Oh, sure, MTV milked the opera vibe for all it was worth:

David Bowie did the Faust thing, posing as Mephistopheles in a getup complete with knickers and waistcoat. Rapper Wyclef Jean tried to vocally one-up kiddie diva Charlotte Church. And lest we forget, there was the Collegiate Choir opening the show, belting out "Up Jumps the Boogie" in an operatic cover of Kid Rock's raging rap-rock hit, "Bawitdaba."

But maybe doing it at the Metropolitan Opera House wasn't such a good idea.

It should've worked. After all, at tonight's MTV Video Music Awards, there were a few moments of high drama befitting the opera:

Chris Rock, dissing pop golden boy Ricky Martin: "Ricky needs another hit like a crackhead needs a hit." The mothers of slain rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. joining forces onstage. Diana Ross running out and tweaking Lil' Kim's (mostly) bare breast. The aforementioned Kid Rock, ripping off his shirt to reveal a scrawny chest before boogieing with Run-DMC and Aerosmith to tear through rock and rap and more rap and rock.

But it would be a night remembered more for its flubbed notes than for the few times it managed to hit on-key.

How to explain Paul McCartney announcing the Video of the Year Award as going to some guy named Laurence Hill--when Lauryn Hill was the queen of the hop, topping the list of winners with four trophies? Or the oddball pairings of presenters like Janeane Garafolo and Method Man of the Wu Tang Clan, and Regis Philbin introducing Fatboy Slim? The artists--Britney Spears, N'Sync and TLC--who took the music video concept a little too seriously, apparently lip-syncing through their routines?

As Chris Rock cracked, after a blow-out-the-stops dance marathon by the pop charts' current darlings: "I'm loving it! N'Sync and Britney Spears. Why did they even have mikes on?"

After the show, modern-day blueswoman Mary J. Blige told reporters, "We're missing real music in the universe."

They were also missing real music at the MTV Music Video Awards:

Ricky Martin, who set the Grammy Awards on fire, turned his ubiquitous hit "Livin' La Vida Loca" into la vida lukewarm, prancing around onstage in leather pants and bare feet, never managing to recapture the heat of his video.

Indeed, the snippets of videos sampled throughout the show proved to be frustrating teases of what could have been.

Perhaps the problem lies in the concept: Is it the music or the images that are getting the thumbs-up?

Madonna, who practically invented the medium, got her just due, becoming the most awarded artist ever, taking home her 18th prize.

Video gods and goddesses, ready-made for the medium, walked away with nada: Jennifer Lopez sat in the audience applauding gamely as she lost in all four nominations. Limp Bizkit walked away empty-handed. And Will Smith, who normally just camps out at the lectern, won only one award, best male video, for "Miami."

Instead, there were surprise upsets: Fatboy Slim won three awards, including breakthrough video, for his low-tech "Praise You," whose goofy dance ensemble--which looks nothing like the gyrating glamazons normally populating MTV--gently mocked the whole video thing.

"Fatboy Slim?" Rock snapped. "More like White Boy Nerd."

It's not like the nominations made sense. Will Smith's "Miami," an ode to la vida rica and Dominican women with cinnamon tans, was nominated for best male video but "Wild Wild West" got a nod for best video of the year. What gives? Is "Miami" more testosterone-laden than the big-guns bravado of "West"? And if testosterone is the measuring stick for entrance in the best male video, then why was Limp Bizkit's raging diatribe against faithless ex-girlfriends, "Nookie," relegated to the best-group category?

While the MTV show threatened to go the bloated way of that marathon snooze-fest the Oscars, there were a few moments of note.

Ever since the fashion police started holding the Academy Awards hostage, the Oscars have ceased to be a reliable source for sartorial mockery: too much Prada, too much Badgley Mischka, way too many Stepford starlets. Gone are the days when you could count on Cher to save the day in some outrageously tacky ensemble.

Fortunately, in its last video awards show of the century, MTV didn't disappoint on the fashion front.

Where else can you see Pamela Anderson Lee, all tricked up with a downsized bosom, corset, see-through brocade pants and a giant pink feathered Mad Hatter chapeau? Lil' Kim in a uni-shouldered purple thing, exposing one pastied breast? Or Tommy Lee, proudly declaring that nothing, but nothing, came between him and the grungy raincoat he was sporting?

Winners of last night's Video Music Awards:

BEST VIDEO: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

MALE VIDEO: Will Smith, "Miami"

FEMALE VIDEO: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"


RAP VIDEO: Jay-Z featuring Ja & Amil-lion, "Can I Get a . . . "

R&B VIDEO: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

HIP-HOP VIDEO: Beastie Boys, "Intergalactic"

BEST DIRECTION: Fatboy Slim, "Praise You"

DANCE VIDEO: Ricky Martin, "Livin' La Vida Loca"

ROCK VIDEO: Korn, "Freak on a Leash"

POP VIDEO: Ricky Martin, "Livin' La Vida Loca"

NEW ARTIST: Eminem, "My Name Is"

VIDEO FROM A FILM: Madonna, "Beautiful Stranger"

BREAKTHROUGH VIDEO: Fatboy Slim, "Praise You"

VIEWERS' CHOICE: Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way"

CHOREOGRAPHY: Fatboy Slim, "Praise You."

SPECIAL EFFECTS: Garbage, "Special"

ART DIRECTION: Lauryn Hill, "That Thing"

EDITING: Korn, "Freak on a Leash"

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Marilyn Manson, "The Dope Show"

CAPTION: Female vocalists Left Eye, T-Boz and Chili of TLC accept their award for best group video for "No Scrubs."

CAPTION: Lauryn Hill at last night's awards, where she won four prizes. The host was Chris Rock.