Four of us went to the Fenway 13 movie theater to watch La Traviata streaming digitally out of the Metropolitan Opera.
The orchestra and singing were awesome, as one would expect from the Met. Sonya Yoncheva (Bulgarian, but lives in Switzerland) sings Violetta. The orchestra was conducted by Nicola Luisotti (Italian, but lives part-time in San Francisco). Americans Michael Fabiano and Thomas Hampson sang the roles of Alfredo and his dad.
The opera opens with Violetta living in a Parisian skateboard park, a round empty space with high bare concrete-colored walls and a concrete-colored bench. We infer from the enormous clock that Violetta’s roommate is Flavor Flav. We thought “this is going to be awesome when David Belle comes out to show us some Parkour.” The skateboard park set is used for all three acts and the $400,000/year stagehands don’t bother to sweep up the cash between Acts II and III. This leaves the involuntarily retired cougar Violetta and her maid talking about how they’re down to a few coins when in fact they could just scoop cash off the floor.
All partygoers wear traditional male attire, which leaves Violetta as the only person on stage in a dress. Why does her friend Flora dress in a completely different manner from Violetta when both have the same occupation and position in society? This is never explained.
None of us had been to a “Met Live in HD” show before, but we loved the experience. The sound is arguably better than in a lot of seats at the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House, absurdly oversized compared to the halls for which the music was composed. The balance between singers and orchestra is always in favor of the singers as you’d wish. As the sound is picked up by microphones over the stage you hear more direct sound and less reverb/hall. Our power-recliner seats were infinitely more comfortable than any seat in a Lincoln Center hall.
During a break the Met asks that people who only recently shelled out for tickets call their 800-number and give them money, explaining that ticket sales don’t cover their prodigious and profligate spending (the 2014 IRS Form 990 (Charity Navigator) shows that, with revenue of about $135 million, they paid $2 million to their general manager, $508,000 to an electrician, $462,000 to a carpenter, etc.; presumably 2017 numbers will be higher).
This raises the question of why they should continue operating at all. Given that their biggest talents are European, why not let the Europeans run opera and stream it out of there into U.S. theaters? The Europeans have been putting on opera for centuries without bankrupting themselves. The Europeans can build public transit systems for one fifth the U.S. cost (New Yorker), but the Copenhagen subway system isn’t of much use to a Bostonian. On the other hand, we could just as easily have been watching an opera streamed out of Copenhagen’s magnificent opera house (seats a maximum of 1703 compared to the absurd 3,800 for the Metropolitan Opera House).
More power to the Met if they can survive on their $25-500 per-person ticket revenue plus whatever their local hedge fund managers give them. But if these sources aren’t sufficient will it truly move the needle to hassle theater-goers with an in-their-face fund drive?