The introduction was almost the best bit of tonight's Met simulcast of Salome. Karita Mattila wouldn't open her dressing room door for a pre-show probing at the hostessly hands of Deborah Voight. (Did the producers seriously think they'd get a cosy chat?) When Mattila finally burst out, half Marilyn, half Arnie in her white satin gown, her only words as she strode off to battle were "let's kick ass".
This was only the second live opera screening I've been to (the first was last year's Met La Fille du Régiment). While (as prior reports suggested) the whole thing was gloriously sung, with Mattila especially at her radiant peak, the relentless loudness of the recording and the overweighting of the voices became wearing.
And the direction - so amateurish. We never got to see the full picture, to have any sense of what it felt like to watch Salome live in the house. Shot like a football game, a mash of unprepared close ups of the guy with the ball, it fractured the narrative and eliminated an essential element of live opera, the ability to watch both action and reaction at the same time.
It was merciless towards Mattila. In the flesh, her matchless acting skills make her a credible teenage temptress from even the front row, as was clear from the scant long shots. But blown up to fill a forty foot screen the illusion inevitably explodes.
In retrospect, it was a smart decision to pan away from the climax of Mattila's 'seven veils' dance. We saw her naked back; we saw Herod's ecstatic face; it was enough information.
But can't the Met trust us with a few more long shots? The fundamental sing-your-life premise of musical drama requires such a staggering suspension of disbelief from the audience that we don't need it to look exactly like the telly, thanks.
At the moment, big screen opera is pulling in the audiences. It's still a novelty, and people, me included, are satisfied simply to be able to see it up there. But as audiences become more sophisticated, higher quality will become expected. The Met's recorded product currently displays only a feeble shadow of the skill and professionalism applied to the live productions. Or indeed, applied to the average opera DVD. To spend months working on the musical and staging aspects, then simply stick cameras up the singers' noses is such a waste.
****UPDATE**** Viewers at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill apparently got a bonus language lesson thrown in. The subtitles were in German. Oops. (Thanks to reader Joan for the info)