Who goes to opera at 10 a.m.? In Anchorage on Thursday there were four of us.
For the past few winters, the popularity of monthly showings of live Metropolitan Opera performances on movie theater screens has been a national phenomenon. Even in Alaska, savvy buffs have learned to get there early for the best seats.
The selections generally present top international talent, good sound and wonderful cinematography. A bonus has been behind-the-scenes views of the bustling stage crews changing sets.
This summer, the Met is re-showing some of its more successful programs from the season just past. It's a chance for fans to catch some of the programs they might have missed the first time around. I'd missed Verdi's "Aida," which was filmed in performance on Oct. 24 last year, for instance, and wanted to see what the Triumphal March scene looked like.
But what really intrigued me were the show times. In Anchorage, where everything's essentially an "encore" because of the time difference with the East Coast, showings have always been on a tape delay basis at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. "Aida" ran in that slot on June 16.
But there was that additional matinee, at 10 a.m. on Thursday. I attended that one because I had to see how many people would show up.
Other patrons in our crack-of-dawn quartet observed that there hadn't been much advance notice about the show, which may have had something to do with the light turnout. But there weren't many more people in any of the other theaters at that time; Century 16 felt like an abandoned building with a concession stand. (One unforeseen benefit was that, after a reasonable breakfast, I had no craving for snacks. The smell of popcorn is more alluring at 4 p.m. than before noon.)
Two people told me it was the first time they'd been to one of these things. One person usually works on Wednesday evenings and the other didn't like the idea of staying up until 11:30 p.m. on a weeknight.
"Aida" wasn't a priority for the staff. The screen went to a "your movie will begin momentarily" slide at 10 a.m. and stayed that way for 15 minutes until I went to the ticket counter and reported the matter. Then another employee came in and said there'd be a few more minutes delay. The show finally began at 10:20 a.m.
Later, at the beginning of the third act, the screen froze again. This time two of us left our seats to let someone know.
The Triumphal March wasn't as Cecil B. DeMille as I'd hoped, but the musicality of the show couldn't be beat. The Met likes to put its younger, most camera-ready singers out for these broadcasts. Dreamboats Roberto Alagna and Anna Netrebko will be "Romeo et Juliette" this coming Wednesday and Thursday; glamorous Renée Fleming will be featured in "Eugene Onegin" on July 7 and 8; sizzling hot Elna Garana stars in "Carmen" at the end of next month. (That "Carmen's" intense sexuality brought a full house when it played here last winter.)
But "Aida" starred large singers, physically and vocally. Violeta Urmana, Dolora Zajick, Johan Botha and Carlo Guelfi -- a ton of operatic power -- were the principals. Instead of trying to disguise their girth, Dada Saligeri's costumes actually seemed calculated to accent it. It was mega-opera at its in-your-face best. The crowd at the Met went nuts when Zajick took her curtain call.
The bigger audiences at the evening shows tend to applaud and cheer along with the New Yorkers recorded on the film. Thursday's foursome was a more reserved group, however.
There's been a problem of darkish pictures on the screen in the past, and that continued. (If anyone has caught these shows in the Lower 48, perhaps you can compare the brightness here with the brightness there for me.) On Thursday the sound didn't seem as loud as usual, which meant that we weren't really hearing the super-sized voices of the super-sized cast.
A major difference between this summer's encore and the winter screening is that the intermission features were cut, including those amazing set changes. The film went from act to act without a break. On the plus side, it ran 2 1/2 hours instead of the usual 4. But I'd advise people to hit the bathroom before taking their seats.
Walking out of any movie theater into daylight can be disorienting, even for Alaskans accustomed to the midnight sun. And it can be hard to concentrate on work when you start your day with a buffet of blood, love, power, passion, revenge, despair and all the other musical extremes packed into a Verdi score. Still, I'd do it again.
Opera may not be for everybody. Opera before noon is definitely an acquired taste. But these movie house presentations make acquiring it a little easier.
Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.
THE MET: LIVE IN HD SUMMER ENCORES will be shown in Anchorage at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. Thursdays at Century 16 theaters. Tickets are $22, available at www.FathomEvents.com and at the box office.
June 23-24, "Roméo et Juliette," with Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna. PlÃ¡cido Domingo conducts.
July 7-8, "Eugene Onegin," with Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Valery Gergiev conducts.
July 14-15, "La BohÃ¨me," with Angela Gheorghiu and RamÃ³n Vargas. This features film director Franco Zeffirelli's stupendous Parisian sets. What a way to celebrate Bastille Day.
July 21-22, "Turandot," another breathtaking Franco Zeffirelli set. Maria Guleghina is the Ice Princess. Marcello Giordani sings "Nessun dorma."
July 28-29, "Carmen," a smoldering performance by Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna. Watching understudy Teddy Tahu Rhodes' get called up from the green room at the last minute to fill in as the toreador is a nice bonus.