I’ve written before about the tremendous importance of the big screen experience when it comes to classical music in India. It has been on my mind ever since my wife and I went to a screening of Maria Stuarda live from Covent Garden, into our neighbourhood cinema in High Wycombe England while we were living there. This was perhaps in 2007 or so.

It’s what motivates me to regularly have screenings of opera, ballet, and orchestral and chamber music concerts and recitals in Goa.

I first wrote on the subject in January 2012, and I was excited to find that the idea had been taken up by the NCPA a few months later, in October 2012.

I got my first opportunity to savour the experience of “high-quality screenings of live opera playing at the MET (Metropolitan Opera New York)… the next best thing to being there” on my last visit to Bombay in February. On offer was Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (coincidentally the same opera we had seen in England all those years ago!)

It was an impressive cast, with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and South African soprano Elza van den Heever as her cousin, rival and nemesis, Queen Elizabeth I. Tenor Matthew Polenzani sings Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, QE I’s controversial paramour; baritone Joshua Hopkins sings the part of William Cecil, QE I’s secretary of state, and the bass Matthew Rose is Mary’s confessor and friend George Talbot. The opera was produced by David McVicar and conducted by Maurizio Benini.

I got to the NCPA Godrej theatre quite early. At first it seemed like the screening would be sparsely attended, but it filled up almost to capacity about 10 minutes before the start time (2.30 pm IST). Not bad, considering there had been a matinee (10 am IST) performance earlier the same day.

The live feed began about 10 minutes before start time with a build-up, and then a countdown to the beginning so that we could quiet down and scramble to settle into our seats in time.

For some reason, in the first act, although the picture quality was excellent, the surround-sound stereo effect just didn’t kick in.

Nevertheless, it was still gripping from the very beginning. A lady behind me did begin to snore, and I had to gently tap her awake. (Thankfully she left in the interval!). And a few mobile phones went off despite the exhortations to silence them before the opera started.

The confrontation scene, the ‘face-off’ between the two queens (which incidentally never ever happened in actual history) just before the curtain fell on Act I, was the high point.

© Ken Howard

 

There was light spontaneous applause when Mary called QE I a “bastard”. Watch the scene here (filmed at dress rehearsal on 28 December 2012).

 

 

I found the footage during the interval very interesting. Here the presenter went backstage literally a minute or two after the curtain had fallen on Act I, to speak with the cast. Joyce diDonato was still catching her breath as she spoke about her role, her experience as both Maria Stuarda and as QE I (who she has sung before). 

It was amusing to see how both the female leads, while speaking so seriously about the opera and their roles, began to gush at the end of their interviews, saying hello to family and friends who must have been watching the live broadcast. Watch this clip (it’s the exact same footage we saw) to see what I mean:

The men were more restrained.

(Click here to read Joyce diDonato‘s lovely blog and what she has to say about Maria Stuarda, and what it has meant to her, playing the role).  

The sound quality improved considerably in the second act. 

© Ken Howard

 

Joyce DiDonato was excellent here. Her confession scene was especially moving: 

 

 

By the time you get to her tragic death, you can’t help but feel for this unfortunate, wronged, misunderstood, reviled woman.

 

© Ken Howard

 

In case I’ve whetted your appetite for this production, you can watch the entire first Act here:

 

So what do I think of the MET Opera Live in HD screenings? Well, I wouldn’t maybe make a special trip from Goa to Bombay just to watch them. But if I happen to be in the city, I’d certainly try very hard to go.

Luckily, I’ll be in Bombay in time for Rigoletto on 11 March! Can’t wait!   

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