, Mar 08 2013
By: William Littler
Metropolitan Opera expands audience with live telecasts
Movie theatres around the world screen high-definition productions from New York.
NEW YORK—“Who wants an ear?” quipped Jonas Kaufmann, standing in a dressing gown at a table backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House, gleefully slicing up a giant pink gummy bear.

“I killed it,” the superstar German tenor grinned to a group of giggling sopranos, waiting to go on as flower maidens in The Met’s Live in HD telecast of Wagner’s Parsifal.

As the flower maidens began consuming bits of murdered gummy bear, the Dutch soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek eased her way past the table with a thumb in the air, on her way to an intermission interview about The Met’s forthcoming March 16 HD telecast of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini: “Jonas, you’re sounding awesome, man.”

Kaufmann smiled, retreating to his dressing room to prepare his resistance to the amorous advances of the flower maidens about to confront him in Act II in Klingsor’s Magic Garden.

The garden, designed by Michael Levine, looked like none I had seen before in productions of Parsifal, with huge craggy cliffs flanking rows of — not flowers but shiny spears. It was part of a stunning new production by his fellow Canadian François Girard of Wagner’s valedictory opera, being beamed to 64 countries live that very afternoon.

Co-produced by the Opera de Lyon and Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company, it owes its existence to another production of Parsifal witnessed in Zurich several years ago by Met general manager Peter Gelb.

“It was the first time Jonas had sung the (title) role,” Gelb remarked after the performance, in his spacious office. “He wasn’t quite the star he is today and I told him I’d do a new production in five years if he would come to New York and sing it.

“I had known and admired François Girard for years, back when he was working with Rhombus Media and directing Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin and I have been a great admirer of Michael Levine as well, so I knew they would make a great production team for us.

“But I also knew that François had limited operatic experience and hadn’t yet worked at The Met, and Parsifal is a monumental project, so I looked for an opportunity for him to work on it at another house before bringing it here. That is where the Opera de Lyon came in.”

And the Canadian Opera Company? “Alexander Neef (the company’s general director) and I speak to each other all the time and it seemed like a good opportunity for all of us.”

“I’m getting on so well with Alexander but we still don’t know when we’ll do it (Parsifal) in Toronto,” François Girard volunteered during intermission backstage, rubbing a thumb and index finger together. “The dates keep changing. It’s a matter of money (the Gramma Fisher Foundation provided much of the money at The Met, with major funding coming also from Rolex).”

The money certainly showed on stage, as viewers in 1,900 movie theatres around the world last Saturday could testify, the garden scene alone flooding the stage with 1,600 gallons of artificial blood (a blood motif threaded through the entire production).


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