As a purist I want to believe that live performances, musical or dramatic, are best live. I'm not sure I believe that now. I've just seen a reshowing of the Metropolitan Opera's simulcast of The Tales of Hoffman which I didn't go to last winter because I was tired of new pretentious productions. But I went today to the reshowing and I'm very happy I did; just as I'm happy I saw their new Don Giovanni a couple weeks ago.
I didn't get a cast list; the only already blazingly famous singer was Anna Netrebko but everyone else was brilliant and the music was incredibly lush, thanks to Offenbach, the wonderful Met chorus and James Levine on the podium before he had to retire. All this musical delight was wonderful but it's not what made me change my mind about the value of a videoed performance. I still have problems with many new productions (also of productions I've seen in the past couple of years from the National Theatre of London) when the stage director has chosen to be "atmospheric" and keep much of the stage in shadow much of the time. Yes, Hoffman's stories are mysterious and dark but Bart Sherr's use of lighting insults the audience. I been a part of too many live audiences (admittedly often in the more distant seats) when I really couldn't see much of what was happening on stage. And I hate not being able to see what I paid good money to go see.
Often in these video casts the very professional videographers choose their angles brilliantly so we see the characters with a clarity that people even in the best seats don't get. So the video audience sees the opera more like a movie, with the now well coached singers acting often brilliantly, not just singing. (The old fashioned "park and bark" opera staging is long gone and good riddance!) Plus the subtitles are well written, not clunky translations that were used when subtitle were first installed.
Because of these improvements, I came home thinking that I truly followed the often odd story line of "Hoffman" for the first time and I also had understood all of Don Giovanni's escapades as never before. So I have the beautiful music, the brilliant voices, good acting and helpful words for a full enjoyment of the opera.
Two very brief asides: I found the dancing and barely clad women (with fantastic figures but not part of the chorus) almost beyond bad taste, nearly pornograhic. And I hated the La Traviata I saw in April because almost everything about that self-conscious new production was awful and ruined my favorite opera sadly. Win some, lose some, I guess.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!