Sunday, April 27, 2008

Madama Butterfly at the Castro Theatre

The San Francisco Opera has been experimenting with showing recorded opera performances in movie theatres, and the fourth in the series was last winter's "Madama Butterfly" starring Patricia Racette, Brandon Jovanovich and Zheng Cao. I checked it out with my friend Louisa on Monday afternoon because I was a supernumerary in the production and wanted to see if they had managed to capture the extraordinary power of those performances (click here for my take on it at the time). Plus, it was probably my one and only chance to see myself on the big screen at the Castro Theatre.

Unfortunately, all the experience reminded me was that I'd rather watch opera live in the opera house or listen on a radio broadcast rather than watch a performance on television or movie screen. It's rather like professional baseball in that respect. Also, there was a problem with the SurroundSound at the Castro Theatre according to an opera employee, and the crappy tinniness of the very loud sound was frankly inexcusable. This is a musical medium and the sound shouldn't be shrill, particularly when the performers themselves were in such fine form. Racette's performance was still thrilling, but unlike Cao and Jovanovich who in terms of their looks could have been provided by Central Casting, the aggressive closeups of Racette were really jarring. She's a beautiful woman in real life but the wig, costume and makeup departments' attempt to transform her into a 15-year-old Japanese girl was woefully inadequate in closeup, and at times she looked disconcertingly like a middle-aged matron on her way to an afternoon game of mah-jongg.

In the 1970s, there were live radio broadcasts of the San Francisco Opera every Friday evening on the defunct KKHI-AM station that went out to the Bay Area. It felt like listening to the home baseball team and encouraged a wider local audience to feel as if the opera company was their own. So instead of worrying about being the latest and greatest with technology, the San Francisco Opera should consider a simple live feed every week over the radio, which would be an insanely effective marketing tool and retro all at the same time.

1 comment:

namastenancy said...

I wondered how this would work out. Most opera singers don't do well on the big screen; their talent is in the voice, not the looks. I will never forget one televised show of Aradiane aux Naxos with the Divine Norman. Unfortunately, the camera was busy photographing her tonsils and the sweat on her face - not the best way to experience opera.