On Saturday we went to see Parsifal at the movie theater. The Met has been streaming a dozen operas live this season (for the sixth year,) so that they can be seen all over the world. The tickets are $22 each, really well worth it to see great performers and great music. But you do have to be in a theater with good sound.
Of course, PBS has been airing a number of them each year, and you can see the general schedule here, if you scroll down a bit. Rigoletto, the one we saw two weeks ago, will air in May, and I'd recommend it for something unusual to enjoy.
Parsifal is not one for the masses, and I don't mean that in any sort of snobbish sense. It's nearly 5 hours long in addition to the intermissions between acts, so that we were at the movie theater for 6 hours total. It's deep and at times very dark, okay, most times, and filled with symbolism and pain.
So you have to love the music and the hugeness of the thing in order to really enjoy the experience. Wagner created enormous sounds that are quite overpowering at times, and they envelope your insides.
Instead of just driving down to Newport, the man faithfully followed his GPS instructions, which took us some odd way around and we missed the opening by the host and in fact entered the theater just after the overture began. As there were only about 50 people in the theater, it wasn't difficult to just slip into some good seats without making commotion. The visual presentation of the overture was so gripping, I began thinking about how great it would be to see quite a lot of symphonic work represented visually.
It's kind of how I like a lot of prog rock until someone starts "singing." I love the voices in this piece but if I could watch a whole symphony unfold on stage as the music played, I'd happily pay for the privilege. The works of Mahler in particular would lend themselves just beautifully to the idea.
I like to paint jazz. I'd love to see someone act and move to orchestral music; not with dance, but with pantomime and imagery.
At the first intermission, we got a snack from the concession stand and some beer from the bar. I had a local vanilla porter which was fine with a hot dog, but then kind of thin, finished on its own. And we moved to lesser seats because someone behind us had a knee-jiggling problem, I think, which made our seats vibrate all through the two hours of the first act.
The second act was intimate and absorbing. The third began too slowly for us but we enjoyed the culmination of the story very much. I felt sort of wrung out by the experience, yet very glad to have had it.
One nice feature of these streaming events is that the host or hostess is an opera star, who introduces the acts, and conducts interviews with singers, the director, people who make it happen, etc., at the end of the first and second act and before the official 20 minute intermission. Also, because we are witnessing the production onscreen, we see varying (but conservative!) camera angles and closeups. Finally, the English words to the songs appear onscreen for those of us less than talented at interpreting German, Italian, and French as it is being sung.
That is the "appeal to the masses" which some might find takes away from the purity of the event. But they have the wrong end of the stick. These productions were never meant by their composers to be elitist, and the more people they can reach, the better. It's just that you need a rather steely attention span to appreciate this particular offering. Read about it here.