Re: Opera Broadcasts

Today, The Independent has published this article on Opera broadcasts in cinemas, and whether it replaces the real deal (spoiler: it doesn’t). Alexandra Coughlan makes several good points, including several advantages of a cinema broadcast (i.e. can dress as you like, no stage-view problems of bad/far away seats in the opera house, and the ability to walk out mid-performance without offending performers). The article is well worth your time, and raises some issues that I also wrote about earlier this year when I saw Frankenstein in the cinema.

I support cinema broadcasts. Mainly because it gives people access to see things they couldn’t have. I couldn’t have seen Frankenstein because it would have required a UK visa, London accommodation, tickets purchased in advance, a train or plane ticket etc… However, I also find that the cinema should not replace opera or theater. In a way, it can’t. Coughlan’s article also touches upon this issue:

In an age in which we digest more and more of our culture digitally, it’s vital that we preserve public rituals of performance. Because they are rituals, these trips to Covent Garden or the Coliseum, where you feel the breath of a climactic chorus on your face, where the fragile stillness of an aria can hush an audience of 2,000. Whatever we experience in this shared, public space is amplified a thousand-fold by the reactions of those around us, whether on stage or off. There’s an energy, a risk, to this nightly act of creation that is impossible to simulate. We already have opera singers translated into 3D cinematic doubles, but until these shadowy doppelgangers can reach out and touch us physically, they can’t truly hope to emotionally either.

I couldn’t agree more. There is this joy of watching a piece being performed live. The fact that it all happens right in front of you, shared with you at that moment, with that risk and the nightly creation. That should not be replaced by technology. It can be enhanced by it, by cinema broadcasts, so more people can enjoy it, and maybe younger audiences can be engaged in it. But not replace it and take away that magic.

In defense of live broadcasting of theater (or opera while we are at it)

Internet is a beautiful thing. After having read about Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein production for the National Theatre and drooling, I had compartmentalized it somewhere in the “wish I could have seen it but hey” corner of my brain. And then one day, I went on Facebook, saw my friend Ingram asking on Facebook to his friends in Canberra, whether they would like to join him to see Frankenstein. *dun dun dun*

Naturally, I left a super excited comment resembling “oh myyy, you are so lucky you can see it, I’m jealous!”. The response was much better than anyone could have imagined. Ingram informed me that he wasn’t going to see it live per se, but see the National Theatre Live version in the cinema, which was being broadcast all over the world, and I should please check the NTL website to see where to see it in the Netherlands.

Being the super-excited person that I can be, I did just that, figured out I could see it in Pathe Tuschinski (turns out to be one of the awesomest movie theaters ever) a month later and there were still tickets. So that was that, I had tickets to see Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller.

Frankenstein by National Theatre Live

But let’s back up a minute so I can tell you why it is so interesting to watch Frankenstein. Because it is not just the talent of Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, or the fact that it is directed by Danny Boyle. This adaptation written by Nick Dear focuses on the Creature created by Dr Frankenstein, trying to see it from its point of view. And to top that, Boyle had decided that it would be far more interesting to have Cumberbatch and Miller alternate roles every night, so one night Cumberbatch is Dr Frankenstein, the other night he plays the Creature. So, slowly the two roles feed off of each other, as do the two actors, creating something much more special than casting each actor to one role.

Johnny Lee Miller As Frankenstein, production photo by Catherine Ashmore

So, yesterday on the way to Tuschinski Theater, I was filled with questions. Who would play the Creature? Who would I want to see performing the Creature? Will it feel like actually going to the theater? Or will it be like watching a movie? Will I have the thrill of being in the same room as the actors, breathing the same air?

Well, I have to be honest, it is not the same thing. It is still a movie theater, you can get popcorn and drinks with you inside the hall. (And I suppose for some people it is a plus that you do not dress up as if you go to the theater.) It is also not live live, which would be slightly risky due to possible technical problems, so you get to watch recorded live performances.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Frankenstein, production photo by Catherine Ashmore

What live broadcasting lacks in the true spirit of going to the theater, it makes up with the fact that you CAN actually see and experience the play as if you were there, despite being miles and visas away. For me, living close enough to the UK for weekend trips by plane or train, it is a pain that I have to apply for British visa and pay hundreds of pounds, because having a European residence permit means absolutely zero to the UK. So as close as I may be, I can’t quite take the trip to the National Theatre to see Frankenstein (or Cherry Orchard and all the other fantastic looking productions they have. Plus all the other theaters in London) . So as the next best thing, I totally support live broadcasts.

I was also very happy to discover that Tuschinski theater actually has agreements with the Met opera, so that is next on my list. To see a Met production. Oh yes.