Last night four of us watched the DVD of the MET Sonnambula (Bellini). New opera, new composer for two of us. I love this production (Mary Zimmerman), it breathes dramatic life into a rather unlikely, sentimental story set in a Swiss village and gives the fabulous music a chance to shine. The setting is a New York rehearsal room and by interleaving the tribulations of the modern lovers who are singing the main parts with the story, the whole thing becomes a glorious comedy. Of course, with Juan Diego Flores and Natalie Dessay the casting is perfect.
We talked afterwards about what works for new opera goers. The singing, according to the newcomers is mainly noise to start with, so you need to fall for the principal singers and be able to follow the story they tell. Sonnambula was a little complex from that point of view. Two DVDs work well are the made-for-Cinema Bohême (Puccini) directed by Dornhelm. The mangled subtitles bother me, but Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon are beautiful, passionate and have voices I could listen to as I leave the world. This is made for screen viewing too. For me though, the best of all to start off with is La Traviata (Verdi – my favourite opera composer), in the 2005 Willy Decker Salzburg Opera production. Same soloists as the Bohême in a production that is almost like Greek theatre. This seems to be a hit for new comers and old timers every time we watch.
We also talked about the difference between live and DVD/Cinema. In the first a sound experience so amazing in quality and a total view of the events on stage. In the second wonderful close-ups, emotional contact with the singers/actors… plus comfortable seats, good view and freedom to stop and start. Both great ways to watch/listen to opera, just different.
Personally I like my opera in the original language – it fits the music and the libretto much better that way – with English subtitles.