Vocalist - Baritone
Acclaim
La Scala, the Met deliver superb music to movie houses in very different ways
Opera once was the popular culture of the day, and who's to say it isn't taking steps to grab back some of its former stature? The Metropolitan Opera's inaugural presentation last year of live, high-definition broadcasts from its New York home to movie theaters throughout North America and Europe began a trend that is elating longtime opera lovers and initiates alike.

This week, a series of taped performances from Milan's Teatro alla Scala -- or La Scala -- and other notable Italian opera houses begins locally at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights. Such admired opera companies as San Francisco Opera and London's Covent Garden are on the verge of reaching out on the big screen.

Each organization likely will take a different approach with the technology available. The Met's most recent broadcast, Verdi's "Macbeth" last weekend, and La Scala's first, Verdi's "Aida" starting Wednesday at the Cedar Lee, demonstrate polar opposites in concept.

At a Met high-definition broadcast, you're thrust into the experience, as if you're present in the audience, onstage, backstage and in the orchestra pit.

As "Macbeth" unfolded, moviegoers -- who paid $22, instead of up to several hundred dollars, per ticket -- could take in facial expressions and details that many in the Met audience no doubt were too far away to observe. Could anyone in the opera house see the tear that trickled from the left eye of tenor Dimitri Pittas (as Macduff) in the refugee scene?

The camera work kept international operagoers deeply inside the drama, while revealing the enormous human effort that goes into the making of opera. Between scenes, we watched stagehands changing sets, the director giving cues and Met music director James Levine tidying his cummerbund in the pit.

The intermission interview with the afternoon's superb Macbeth (Zeljko Lucic) and Lady Macbeth (Maria Guleghina) introduced down-to-earth pros quite unlike the evil characters they were playing that day.

By contrast, La Scala's "Aida," seen last week at a screening, looks like a performance canned for posterity. The approach, like Franco Zeffirelli's ornately over-the-top, inert production, is old-fashioned to the core. The singers essentially stand there and sing, a world apart from the striking theatricality Adrian Noble achieves in his astutely modern "Macbeth" at the Met.

The La Scala production contains no interviews or backstage visits. It resembles many filmed operas of the past, with rigid stage pictures and limited angles. The presentation's arty use of undulating fabrics to dissolve between camera shots quickly becomes mannered.

What the Met and La Scala offerings share is first-rate music-making. "Macbeth" had an urgent guide in Levine; Riccardo Chailly conducts "Aida" with fervent allure.

Both orchestras are brilliant, and there is more than enough stellar singing in each performance -- Violeta Urmana (Aida), Roberto Alagna (Radames), Ildiko Komlosi (Amneris) from Italy; Lucic, Guleghina, Pittas, John Relyea (Banquo) and the Met Chorus from New York -- to justify the privilege of munching on popcorn while Verdi provides premium operatic butter.
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer
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