Sunday, April 1, 2012

A comment on the MET HDs

 Despite my being extremely critical of Mr. Gelb at times, everyone knows that the one thing that I  admire about the guy is the way he revolutionized performing arts via the Live in HD program. It is definitely his greatest achievement as Met General Manager, and if this was it, it would solidify him as a major figure in the development of spreading opera as a business worldwide.

But as is the case with many of Gelb's actions/policies/programs, the HD still has a lot of growing up to do. Yesterday afternoon is a prime example that shows the lack of connection with the Met's audience. 

A few facts about yesterday's performance, which I will not grow tired of repeating time and again:

A. Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, Mariusz Kwiecien. Do these names sound familiar? 
B. L'Elisir D'amore by Gaetano Donizetti? Anyone ever heard this opera?
C. Fan favorite production released on DVD a few years ago but has not obtained exposure in ages. 

How the combination of A, B, and C does not ring the words "MONEY" and "HISTORIC PERFORMANCE" in the ears of Mr. Gelb's HD committee (assuming he's not making these decisions in his office on his own) is unfathomable. It is possible that next year's new Elisir scared him away from doing two years of Elisir HDs in a row, but that argument is silly considering:

A. This is a business and whatever makes you money, especially if it's GOOD and has a high probability of being good, should be immediately jumped. 

B. He's doing Aida again next year for the first time in 3 years (and the 2009 one got a DVD release no less)! Yes it is one of the most popular repertoire pieces, but there are other operas in that 3 years interim that have gotten no respect and are just as popular. So why not do a popular work like Elisir 2 years in a row in DIFFERENT productions (the Aidas are the same EXACT productions and there are already 2 DVDs of it).

I emailed the Met requesting an emergency HD operation after seeing the Elisir performance three weeks ago. I was rejected and told that there was solid planning that went into the programming. I have no doubt there is strong planning as most of this year has seen fabulous HDs for the most part, but huge opportunities have been flubbed time and again over the years. I am under the assumption that two things get considered: the profit potential and the artistic integrity, but there is never a clear cut idea of which one is favored. Yes Hindsight is 20:20, but anyone with a pulse on the opera world won't make these monstrous mistakes:

-2009-10: Riccardo Muti makes his DEBUT at the Met with Verdi's Attila ALSO making its Debut at the Met. Sure, it wasn't a popular work, but this is RICCARDO MUTI. Never again will this operatic icon grace the Met podium for the rest of his life. And they simply let that performance be forgotten to posterity with no visual recording? Aida, Rosenkavalier, Simon Boccanegra, Tosca, Hoffman, Carmen, Hamlet (which already had a DVD of the SAME PRODUCTION), Turandot, and Armida were all strong choices in this year in which the Met decreased their HD output because of money problems, but this is a regrettable error. 

-2010-11:  Simon Rattle makes his debut in Pelleas et Melisande which has no video recording at the Met. The performance goes on to receive stellar reviews and the Met simply ignored it. I get that it is not a popular work, but I thought these video performances were to highlight milestones and historic moments? 

-This year? Elisir, Makrououlous Case, and Khovanshina all get overlooked. The latter two may not be popular works, but Mr. Gelb put Satyagraha (which was incredible), Nixon in China, and Dr. Atomic on this HD docket (and next year Ades' The Tempest gets viewed worldwide). 

How do you fix this issue? Record all of them on HD, every weekend. The Met has maintained 12 HDs over the last two seasons, but this is clearly a good business for them and a growing market. Try it out for a season and see what happens. For that one season you create more jobs, more exposure for the entire roster, less partiality and hierachy (some singers, Superstars or not, get at least one HD a season), and more opportunities to engage audiences around the world. It obviously is an expensive proposition, but then you avoid fiascos like yesterday where a historic event (other then the noted ones above) occurs and it is forever lost to posterity on the visual medium. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts regardless of whether you agree or not with my ideas. 

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