28 December 2007

giving the people what they want (L'etat, c'est moi)

It sure was swell of the Senate to intervene so Tom Brady and I could spend this Saturday night together. (Here’s the score so far: giving the people what they want, Iraq division: 0; giving the people what they want, NFL-watching division: 1!) I thought it was my economy-based move to minimal cable (no ESPN or any of its spawn, no Fox Sports) that was going to keep me from watching the Patriots go for a perfect season, but it turns out that it’s really the NFL’s attempt to put their games on a pay network that was going to keep most of the country, not just me, from watching. More and more games are slipping off the freely available networks and onto ones you have to pay for; in a few years my fanship might be limited to scanning the sports page while waiting for the train.

Practically everyone outside of New England claims to hate the Patriots now. The first time Brady led the team to the Super Bowl, it was an underdog story of the type allegedly beloved by Americans (of course, we only love underdogs once they stop actually being underdogs and become winners): picked down low in the draft and promoted due to injury, football’s Ruby Keeler had the proverbial storybook season, and remained likeable and level-headed through it all, even to the extent of insisting that the team be introduced at the Super Bowl as a team, without stars. But then he kept on winning, and dating supermodels, and appearing in model-like magazine spreads himself, and though he kept on seeming quite likeable, level-headed, and team-oriented, being handsome, rich, young, and successful is just too much for the public to take. Throw in the supermodels and it's all over.

The storybook aspect may be why people don’t seem to realize how chancy these things are; the Giants might actually win the game. But as far as I’m concerned, the Patriots, having already won fifteen out of the sixteen regular-season games they play these days, have already outdone the fourteen-game perfect season of the fabled 1972 Dolphins, so you can stick an asterisk on that old record (the Dolphins also used more than one quarterback, and played back in the pre-parity days, which proves my point that there is always an asterisk). But I suppose I can’t really blame the people who hate the Patriots because they’re sick of hearing about them, since I want the Patriots to win because I’m sick of hearing about the 1972 Dolphins, who smugly toast each other every chance they get.

Before Senator Kerry intervened, I briefly considered going to a sports bar to watch the game, but then I’d have to watch the game, you know, in a sports bar. Surrounded by rowdy drunks. Who hate the Patriots. I don’t think I really care enough. I mean, I enjoy watching football (though let me just say: the games last too long, there are way too many commercials, the action is very start-and-stop in a maddening way, and the game and the players exude an underlying, anonymous exhaustion, which, though it makes football the metaphorical sport of choice for contemporary America, is ultimately depressing), but I’m not a facepainter, and really don’t want to be surrounded by them.

Speaking of facepainters, I recently dipped a timid toe into the turbulent waters of Opera-L. I seem to have arrived in the middle of a Netrebko firestorm, but then there always seems to be a firestorm brewing there. Many of the postings take the form of indignant and sarcastic suggestions that other people should lighten up on the indignation and sarcasm. I’m not sure how long I’ll hang on. For every interesting note there are multiple examples of the higher bitchery taking up space in my inbox, and I only want to spend so much time hitting delete. I’ve never understood arguing for the sake of arguing. If it's not a dispassionate search for truth and beauty, I just don't have the patience. At a recent Wagner society meeting one woman announced repeatedly that she was “going to start something”; she then declared that the eighteenth century – all of it – was worthless and boring, at least compared to the nineteenth. To me, if you don’t like Gluck or Mozart or whoever, that’s your loss. Why would I argue? or care? You can’t have a discussion with facepainters.

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm for sports bars (or bars in general) is behind my bafflement at San Francisco Opera’s broadcasting plans. I can understand why the Met is in movie theaters, since their broadcasts are live. But if you’re broadcasting pre-recorded performances, why arrange them so that you have the disadvantages of live theater without the compensatory thrills? I will happily sit in a theater for six hours for a live performance, but much as I love, say, Tristan, there’s no way I’m going to cram myself into a movie theater that long, especially when I’ll spend the whole time wondering why there wasn’t a DVD release I could enjoy, repeatedly, at leisure. Financially the DVD is a better consumer choice anyway (at least for me, and am I not a representative man?), even without the possibility of repeated viewings: the Onegin and Puritani that the Met released recently are going for about $30 each on Amazon. If you add up the movie ticket price (I think it's currently about $22 for the Met broadcasts) and the cost of BART tickets, you’re already near that total, and that’s without any popcorn. Here’s my suggestion for the Met and San Francisco Opera: release DVDs, both on a subscription basis and for general sale, similar to the way Ward Marston sells his records or John Eliot Gardiner his Bach cantata series. Please, don’t thank me. Not having to go to the Cineplex and listen to Tristan with someone chewing in my ear is thanks enough.

ADDENDUM on the football game: I knew it wasn't going to be a snoozefest, and that the Giants were going to play their starters, so why didn't all the TV commentators know? I wish I'd said something beforehand, but I thought it was obvious. I wouldn't exactly say I have the heart of a champion, but even I know you're not going to go into the playoffs having rolled over and given the historic crown to your rivals, especially when they started their big season by thumping you soundly in your own stadium. Sure, from a rational perspective it was a meaningless game since both teams are already in the playoffs, but if you operate rationally you probably aren't caring that much about football anyway. From a psychological perspective it was huge for the Giants as well as the Patriots, so I fully expected to see Eli Manning out there for at least the majority of the game. Sometimes it amazes me how much more I know than other people.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Hey! Cineplex seats are more comfortable than opera-house seats!g

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Lisa, That's a good point. (Plus you get popcorn!) However, neither is as comfortable as lying in bed watching a big-screen TV, which is the alternative I really had in mind. I may get a chance to check this out, since I'm thinking of going to the Met Peter Grimes. I wish they were doing Satyagraha as well, since it looks as if my hopes of seeing it live at the Met are not going to be fulfilled.

vicmarcam said...

I learned this morning that this game is making history in another way. This is the first football game since the first Super Bowl to be shown on more than one network. Poor NFL is forced to take ad revenue from more than one broadcaster, and on a Saturday night, when even I will probably watch. Oh well, at least one Senator has to show up at work this week anyway. They are afraid to shut down for a few days because then the president can make those interim appointments that he likes to make.

There really is some magic for me (and, I think, most people) in watching something with a group. I was thinking about this recently. I admit that I have had theater and movie and concert experiences almost ruined by audience members. Recently, though, I really enjoyed the audience at The Hard Nut. It was one of those performances where I could feel that the dancers were responding to the enjoyment of the audience, and I could feel their enjoyment even when they were being quiet. I'm not sure how, but I know that we are hard wired to be social animals, so it makes sense that we are aware of very subtle signs. I also saw Enchanted in a very crowded theater, and there I also enjoyed the enjoyment of the audience, along with seeing a crowded, noisy audience turn completely well-behaved just because they were enjoying the movie.

I've had enough bad experiences that I completely understand why you have opted out when possible, but we still are pack animals.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

V, Yes, you're right, but I was culled from the herd long ago.
Those women behind us at The Hard Nut were kind of irritating, I thought, though all those comments about "having to sit behind tall people" were aimed at me, not you.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ah, a big-screen TV. I find opera on any TV too miniaturized.

I have a 27-inch tube set and hardly ever have watched opera DVDs or tapes. No theatrical sound system and I don't have it hooked up to my stereo, so the sound is crap and the singers the size of large chess pieces.

When I had to sell my tickets to the 2005 Seattle Ring, a friend, not an opera fan at all, suggested I rent videos to assuage my sadness. I nearly killed her. :)

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Lisa, I almost did a spit-take with my morning tea when I read your friend's suggestion that you rent videos. Very funny, and clearly not from a fan. Singers the size of chess pieces is why I don't like to sit in the balcony. The closer the better, in my view.
I don't want to tell you how to spend your money or time, but a big-screen TV is a really wonderful purchase if you like movies or performing arts. Mine isn't even HD or plasma, but I love it. And there are lots of operas I'm only going to get to see on DVD -- I've recently bought Boulevard Solitude, La Juive, Moses und Aron, Faustus The Last Night, Devils of Loudon, and Reves d'un Marco Polo (and Busoni's Faust with Hampson and Neilsen's Maskarade are coming out at the end of January). Not that I've actually gotten around to watching any of these yet, but it's good to know that they're piled up waiting for me.

vicmarcam said...

To add my two cents about the tv situation: A big screen is not even so necessary these days because some of the newer screens in the 32 to 36 inch range are so crystal clear that you are able to see all you need to see, but Patrick's big screen is a lovely thing to behold anyway. And a good sound system is a very good thing as well. That is, after one pays for food and shelter and insurance.

Lisa's story reminded me of my excitement upon getting my first VCR and finally getting to see Lawrence of Arabia. My screen was 13 inches. I lasted about five minutes. There was this beautiful landscape of sand and this dark figure that kept coming nearer and nearer, but never near enough for me to make out who it was.

About the game: an NPR commentator said yesterday morning, "Maybe they should put in their second string. It always works in the movies." Perhaps they should have.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Lawrence of Arabia on a 13" TV!!!!

