Monday, March 24, 2008

The Met's HD Transmission Fails Tristan und Isolde

Barbara Willis Sweete was the transmission director for the live HD production of the Metropolitan Opera's Tristan und Isolde, which aired Saturday afternoon. We know she has the chops because she directed the transmission of Hansel and Gretel in January, and it was lovely. But for the Wagner she decided to get fancy. In an interview during the intermission with Met General Manager Peter Gelb, Sweete said that she was making the opera interactive for theater viewers: we could choose to look at the action in a variety of ways - different camera angles, short shots and long shots all shown at once on the screen in separate boxes.

At its worst, the effect was reminiscent of Hollywood Squares, and brought on the giggles. (And believe me, no-one should giggle during Wagner.) At its best it was annoying and distracting. When the boxes starting appearing, moving around and changing zoom during the performance, there were widespread groans in the audience. The box effect distracted from the music and from the visuals. It was hard to watch. I actually had to shut my eyes during several sections (and miss the sub-titles). It was a disaster.

During the interview, Sweete said that at one point she used zooming to show the audience that the boat was traveling a mile across the ocean. I had absolutely no idea that that was why the camera was zooming in on the boat. To me, it just looked stupid. The effect was completely ineffective. It was also unnecessary as the entire first act takes place on the boat, and the boat is supposedly moving most of the time.

A woman I was talking to during the intermission said the worst part of it for her was that she wanted a theater-like experience, and the framing effects made the opera feel more like a movie. I think she has a good point. But for me, the biggest problem was the distraction. You can try frillly high-tech special effects on a car race or a music video, but for god's sake, not Wagner.



Anonymous said...

Agreed the video editing was annoying. If a first year film student had done this junk for class they would have failed. It was completely amaturish. Additionally, the audio of the broadcast we saw cut in and out so much (literally every 5 seconds) that we had to leave after the second act.

Yappa said...

Wow... That's awful about the sound. I saw it at the Galaxy cinema in Waterloo, Ontario, and we had maybe three very minor blips in sound, all about the same time. There were other blips with the visuals where a shot would get stuck, but it seemed to be related to the boxes. When they put someone in a frame, it would sometimes freeze for a few seconds. (Just another annoying thing about the frames!) But overall I thought the production was wonderful and I'm very, very glad I saw it. (Although, one final complaint: what was with that Magic Elevator in Act 2??)