Blissed out at ‘La Fille du Regiment’

Doomsayers have been predicting the end of live performance due to the new century’s explosion in media, but don’t tell that to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the The Metropolitan Opera, whose regime change has included HD simulcasts of live performances all over the country as well as the addition of hundreds of free recordings and videos to the arts institution’s Website.
Gelb’s decision to make opera more available (and less elitist) has increased ticket sales to the live performances in Manhattan at the same time that it has generated new audiences in movie theaters and at college campuses all over the country (Fairfield University hosted some of the HD transmissions this season).
It was thanks to Gelb’s decision to send opera out into movie theaters that I found myself in the audience last weekend at the season closing performance of “La Fille du Regiment,” where stars Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez (above) gave two of the most thrilling (and thrillingly LIVE) performances I’ve ever seen.
So, how did HD deliver me to the Met?
Well, thanks to the new policy, a great friend of mine from Philadelphia started going to the HD transmissions near her, was turned on to the power of opera, and this season decided to drive to Manhattan for as many performances as she could fit into her busy schedule.
When my friend’s daughter was unable to join her mom at the Met, I got to see several performances, including the powerhouse finale with Dessay and Florez.
It is hard for me to describe the electricity in the house generated by these young and vibrant singer-actors (not to mention the literally show-stopping pandemonium that erupted in the audience after Florez hit nine high Cs in a row during the notoriously difficult Act One aria “Pour mon ame”).
I had a few great times at the opera in the 1980s and 1990s, but the need to study up for a performance in a foreign language made it seem a bit like schoolwork, so I drifted away — it always seemed easier to go to a homegrown play or musical.
But the addition of Met Titles — subtitles that run continuously on the back of the seat you sit behind — make every moment easy to follow.
And the newer stars of the Met — Dessay and Florez and Renee Fleming whose heartbreaking Desdemona in “Otello” was another of my wonderful nights with my Philly benefactor — are as exciting to listen to as they are sensational to look at. Obviously, the time has come to retire that cliché about the “fat lady” and her singing.
Do yourself a big favor and go to an HD transmission at Fairfield University when the new season begins in the fall or better yet plan an outing to Manhattan. Dessay and Florez are set to do “La Sonnambula” next spring and another starry couple, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, are teaming up for “La Rondine,” in December.
On June 20, Gheorghiu and Alagna are also re-energizing the Met’s tradition of free New York City parks concerts with a performance in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park at 8 p.m.
Check out the great website at www.metopera.org for all the planning info you will need, along with lots of free entertainment, thanks to the visionary leadership of Peter Gelb.