Yesterday I went to see the Met live broadcast of I Puritani at a nearby movie theater. The music was wonderful. I suppose this is their much touted "high definition." It certainly wasn’t the picture, which ranged from extremely fuzzy to romantic soft focus. I know that lighting has something to do with it, but I don’t really understand what was going on. For the most part I enjoyed it. However, I found the camera work very distracting.
I did not know what to expect when I entered the theater. I had hoped this would be an approximation of attending a live performance. I wanted the camera to show the entire stage from a box, or approximately ten rows back in the orchestra, my seats of choice. Occasionally I would like the camera to move in a little closer, like using opera glasses. In fact, when I first took my seat the camera showed the stage and about ten rows in front of it. I was happy. But, I soon realized they had three or four cameras and were using them to show everything from the singer’s teeth to the back of the performer looking out to the audience. There were many close-ups and fast cuts. It’s very distracting to have the camera focused on the singer and, because of camera movement, the candles behind the singer slowly rise. Or a shadow from some unknown source move across the screen, again because of camera movement. It’s enough to have virtuoso performers without the camera person, or director, also trying to give what they think is a virtuoso performance. I know these zooms and cuts are used a lot in film and TV, but opera is it’s own medium and makes different demands. The Met is trying to attract a broader audience for opera. I applaud their efforts, but they need to maintain the integrity of their medium.