She Broke your Throne and Cut your Hair/MET Samson et Dalila

I must admit that when they began the Met HD broadcasts in 2006,  I was worried that fewer people would bother to go the opera house in person.

I mean, why bother? The HD gives us such great close-ups of the singers, you can tell whether they still have their tonsils or not. The interviews during intermission allows us to see the performers with their sweat still on their brows, and find out what was going through their minds just moments earlier when they sang an aria that brought the house down.  And while the singers are changing for the next act, we get to watch the stage crew take one set down on that massive stage, and erect another in what seems like no time at all.

At the end of each Met HD broadcast, the audience is encouraged to get out and see live opera, whether at the MET or another great opera house, or in whatever options they have locally.

This is an important part of the broadcast, because as wonderful as it is to see this great opera house up close, NOTHING can take the place of the real high definition of a live performance.

This past Saturday was my birthday, and my friend Doug made my day very special by taking me to the MET to see Samson et Dalila.  I have been to the MET many times, but Doug was a novice, and I was as excited for him as I was for me.  Since this performance is the one that they broadcast, we had the extra dimension of watching the cameras, and watching that well choreographed exchange of audience POV.   Although there was a camera at the end of our row, and one, a few rows ahead, they were NOT intrusive,  and most of the audience probably saw nothing of the cameras at all.  And the house was packed.

So, has MET HD hindered live audience numbers or improved them? According to Wikipedia,

“Movie and radio broadcast revenue increased for the Met from about $5 million in 2006, Live in HD’s first year, to $22 million in 2008, with Live in HD contributing the bulk of the growth.  For the 2009/10 season, the Met spent about $12 million in production and received about half of the $47 million box-office gross. After paying royalties to its cast and crew, the Met earned a $8 million profit.  The Met’s Live in HD revenue for the 2012/13 season was $34.5 million.”

That is great news for the MET, but it is also great news for opera in general.

I personally know three people who have begun liking opera because they attended a MET HD broadcast.  I’m certain that there are thousands more out there who, like them,  have found a new passion owing to these broadcasts, and that can only help the local companies as well.

Roberto Alagna is fun to watch, live.

He is not a tall man, but he is a powerful one, and he does command you to watch him. He is a good actor, and he needed to be for this rather anti-climactic denouement when Samson breaks free of his chains and brings down the temple. Although visually,  the temple itself was a knockout, it didn’t knock down!  All we got was Alagna, blinded, with a new hair cut, and a gorgeous B flat.

Elīna Garanča, singing one of opera’s best Mezzo roles, was a perfect Dalila. Her low notes in act one were absolutely stunning (although one review I read said they were disappointed in her low register.)  She has tremendous power in her chesty low notes, and they cut through the orchestra like a high C.  Ms. Garanča  who has a solid high C, spent much of her early career in Mozartian pants roles.  But she has certainly found her female legs in this piece.  Her high notes, particularly in Act Three,  were spectacular.  When asked if she would like to tackle a soprano role, she said,

“I never wanted to be a soprano, never, no, no,” she said. “I don’t want the pressure, I don’t want the attention, I don’t want to be dying every night.”

Darko Tresnjak, who won a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical in 2014 for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, makes his Met debut with this production. I found much of the direction disappointing. Things are fairly static all along. The sets, by Alexander Dodge are terrific, but underutilized, especially when the Temple of Dagon is supposed to crumble, and does not.  Also, I cannot for the life of me understand why Tresnjak chose to have Samson lose his locks off-stage.

Up next on MET HD, is the new opera MARNIE, based upon the novel and the Hitchcock movie.


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