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Is It Live or Is It a Movie?

I was in movie theaters for two "live" performances this past week: the Met's Akhnaten on Wednesday evening, and The Winter's Tale presented by Kenneth Branagh's Theatre Company. Neither was actually live, even via broadcast: Akhnaten was a rebroadcast from a few weeks ago, and Winter's Tale was from 2015.


So we in the audience were doubly removed from "live," both by time and by electronics. Still, there was an unmistakable feeling of event that was different from a movie. You knew that the performance was unreeling in actual time (which was made clear during Akhnaten as the Met Orchestra's concentration slipped slightly here and there - inevitable with Philip Glass's demands - and as jugglers dropped balls). You could also tell that the camera work was layered on top of the performance (in a movie, the camera work is an essential part of the art). Lighting was also telling, especially in the Shakespeare: the Met, now an old hand at this, augments the lighting for the telecasts, but Branagh's telecast did not, resulting in an unfortunate dimness throughout. I must add that the performance was amazing and deeply moving nevertheless.


Regional opera companies have definitely suffered since the Met's broadcasts began. They are competing with the highest tier of quality (the Akhnaten was absolutely awesome) and a cheap ticket - mine was $25, and I pay close to or over $100 for tickets to Opera Philadelphia. Are we doomed, as many commentators have suggested, to a world where performing arts are centered in a few major cities, and consumed by the rest of the world via electronic transmission? This is becoming one of the great questions in the arts. I'll be exploring this further in future blogs.

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