Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

"No," cried the people of Mahagonny

October 24, 2007

 
The gang's all here - Griffey, LuPone, and McDonald
Photo: Robert Millard 2007
So LA Opera is getting into the DVD game. And why not? Everyone else is doing it so why can’t we. I will say, though, that with last season being one of the strongest in recent memory, why they are starting with the relative low points by rolling out the Fleming/Villazon La Traviata and the John Doyle staging of Weil's Mahagonny is beyond me. I know that the Traviata disc was in Fleming’s three performance contract, but it was hardly her brightest moment or LAOs. Perhaps contractual obligations for Patti LuPone or Audra McDonald are the reason for this Mahagonny seeing the light of day again, or perhaps LAO is hoping that star power will help sales and a successful launch for the endeavor overall. The Mahagonny release is intended to coincide with a broadcast of the performance on Great Performances on PBS. Now that's what I call irony. But then again maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. As I’ve noted here before, sometimes video makes a bad production into a better one, and deemphasizing some of the bad bits in these productions may make them look a lot better on the small screen without having to take in so much of nothing. You know McDonald did have some pretty choice outfits too.

Which reminds me. Someone recently asked me to comment further on the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts last season noting that while I had addressed trade-offs in the visual aspect of the project, I hadn’t said much about sound quality. In some ways this is a little more difficult to reflect on in that I imagine there is much more variety in audio quality across various theater venues than in video quality. All of the screenings I’ve attended were at the AMC 16 in beautiful downtown Burbank and I've though the overall quality of sound was quite good. Not as good as live, but good. Since the Met transmissions are all in HD and the HD equipment is not standard on all screens in most theaters, I wager that most of the screens where extra dollars have been sunk into the HD equipment probably have higher end sound capabilities as well.

Personally, though, I don’t think this should be such a big issue. If there are any audio concerns about broadcasts they have less to do with transmission and more to do with the social norms of audience behavior. What is really different about the theaters is that people treat the performance like a movie in that a significant number of people suddenly feel that they can make noise and engage in otherwise rude and distracting behavior since “no one can hear them” in New York. Of course, as is the American Way, everyone must be eating at all times so there are wrappers and popcorn and the like to contend with outside of the usual cacophony of talking and side comments. Of course, a live performance isn’t always free of this stupid behavior either, but at least there is some social pressure in that setting to keep a respectful quiet. If one wants to guarantee high quality sound, the first task is to get the audience to shut up and listen.

Comments:

I couldn't agree more, which is why I've stayed away. A friend of mine in the hinterlands of the midwest told me that before each screening at her local theater, management goes over all of the dos and donts - basically, sit still and shut up and no popcorn allowed!! Wouldn't that be nice?
Just returned from the live Mets broadcast of Romeo & Juliet. Fantastic!!!

Is anybody familiar with the technical details of broadcasting? Why was the sound "flat" (only in stereo) not in the surround mode? I believe that HD allows to broadcast sound via six channels - in surround mode.
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