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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 10 July 1999

Webcasting Live Opera

Par Wah Keung Chan July 1, 1999

Version française

The internet media event of June was the world premiere webcasting of live opera over the internet. UK's Global Music Network (GMN - www.gmn.com) got the ball rolling on June 20 with a week of live webcasts of performances of the Kirov Opera from The White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre in St-Petersburg. IBM, in association with Broadcast.com, followed on June 25th with the opening night of Verdi's Ada at the Verona Opera. The results showed potential for internet broadcasting with much room for improvement before this becomes more than a novelty.

The GMN.com interface proved frustrating and difficult to navigate for the live feed. This flaw follows from the web site's design to keep the picture within its browser window. I later found the links at the Mariinsky Theatre web site (www.mariinsky.spb.ru) that allow the webcast to open the RealPlayer program (or Windows Media Player). This proved to be more stable and I was able to enjoy parts of the June 24 performance of La Forza del Destino. Experienced through a cable modem connection, the feed at a rate of 45.3 Kbps (Kilo bits per sec) gave very good sound but a small shaky picture. Galina Gorchakova was in great voice as were the rest of the cast, and the Kirov under Gergiev was in top form. The June 25th concert performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden was successfully received, but the scheduled June 26 webcast never materialized.

The June 25th Verona Ada proved disappointing due to a combination of net congestion and a lower sampling feed of 20 Kbps (the 28.8K modem version). The sound had a 1940s radio broadcast feel. With a physical size of 2 x 2.5 inches and a rate of 2 frames per second, the picture quality was poor but sufficient to show, in the close ups, tenor Jose Cura's bad habit of swallowing for high notes in the final tome scene. IBM blew it by not offering a higher quality feed. Of note was the performance of the title role by French soprano Sylvie Valayre.

Right now, web video is more useful as an archival media. For instance, the Ada webcast in RealPlayer G2 format is available until September 25 at webevents.broadcast.com/ibm/Aida/Aida28v_062599.ram; and one can skip the long intermissions to favourite points of the opera. GMN.com contains many video interviews including Gergiev's 1998 rehearsals of La Forza del Destino, and promises more webcasts from three other classical music festivals. A technical note: try to set the media player to "external" in order to have control of volume and picture size.

Version française

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