PHILADELPHIA For much of America, the Metropolitan Opera's broadcasting of select Saturday afternoon performances meant getting a dose of culture at (or near) a mall. In suburban Philadelphia, the sold-out showing of "I Puritani" at the AMC Theatre in Neshaminy Mall was packed with a crowd of opera lovers of a certain age and the boxes of popcorn were notably absent.
No need for opera glasses here. With a big screen, audience members seemed to relish the close-up view of the production. "This was like sitting in the front row!" Terry Iacobellis, of Richboro, Pa., said.
For some, the ability to enjoy opera without the trip to Manhattan made sitting in a movie theater instead of a grand opera house worthwhile. "I get the feeling of being there, without having to do the New York thing," Kathy Dorsey, of Bucks County, said.
Of course, it's not the typical opera experience. The producers of the HD broadcast were clearly conscious of all that's lost in the translation from stage to live broadcast. They added plenty of behind-the-scenes insight to make up for it (and no doubt to give insight to opera novices). Charming, wry radio-booth banter with opera legend Beverly Sills got plenty of chuckles from the movie theater audience during intermission.
A backstage interview of Anna Netrebko by opera diva Renιe Fleming was a special treat, too. "I'm always aware of the camera," Ms. Netrebko said. And it made sense, considering her powerful expressiveness and refined gestures.
But her co-stars didn't always fare as well when filmed up close and personal. The cameras emphasized the rather wooden expressions on the faces of tenor Eric Cutler and baritone Franco Vassallo flaws that might have been less noticeable from the seats at the Met.
The camera often cut to different angles, which had a disorienting effect. Opera is staged to be seen head on, so why broadcast it with so many angles? Some shots extended out from the stage to take in the orchestra pit, audience, and various monitors. It emphasized that you really were watching a Met opera, but it also interrupted the suspension of disbelief. "It works in one way, and not in another," a former theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Clifford Ridley, said during intermission. "You miss the idea of it being alive."
Other opera buffs were more enthusiastic. "I saw it in Philly in 1973 with Sills and Pavarotti. This was different, but you could see it much better," Marie Politowski from King of Prussia, said.
But the ultimate benefit of movie theater opera may be in the creature comforts: There's no need to beat the post opera crowd to a cab or dinner. "We're faint with hunger," Ms. Politowski's husband, Jim, said. "We'll probably go out to dinner in the mall."
Ms. Steiman is a contributor to The New York Sun's food pages.