The Metropolitan Opera to Protect America from Pastied Titties

12/08/2009 1:48 PM |

From the Met’s 2004 production of “Salome”
  • From the Met’s 2004 production of “Salome”

The Met’s wonderful new production of Jacques Offenbach’s stupendous Tales of Hoffman (review in a few days!) features, as its webpage notes, “partial nudity”. Yup, I can report that that’s true: Bartlett Sher’s production, mostly in the bookending sections, features several woman dressed in nothing but black thongs, black heels and long black gloves, their nipples covered with tasteful pasties. (Or tasteless? They’re sparkly.)

Those surprised to hear that there’s nudity at the opera house don’t get out to Lincoln Center enough. The Met’s current season features at least three productions with brief or partial nakedness: in addition to Hoffman, there was the brief nudity in Luc Bondy’s much-reviled Tosca, and the mass of men, many bare-ass, that shuffled through From the House of the Dead.

But when most Americans get to see this production, they won’t get to see the naked women. The Met promises!

Peter Gelb has expanded the Met’s reach through a series of live performances that stream into movie theaters around the country in HD. When Hoffman screens on the 19th of this month, it “will not include the partial nudity seen in the stage production.” (The underlining is not mine!) This is in contrast to the Tosca stream in October, which did include “brief nudity”. Is it the sexualized nature of Hoffman‘s nudity that makes it untransmissionable?

I don’t really want to discuss here the history or appropriateness of naked bodies in live theater; Anthony Tommassini did a lovely job of that last year. What the Met’s censorial decision does, for me, is double-underline the problem with turning opera into movies in the first place.

One of the most striking differences between the theater and the movies is that the former lets you look at whatever you want, in contrast to the constricted views of a film, where you can’t see beyond the edges of the frame. I make sure to practice this freedom every time I go to the theater, to at least once or twice move my eyes from the main action and stare at a supporting player who may not be doing much, or even just to an empty space on the stage.

The dictatorial nature of opera-at-the-movies irks me. (Of course, I have the privilege of riding the subway to the Met every time I want to see an opera, so isn’t it easy for me to complain about the HD streams?) If I want to look at naked women, who is the Met to stop me? Heartlanders, write your opera house, tell them you want the freedom to see butts and breasts!

5 Comment

  • Is a sparkly pastie necessarily less tasteful than an unsparkly pastie? While spangles are generally accepted shorthad for a kitsch sensibility I must, in this case, object to the assumption that sparkly pasties are tasteless.

    We’re talking, after all, about small adhesive nipple coverings, historically used to cover nipples so as not to run afoul of cabaret laws

  • Yes, it is possible.

  • Pasties are offensive and immoral. G strings likewise. The body-shame behind them causes widespread and often serious harm. Compare the teenage pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections, age at first intercourse or any other similar indicator with say Denmark, The Netherlands and then think long and hard about the attitudes which result in such enormous differences. Body-shame is child abuse with good intentions.

  • What is this obsession with covering nipples? All it does is to draw attention to a perfectly respectable part of human anatomy and sexualise it. But then I suppose Richard Strauss’s Salome has always caused controversy in this way.

    It is coverings such as pasties and G strings that are far more sexual than simple nakedness. Perhaps the Met should remove the pasties, not the scene if it wants the tone down the sexual nature of the scene, but would that be true to the story of the opera?

  • If you should have a pressing need to see a buck naked female on the opera stage, by all means rush right out and buy the 1962 Royal Opera production DVD. Maria Ewing may not be the world’s greatest soprano, but she looks simply terrific in her birthday suit. As the Amazon review puts it (with a perhaps unintended pun): “Her then-husband, director Sir Peter Hall, makes sure that the audience sees his wife in the altogether at its conclusion (admittedly something not too many opera singers could pull off).” As for me, there are plenty of opera divas who I hope and pray will never pull off that seventh veil.

    More to the point, has anyone here actually attended these HD broadcasts and seen the mobs of bluehairs in attendance? Really, at some point in life, on-stage nudity becomes nothing but adolescent sensationalism. I watched the Contes broadcast. Those skinny women in pasties were neither sexy nor remotely relevant to the story.