The Opera House is the new documentary by Susan Froemke (Wagner’s Dream, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare) recounting the period in which the Metropolitan Opera moved from its old building to the Lincoln Center.
The period is very broad, with stories and archives from the first decades of the century where plans of relocation where already in talk but never took place, but the film quickly focuses on the 1950s and 60s with the creation of the Lincoln Center.
The documentary is extremely rich, full of videos, pictures and interviews that document not only what the performers or the people behind the scenes felt about this relocation or their lives at the time, but also the historical and social context of New York City during the 50s and the work behind the development and construction of the Opera House.
Thanks to the diversity of speakers (retired Opera singers and employees of the Met as well as historians), the documentary paints a very large picture of what this moment meant – as well as sharing these people’s love for opera and how it changed and inspired their lives.
While this isn’t the focus of the documentary, this part – the opera (the art), as opposed to the Opera House (the building) – was the one that I found the most engaging and captivating.
Moments like the one when Leontyne Price (a famed soprano of the 50s and 60s) tries to sing, with her old broken voice and half-remembered lyrics, a part she had played before, until the documentary cuts to her old performance and her young angelic voice moving the audience; these parts of the documentary will certainly give you chills, no matter your opinion (or lack of) on opera.
Unfortunately, these moments are rare, and The Opera House chooses to spend a large part of its runtime covering the construction of the House and its social, political and cultural repercussion.
While it is fascinating to see the very numerous and different sketches of what the building could look like, as well as hear about the political and social context of 1950s & 60s’ New York City and how the Lincoln Center impacted it, the documentary soon starts to drag a bit – at least for anyone who isn’t necessarily a fan of architecture or what goes on behind the construction of a cultural complex.
Thanks to its many videos and interviews, it never becomes boring, but made me realize that I would rather watch a documentary focusing mainly about the performances that happened at the Met and what went on behind the scenes with a small detour on this relocation, rather than the contrary.
Nevertheless, it is an excellent documentary regarding its efficiency in covering its topic, with its array of archives and information – and it will definitely make you want to learn more about opera and the Met. In that sense, it is the perfect documentary.