There’s definitely something to be said for enjoying opera from the comfort of your own home. Especially when it’s free. You can dress up, pour a glass of wine and invite some friends round, or you can put on your pyjamas and take your laptop to bed.
OperaVision is a streaming platform supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme. It streams live and recorded performances from some of the world’s greatest opera houses to audiences around the globe. Sort of like a Netflix for opera, but for free.
It currently hosts 16 productions of some of the best known operas, with more to come. Each production remains on the site for six months after the initial livestream. Of these, I chose to watch Mozart’s comic masterpiece Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786).
Count Almaviva has amorous designs on Susanna, the fiancée of his personal valet Figaro, and is determined to bed her before her wedding night. Meanwhile, Countess Rosina is desperate to regain her husband’s love by any means necessary.
This new production from director Lydia Steier premiered at Staatsoper Hannover, in Hanover, Germany, on 20 January 2022. The performance was livestreamed by OperaVision and will remain free to access until 20 July.
Overall, the production is excellent. The singing is beautiful and the acting very convincing. The music sparkles, with the Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover ably conducted by Giulio Cilona.
Australian soprano Kiandra Howarth is particularly good as the depressed and desperate Countess. Confined to her bed, she runs a whole gamut of emotions, by turns unhappy, coquettish, angry, afraid, triumphant and more.
Mexican baritone Germán Olvera as the Count, Irish soprano Sarah Brady as Susanna and British bass-baritone Richard Walshe as Figaro are all worthy of mention, too.
The production is dark, both in mood and lighting. Steier really brings out the black humour in the story, while there’s also an overtone of violence. Not so good, though, is the literal lack of light. The set is sparse and dark. This probably wouldn’t be an issue in the opera house, but on screen it is often hard to see the action. The costumes, however, are sumptuous.
It’s sung in Italian with English subtitles. The positioning of the subtitles makes them hard to read at times, though. The white text is occasionally laid over the black and white floor and you simply can’t see it.
One of the benefits of watching an opera this way is the extra content available during the interval. Here we get a behind-the-scenes look at Howarth’s transformation into the Countess as well as interviews with cast and crew. If you’re watching the recording rather than the livestream you can choose to skip this, but it does add to your understanding of the work that goes into producing an opera.
If watching the livestream you can also join in a conversation about the performance by reading and making comments. The recording, of course, can be paused or even stopped and returned to later in the day – a benefit for the time strapped.
Sound and image quality depend a lot on your own set-up. Here in the UK many of us have access to fast broadband internet, but that’s not true of everyone. Many of us can also access the performances via YouTube on a TV, so we’re not stuck watching on a small laptop screen.
However, this way of viewing opera is still much more accessible to many more people than, say, a trip to the Royal Opera House. It also offers access to productions from all around the world, something that many of us would never have, and especially pertinent in these days of Covid restrictions.
Livestreams and recordings, however good they are, can’t replace the experience of seeing an opera live. But there is definitely a place for them alongside that experience, offering a different way of consuming opera, a way that is more accessible and easier for everyone to experience.
I’m not sure this production of The Marriage of Figaro was the best for streaming. While the darkness of the set matched that of Steier’s interpretation, it made it hard to follow on screen. I gave up trying to read the subtitles in the end and just enjoyed the beauty of the music and singing.
However, this doesn’t detract from the streaming service itself. There are several more operas on OperaVision and there’s no reason not to check them all out.
• The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart, broadcast on 20 January 2022 from Staatsoper Hannover, Hanover, Germany
• Available on: OperaVision and YouTube
• Length: 3hrs and 32 mins
• Available to: 20 July 2022
• Price: free
• Find out more: OperaVision
This particular production wasn’t best suited to watching online, but it’s worth tuning in for the music, and to check out the other operas available. Especially as it’s all free.