‘Met: Live in HD’ makes its local debut at Aspen’s Wheeler | AspenTimes.com
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‘Met: Live in HD’ makes its local debut at Aspen’s Wheeler

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian in Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier."
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ASPEN – Mel Knyper has a full repertoire of opera tales.

There was the time when, as a lyric baritone at New York’s Music and Art High School, a picture of him singing in a choir was printed in The New York Times. Also in the picture was a 15-year-old conductor named David Zinman, who a half-century later would become the music director of the Aspen Music Festival and School. There was the encounter on Manhattan’s 38th Street with the late tenor Jan Peerce, who asked Knyper – in Yiddish – to sing a little for him. Peerce’s response: “Mel … have you thought of law school?”

What Knyper really cares about now is seeing that young people in the Roaring Fork Valley accumulate their own opera experiences. Since October, Knyper and fellow Aspenite Steve Goldenberg have been working to bring to the Wheeler Opera House “The Met: Live in HD,” the 3-year-old series that brings filmed versions of Metropolitan Opera House productions to movie theaters around the world.

Both Knyper and Goldenberg are fanatics who would travel to see the “Live in HD” presentations; in fact, they have – Knyper has seen two of the broadcasts in New York, and Goldenberg has seen three in Denver. But Knyper, who is retired from being a senior litigator at a New York law firm, said it is his “community prayer” to give local kids the chance to witness opera. He hopes to line up Saturday morning screenings at the Wheeler and make them available to students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

“This is an opportunity to bring something to the valley which is memorable,” Knyper said in a notably mellifluous voice. “It would be jaw-dropping if 10 kids love it so much that they make it a part of their lives. That would be an incredible achievement.”

To hit that goal, much still needs to be done. The Wheeler would have to be freed up on Saturday mornings, and a sponsor would have to agree to foot the bill. And then there is the hurdle of captivating a modern teenager with centuries-old tales told in German and Italian.

But Knyper and Goldenberg have climbed the first rung on that ladder. Wednesday, under the auspices of the Aspen Music Festival, “The Met: Live in HD” makes its local debut, as Strauss’ comic opera “Der Rosenkavalier” comes to the Wheeler screen. The show begins at 5:30 p.m.

The production, conducted by the Dutchman Edo de Waart and starring Renee Fleming, an alumna of the Aspen Music School, and Susan Graham, is a nearly five-hour affair that features taped interviews with cast members, commentary by Placido Domingo, and multiple breaks. (One of the breaks will be for meals; European Caterers has been lined up to sell boxed dinners.)

“Der Rosenkavalier,” a romantic comedy of errors involving lovers of varying ages, kicks off what is for the moment a four-part series. Through mid-March, the Music Festival will present Wednesday evening screenings of Bizet’s “Carmen” (Feb. 24); Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” (March 3), with Domingo, normally a tenor, in the baritone role; and Verdi’s “Aida” (March 17).

“The Met: Live” has spread like wildfire since premiering three years ago. It shows in more than 300 cities; in Denver alone, fans have a choice of five theaters in which to see the productions. Interest in Aspen appears strong; two days before “Der Rosenkavalier,” some three-quarters of the seats had been sold. Knyper and Goldenberg hold out hope for adding two more presentations in April, and the full nine-event season beginning next fall.

Driving the attention has been the quality of the productions. The sound and the video have been routinely praised. But “Live in HD” has been hailed not only as a stellar transmission of top-notch opera, but as an artistic achievement in its own right. A far cry from the one- or two-camera operas often seen on TV, these versions use numerous cameras with a vision toward creating a different kind of experience than is delivered in the opera house.

“There’s a director for the film. He’s employing close-ups, different angles,” said Aspen Music Festival artistic administrator Asadour Santourian, who has seen presentations from each season of “Live in HD.” “It becomes about character development and plot development. There’s an intimacy provided by the film that’s not in the opera house.”

Santourian said that filmed opera doesn’t replace the live experience, but there are dimensions that are a more vivid presence in “Live in HD.” It’s tough to see singing as a physical act in the live theater: “A lot of young singer-actors camouflage that very well,” he said. “But you’ll see Renee Fleming break a sweat in ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’ And those wonderful details of acting – of her yearning to be young – come through.”

Getting “The Met: Live in HD” to Aspen took some arm-twisting. As soon as Goldenberg, a retired partner at Goldman Sachs, saw the first scene of his first presentation, this past October in Denver, he turned to his wife and said, “We’ve got to get this to Aspen.” The next day he e-mailed a friend with connections to Peter Gelb, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

Previously, the Met had only permitted local presenters to sign up for the full season, and required Saturday morning screenings. But the Met proved flexible in its requirements, especially when they learned that the Wheeler was already equipped with a Panasonic ten-thousand lumens projector, which met their specifications.

“From then on, it was just mopping up the details,” Goldenberg said.

Knyper applauds the effort by the Met to make opera widely available.

“This is the largest step that has ever been taken by any classical music organization to bring to the public what formerly has been only for the affluent,” said Knyper, a former Aspen Music Festival board member. “The audience for opera and symphonies hasn’t changed since the 1700s.”

Knyper believes this is an opportunity that will be seized even by those with minimal previous exposure to classical music. He notes the visual element of opera, and the mix of scenery, costumes, drama and comedy, and music.

“It’s enough to appeal to every taste,” he said. “The exact reason the Met introduced this is to bring in young viewers.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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