Live opera, stage broadcasts - warts and all - win viewers

Sun Dec 22, 2013 7:45am EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Perhaps the most famous kiss in opera, when the temptress witch Kundry seduces the know-nothing hero of Richard Wagner's "Parsifal", went off without a hitch in a close-up shot for a global live transmission from the Royal Opera House in London.

Then came the glitch.

"Where is the follow spot?" exasperated live transmission director Jonathan Haswell, monitoring the outgoing feed in a studio deep in the bowels of the opera house, grumbled to his small crew hunched over vision mixers and a "Parsifal" score.

Spotlights above the stage had failed to come on instantly to track New Zealand-born tenor Simon O'Neill and German soprano Angela Denoke disengaging from one another.

They flicked on within seconds and it is unlikely that many in the Covent Garden audience earlier this month, or in the cinemas in 28 countries where the Royal Opera screened the transmission, noticed much, if anything, amiss.

But the incident showed the intensity of the effort behind the scenes to bring live performances to audiences in cinemas where the camera reveals intimate details - and snags - invisible even from the best opera house seats.

It underscored what Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and acknowledged global guru of live opera broadcasts, has called their "reality show" allure.

"There is this cultural kind of gladiatorial aspect to opera singing and opera singers because they are out there, they are singing into (hidden) microphones for the purpose of the audiences in movie theatres but they are not being amplified, they are on their own," Gelb, 60, told Reuters in a telephone interview.   Continued...

Opera Singer Angela Denoke playing the role of Kundry (L), Rene Pape in the role of Gurnemanz (C) and conductor Antonio Pappano appear on screens in the media suite during a live broadcast of the opera "Parsifal" from the Royal Opera House in London December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett