Royal Opera LIVE, with added live blog

7th January 2013

20:16 I’m won over – not by the switching at The Space but by the view of the performance that the ‘mix’ channel offers. (Suzy Klein, incidentally, doing a great job.) And with that, I think I’m going to sign off and enjoy the rest of the stream – the end of Die Walkure is, after all, among the most beautiful twenty or so minutes of music ever composed. Thanks to the Guardian, The Space and most of all the Royal Opera for a fascinating day – I’m going to mull on all this and post some more considered thoughts tomorrow.

20:09 In the accompanying audio, Suzy is talking with director Keith Warner, who is providing the kind of commentary that we’re accustomed to getting on DVDs. That’s worthwhile – and I’m warming to the visual mix with the cues and backstage shots. The workings of the show are being exposed in a way that I’ve never seen before. Definitely worth the effort.

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20:05 ROH website feed  keeps falling over and giving a Error #1010 message. But from The Space it seems much more stable.

20:00 At The Space there’s the choice of three video channels: the full backstage mix, which is what the ROH website is offering and which includes elements of the other two channels; a locked-off shot of the stage; and a locked-off shot of Pappano conducting. Plus, here it’s a file (or several such) and you can move backwards and forwards within it. Sadly, the image quality of the performance shot isn’t great.


 So now we can start to make some sense of this. In the single stream from the ROH site we’re getting a quick cut edit of backstage activity with some elements of the production on stage (which looks pretty poor) plus the stage manager’s cueing and elements of commentary from Suzy Klein. Certainly it’s distinctive, but how revealing or interesting is it?

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19:43 … and we’re back. Not sure what happened there.

19:39 Tweets suggest I’m not the only one struggling with my stream… not good.

19:32 Oh no, all sorts of technical gremlins, as Suzy Klein takes over from Kirsty. My ROH website stream goes down, then struggles back without audio. And the streams from The Space aren’t working ye either (or at least not for me). Am I the only one with no audio?

19:23 Not that I underestimate how difficult all this is – not so much technically, although there’s that too – but in terms of permissions and rights of a thousand different kinds. But even so, I don’t feel that these final moments – when the live-ness should have been so central – have shown Royal Opera LIVE at its best.

19:16 Just when it was getting really good, and suggesting a sense of the unexpected and even the uncontrolled, somehow that clip killed it all. We didn’t even get to say goodbye and thank you to Mark Elder. There’s a not-very-much-really interview with two of tonight’s audience and then it’s another film, with Pappano rehearsing Verdi’s Macbeth (which is odd when we’ve been in the world of La bohème and we’re off to that of Die Walkure).

19:03 Into make-up, and there’s just a sniff of panic as people push pass the camera to get through the door. But this is all too short, and for some reason we’ve cut to a clip – which turns out to be pretty lengthy (10+ mins) – of the BBC series Maestro. Er, why? The show, let’s not forget, is called Royal Opera LIVE.

18:54 Off down the corridor with Mark Elder to meet the singers – and the transmission has a charmingly improvised quality, not quite sure who we’re going to meet and which door we’re going through. This is the closest that we’ve got to the backstage material in Live at the Met which is always thrilling. Mark Elder gives some notes, and again we truly feel we’re close something very immediate – and not watching something that has been laid on especially for the stream.

18:48 The great conductor Mark Elder is interviewed in his dressing room by Kirsty before he goes out to lead the orchestra for La bohème – but not before he answers a call on his mobile.

18:38 Back to tape. There have been at least two different time-scales in operation today. On occasions, Royal Opera Live has been content simply to observe what’s going on in front of the cameras – as with the model presentation of La donna del lago this morning or the Eugene Onegin rehearsal. Things happen, or they don’t, just as is the case away from cameras – and at times there are moments of insight. And that is how you (should) fill a whole day of screentime. But then the fidgety finger of a television producer has been too apparent at other times, trying to move things along more quickly or to package the messy ‘reality’ with either Kirsty’s links or a thought-through storyline. And then time seems to have moved faster, events have been eaten up, the ‘live’ had run out and we have had to fall back on pre-edited segments, a number of which feel as if they would be more at home on the ROH’s marketing  channel.

