Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sex, Death, and Unplanned Silence; Met Werther Live in HD

Did your sound disappear during the last five minutes of the transmission of Werther Live in HD? I watched in Milford Connecticut and the sound onscreen disappeared during the G minor passage that culminated the final five minutes of the opera. The sound returned again suddenly for curtain calls.

Audiences accept random moments of mishap during performance; a clipped entrance, incorrect words, a tweak of intonation. Why? Because they are very human kinds of mistakes. What about when the mistakes are not human but technological?

In the Eyre production of Werther, it was the Wagnerian join of sex and death that made the deepest impression. Throughout the final scene Kaufman (as Werther) and Koch (as Charlotte) became intimate as the scene progressed toward the death of Werther. As the curtain came down it appeared that Charlotte might join Werther with a bullet from the other pistol in the dueling case.

Finally the repressed and denied emotions we had followed all afternoon had burst through to the surface. Then silence.

The video feed was normal, so we saw Kaufman and Koch who suddenly looked like fish as the music (that we could not hear) became quieter. 

Since I know this opera I was able to run sound in my mind, but the experience was unforgettable. The final moments of the opera seemed violently repressed by the silence, as if censored. John Cage taught us to hear silence as part of the experience, as part of the music, and in this transmission it seemed very loud.

I have always pointed out the unique advantages that hearing live concert and opera transmissions. But there are also idiomatic challenges. Most often these are localized; bad focus, thin sound, not or simply turning on aisle lights during intermission. This challenge seemed bigger in scope, and it made an impression on the way we heard the opera. Are we less patient because the cause was technological?

Where did you hear the transmission? Did you lose sound? Were you able to continue to follow, or were you one of the enraged?


  1. I watched at the South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the sound cut out exactly as you described. I believe the first subtitle in the silence was "by this kiss our souls will meld..." The moment reminded me of Godard -- forcing us out of emotional engagement and into critical attention... Since the sound came back at the moment of applause (i.e., when they would normally switch the audio to the house microphones) my guess is the source of the problem was very close to the stage...

  2. We lost sound as well here in Hayward CA; having never seen this opera, for us, the spell was irretrievably broken

  3. Lost sound in Chicago at the same time - the very critical end of the opera which destroyed the entire dramatic tension that had been building since Werther first encountered Charlotte. Quel dommage!

  4. Unfortunately this happened in Columbia, MD too... no one was happy but everyone started laughing because it looked silly.. Too bad because the performances were so awesome overall... but that's probably what I will remember the most.

  5. Our theater Mgr was outside in the hallway afterwards to tell us that the loss of sound was world-wide. We were offered free passes for the next opera even though this was totally out of local control.

  6. Obviously sabotage.

  7. Here's the Met's link to the final scene with audio

  8. Same in Cork, Ireland. How disappointing!

  9. Next time i want to see a MET performance I'll go to the house itself. HD: What a disappointment!


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