My partner has never seen it. I keep saying "NO we are not renting it!" Some day we'll catch it in the theater.

Yes, my friend is definitely not an opera fan, but she adores live theater. I should have asked how she likes videos of stage performances. I chewed her up instead.

My history at the opera has been one of slow descent from the balcony. I was in balcony, then balcony front, the dress circle. I know do a combination of orchestra standing room, reviewer seats, and orchestra rear seats. I wish I had enough money for orchestra prime, since the sound there is fantastic and you can really see what's going on.

Still, I stood in the balcony for the Dec. 1 Butterfly, since I had not been up there for years. The sound up there is so immediate, and OperaVision, which I thought I'd hate and didn't, means you get quite good views if you want to watch the screen. Sometimes it was worth seeing Racette in close-up, too.

After the first of the year, we are going to get a flat-panel 32" TV of some kind. I may put in theater sound; it seems possible to get an acceptable system for a reasonable price.

Lisa Hirsch said...

(Oh, the typos!)

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Lisa, After the first of the year is when all the TVs go on sale, in preparation for the Super Bowl, excuse me, the "Big Game" (see how I tied it back to football). You may want to try Lawrence of Arabia on your new screen, since there are fewer revival houses. I did get to see it at the UC Theatre when that was still around.
I used to sit in the last row of the first balcony at the War Memorial (I forget if they call that Dress Circle). Then they fiendishly including in the subscriptions a voucher good for one seat upgrade. I did it for the last opera that year and even though I was way off to the side I couldn't go back. I wish I could afford to subscribe to the Prime Orchestra seats, but I'm as close as I can get without winning the lottery. I can't really afford the seats I have anyway. I also really object to the restricted nature of the Prime seats -- you can't subscribe to them unless you fork over a hefty donation. I know my objection is partly irrational, since a donation is tax-deductible and a higher-priced ticket is not, but it just rubs me the wrong way.
And I sympathize on the typos -- I've done that too; at least in an entry I can go in and correct it, but in the comments they're stuck like flies in amber.

V, That's a great line about putting in the second-string -- I wish I had thought of it. Of course, the Patriots would also need to be the snooty fellows from the country club. (Hey, I thought Julia Roberts was going to marry the snobby guy with the British accent!)
"After one pays for food and shelter and insurance" -- oh, honey, you're adorable! don't change a thing!

Shawn Ying said...

Yeah! Smelling Pop Corn and hearing people chewing the pop corn, plus sucking the drink with the straw just does not work for me. How about chewing gum? And I think that will drive our Patrick crazy also. :) Plus, you have to get up early on Saturday morning to get in line for the opera, it really a hard sell.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I forgot to mention, the ability to see operas and productions you can't get to live is a real advantage of DVDs. I have one sitting around right now: L'amour de Loin. I might get to see it some day, but this is Salonen/Upshaw, Groop, Finley. It doesn't get any better than that. I've just started getting to know Nielsen, so Maskarade, hmm. (Oh, wait, I have it on LP!)

Patrick, I also saw Lawrence at the UC! It has played at a few theaters in the last ten years. We'll catch it there sometime, I hope at the Paramount in Oakland.

Right after Jan. 1, like next weekend, is when I plan to go TV shopping.

Totally understand about Orch. Prime. I mean, you have to donate, what, five or ten grand before you can get in the lottery?

The thing is, I can barely bring myself to pay for seats, which I know is just wrong, because I can afford the $100 seats. I think I bought three seats this year (one for Appomattox, before I knew I was reviewing it, and a pair for Magic Flute), was given a ticket to Rondine, went to two operas on press tickets (Appomattox, Tannhauser), stood for Butterfly and MacBeth, had a standing-room ticket for Rake and got handed a comp ticket by someone annoyed by the alarm that went off ten minutes before curtain time. Right, I missed Samson.

It was a really, really cheap season for me. Maybe I will bite the bullet and get tickets for next season; meanwhile, my mother has bought tickets to Ariodante (my request, for a birthday present), I'll buy tickets to Rheingold, which is a little too long a stand, and The Little Prince, and stand for Lucia.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Shawn, Yes, you are right about the effect of gum-chewing on our Patrick. Very funny! But I still might see you at Peter Grimes.

