February 2019 gwern.net newsletter with 2 essays/projects, site improvements; links on genetics, AI, propaganda, and typography; and 1 opera review.
created: 20 Jan 2019; modified: 21 Aug 2019; status: finished; confidence: log; importance: 0
This is the February 2019 edition of the
gwern.net newsletter; previous, January 2019 (archives). This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with my Changelog & /r/gwern; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.
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I attended a live broadcast in my local movie theater of the NYC Metropolitan Opera’s performance of Carmen on 2 February 2019 in the Metropolitan Opera House (the titular role played by Clémentine Margaine with malignant splendor), which was part of their long-running
“Metropolitan Opera Live in HD”broadcast series, one of a number of special screenings distributed through Fathom Events.
While watching They Shall Not Grow Old in December 2018, I noticed it was done through a
“Fathom Events”rather than the usual movie distributors, and made a note to look that up afterwards. I did and realized it was actually something I had intended to look more into almost a decade ago, way back in 2008, when I noticed that the local university theater had live opera broadcasts. Opera, while more of a topic for parody these days than anything else (even among urban elites), is nevertheless one of the major Western art forms and a major influence (or at least, assumed common knowledge) on so many important Westerners like Friedrich Nietzsche, and I’d always felt the lack of seeing one. Even if I did not like them, I still ought to see at least one to know what they are like. But actually going into NYC to the Met would be an all-day trip on the train, quite expensive, and requiring advance planning. (I was not bothered by the need for subtitles, as I have always needed & preferred them.) The broadcasts were a better approach, but I still needed to figure out when exactly any of them aired, how one gets tickets for them, which ones I might want to see, and so on, and unsurprisingly, I never did wind up going & soon enough forgot entirely about the Met broadcasts. Once in a while I might think about finding a filmed version, but watching one on a TV or computer screen seems unfaithful enough to the original & sufficiently diminished/unrepresentative to hardly be worthwhile. So when I saw them on the Fathom Events website, I resolved to not let it slip this time, and fortunately for me, the first opera was Carmen, which I knew to be one of the most popular & exciting operas, and an excellent first choice, and scheduled a reminder to go.
Day of, I showed up, and behind a crowd of elderly people, bought my $22 ticket. (Expensive, but it is not your ordinary movie, and much longer as well: 3h40m nominally.) I was surprised how large the audience was: I counted at least 120 people in the auditorium. I was not the youngest person there, but I was not far off.
The broadcast began sometime before I showed up as a live feed of the audience in the Met Opera House, switching between multiple angles and parts of the audience; modern opera-going audiences appear to not dress up much, and selfies were much in evidence. The live audience was far younger than my remote audience, and I suspect most of them were tourists, benefiting from a tourist-friendly 1PM–5PM Saturday scheduling to see big city opera. It was quickly clear that this was no cut-rate broadcast with one or two fixed perspectives zoomed back to cover the whole stage being aired at low resolution and jittery streaming, but one with a full complement of cameras & crew and dynamic movie-style directing yielding a rock-solid high-res video stream. The broadcast switched over to some introductions with our host set backstage among the technical crew like the sound engineers. (Hunched in front of their giant consoles with all the knobs and widgets, they reminded me of the air traffic controllers in the NY TRACON, or sailors in control rooms.) Then the opera began in earnest.
The opera was amazing. The ceaseless assault of music, singing, choreography and sets, while not necessarily superior in every point of detail (there are musicals whose best songs or lyrics are better than Carmen’s best songs or lyrics, ballets or dances whose best dancing is better, dramas whose best writing is better, symphonies whose best music is better etc), adds up to more than their sum. The directing of the cameras was skillfully handled, and the subtitles (doubtless drawn up in advance) threaded the fine line between distractingly translating every last spoken fragment or repeated chorus & translating so little one became confused. The time flew by to the intermission, where the broadcast again went above & beyond—where the live audience sees the curtain fall and presumably must kill time by wandering off to the bathroom or idling on their phones, the broadcast audience instead goes behind the curtain again, to watch the Met Opera House’s famous technical features in action as the stages and sets rotate, pieces descend on wires to fit in place, sets get trotted in piece by piece by a small army, nervous actors assemble in their place and do little routines to psych themselves up, and a few of the actors or staffers get interviewed (like the child actors, 11–13yo, whose interview may not have shed tremendous light on anything, but they certainly handled it better than I would’ve at their age & they did seem to be having fun scampering around on stage). I always like seeing behind the scenes, so I didn’t even get up for the intermission. How could one get up? It’s such a vivid tragedy, watching Margaine’s Carmen casually seduce another woman’s man for the challenge and then, growing bored after forcing him to sacrifice everything, discarding him, ultimately dooming them both.
I stumbled out thoroughly impressed and regretful I hadn’t followed through a decade ago. Am I an opera fan? I do not know, but I’m giving it another go.
I immediately checked for the next broadcasts on Fathom Events, but was not too interested by the description of La Fille du Régiment, the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake is sadly not being broadcast at my theater, but there is a broadcast at the end of March of Wagner’s Die Walküre I am excited about—I enjoyed reading The Ring as a kid, so how much better should it be to see an actual production of it? (It may not be Bayreuth, but at least I don’t have to spend a decade waiting for tickets & travel halfway around the world only to get a heavy-handed environmental parable with copulating crocodiles).