In The Washington Post, Anne Midgette reports that those hep cats at Bayreuth have decided to make their opera productions available for online viewing. Sounds great, right? Prestigious house emblematic of high culture with a waiting list longer than the French Laundry’s takes an historic step toward democratizing its world-class content. But get this: It costs 49 Euros to see it. Help me out: What’s German for “series of tubes?”
The only way I’d entertain for even the most fleeting moment the thought of paying 49 Euros to stream an opera on my MacBook is if it were an opera that I wrote, featuring a dream cast of mid-century Italian singers, Philadelphia blue-eyed soul belters, and Astrud Gilberto, staged by Peter Greenaway with the budget of a Super Bowl half-time show. 49 Euros is about 49 Euros too much to charge for a streaming video of any kind, for any reason. If I really want to see Die Meistersinger, a work I don’t know and should probably get around to one of these days, I’ll snag the DVD; at least I’ll get something I can hold in my hand and show off to my music nerd friends when they come to visit. I’m not going to fork over $80 to sit in front of my computer for four hours, and I’m certainly not going to fork over $80 in exchange for what seems to be a fairly subpar streaming video implementation, if the WaPo piece is to be believed. The Bayreuth people might as well get Uncle Ted Stevens to be their CIO. I understand his day planner is about to open up in a big way.
Nonetheless, Midgette identifies one Bayreuth development that shouldn’t be undersold: Die Meistersinger was projected on a huge video screen in the town’s square. This is an important step not only because it makes the show available to a much wider audience but also because, in this era of high-def Met broadcasts, it helps demystify Bayreuth, a temple of Gesamtkunstwerk shrouded in legend. Wagnerism is the closest thing to a secret society the classical music world has; although its adherents have every right to reach nirvana only through full productions of the Ring and urinate disdainfully on Rossini and Leoncavallo, it doesn’t do their late idol’s music any favors. I have mixed feelings about Wagner, but I think a good, well-publicized, widely broadcast, unapologetically glacial production of Parsifal (the first minimalist opera?), for instance, could change some minds. Granting such a media event the Bayreuth seal of authenticity would only help them cement their claim as the “industry standard” Wagnerites in the 21st century. But hey, if they want to keep charging 49 Euros to enjoy small, skippy, pixellated videos of their favorite chestnuts, more power to them. I’ll be trawling the torrents for Tannhäuser, myself.