Lisa, I also have (but have not yet watched) L'amour de Loin. I'm actually a little embarrassed by how many DVDs I have that I haven't even watched once yet, but that's one I'm definitely looking forward to a lot. With CDs I do other stuff while I listen, but with DVDs I sit (actually, lie down) and watch, which is why it takes me longer -- but you get a better sense of the opera with a DVD (so go ahead and buy Maskarade!). I have to buy tickets if I want to see things, so I just pull out the credit card. I've never tried standing room -- I don't think I can stand that long (never stand if you can sit, and never sit if you can lie down, is my motto), and I dislike open seating anyway. I have high hopes for that Ariodante. The Rheingold is quite interesting -- I saw the production in DC a few years ago. Maybe I should post a preliminary review.
I have many fond memories of the UC Theatre. I hope the Paramount will oblige you & Dr Strega (I'm hoping I have the nickname right and that you don't mind my using it) with a suitable screening soon. Another great movie for the big screen: The Last Emperor.

By the way, I should thank all the opera people for reading to the end of an entry that was mostly about football. I appreciate your persistence!

Patrick J. Vaz said...

One more thing, about seeing Racette in close-up -- she is not only a riveting actress, but (I know this because the two of us shared an elevator on the way to the Met's artist symposium for American Tragedy) her features have a delicacy that gets lost over the footlights and the orchestra pit. Cameras and close-ups in opera have a good side as well as a possibly negative one.

And Lisa, have you checked Marston's website recently? The mystery release is now listed for March.

Civic Center said...

Watched the game with a bunch of hetero dudes at The Roadhouse bar in Palm Springs and thoroughly enjoyed myself. A crowd can be fun.

Recorded opera in movie theatres? Nah, it's a live thing for me too. Rather like baseball, I think opera works better on the radio than television. Having said that, I love the OperaVision in the balcony at the San Francisco Opera. There's great sound and you can actually see closeups of the singers without binoculars. For "La Rondine," in particular, it made the entire experience much more interesting.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Hey Mike, Welcome back. I've enjoyed the Palm Springs pictures (over at Civic Center on the blogroll for those who haven't already seen them).
All this pro-crowd talk has kind of surprised me and taken me aback. (I'm also surprised that the most comments I've ever had on an entry have come from one that's mostly about watching football. Thanks again to everyone who made it to the end.) Back to the crowd-love I'm getting -- I feel like Leonora in Forza announcing that only the Hermit's Cave will do for her. Though I guess if I'm expecting solidarity, what I'm saying is . . . I want my preference for solitude to be supported by a crowd. Just not right next to me. My Rondine thoughts are coming up in the next week or two, by the way. I should try the balcony and OperaVision some time.

Lisa Hirsch said...

By and large, I do prefer the live experience, both for the crowd and for the hall. Some sounds just can't be reproduced. The unbelievably beautiful orchestral sound in the 2006 Tristan, for example, was so much a product of the moment and the hall.

Once we've got a new TV, I will probably have a party for the viewing of L'Amour de Loin. I will happily include anyone posting here in the invitations!

I think March was my last guess at when the Marston Mystery Release would make its appearance. And someone posting on my blog figured out what it is! It's in the comments here.

Standing room can be pretty tough. I have been getting good spots to watch from, but I have my limits. Rosenkavalier was too damn long, and I will be buying a seat for Rheingold come June. Butterfly was okay, though.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Lisa, Are you going to brave the storm to buy a TV this weekend as planned? Maybe the strength of the storm has been exaggerated -- the local news always gets embarassingly excited over big weather.
As a faithful reader of Iron Tongue I did see that guess at the Marston mystery release, but I took it to be just a guess -- are you pretty certain? Between the new Edison release and the upcoming Saint-Saens & Co, it's difficult for me to think of what could be rarer and more enticing, unless they brought Malibran and Viardot back from the dead, and even then only on one of their good days.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Might be a good weekend to shop - everyone else will be smart enough to stay home wrapped around a cup of hot tea.

I thought the Julius Block collection was plausible, given the grant to Marston and the circumstances - collection lost in Russia, many unique items, etc. Not so long to wait at this point!

Patrick J. Vaz said...

The guess did seem plausible, but given the mysterioso aura around this release, I was expecting something jaw-dropping, like "we found Cosima's recordings of Liszt and Wagner playing Heart & Soul". This seems more like a collector-geek thing. I mean, I'm sure it will be thrilling to hear, but I wasn't sure why this rated the big build-up, more than, say, the Edison releases.
If you went TV shopping today, I hope you were successful -- and maybe you should have brought an opera DVD as a test. I'm sure all the sets were on the football playoffs, and games do look spectacular on the new sets, but can they really handle the entry of the gods into Valhalla?

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's getting the build-up because the collection was thought lost and because there are probably LOTS of unique items. It's not like he found the lost de Reszke recordings, it's true.

I didn't go TV shopping, probably won't today either. I need to do more research....