STAGE ON SCREEN Erica Jeal, Supplement Editor Five years ago, when we published OPERA’s supplement Thirty great recordings, the industry we were covering was very different. Those few years alone have been enough to see the balance swing decisively and, probably, conclusively away from audio-only recording and towards the DVD as the method by which opera performances are preserved. Agood thing too, you might think: Wagner may have invented the name of the Gesamtkunstwerk, but it was the very earliest opera composers who invented the idea (if not the Greeks). And who knows—perhaps in a few years the very notion that we were happy to consider the soundtrack only of a performance to be in any way an adequate representation of an opera will seem a little odd. The swing towards DVDs means that record companies have had to relinquish their control over casting: no more parachuting in big names for cameo appearances. Perhaps, though, that need not be a drawback. One house that has always made the running in getting productions onto the small screen is Glyndebourne, which maintains a policy of casting up and coming young singers rather than big names; and so many Glyndebourne DVDs were mentioned when we initially asked our writers for their shortlists that we could almost have published Glyndebourne on Screen. Moreover, with the recent purchase of Opus Arte by Covent Garden, the boundaries between DVD company and opera house are already becoming blurred. In any case, it does seem that the days of starry singers being able to stand in front of a microphone, armed with a glass of filtered water and the phone number of a good ENT specialist, and spend 20 takes perfecting their big aria must now be almost gone. Instead, singers must deliver the same goods for the screen as for the stage—and this is one area where the skills of a sympathetic video director are essential. Acting that is vivid and alive to those at the back of the gallery may look hopelessly hammy if subjected to the scrutiny of the cinematic close-up. Perhaps it is telling that relatively few of the operas chosen are comedies—and indeed, that so many of the same directors’names come up over and over again. So what does make a great DVD anyway? We gave our writers carte blanche to choose personal favourites, which as ever led to some surprising omissions—no Rossini, for example (though Glyndebourne’s Ermione and Cenerentola both made the shortlist). The DVDs they settled on show a range of attitudes to opera on the small screen which we expect you will share, and a range of priorities. Those lucky enough to live within easy reach of the main operatic centres—spoilt-rotten London critics among them—are more likely to watch DVDs as a souvenir of a memorable performance; for those living outside those catchment areas, they are less of a luxury, more a necessity. Equally, some are unconvinced by the benefits of pointing cameras at a stage, and are more drawn towards interpretations conceived specifically for film—which themselves open up a whole new range of possibilities to be seized and limitations to be overcome. One of those writers has for many, many years been a stalwart of recording criticism, not only in these pages, and we are wondering what we will do without him. Regular readers may not have been aware of Alan Blyth’s illness over the last few months, since he continued writing to the end. The articles within this supplement are among the last he wrote, completed around a fortnight before his death. They show his familiar insight, succinctness, focus and love of his subject—and we are proud to dedicate this supplement to his memory.
Stage on Screen