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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  Next-best thing
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Wednesday, November 23,2011

Next-best thing

Watching opera in movie theaters is becoming popular in Boulder

By Peter Alexander

Operatic characters are larger than life. Especially when projected on a 20-foot tall movie screen.

And today, thanks to the development of digital sound and high-definition video, more and more people experience opera on the big screen.

Until recently, performances broadcast from the stage offered neither the sound nor the picture quality to attract an audience. But that changed in 2006, when the latest digital technology enabled the Metropolitan Opera in New York to transmit its “Live in HD” broadcasts direct to movie theaters.

A quantum leap beyond the Met’s longstanding radio and television broadcasts, the HD broadcasts give large audiences access to high-quality presentations of great opera. Each year, more than three times as many people see these presentations as attend the Met. The pictures are sharp and clear, and the sound — depending upon the theater — ranges from good to excellent. Today, the Met distributes its broadcasts to 1,600 theaters in 54 countries — including Boulder’s Century complex and 22 other theaters in Colorado. (A complete list of theaters can be found at bit.ly/HDopera.)

Since the success of the Met broadcasts, other opera companies are offering their productions in HD. In Boulder, the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Center for the Arts presents performances from major opera houses worldwide, including the Royal Opera in London, La Scala in Milan and the Liceu in Barcelona.

These broadcasts give local audiences access to some of the greatest singers and operatic performances the world offers. Recently I saw two terrific productions within five days: a brilliant Tosca from the Royal Opera that was as good as any opera I have ever seen, shown at the big screen.

Until recently, performances broadcast from the peratic characters are larger than life. Especially when projected on a 20-foottall movie screen. And today, thanks to the development of digital sound and high-definition video, more and more people experience opera on stage offered neither the sound nor the picture quality the Boedecker; and a Don Giovanni from the Met that was almost its equal, shown at the Century.

Both productions featured singers with glorious voices and great acting skills. (Note to doubters: Opera today is not about performers standing in one place belting out tunes. Today’s opera singers are much more mobile and know how to act.)

Tosca was particularly outstanding — the cast of Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufman and Bryn Terfel could not be bettered — but both productions were wonderful.

With their carefully planned close-ups of the actors, the broadcasts give an excellent view of the subtleties of characterization and the interactions among the singers. This is clearly one of the advantages of seeing opera in a movie theater.

Jane Uitti, a jazz and classical violinist from Boulder, noted that at one recent performance, “you could see the sparkle in the singer’s eyes, and his energy. I’m completely hooked on these broadcasts now.”

Another advantage is on-screen subtitles in English throughout the performance. Being able to follow the text line by line deeply enriches the experience and helps viewers — especially those new to opera — follow the drama.

And it’s fun to see performances from London, Milan, Barcelona and other opera houses. Charles Ralph, who manages Opera Pronto, an online calendar of opera in Colorado (www.operapronto.info), made the trip from Ft. Collins to see Tosca. A dedicated opera lover, he says it’s definitely worth the drive for an exceptional production, or “to see operas not likely to be performed in my lifetime in a place I can get to.”

On the other hand, Soprano Renée Fleming, host of the Met broadcast of Don Giovanni, pointed out one disadvantage of the broadcasts: “Nothing compares to the sound of a world-class singer in person,” she said.

Michael Kopp of Boulder, who has seen performances at the Santa Fe Opera, Opera Colorado and Central City Opera, agrees: Opera at the movies “doesn’t quite match live opera,” he says.

That’s true, but considering the advantages of seeing operas from around casts available, in exemplary  the world, with the finest casts available, in exemplary productions, opera in the movie theater clearly has its place.

And besides, the Met doesn’t let you bring popcorn into the theater.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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