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The Fat Lady Keeps on Singing

By Thane Peterson

FLASHIER EFFECTS. The more innovative operas have since gone well beyond supertitles in adding multimedia effects to their productions. HGO projects performances onto a gigantic outdoor screen so as many as 4,000 people can watch and listen for free. Another system projects closeups of the performers into the upper seats and balcony so people there can follow the action without opera glasses.

The Seattle Opera is pioneering what may be the next big step forward in multimedia opera. Opera directors from around the nation have been flocking there to see the dazzling digital effects at the company's newly renovated concert hall, which opened to rave reviews with a showing of Wagner's Parsifal on Aug. 2. It was the first trial of a new digital system that allows high-resolution images to be projected on a 79-foot by 39-foot backdrop. Much of the equipment was donated by two leading projection companies -- Digital Projection and Scharff Weisberg -- in the hopes that opera companies around the world will buy similar systems once they see it.

"It's very cinematic," Jenkins says. "It allows you to do things like show rays coming out of the sun or mountains in the background that gradually change appearance over three or four minutes."

KEEPING THE MET AIRBORNE. Still, it's far from certain that the American opera scene can continue to hold its own. And one casualty may well be contemporary works. All the same, I'm surprised at how many such productions are still being scheduled -- and how many have done quite well.

For instance, James

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