This video = heaven! Hvorostovsky and Radvanovsky are two of the most charismatic, exciting singers on the scene today. Their new Verdi duets album is pure gold! I’m not even a Verdi fan, but I could listen to these two sing the phone book.
“[Sondra] Radvanovsky doesn’t yet have the marquee presence of [Dmitri] Hvorostovsky, but the strength and beauty of her voice Monday suggested she should. I’m not sure there’s another soprano today whose vocal endowments are so well suited to the Verdi repertory. She emitted one huge, gleaming top note after another.” - Anne Midgette
“Artists today need to be more subtle and nuanced. What works well on stage works well on camera. It’s enough to think, feel, and project, without pushing or overdoing it.” - Dmitri Hvorostovsky
In the age of Peter Gelb, one of the common questions posed by critics and fans is: “Are performances being adjusted for the HD broadcasts?” The implication being, singers are delivering performances that look good on a movie screen, but don’t necessarily read from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera house.
Having seen most of the HD broadcasts, I can safely say that, in my opinion, the performances are mostly diminished by the broadcasts due to a number of factors, and the best performances have always come off well on stage and on screen.
Richard Eyre’s “Carmen,” which debuted last year, was a great example of a production that was brilliant on stage and only slightly inferior on the movie screen. Elīna Garanča’s Carmen was captivating. There were no broad gestures or cliched hip swishing associated with this character; the performance was focused and subtle. It worked because Mr. Eyre and Ms. Garanča had clearly spent time digging into the character, imbuing her with clear motivations and objectives.
All of this translated wonderfully to the big screen because it was real. The rest of the cast resorted to the usual operatic bag of tricks - flinging themselves about the stage and using broad unmotivated gestures - it came off as insincere on stage and it was impossible to watch during the broadcast.
Last year’s “Der Rosenkavalier” was one of the few performances that was equally wonderful on stage and on screen. Here were two great artists performing signature roles that they understood inside and out.
Renee Fleming’s Marschallin was one of the most moving performances I’ve ever witnessed on an operatic stage. What struck me most about this performance, was the attention to the tiniest detail that made this character seem so startlingly real. Ms. Fleming carried herself with poise - befitting a character of her status - using a small economy of movement, that allowed for every emotion to read vividly.
Susan Graham managed to convey Octavian’s impetuousness and ardor without resorting to shallow tricks. There was a confusion and a desperation that always felt spontaneous and never calculated.
All these aspects were kept beautifully intact on the screen. Nothing seemed scaled-down to accommodate the cameras.
Part of the problem with these broadcasts, is the way they are filmed. The cameramen shoot from bizarre angles with unflattering closeups, that would diminish even the greatest production of a play. There’s an advantage to viewing the singers from up close, but there’s also a major drawback and let’s be honest: there’s nothing flattering about staring into a singer’s wide-open trap.
In an essay on “The Iceman Cometh,” Vincent Canby noted, “One of the essential joys of [the play] is the way the eye is allowed to wander at will, from a couple of characters having a furious argument at stage left to the old fellow who has passed out cold, downstage right, or to the impassive face of Rocky, the bartender, viewing all from his station upstage right. ‘The Iceman Cometh’ cannot be reduced to a succession of close-ups, medium shots and long shots without sabotaging the playwright’s vision.” I believe this statement applies to most theater and certainly opera as well. Part of a thrilling performance is a character’s reaction to what another character is saying…or in the case of opera: singing.
Opera deals in heightened drama and big ideas, but it’s the intimate human emotions that move us. Without truthful acting and honest singing, those emotions come off as campy or artificial. Stanislavsky considered opera the ultimate artfrom - beautifully blending music and drama as a whole new form of expression. Good acting is always good acting…no matter what the medium!