The veteran, widely-read critic Conrad L Osborne is convinced he heard electronic boosting in Il trittico last week, and in Marnie before that:
For my second Met excursion in a row, comment has been heard from the peanut gallery, where I’m usually to be found. At Marnie, it took the form of falsetto mockery, and came after the curtain calls. This time (Dec. 5), it came midperformance, as poor Sister Angelica, having just learned of the death of the little son of whom she’d heard nothing in her seven years at the convent, stretched out a supplicating arm toward her implacable aunt, and sang “È morto? Ah . . .” Now, I could almost swear I did hear something there, albeit it did nothing to disrupt the unnatural calm of the proceedings. But from three or four rows back came the comment: “What?” The voice was firm and clear, neither youthful nor elderly. The tone was not of ill-intentioned disruption, but of genuine inquiry, as in “Is anything going on down there? If so, would you care to share?” Later, the same voice registered another reaction, but I didn’t quite catch it, which put it in the same category as many of the remarks being entered by the evening’s performers.
After my Marnie post, in which I yet again had occasion to note the low level of vocal energy coming off the stage, I heard from the highly regarded coach and co-Artistic Director of The New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier. Emphasizing that “I’m just reporting—others heard it, too,” he wrote as follows:
“The night I went to Marnie I was in the standing room section, and it seemed to me that not much sound was coming off the stage. If you can’t hear the singers and chorus under that overhang, something is wrong. It’s a very voice-friendly, orchestra-muffling spot. Ten minutes into the first act a strange thing happened. A guy came storming up the aisle and confronted the usher, loudly. ‘I CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING! I’M IN ROW T AND I CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING!’
“‘Sir, there is nothing I can do about it . . .’
Aural enhancement has become very subtle. Even since I wrote the chapter of Opera as Opera entitled “The Enhancements” (which dealt mostly with the openly avowed practices of the New York City Opera for several seasons), it has taken long, surreptitious strides. With the best of it, a low general level can be established that boosts the voices just a bit, and/or an individual performer can be selected for assistance of an almost subliminal sort, all without telltale artifacts—unless someone makes a mistake. At a recent Broadway performance (of a play, not a musical, and let’s not get started on the latter), I had no suspicion of amplification beyond the now-necessary all-points alert until well along in the evening, when one actor’s voice suddenly popped out at triple or quadruple volume, and from a displaced location, for just a second—a syllable or two—and one realized he’d passed by another performer and picked up her amplification before anyone could jump on it….
Read on here.