Tuesday night's "first," a televised, simulcast-in-stereo live production of "La Boheme," from the stage of the Metropolitan opera, raised an interesting pair of questions: Is television ready for the Met? Is the Met ready for television? The answer to both is a partial "no." The opera was carried by Channel 26 and Station WGMS.
The performance, a completely routine one, was captured in a wealth of details, some of them unintended, by cameras working in a good mixture of distances from the huge stage.
The viewer saw many things he would never see from a seat in the opera house: closeups of the faces of opera singers at work may hav surprised those who do not know what singers do to project those loud and soft notes; the stubborn candle that reappeared no less than four times after it was supposed to have been blown out by the wind; Luciano Pavarotti's particular manner of clearing his throat before the next big phrase.
The lighting did its work very well, thanks in part to the fact that "Boheme" is generally not filled with vivid colors or dazzling sunlight. The second act, however, especially against one of the drabbest sets in memory, looked like economy night at the supermarket, particularly to those who know the glories of the Scala-Zeffirelli setting of this great scene. It made you wonder continually, "Where IS everyone?"
The sound was probably different in every living room, depending on your FM-stereo reception. What I heard sounded as if the four men were shouting all through the first part of act one. This was due in patt to James Levine's rushed, hard-driving conduction which produced the most charmles "Boheme" heard in years.
The cast was the Met's strongest these days: Pavarotti and Renata Scotto as Rodolfo and Mimi, Inguar Wixell and Maralin Niska as Marcello and Musetta, Allen Wing and paul Plishka as Schaundard and Colline, with Italo Tajo a very special bonus as Benoit.
The magic that "Boheme" should always produce did not appear until well into the third act. Then it suddenly became sheer beauty, and at the end, deeply moving. There can be no discounting the impact of this kind of telecast in which, as m.c. Tony Randall said, the opera was seen by more people than the total of all those who have seen "Boheme" since its premiere in 1896. But it was by no means as fine in terms of production and performance as the New York City's recent "Barber of Seville." Now that the idea of telecasting, could be vastly better.
A number of people telephoned The Washington Post during intermissions to complain about the membership plugs on Channel 26 which kept them from hearing some of Randall's interviews. In those that were seen with conductor Levine, Paravotti and Scotto, he may have overdone the naive approach a bit, but some of it was informative and, with Scotto, charming.