Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Met Broadcasts Opera to Movie Theaters

[New York Times + San Diego Union-Tribune story below]

New York Times
January 1, 2007
Mozart, Now Singing at a Theater Near You

In movie theaters across the United States on Saturday, people did an odd thing during the main attraction: They clapped. They clapped between scenes and when certain characters left the screen.

“I did at the beginning too,” said Walter Perron, 88, a retired chemist who was at the Walter Reade Theater in Manhattan. “And then I thought: Who am I clapping for?”

But habits die hard. The show was a live broadcast, in high definition, of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” at the Metropolitan Opera, the first of six productions to be broadcast from the Met through April.

“The Magic Flute” played at 100 theaters, most of them scattered throughout the United States and Canada, with seven in Britain, two in Japan and one in Norway. Though the box office receipts are not all in yet, the broadcasts seemed to be a success, with an average audience capacity of 90 percent, the Met’s press office said. Forty-eight of the 60 American theaters were sold out in advance, including those in Boston; Phoenix; Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; and New Brunswick, N.J. Six of the 28 Canadian theaters were sold out, as were all of the locations showing it in Britain, as well as the theater in Norway.

The production selected first for broadcast was in many ways the surest bet. The director Julie Taymor’s take on “The Magic Flute” played to sold-out houses when it was initially presented at the Metropolitan Opera in 2004. To capitalize on that success, the Met, under Ms. Taymor’s guidance, fashioned a 100-minute version in English (down from three hours in German) as a more child-friendly production. Did the broadcasts, as envisioned, attract people new to opera? Hard to say. Interviews at several theaters around the country suggest that the average viewer was already familiar with opera, if not an aficionado. But none of the viewers had had the chance to munch on popcorn at a local cinema in the presence of a live, Met-level performance of the aria “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön.”

“This is a good opportunity to see opera without a lot of stress,” said Erika Homann, who was at a sold-out theater in Livonia, Mich., just outside Detroit, with her husband, their 8-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter and 11-year-old niece.

Audiences tended to be middle-aged or older, though many parents, like Ms. Homann, brought young children. Several viewers said that they had attended productions by local opera companies but had never gone to the Met, which was a plane ride, hotel and $100-plus ticket away. These performances cost $18 a person.

“I have been dying to go to the Met for years,” said Leighanne Duaro, 47, of Hazel Green, Ala., who was at a theater in nearby Huntsville with her two children, ages 18 and 22, and her sister. “This is the closest thing you can get to going to the Met, to see the production and not be there.”

The broadcasts did not all go off without a hitch. A theater in Jacksonville, Fla., canceled the showing because of technical problems. Viewers in Lincolnshire, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, had to move at the last minute to another screen in the theater complex.

The broadcast in Burbank, Calif., was plagued with stops and starts, sound problems and, at one point, a screen going completely blank. But though an usher offered refunds, most of the audience stayed to the end, making jokes whenever another glitch occurred and cheering during the curtain calls.

“I think it was just the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” said Shawnet Sweets, 45, who works in the box office of the Los Angeles Opera. “Even with the technical difficulties it was O.K., because that happens in live productions. There’s always a mishap.”

There is a difference between seeing opera onstage and on screen, several attendees said. The camera chose the viewpoints and often closed in on a particular character rather than panning to show the whole scene.

“One thing I wished I could have seen more of was how the sets worked,” said Martha Edwards, 63, who was at the theater in Lincolnshire.

But even those who had nits to pick were quick to add that they enjoyed the show and were planning to buy tickets to future broadcasts. (“The Magic Flute” will be rebroadcast, though not live; also on the schedule are Bellini’s “I Puritani,” Tan Dun’s “First Emperor,” Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and Puccini’s “Trittico.”)

Some viewers even questioned why the Met hadn’t tried this already, praising the idea and lamenting the dwindling audience for opera. Few put it better than William T. Robinson III, a 66-year-old retired music teacher, at the theater in Huntsville.

“If you go to many classical performances, you see that a lot of them are senior citizens, baldheaded and white,” said Mr. Robinson, who is black and was wearing a hat. “I think there is a need to create a new audience and get more minorities to come to these kind of activities.

“Otherwise,” he added, “how are you going to get to the Metropolitan Opera from way down here in Huntsville, Alabama?”

Nick Bunkley contributed reporting from Livonia, Mich.; Kyle Whitmire from Huntsville, Ala.; Libby Sander from Lincolnshire, Ill.; and Michael Parrish from Burbank, Calif.

NYT link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/01/arts/music/01scre.html?ref=music

Movie theaters offer opera live from the Met

By Elizabeth Fitzsimons

December 31, 2006

For one thing, she could actually see the singers' faces.


JOHN GASTALDO / Union-Tribune
Ann Campbell, director of strategic planning for the San Diego Opera, (center) greeted Grace Larsen and her son, Nicolas Reveles, yesterday at AMC Mission Valley 20.
Normally, when Regina Steele goes to the opera, she sits up high. Up with the others who can't or won't spend as much as $180 for the best seats at the San Diego Opera, or $375 at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

But yesterday, for $18, Steele could sit in a San Diego movie theater and see every strand of hair and bead of sweat on stage at the Met, where “The Magic Flute” was broadcast live to movie theaters across the country and in Canada, Europe and Japan.

Audiences in Canada and Europe watched it live; in Japan, where it was 3:30 a.m., the transmission was taped and broadcast several hours later.

“I loved it, loved it, loved it,” Steele said afterward. “We actually got to see the people and their expressions.”

The broadcast, an abridged, 100-minute version of Mozart's opera that was sung in English, was the first in a series of six matinees to be beamed to movie houses equipped with surround sound and high-definition screens.

Though the Met has aired its performances over the radio before, it never has broadcast live to movie theaters.

In San Diego, the opera was shown at AMC Mission Valley 20 and Mira Mesa Stadium 18.

Both venues were sold out.

In Mira Mesa, San Diego Opera's general and artistic director, Ian Campbell, spoke to the audience before the show. He wanted to know whether they were regular opera fans or newcomers.

About half were regulars, he said.

“Overall, I think it was a big success for the Met, and it's something that doubtless is going to be successful all around the country,” Campbell said. He said he believed the broadcasts would be good for opera but couldn't yet say whether they would lower attendance at opera productions.

The movie theater experience had its benefits.

Not only was the view clearer, but there also were no strict opera rules. Late-comers were not shut out of the theater. A person could get up to visit the bathroom and not be locked out until intermission.

There also was the popcorn and sodas and the comfort of being able to wear casual clothes.

Steele, 51, of University City took full advantage of that. She wore shorts and fuchsia sandals to the show in Mission Valley.

Naomi Title, a lifelong opera fan, carried in a snack and drink.

“We never buy food at the theater,” said Title, 76, of Mission Valley. But she wanted to show her gratitude to the movie theater for showing the opera.

Her friend, Connie Pringle, 70, of Linda Vista said she hoped the opera series would draw in a new generation of opera-lovers.

“Because most people can't afford to take their children to the opera,” Pringle said.

“I can't see how anyone can lose – not the Met, not the public.”

Inside the theater, as the lights were dimmed and the screen showed the dark stage, the audience in New York and in San Diego quieted – and in both, there was some last-minute coughing.

In San Diego, the audience was quieter than your typical movie audience. A few rose and tiptoed out for breaks.

They applauded, even though the singers couldn't hear them. And most stayed at the end to see the principals, along with director Julie Taymor and Met Maestro James Levine, take their bows, clapping heartily for each one.

San Diego U/T link: http://weblog.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20061231-9999-1m31opera.html

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