The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD simulcasts to movie theaters all over the world have been one of the biggest stories in the opera world in recent years and an undoubted hit with opera fans. Whether the program’s audience-building potential is commensurate with its box office hauls, however, is still a matter of debate. San Francisco Opera has also invested in technology to connect with new audiences by making performances available in what they call Opera Vision. These live, HD projections of the action on-stage to screens upstairs in the cheap seats allows for a kind of visual multi-tasking inside the War Memorial Opera House. Following the Met’s lead in broadcasting their performance to outside locations, the company hit on a brilliant application for Opera Vision in 2007 when they started relaying performances to the enormous scoreboard in AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and opening the decks and field to the community to come watch for free.

Jessica McMillan
Jessica McMillan

Having assembled a small group of friends for the event, we dressed warmly, packed blankets, and joined the throng filing into AT&T Park on Saturday night. Though the concession stands were all open and doing big business, we chose to bring food to keep the evening’s expenditures down. Others clearly had the same idea, bringing elaborate picnic spreads that showed much more preparation and forethought than our brown bags and take-out. There were park-specific warm-up acts that the folks back at the opera house were not privy to: a barbershop quartet sang the National Anthem from the pitcher’s mound, a rendition of “Take me out to the Opera House” (based on “Take me out to the Ball Game”) was given by a female impersonator from Beach Blanket Babylon, some Looney Tune cartoons, including “What’s Opera, Doc?” were shown, and some pre-concert commentary was provided by two hosts from Classical KDFC radio who were joined in the booth at one point by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.

Once the performance began, it became clear that this cast was, indeed, the right one for simulcasting. The various close-up shots, more often than not, showed the players to be deeply engrossed in the drama. Zeljko Lucic’s portrayal employed broad physical gestures, but also showed detailed expressiveness in close-up. It was a strong performance dramatically with a fantastic baritone voice to boot. After an uneven start, Aleksandra Kurzak‘s Gilda found her way and gave an impassioned performance. Sardinian tenor Francesco Demuro sang with some tension, but was a credible Duke and his seduction of Gilda played well on the big screen.

The video director’s choice of shots gave a profoundly different visual impression of the production. The murkiness of the lighting and framing of the set for the screen made the entire show look even more sinister than when viewed from the orchestra stalls in the opera house. In close-up, the unadorned red room of Rigoletto’s house did not just look sterile, but rather conjured images of a Vincent Minelli-directed MGM fantasy musical. The close-up shots of Kurzak singing “Caro nome” recalled Leslie Caron’s Gigi amidst a sea of Minelli Red. The decision to show scrolling synopses before each act backfired when Gilda’s fate and the fulfillment of the curse were spelled out before the last act, prompting an audible, stadium-wide groan. While I find it hard to believe that this spoiler ruined the ending for many in attendance, the text was surely unnecessary.

The cast took their bows with foam fingers and wearing Giants jerseys, to show that they had not forgotten about all of us who were two and half miles away in the cold stadium. It was a beautiful gesture that demonstrated why this event has become such a cherished community event. If opera is to survive another 100 years, this seems as viable a way as any to build a new audience. Cold, huddled under blankets with family and friends as the fog rolled in toward the end of the night, the opera on the screen kept us all together and entertained. Perhaps it also kindled an unexpected interest in some of the newcomers.

***11