Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Sirius State of the Met

We had sat back, until now, without commenting on the rejuvenation of the Metropolitan Opera. The new intendant, Mr. Gelb, has already implemented several new tools for marketing the operatic message to a wider (and eventually, one hopes, a younger) audience. So far he has created an admirable buzz.

We went to the Open House and Final Dress Rehearsal of Madama Butterfly on the Friday before the Opening Night. While waiting in the line for the free tickets the previous Wednesday morning, I had occasion to talk with one of the choristers (she had stopped by to visit with her sister who was also in line for tickets) who said that she was thrilled with the new Butterfly production and was proud to be a part of it. Rehearsing the first entrance of Butterfly with the line of geishas was very difficult, she said - Minghella and Choa apparently spent hours making sure they were all comfortable moving in the costumes and were in sync on their entrance.

Well, all that rehearsal paid off. The production is quite wonderful, with luminous lighting, gorgeously colorful costumes and a simple but very effective set (dark mirror above, dark lacquered floor below, with shoji screens sliding across the stage and minimal props). I like the idea of the Bunraku puppet playing Cio-Cio San's child, Trouble. When real children are cast in this part, it always strikes me that they are a distraction from the real point and they almost always upstage the adult characters on stage. The puppet was so expertly manipulated (by three black-clad puppeteers), that he (it) became an important part of the action. Mr. Minghella is a director, thank heavens, who appreciates and listens to (!) the music. If you get a chance to see this production, don't miss it.

Gallardo-Domas acted well, but her singing, even in the Dress Rehearsal, was strained and pushed too much of the time. Like Scotto in her later years, she was most moving in the quiet moments when the voice did not need to strain to soar over the orchestra. Giordani was more relaxed, I think, in the Dress Rehearsal than he was in the Opening Night performance, based on what I heard over the Internet of the Opening Night. In particular the top notes really rang out with a sort of sunburst effect that one totally missed over the air (the compression can't have helped). Zifchak was probably the best Suzuki I had ever seen. Dwayne Croft as Sharpless gave a nicely nuanced performance. His voice is in much better shaped than it has been in the last couple of years. The voice is beautiful again, although it seems smaller than it once was. We were glad to see him in refulgent form once again.

The Met will be broadcasting four live performances per week over Sirius Satellite Radio (Channel 85). Thanks to Parterre Box for the season's schedule of these live broadcasts. In addition, the Met's Sirius channel will be airing old broadcasts from its voluminous archives. When all of this started last week, there was quite a lot of confusion. One correspondent asked if the regular Saturday matinee broadcasts would still continue on free radio and internet - yes, they will continue. Someone else told us of difficulties accessing the stream (Sirius' new internet streams are apparently not yet compatible with MACs, although they are working on that) and still other folks went to all the trouble of purchasing Sirius Satellite Radio receivers, only to discover that Sirius had, just in time for the Opening Night broadcast last Monday, put in place an internet only stream (so one doesn't have to buy the receiver to get the broadcasts).

And while all of our opera-going friends were excited by the prospect of all-Met-opera-all-the-time, there was chagrin in the land of opera fanatics. There was no schedule of which archived broadcasts would be aired when. Several people we know are thus severely sleep-deprived from having stayed up until all hours for the past week listening to everything so they wouldn't miss something important.

Pleas were sent to Gelb and, glory be, answered. Sometime yesterday afternoon the Sirius schedule began showing the next day's broadcast schedule. And this morning when I checked the schedule, they had listings all the way through Sunday. So nice work and thank you, Mr. Gelb! Also of note, on Sunday evenings at 9:00PM EDT the channel will be offering NPR's World of Opera, adding yet another source for those who miss this valuable program the first time around on Saturday afternoons.

Sirius offers two streams - a 32k Windows Media Stream and a 128k Windows Media Stream. The 128k stream sounds very good (we did experience some small dropouts during the Opening Night Butterfly broadcast, but the stream had been steady since then). Unfortunately, the feed they are using for both the live and the acrhival stuff is compressed (one supposes they may have decided to compress things because many Sirius subscribers listen in their cars). Sirius is charging $12.95 per month to suscribe to the 128k stream. Although OperaCast does not carry schedule listings for streams/stations that require registration or charge a fee to listen, we have included a listing at the bottom of our Station List page, with links to the schedules now available.

Also encouraging to note, we hear that Chicago Lyric Opera may again be broadcasting some of their performances starting later this year. They are working out with their unions a new deal similar to the Met's new union arrangements.

Happy listening to all....


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