Metropolitan Opera telecasts, navigate to your nearest online ticket
service and snap up a ticket if there are any remaining. It’s an
amazingly pleasant experience to sit in a reclining seat with lots of
legroom and a clear view of the screen and to be able to see the performers
in giant close-up and to hear the orchestra in crisp surround sound. If
you were in the Opera House and could order the stage crew to position
your Barcalounger directly on top of the prompter’s box, this would
be your vantage point.
This abridged Magic Flute was like a Flute For Kids/Lion
King hybrid and was happily light on the boring Masonic stuff that
usually stops this show dead. Julie Taymor kept the production
firmly in fairyland with dream-like puppetry and dazzlingly beautiful
and clever costumes. Nathan Gunn as Papageno had some
special fun with his removable wicker codpiece, and the fabulous
Erika Miklósa, who makes her San Francisco Opera debut
in October in this role, was gorgeously evil as Queen of the Night, first
appearing in an ethereal multi-winged white gown and later in a blood
red version of the same costume. The strange young spirit boys were perversely
weird indeed in diapers and long white beards. René Pape
as Sarastro was encased in wondrously thick interlocking panels of heavy
gold brocade. He sang magnificently of course but you could almost see
the eiskaltes Bier he was visualizing for
himself as a reward as soon as he could get out of that inferno of a costume.
The huge rotating set, however, was a disappointingly dark construction
of Plexiglas and scaffolding and might have been more appropriate for
one of Pamela Rosenberg’s productions, but the
cast climbed over and around it and made the best of the extensive real
So what was it like? On the plus side, the parking garage cost only one
dollar, the seating was extremely comfortable, the sight lines were perfection,
and the sound was sublime. One could also visit the concession stand and,
after taking out a second mortgage, return with a hot dog, a hot garlic
Parmesan pretzel, a giant bag of buttered popcorn, a gallon of soda, and
a big box of Raisinettes. The HiDef picture was bright, sharp, and about
as good as it could possibly be.
On the slightly minus side, the show was directed for later PBS distribution
so the framing was obviously meant for small-screen television viewing.
Close-ups were huge and very sharp. Every bead of sweat was apparent
the makeup artistry could be studied in great detail. And since the viewer
is virtually onstage, a lot of the stagecraft was clearly evident.
The black-clad puppeteers were anything but invisible and every wire
and control device could be examined. The audio was so sensitive that
creak, footstep, and cough could be heard; if you were in the audience
and later watched the rebroadcast you could probably identify the sound
of your own swallowing. And there was an almost constant rumbling of
deep in the bowels of the backstage area. Some, however, might consider
this immediacy a plus rather than a minus. Imagine you were cast as a
Super in this
show and had been positioned downstage center and told to face upstage.
You could almost hear Met ASM Terry Ganley (yes, she was listed as ASM
in the credits) over your shoulder shushing you when you rattle your
Milk Duds box. That’s
exactly what watching this telecast was like.
These events will never replace the feeling of actually being in an
opera house, but they give you something different; an intimate not-to-be-missed
experience for the bargain price of only $18. Let’s hope that
in the very near future San Francisco Opera can jump through the inevitable
union (and financial) hoops and go beyond
simulcasts in the park and into multiplex cinemas around the world.
— Mike Harvey