18:22 Over to Kirsty and the vocal warm-up for tonight’s kids from the Youth Opera Company in La Bohème – or not, actually, since the pianist hasn’t turned up. So we get an Accessible Aria instead. But then the young singers do their class, and it is predictably charming.

17:55 Vocal masterclass by Tony Pappano with singer Jihoon Kim working on an aria from Verdi’s Macbeth (and – sadly – time for my dinner).

17:40 Highlights finally over, and now we’re looking live at costumes for La Bohème. Costumes, however, don’t do too much, despite the engaging contribution of the head of the costume department. Followed by singer Jeremy White, who is playing Benoit in La Bohème, and after that head of stage Gary Mardon (below).

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16:51 Still deep in the ‘highlights’ (Yannis just reprised his ‘Harris Tweed’ plug from 11:01) – I think it would have been nice to have known how long the tape was going to run. Is this what’s on offer until the scheduled ‘La bohème behind the scenes’ at 17:30? At least the broadband buffering seems to have been solved, for the moment at least.

16:30 Oh, it’s a (generous) highlights tape from the day so far. What next, instant replays? No re-run, however, for Kasper’s ‘fuck’ (see 11:14) or Kirsty’s apology. Just before this, Kirsty promised us footage tonight from twenty cameras backstage during the presentation of Act III of Die Walkure.

16:17 You always want more, don’t you? But I wish ROLive was supported by better online notes about who’s who – I missed this young singer’s name at the start of the piece and – I think – there is nowhere for me to go to find out who she is.

16:12 I wonder if this is my domestic broadband, or the internet as a whole, or if it’s simply more users joining ROLive, but I’m having increasing problems with buffering – the stream is hanging up every couple of minutes at present.

16:03 Vocal coaching, in realtime – I do think the open-ended process parts of ROLive are the best bits, like this, where we see something unfolding without too much structure being imposed on it. This is, incidentally, a great and glorious extract of Eugene Onegin.

15:55 Opera fan Michael Portillol is up now. Of course, a former Tory minister is just the person you want to enthuse about the importance of increasing access to opera.

15:35 More stagecraft, now with a choreography rehearsal for Eugene Onegin. While I’m not entirely sure about the relative amounts of time dedicated to the different elements of the day, I do think the event as a whole has already more than proved itself – it’s a successful and truly impressive attempt to open up the processes of a major cultural organisation. Bravo.

15:25 Well, the fight workshop is OK, but I would have preferred to have heard more from Tony Pappano and Tom Service talking about the score of The Minotaur. ‘Don’t try this at home,’ says Kirsty.

15:12 Oh, that was a bit quick, and just as it was getting interesting. Surely the opportunity on offer here is to allow things to run far longer than on broadcast television, even if the music is as demanding as Birtwistle is. Instead we jump into a combat workshop with fight director Philip d’Orléans.

15:07 Tony Pappano and critic Tom Service are now chatting over the rehearsal, offering commentary on the music and on the process of a sitzprobe. The sound balancing is better than it was earlier, so we’re getting a decent mix of the singers, the orchestra and our commentators.

14:55 Tony Pappano has taken over presenting duties, at least for a while, and he chats with the composer of The Minotaur Harrison Birtwistle before intro-ing composer Ryan Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth is going to take the orchestra – and us – through the sitzprobe, the first seated rehearsal, with singers and orchestra.

14:40 First repeat of the day (not counting the trails) – the Accessible Aria video taken from Don Giovanni.

14:35 Have to say that this Mark Elder masterclass is exceptionally interesting. I hope it’ll be online somewhere for longer than The Space‘s limited archiving of today – which as I understand it will last only until Thursday.

