Tra-la, It's May, the [tr]usty month of May. And, right on schedule, my pre-ordered copy of Camelot arrived in the mail. As I mentioned almost two months ago, this is not the off-target 1967 movie version. This is a 1982 Broadway production that was shown on HBO back in early 80's. The video quality isn't great, but it's much better than the bootleg VHS copy I'd gotten off of eBay a few years back. Mainly I'd still wish for a better-sounding orchestra - I doubt a 1982 Broadway pit would've supplemented the strings with synthesized reinforcements, but it's got that suspiciously canned sound; Loewe's score is so beautiful, it really deserves better.
Operas and stage productions in general are notoriously difficult to capture in screen, but I think this is quite successful. One is almost always aware of the stage, the stage-y effects and the audience, but it's shot with enough variety to avoid looking static. Yes, it makes me wish I'd actually been in the audience, but you can't fault it for making the real thing look so appealing. The performances are all wonderful, especially Richard Harris; he actually wasn't bad in the 1967 film, but he couldn't rescue that disaster.
This reminds me of my disappointment a few weeks back at finally getting around to seeing Bergman's 1975 filmed version of The Magic Flute. That production blends elements of a live stage version with beyond-the-stage scenes designed more for the camera. I probably need to see it again to articulate more clearly why it doesn't work for me - I do remember a lot of painfully close close-ups, a problem that also crops up in that '67 Camelot. In general, it's just too affected for my tastes, more hallucinogenic than magical.
My favorite operas-on-video would be the Baz Luhrman La Bohème, and, in a quirkier choice, the Peter Sellars The Marriage of Figaro. The audio quality of the latter leaves something to be desired, and the video production has a kind of cheap look, but I think the Trump Towers thing really works. I find the characters believable and I'm always more drawn into the story than any other version I've seen. I'm no big advocate of avant-garde stagings (although this one really isn't all that 'out there'), but I think this version probably communicates something of the edginess that 18th century audiences might have felt.
This is an interesting subject I'd like to return to some time.