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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

HD Telecast Review: The Tube of the Golden West

La Fanciulla del West: Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera

Deborah Voigt, tending bar at the Polka Saloon. Photo from La Fanciulla del West.
Photo by Ken Howard, © 2010, The Metropolitan Opera.

Sometimes, the camera sees more than it should.

And it did, during the Saturday telecast of La Fanciulla del West. Puccini' anachronistic Italian opera set in a California mining camp was receiving its final performance of the season. Deborah Voigt, on her way to the dizzying heights of Valhalla, proved that she could still sing Italian repertory. Marcello Giordani was tall, large and handsome as Dick Johnson. But if the idea of miners bellowing "Hello, Nick" and "Cigarri per tutti" isn't weird enough, the Act One set for the Polka Saloon included something behind the bar that didn't belong in the Old West.

A television.

Visible about 45 minutes into the first act, this 5" black-and-white closed-circuit TV was placed behind the bar, far upstage. Singers could look up and follow conductor Nicola Luisotti even from the rear swing doors of the bar. It was placed so that the small screen could not be seen from the house. But the stage designers never reckoned with the new trend of Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts and the close-up, you-are-there approach taken by the Met's current crop of videographers.

Enough about the television. On with the opera.

This was the last performance of Fanciulla this season, and everyone had settled comfortably into their roles. Deborah Voight sounded bright, and occasionally hard as Minnie. She continues to show the many aspects of this complex leading lady, tracking her journey from hardened saloon owner to passionate woman in love. She has good chemistry with Marcello Giordani, whose strong run as the dastardly Dick Johnson may just save his career. Their Act II duet was Puccini at his most passionate and electric, whip-sawing through emotional extremes as the lovers came together and broke apart.

As the Sheriff, Jack Rance, Lucio Gallo was better in hi-def than he was in the theater. Perhaps it's because the Italian baritone had been singing the role for a month, but he was absolutely spot-on for the broadcast. His portrayal shows Rance with a real passion for Minnie--even if it is a weird, misplaced, creepy kind of passion, Mr. Roni dominated the first and third acts with his glowering presence. His Act II card game with Minnie--with Dick Johnson's fate in the balance--was the most exciting moment of the opera. Mr. Roni and Ms. Voigt burned the scenery together, hot enough to melt the paper snow that was falling outside her little cabin.

This broadcast was hosted by Sondra Radvanovsky. Accompanied by a camera team, the Met's Tosca-in-waiting had relative freedom to roam backstage, collecting interesting footage of the goings-on behind the gold curtain. In addition to seeing the Met's crack tech crew building and dismantling frontier towns, (not to mention sweeping up paper snowflakes) Ms. Radvanovsky interviewed the singers, the conductor, and even the horse wranglers for the production. This extensive backstage perspective is one of the principal attractions of the HD broadcasts, even if Mr. Giordani, Mr. Roni, and Maestro Luisotti all related the same story about growing up with Westerns, gun belts and cowboy hats in their native Italy.

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