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It's Met opera without Met price

Simulcast loses the grandiose trappings but gains popcorn
by: Joan McGUIRE,

Portland has been chosen.

Along with the residents of about 100 other cities in the country, you now can go see opera broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City at a movie theater near you - namely, the Regal Lloyd Center multiplex.

This means that at the exact same time that people in the Big Fruit are enjoying equivalent seating at the Met for $300 or $400 a pop, you can be seeing and hearing the same thing they're seeing and hearing, right here in Portland, for $18.

In fact, you can be even more 'there' than they are, because you get to follow the camera backstage and into the dressing rooms as they mine the stars for commentary.

See the singers pull off their wigs and fall out of character, acting like normal people and speaking in normal voices. Pan the audience as they get up to mill about and go to the restroom (OK, the camera doesn't follow them that far).

We get to see what the audience is wearing; fortunately, they can't see what we're wearing - namely, our old raggedy rain parkas and soggy gym shoes. Very few people besides my mother are going to be found dressed up at 10:30 a.m. in Portland.

Before the curtain rises, you're treated to a stroll among the musicians in the orchestra pit, with the conductor, Maurizio Benini, so near that you'll find yourself ducking to dodge his baton.

In simulcast opera, the camera takes you right there - not so close that you can see the singers' uvulas, but close enough that you feel like you're playing opposite the stars. At the real opera, only front-row seating would let you experience the singers with such intimacy - but then, the angle would be too low, and your neck would hurt for days.

I used to go to the opera with my mother - the same mother who blared opera through the house, who would not turn down the music during my entire childhood, who routinely towed the whole family to operas at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy - and was I grateful? Umm … sort of.

Did getting dressed to the nines and sitting in a golden box on red velvet seats make me like opera? Well … no. It made me like opera houses, though.

But after this new experience, I see a glimmer of hope.

Apparently I'm not the only doubtful bather dipping my toe in. Others are coming along, too. The first time Regal Cinemas aired an opera simulcast, in mid-January, showing Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin,' they had to open up an additional auditorium.

For Rossini's 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia,' not only did they open up two theaters, but both were sold out several days before showtime.

It's hard to know whether the increasing interest was because word got around, or because you really can't go wrong with 'The Barber of Seville.' It's a comedy, no one dies and it's bel canto - the kind of melodic opera singing that anyone can like. (An encore plays at 7 p.m. May 15.)

The other popular difference between this and the real opera house experience is that supertitles are displayed across the top of the screen. Who can ever understand what opera singers are bellowing on about, no matter what language they're using?

Here you can follow the story even if you didn't read the libretto ahead of time, like you swore you would.

I for one would love it if the opera were shown at Portland's more historic movie theaters, which have the classy ambience to match the occasion. The only other change I would make is to delete the popcorn. Call me a snob, but to me neither the sound nor the smell of popcorn goes with opera.

My mother and I had to listen to the man next to us munch and crunch his way through a very crinkly yard-debris-size paper bag of it throughout the most heartfelt arias.

Nevertheless, the dreaded three-and-a-half-hour show time zipped by faster than a racy novel. If some aching or fidgety part of my body was vying for my attention, I didn't notice.

It helped a lot that, unlike in my early memories of opera, today's singers actually act rather than just stand there stiffly, letting the costumes do all the work.

Even a lukewarm opera fan such as myself could achieve goosebump liftoff from the singing belted forth by Peter Mattei (Figaro), Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almaviva), Joyce DiDonato (Rosina) and John Del Carlo (Dr. Bartolo).

I feel like I've not only seen and heard 'The Barber of Seville' - I've been in it. Which is remarkable for someone who can sing only one note. Now that I've actually performed with these people, I'm even memorizing their names.

I enjoyed it so much I'm signing up for more. Mummy and I are going to see Puccini's 'Il Trittico' ('The Triptych') on Saturday.


'Il Trittico'

When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 28

Where: Regal Lloyd Center, 1510 N.E. Multnomah St.

Cost: $18

More: 1-800-326-3264, ext. 325, advance tickets at www.fandango.com (click on 'Concerts and Special Events')