I despair. I really do. Yesterday’s MetHD broadcast of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera had so much going for it. The singing was brilliant and David Alden’s production seemed to have plenty of interesting ideas. I say “seemed” because we only got the briefest of brief glimpses of it in between the succession of close ups served up by video director Matthew Diamond. On the odd occasions we got to see more than a head or a body it was usually from a weird angle. It’s particularly irritating because the two elements of the production that seemed to be most important were the ones most ruthlessly undermined. Alden’s movement of chorus, supers and dancers and the contrast between what they do and what the principals do seems to be important but who knows? Similarly his use of contrasting spaces, especially in Act 3, is obviously important but when the viewer gets only a couple of seconds to establish the context before the camera moves in and loses it the effect is fatally weakened.
One of the early Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcasts was a 2007 showing of Robert Carsen’s 1997 production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Renée Fleming. It was subsequently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Decca and remains one of the most successful disk releases spawned by the broadcasts.
The approach is minimalist. The enormous Met stage is blocked off by blank walls to form a gigantic open cube within which Carsen deploys a few bits and pieces of props. It’s the antithesis of the Schenk/Zeffirelli “stuff” aesthetic. Lighting (Jean Kalman) is used to create quite dramatic shifts of setting and mood. The opera opens on a stage blank but for a table and a lot of leaves (which in true Carsen style later get swept up by the chorus(1)). Later the passage of a night in Tatiana’s bedroom is suggested by changing lighting and a rustic ballroom is suggested by two rows of mismatched chairs, in contrast to the later “big city” ballroom where the chairs are opulent and all match. The space created by this minimalist approach exposes the characters and allows us to focus on their relationships and emotions. It’s very effective. Continue reading