SundayArts is Now NYC-ARTS
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9/23/09
An Opera in Times Square
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If you believe the adage that no publicity is bad publicity, then perhaps the Met’s opening-night Tosca Monday night was a success. By now, you’ve probably read about the prolonged booing that greeted Luc Bondy’s new production, which starred Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia. Yes, in operaworld people get more than a little upset when you change the plot—the directorial equivalent of spitting on tradition. (You can read more about the brouhaha in HuffPo and the New York Times.)

I, however, was not in the house, surrounded by other lovers of opera and opera tradition, when this all transpired. Instead, when the evening began at 6:30, I was 20 blocks away in Times Square. I was curious to see what sort of reception Puccini might get in the noisy crossroads of the world. Apparently, not much of a reception at all. Broadcasting classical music on giant screens is the flavor of the year, not just in New York but elsewhere; to cite just one example, upward of 18,000 fans came to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. to hear Washington National Opera’s free live opening-night simulcast of Rossini’s Barber of Seville on September 12.

James Levine’s first entrance
James Levine’s first entrance projected over Times Square

I must say that the opera, even pulpy verismo opera on giant screens with giant speakers, is overwhelmed by the hubbub that defines Times Square. As people rushed to and fro, most seemed surprised to see opera above them, and several were overheard calling friends with “Hey, guess where I am right now” calls; one guy seemed pretty excited, but reported that he was on his way to a party at Sardi’s and wouldn’t be staying to listen. People stopped in their tracks to look up as the Met orchestra played the “Star Spangled Banner,” and they instinctively clapped at the end of Cavaradossi’s first aria, “Recondita armonia.” However, there was no definable crowd to speak of. In fact, I came across a larger gathering of business types about four blocks north, watching an Advertising Week presentation on the Clear Channel screen. Down on 43rd Street, I am sorry to say that the Met was drowned out by everything from police sirens and old Nissans with bad mufflers to the much-brighter NASDAQ and Izod ads to the New York City Police Department’s blue neon sign. The volume of operatic sound seemed to vary depending on which way the wind was blowing. Right near the end of “Recondita armonia” as Alvarez voice his love for Tosca (“Il mio sol pensier sei tu”), a deafening blast issued from a fire truck.

In the surroundings of Times Square, the larger-than-life art of opera looks very small indeed.

Alvarez pic with painting of Floria Tosca in background
Over Times Square: Alvarez with painting of the Magdalene in background

More people were paying attention to this advertising presentation

More people were paying attention to this advertising presentation (a few blocks north, near Duffy Square) than to the Met broadcast down on 43rd street

More stills of the opera projected in Times Square

During this part of the event, a policecar was passing by.

Busy commuters

Busy commuters in Times Square.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.