New York Times, July 19, 2020
|By Anthony Tommasini
Met in HD online: Polling, Opern-Recital, 18. Juli 2020
The Met Opera Tries to Find Paying Customers in a Pandemic
On Saturday, Jonas Kaufmann was first in a series of 12 livestreamed
recitals featuring Met stars. Tickets are $20.
coronavirus pandemic forced concert halls and opera houses to close this
spring, online performances proliferated. The Metropolitan Opera began
streaming nightly operas from its extensive video archive, and in April it
presented an At-Home Gala, broadcast over smartphones from the homes of
singers around the world.
The classical music and opera offerings
this spring and summer have mostly been free — and tremendously gratifying.
But as cancellations continue into the fall, and beyond, organizations have
worried that listeners will start taking free performances for granted.
So the Met is testing whether audiences will pay for digital content
with a series of recitals by some of its biggest stars; the first, on
Saturday, featured the tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Tickets are $20, roughly the
price of the Met’s Live in HD movie-theater transmissions.
endeavor might bring in some much-needed revenue for a company that is
losing up to $100 million in sales during its theater’s closure, which will
last at least until the end of the year. But perhaps even more important,
the recitals are intended to stimulate donations. “Fund-raising ebbs and
flows according to activities and events,” Peter Gelb, the company’s general
manager, said in a recent interview with The New York Times.
Met’s At-Home Gala used charmingly makeshift technology. Mr. Kaufmann’s
concert, by comparison, offered professional camera work, including many —
maybe too many —dramatic close-ups, and high-quality sound. (At least, after
a glitch when the audio briefly dropped out just as Mr. Kaufmann began
singing the aria “Recondita armonia” from Puccini’s “Tosca.”)
program, with the pianist Helmut Deutsch, consisted of 11 arias and one
Italian song performed (without a live audience) in the ornate 18th-century
library of Polling Abbey near Munich, where Mr. Kaufmann lives. With a
couple of exceptions, this was a greatest-hits collection of numbers from
“Tosca,” “Turandot,” “Roméo et Juliette,” “La Gioconda” and more. Still, Mr.
Kaufmann has been perhaps the Met’s most elusive star, and it was exciting
to hear him again, even over a livestream.
The concert had a feeling
of unusual intimacy, like a song recital; Mr. Kaufmann and Mr. Deutsch, an
elegant pianist, have been frequent partners in recordings and performances
of lieder. The familiar arias felt like they had been considered anew, and
Mr. Kaufmann’s singing was splendid — his voice vibrant with dusky colors
and warmth, his phrasing impassioned.
When called for, he drew on
smoldering power, as in his heroic account of an aria from Giordano’s
“Andrea Chénier.” Yet I’ve seldom heard the “Flower Song” from Bizet’s
“Carmen” sung with such tenderness and vulnerability. Mr. Kaufmann did the
climactic phrase with a softness rare among tenors, following the pianissimo
dynamic Bizet wrote in the score. The high B-flat was beautifully subdued.
To give Mr. Kaufmann some breaks on Saturday, excerpts from his Met Live
in HD broadcasts were shown, including scenes from Wagner’s “Die Walküre,”
Massenet’s “Werther” and Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” There was even
footage of Mr. Kaufmann performing “Vesti la giubba” from “Pagliacci” at the
Salzburg Easter Festival in 2015.
If all this, and the photo montages
of Mr. Kaufmann in action at the Met, pushed the promotional trappings a
little too obviously, no matter. Revisiting his triumphs was a reminder of
what opera fans are missing right now. The 12-concert recital series, hosted
by Christine Goerke, will also include performances from various locations
by Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Bryn Terfel, Angel Blue,
Lise Davidsen and others.
One delicate issue came up during Mr.
Gelb’s recent Times interview: While the stars participating in the series
are being paid, the Met’s orchestra and chorus, among other employees,
remain furloughed. But Mr. Gelb said the recitals, and other initiatives,
are necessary to keep the company going.
Mr. Kaufmann implicitly
acknowledged this at the end of the concert, after a valiant performance of
“Nessun dorma.” He and Mr. Deutsch, following hygiene protocols, bumped
elbows instead of shaking hands. Then Mr. Kaufmann spoke of what a “pleasure
and privilege” it was to be the first singer in the recital series. Not all
musicians have that privilege right now, he added. So he announced that he
was donating $5,000 to the Met, with the hope that its artists and audiences
will be together again soon.