The Metropolitan Opera’s live transmissions to movie theaters, the most recent of which was Verdi’s Macbeth, create a new kind of operatic experience. The form itself is not new — what you see and hear is basically what you’d see and hear at home with a televised performance — but it’s scaled up so drastically that it hits with unprecedented force. The extensive use of closeups gives the viewer almost the sense of being onstage with the larger-than-life cast. The immediacy of the sound, both from the orchestra pit and the singers, packs a corresponding punch.
All this carries risks, of course. For one thing, inaccuracies are magnified (fortunately, in Saturday’s broadcast these were few). Footsteps, the dropping of an object and other extraneous sounds are all too obvious. One of the worst potential problems is that a lack of stage sense and skill will be painfully exposed.
That wasn’t a problem Saturday. Zeljko Lucic’s Macbeth, Maria Guleghina’s Lady Macbeth, John Relyea’s Banquo and Dimitri Pittas’ Macduff were convincingly acted and solidly sung. None of them had any mouth-movement eccentricities. The Met chorus also held up well under the unwavering gaze of the camera.
One problem was local. The theater where I watched the performance, the Cinemark 17 in northwest Dallas, has a sound system that no homeowner could afford. The sound was juiced up to near-hard-rock levels. The Met orchestra (under James Levine’s baton) often sounded like it was on steroids. Musically this was bearable (and, I must admit, often exciting), but it certainly was not like anything you’d hear in an opera house, and during the pre-performance and intermission interviews the spoken voices were unpleasantly piercing.
Technically, the transmission was excellent, aside from one split-second of digital rectangles.
The Dallas audience was caught up in the performance and responded by applauding arias and the curtain calls as if everybody were actually at the Met in New York.
This season of Saturday matinee performances will continue with Puccini’s Manon Lescaut on Feb. 16, Britten’s Peter Grimes on March 15, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde on March 22, Puccini’s La Bohème on April 5 and Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment on April 26. Some theaters present encores on the following Sundays.