14:04 On to a thoughtful masterclass recorded last month by conductor Mark Elder with two young singers working on Puccini’s La Bohème. A time there was that this kind of masterclass was a staple of broadcast television – and now it is taped almost as a matter of course by a cultural organisation for its own exploitation. That shift from the centrality of broadcasters in arts media to a world which is far more fragmented and dispersed is a major change of the last decade – and Royal Opera LIVE is a key pointer to future developments.

One footnote: perhaps the stream should indicate more frequently than the single caption at the opening that this was taped a month ago. The labelling of ‘archive footage’ has been rigorous elsewhere, and so it is surprising not to see that principle carried through here.

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14:01 Montage of versions of the slaves’ chorus submitted by people from around the world in response to Rolando Villazon’s videotaped invitation. Ho hum.

13:53 On Facebook Rebecca Littman from the States confirms that the stream is available there – and that it works happily on an iPad. The first part of Rebecca’s comment is particularly relevant because time and again I have recommended to her and others streams from BBC iPlayer (and other services) that are geo-locked to the UK – and which has unsurprisingly irritated her. I too am watching the stream on an iPad – and it is holding up exceptionally well – while I blog (and write an occasional work e-mail) on my MacBook Pro. It’s a very neat arrangement.

13:45 I took a bit of a break there, and missed much of the chat between Tony Pappano and Kasper Holten – although it’s worth noting that the ROH is indeed fortunate to have two such eminent figures who can be as relaxed and accomplished on camera. Now we’re watching the ROH Chorus rehearse the Hebrew slaves’ chorus from Nabucco. Makes a change from Harrison Birtwistle.

13:10 Kirsty is chatting live in voice-over with Stefanie Cliffe again, as The Minotaur rehearsals continue on stage. Again, I’m not sure this is the best way to experience a rehearsal of Birtwistle.

12:49 Then a chunk of The Minotaur in performance, taken from a recording – oops, but not for long, and we’re back into a trail accompanied by rather more comforting melodies, and on into a videotaped lecture about the music of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger by Tony Pappano. Can I go to lunch now? The next scheduled offering, according to the listing at The Space (where you can also get the stream), is ‘Kasper Holten in discussion with music director Sir Antonio Pappano’.

12:40 Rehearsal takes a break and there’s a moment of downtime as we watch the lights come up and the stage empty out, with no commentary and no sense of story. Which is pleasing, just in and of itself. A chat with two of the principals for The Minotaur and then back to a wide shot of the auditorium with superimposed Tweets. After that, David Lammy, MP and opera-lover, is Kirsty’s next guest.

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12:32 More concentration on the chorus on stage, which is more interesting, but then the director decides to take a break – until he is reminded that they being covered live for the next six minutes or so. ‘Is that a problem?’ he asks.

12:22 Dodgy sound once more at the start of the stage shots of The Minotaur. As the sequence settles down, Stefanie Cliffe provides a commentary and chats with Kirsty in voice-over. Bit of a mess, this – and we’re not getting any true sense of the rehearsal dynamics. Birtwistle being used as background, which isn’t entirely appropriate.

12:19 Back live, preparing for second stage + piano rehearsal of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, intro’ed with an interview with company manager Stefanie Cliffe.

12:09 More video, currently how the stage crew prep for a performance of La Boheme – which is tonight’s show in the theatre but not in Royal Opera LIVE, where we’ll get a pre-recorded part of Die Walkure.

11:42 A little break from live as we go to tape and one of the ROH’s Accessible Arias – from Don Giovanni. Followed by another taped piece about the ROH Community Chorus in Thurrock. Oh, and now a piece on the Youth Opera Company. There’s a balance to strike here between giving a sense of all of the activities of a major arts organisation like the ROH and, um, delivering a corporate presentation for stake-holders. Have they got it quite right here?

11:37 Kirsty speaks with Kasper and Simon (and Krassimira limps slightly sadly away). After some very interesting thoughts from Simon, Kirsty gets to talk with a patron (subtext: let’s have more of them, please). For more from Kasper, see his Guardian blog post, Eugene Onegin: unchain my heart.

