The showing of operas in theaters in HD is a recent, successful phenomenon. For two years in a row, the Metropolitan Opera has held a festival of free filmed opera in HD, outdoors in the plaza in Lincoln Center. About 3,000 chairs were set up, with a screen covering a small rectangle on the grand façade of the massive Metropolitan Opera House
My friend Dorcas and I decided that this would be a great way to spend a couple of evenings, so we attended the screening of Puccini’s La Bohème on Thursday night, September 2 and Verdi’s Aïda on Sunday, September 5. Both of us had misread the program, and we were under the impression that we were to see Bizet’s Carmen on Sunday night. The fact that we ended up seeing Aïda instead did not disappoint us, because Aïda is a masterpiece and the Met is certainly the place to go to see it, even on film.
For the showing of La Bohème the previous Thursday evening, we had arrived in Lincoln Center around 6:00 PM, two hours before the film was scheduled to start. There turned out to be no need to get there so early, however, because most of the crowd did not begin to arrive until about 7:00. On Sunday evening, we timed our arrival so that we would get there between 6:30 and 6:45. This worked out very well. We were able to get two very good seats. Both of us had brought food, so we were able to have our dinner al fresco before the screening began.
I had already seen the production of Aïda that we would be seeing on film, onstage, inside the Met, with some of the same cast members. It is an impressive production, on a very grand scale, which is always expected with this opera. Aïda is the grandest of grand operas. At the same time, it is a very intimate, tragic story of human beings with real emotions and real crises of conscience. It also contains some of Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest music. For these reasons, it has been one of the most popular operas in history.
One of the people sitting in our row was an elderly woman with a broken leg. She had hobbled into Lincoln Center to come to this showing. She couldn’t bend her leg, so we had to be careful when stepping over her to get up and down (before the show started), but she was very good-humored about it, even joking with us. The crowd grew very large; some people were sitting on the ground in the “aisle” space, and security guards had to ask them to get up. I was reminded of when I was a few decades younger and used to buy standing room for regular performances at the Met. We would often sit on the stairs after the lights went out, and the ushers would always find us and make us get up again. It was a ritual.
The cast of the film that we saw in HD included Violeta Urmana as Aïda, Dolora Zajick as her nemesis and rival Amneris, and Johan Botha as Radames, the soldier with whom they are both in love. I believe that Dolora Zajick will go down in operatic history as one of the great mezzo-sopranos of all time. To say that she is impressive is an understatement. She doesn’t come off on film as well as she does onstage, because she doesn’t have a very expressive face. In addition to that, her costume made her look like a whale wearing jewelry. The power of her expressive singing was not diminished, though. She is a truly great Amneris. I also enjoyed Johan Botha’s well-sung Radames. I was not as impressed with Violeta Urmana. Her performance felt superficial to me, although she made some beautiful sounds.
The Metropolitan Opera chorus was as phenomenal as usual, as was the orchestra. The chorus plays a huge part in Aïda. Without a great chorus, it just isn’t possible to do this opera justice. The Met chorus never disappoints.
It was a clear, beautiful, cool evening, and this was a perfect way to spend it.