Charles Castronovo looks great via 'OperaVision'

From very top of the San Francisco War Memorial’s 3,000-seat auditorium, the sound is amazing, the best in the house. The problem is that the singers appear as tiny figures in the far distance. You sit or stand at the top of the second balcony to hear the performance — not to see it.

Until now. As of this week, the binocular concession is out of business.

At Wednesday’s rehearsal/student performance of “Don Giovanni,” San Francisco Opera caught up with rock concerts of decades past, and projected the show live to the upper reaches of the house using a system called “OperaVision.”

Two 6- by 10-foot retractable screens provided high-definition video alternative to watching the stage — but well out of the way so it was possible to ignore them or switch back and forth.

The size is fine: big enough, but not overwhelming. Translation on the bottom of the screens runs in tandem with supertitles on the top of the stage, but in insufficient size.

As an in-house device, the screens are sure to cause some controversy, but almost certainly, they are here to stay. General Manager David Gockley says summer opera will serve as a test, audience reaction to be taken into consideration. On Wednesday, the first public use of projection system, all went well technically.

“OperaVision” is run from the new Koret Media Suite, touted as “the first permanent high-definition broadcast-standard video production facility installed in any American opera house.”

Starting on a $3 million budget, half of it from the Koret Foundation, this miniature approximation of a NASA launch center will also run Gockley’s many-splendored media ventures, from free simulcasts to extensive archiving.

The system includes 27 high-definition LCD monitors, three robotic operator consoles, a 16-audio channel console, a 16-input/eight-output Sony switcher, and a 32 by 34 router.

And, in addition to all that technology, there was music too. The Opera will be lucky if “Don Giovanni” performances, beginning tonight and running through June 30, will maintain the brilliance of this rehearsal.

IF YOU GO

Don Giovanni

Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today, June 5, 16. 22 and 30; 2 p.m. June 10; 7:30 p.m. June 13 and 28

Tickets: $30 to $245

Contact: (415) 864-3330 or sfopera.com  

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