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11:34 Simon and Kasper have the beginnings of a disagreement about interpretation – exactly the sort of back and forth that is embedded throughout the rehearsal process, and which one so rarely gets to experience.

11:31 There’s clearly a world of difference between watching edited fragments of rehearsal in a documentary and this extended engagement with the process – which of course is so much more revealing. Many directors are very protective of this process, and actors and singers too, so it’s impressive that ROH and the participants have opened up in this way.

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11:28 Rehearsal sequence immeasurably improved now that we can hear Simon Keenlyside properly.

11.14 As he explains a move, Kasper says, ‘You see him, and then, oh fuck, he’s coming…’ You don’t get that too often in TV docs about opera. He makes an engaging apology straightaway – and at 11.17 Kirsty makes another apology in a whispered aside to us.

11:09 Pleasingly, we learn that La donna del lago will be shown live in cinemas later in the year. Then we go back to the rehearsal room with Kasper – but the sound issues have still not been sorted, and we’re not hearing the singers properly.

11:04 Interesting shift as John comes to the end of the Act 1 explanation and Kirsty Wark corrals John, Dick and Yannis for a group interview. Which is fine, except that I think I would prefer to see the ‘raw’ presentation.

11:01 As he explains his work costume designer Yannis Thavoris slips in a plug for Harris Tweed who have ‘generously donated’ the fabric for the Highlanders.

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10:57 Sound was a problem again here, as John handed over to Dick Bird to talk more about the set – and Dick wasn’t on a radio mic. But then after a short while, someone gave him a hand mic, and all was well again. I have to say this is richly interesting – and I already want to see the final show.

10.47 Rather too quickly, perhaps, we’re off to a model showing for the forthcoming production of Rossini’s La donna del lago. I’m surprised at the number of people – maybe forty? – who are there from various ROH departments, and director John Fulljames talks (very engagingly) about the ideas of his approach, and how these are embodied in Dick Bird’s set. John (forgive me if I use Christian names once I’ve introduced people) speaks about the importance of nation and landscape, and then dips into a whisky-drinking club.

10.46 Sound is invariably the trickiest thing to get right with the coverage of rehearsals and the like. Kasper is on a radio mic, so we have very good audio from him, but not (I think) the singers, and this feels a touch frustrating.

10.35 In to a piano rehearsal for Eugene Onegin, which quickly feels very immediate and even intimate. Director Kasper Holten (who is also the director of the Royal Opera) is working with singers Simon Keenlyside – with whom he speaks in English – and Krassimira Stoyanova – with whom he speaks German, and who is limping a little (which Holten explains briefly).

10.32 Off we go, with a conventional title sequence, and then a welcome from Kirsty Wark who is joined on the stage by Antonio Pappano.

10.13 OK, both the Royal Opera House and The Space are now streaming pre-recorded footage, and the technical gremlins noticed below seem to have been ironed out.

10.07  This is the link for ROLive at The Space, and there there is a pre-recorded build-up to the live stream. Which, given that it’s footage of Antonio Pappano rehearsing the orchestra for Macbeth, looks really interesting. Except that the stream is falling over each time I try to start it and flashing up on the screen the message ‘Error #1010’. Double hmmm.

10.05 Hmmm – now is this me, or is it the servers? The ROH links is broadcasting archive footage as a warm-up, but the stream is very poor, with lots of break-up and buffering. Let’s hope it improves…

09.50 To follow ROLive on the Royal Opera House site, this is the link.

Published there is an outline timetable for the day, which looks enticing – first up at 10.30 is a Eugene Onegin rehearsal with Simon Keenlyside.

On Twitter the hashtag is #ROLive.

Early Today the Royal Opera House is collaborating with The Space and the Guardian to stream a full day of behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsals and performance. Fuller details are here – and I intend to watch much of the 10+ hours and provide a real-time commentary both on this blog and on Twitter via @Illuminations. Do please join me – and join in with your thoughts.

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