I prefer to hear rather than to see grand opera. The cd and the radio are my preferred media. Stay at home, sit in a comfortable chair, listen carefully, be ravished.
When you go to the opera, you re-discover that the plot is all silliness, the characters incomprehensible, and the intermissions interminable.
Nevertheless, there I was, yesterday, at the Met's HD screening of Verdi's La Traviata, the most melodic and romantic of operas. The orchestra and the singing were, as expected, glorious. But the staging was all strained novelty and misguided cleverness.
Can there be an opera less in need of cross-dressing and a gay subtext that La Traviata? Why would anyone want to clothe both the male and female choristers in severe, gray, men's business suits? If the story is all about boy-girl romance and sexual intensity and sexual pleasure, why not encourage the men and gaily-dressed women to dance and flirt and try to get together after the downright way of generation?
Opera, when I take the trouble to see it, should be as pleasing to my eye as it is rewarding to my ear.
But this time, officers of the Metropolitan Opera, I was forced to shut my eyes, and just listen. It was just like staying at home, except that the chair was less comfortable.
Addendum: today I read an interview in the April 26 NYRB with the tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Here's an excerpt:
"You see, the conductor believes that the audience is only coming to hear the orchestra and is not interested in the story, the sets, the singers. The director believes it's an all visual thing. So there is this constant fight over what each person believes is the most important part. I've seen semi-staged or concert performances of operas that were more thrilling than staged ones. Why? Because it's better to have nothing than to have something so disturbing that it distracts you from enjoying the music and that doesn't allow the music to create its magic."
Exactly my point.