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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, May 26, 2010 10 years ago

Music Review: The Met in HD 'Armida'


The Metropolitan Opera just concluded its season of high-definition, live performances transmitted to movie theaters all over the world, and the two film complexes in Sarasota, AMC 12 and Hollywood 20, have been so well sold, they’ve had to add extra theaters and extra viewing dates. People were crammed in from the top rows down to the edge of the screen. There were even reports of shouting matches between staff and ticket buyers, because prospective audience members couldn’t get in.

So much for the “Opera is dying out” myth.

Why are these performances so popular? To quote a famous tiger I know, “They’re grrrrreat!” You are there! On stage, back stage, over and even under the stage; inside mouths, quivering on undulating uvulas and trembling tonsils, viewing dance patterns from the balcony, zooming into the orchestra pit, reading music over the horn players’ shoulders, balancing on the tip of the conductor’s baton.

Rossini’s “Armida,” a rarely performed gem-of-an-opera was so spectacular, the more than four hours zoomed by (and we didn’t even have popcorn!) as we thrilled to the ornaments and trills of five tenors of the high Cs, including the brilliant singing and acting of Lawrence Brownlee and the flawless fioratura flirting of the phenomenal Renee Fleming as the lovelorn-conflicted sorceress, Armida.

Mary Zimmerman’s staging of this spectacle was spectacular, cleverly weaving the characters of Love and Revenge in a purely 21st century piece of psychodrama, while remaining absolutely true to the myth and mysterious illusory opera seria Rossini composed. And choreographer Graciela Daniele took our breath away with her setting of Rossini’s only in-opera ballet.

The only drawback to seeing these great works of living, breathing, musical art on the big screen is the lack of information provided. For example, Jose Manuel Zapata, one of the six steely tenors slated to sing, evidently was ill, and Barry Banks, a superb singer and actor who should be better known, heroically and magnificently took on two roles, giving us a pair of tour-de-force performances Pavarotti would have found hard to match.

The Met has announced plans for 11 operas in HD, including two from Wagner’s “Ring,” next season. Start lining up for tickets in August. We are living in a golden age of vocalism and technology. Don’t miss out.

— June LeBell


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