Opera on the movie screen
To be, or not to be privy to a fabulous Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” performance of Hamlet in a Houston theater? That is the question.
Actually, that’s no question at all, from my perspective because I had a wonderful perspective, indeed, of the live Met performance of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet on Saturday at the Edwards Marq*E.
Why in the world would anybody want to sit inside a movie theater for four hours, staring at a screen showing an opera taking place elsewhere, you ask?
Are you kidding? I ask in return.
Have you ever been to one of these events? Ha! I thought not.
I, too, once ranked among the Met-HD innocents until a friend far wiser in the arts persuaded Reluctant Me, a self-described opera purist, to meet her for one of these performances at (gasp!) a local movie house. That experience proved an eye-opening revelation. In short: These events are terrific.
How do I love these Met-HD presentations? Let me count the ways, starting with Hamlet.
First, consider the marvelous voice of Simon Keenlyside, who makes a heartbreakingly handsome Hamlet, described in The New York Times’ appreciative review as “the Ralph Fiennes of baritones.”
Second, there’s the heavenly voice of German soprano Marlis Petersen as Ophelia. Petersen, who heroically stepped in at the eleventh hour for ailing Natalie Dessay, sang and performed magnificently, especially in Ophelia’s prolonged mad scene.
Third, mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore is simply the best Gertrude ever. It’s not just her remarkable voice, but her wonderful acting — particularly those great facial expressions, ranging from regally arrogant to guiltily frightened.
The best thing about these Met presentations is that the opera lover has immediate access to a live New York production featuring a cast of the world’s greatest voices. The second-best thing is that you’re seeing these people in a whole new way: close up, from any seat in the house for a comparatively modest price ($22 for adults, $20 for seniors, $15 for children). The big screen provides a new perspective of the acting, pulling you into the performance. In the frequent close-ups, you can make out every nuanced facial expression, every detail of all the costumes and sets.
As a longtime Houston Grand Opera subscriber, I feel like these events don’t compete with the fine HGO performances; they complement them. I view them as enriching supplements, like a One-A-Day vitamin.
What’s really surprising about these Met-HD events is that even though you’re in a movie house, you don't hear the sounds of popcorn crunching, plastic unwrapping, gratuitous coughing and other annoyances that interfere with your full enjoyment of the extraordinary singing.
At least, that’s been my experience with opera-loving crowd at the Marq*E. (Other Houston theaters include the Cinemark Memorial City Mall, AMC Gulf Pointe 30, AMC Willowbrook 24 and AMC Deerbrook) Except for a few novices, the audience remains quiet during a performance; they wait until intermission for snacks. The only time you tend to hear any noise is when individuals break into brief applause, along with their New York counterparts, after a particularly lovely aria.
I already have my ticket to see Renee Fleming in Rossini's Armida on May 1. If you can't wait, there's an encore presentation of Hamlet on April 14.