Dr. M and I went to the San Francisco Opera's production of Don Giovanni this weekend. I enjoyed it a great deal, though it was my first opera so I can't really speak to whether it was a good production as productions go. Dr. M commented that the costumes and sets were very stark, consisting of a lot of blacks and grays, which appeared to be a departure from previous performances (based on photos in the program) which were more colorful and ornate. I think the starkness worked in terms of the overall theme of the opera.
Dr. M also thought that the descent of Don Giovanni's character from lovable scoundrel to damn-ed sinner was abrupt and unconvincing. I didn't have the same experience, because I've always hated lovable scoundrels. (In particular, I really hate heist movies. Stealing is wrong. It doesn't matter that the group of thieves is made up of quirky wise-crackers, or that the victim is an asshole. If it's not your gold you shouldn't steal it.) So to me, shockingly, Don Giovanni was evil from the very first scene, where he tries to rape Donna Anna, and continues to be evil as he tries to break up a perfectly good marriage just to see if he can, and incessantly screws around with the driven-mad-by-heartache Donna Elvira, and sets up his servant to be killed by an angry mob, and so forth.
But the big story of the evening was the SF Opera's introduction of "Opera Vision," a new development in opera viewing. The folks at the SF Opera were very excited about this. They sent us a letter about it after we bought our tickets, and at the performance they were handing out surveys asking viewers what they thought.
Opera Vision is, simply put, the opera version of the jumbotron. Up in the cheap seats they had installed two high-definition screens, on which the action on stage was simulcast. When we first sat down I noticed that the image of the stage on the screen was actually smaller than the stage was when I looked directly at it, which was amusing. But as the show got going it turned out that there were like four cameras set up and they switched constantly between different shots, focusing on various details according to the whims of the director. Judging by our own conversation and some overheard comments from other viewers during intermission, the general consensus seems to be that Opera Vision is a somewhat sensible idea, and is good for close-ups, but is ultimately a distracting and unnecessary addition to the opera experience. It sort of defeats the purpose of getting all fancied up, jackassing all the way to San Francisco, dodging the many urine puddles on the sidewalks of the Tenderloin/Civic Center area, and sitting in a seat that's just large enough for your bottom if you're simply going to watch a movie on a small screen once you get there.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH CONTAINS AN OPERA SPOILER.
But the real point of Opera Vision, and likely the reason they chose this particular production to roll it out for the first time, came at the very end of the show. After the Commendatore (done up as -- I kid you not -- a zombie rather than a ghost) tells Don Giovanni that he 'bout to die, the rear wall of the set is raised to reveal a fiery backdrop, and a giant Angel of Death slowly rises from behind the stage. The Angel of Death was completely invisible to the balcony without benefit of Opera Vision. We couldn't see one black feather. So for this dramatic portion of the show, Opera Vision was a necessity, though the solution to this is probably designing your opera such that the significant visuals are accessible to the entire audience without having to resort to a video telecast.
On an unrelated note, on the way to the Opera House we passed by City Hall, where a prom had just gotten underway. Once we realized it was a prom (judging by the gaggle of well-dressed teenagers on the steps and the line of Hummer limousines down Polk Street), Dr. M and I had the following exchange:
Dr. M: They rent out City Hall for proms?!
Me: It probably doesn't take much convincing for Gavin Newsom to allow City Hall to be filled up with all that eighteen-year-old ass.
Dr. M: Good point.
Rock me, Amadeus.