Puccini with Popcorn: Arts Organizations Battle for the Big Screen

Friday, December 09, 2011

Audiences at a 2006 HD Screening for 'The Magic Flute' in Manhattan An HD Screening for 'The Magic Flute' in Manhattan (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Growing numbers of arts organizations are seeking to build their audiences through high-definition broadcasts. The latest entrant into the field is New York City Ballet, whose December 13 performance of "The Nutcracker" will be transmitted to more than 500 movie theaters around the country.

Cultural institutions like the Ballet see HD transmissions as a way increase revenues and help bolster their art forms' popularity. Skeptics wonder whether the simulcasts are siphoning audiences off from live performances while changing artistic standards. What's more, organizations face increasingly complex questions about revenue-sharing for their artists and stagehands as performances are repackaged in new formats.

In this podcast, host Naomi Lewin explores these and other questions with three experts: Robin Pogrebin, the cultural reporter at the New York Times; David Patrick Stearns, the classical music critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a contributor to WRTI Radio; and Barry Rebo, a managing partner at Emerging Pictures, which distributes performances by companies like La Scala opera house, the Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi Ballet.

Weigh in: Do you attend simulcasts of operas, orchestras or ballet companies in movie theaters? What do you like or dislike about them? Leave your comments below.

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Comments [12]

Jerry Hendel from Fergus Falls, MN (60 miles from Fargo, ND)

I have been attending 2-5 performances per year of the Met HD broadcasts. I think this is great. I drive 60 miles from Fergus Falls, MN, to Fargo, ND. I get to see fantastic Met. telecasts that I would not otherwise get to experience. (Though a buddy and I did fly to NYC to see the last performances of the Otto Schenk Ring.) I can see all the facial expressions with the close camera angles. (At the Met's Ring from the 15th row I could not see faces well enough to realize that Placido Domingo had been replaced by his understudy).
I still attend all of the Fargo-Moorhead Civic Opera and some of the Minnesota Opera's performances. (For which I drive 180 miles each way and have to stay overnight.)
So, for me living 180 miles from Minneapolis and 60 miles from Fargo, it is the Met HD broadcasts or nothing. These are not diminishing my patronage of local opera companies.

Dec. 14 2011 10:56 PM
Tim Taffe from Iowa City Iowa

Reply to Alexandra de Milano, Italia...

Si, and No..

Yes, the unlimited legroom, (I am very very tall) and wide comfortable reclining seats at Sycamore Shopping Center in Iowa City are much more inviting than the narrow seats with ten inches of legroom at top tier La Scala..but .Please.. only La Scala is La Scala..and the sound is magnificent...oh yes, and the Licorice flavoured Gelato in the Plaza also part of my Milano experience!.. Viva Italia!! T2

Dec. 13 2011 01:11 PM
Norman Anderson from San Diego

I love the Met HD broadcasts. I can only hope that live New York theater will follow your lead. Dwindling orchestra pits on Broadway are an indication they might need HD viewers too. Thank you for your commitment to HD broadcasting.

Dec. 13 2011 12:49 PM
Richard Maseles from Columbia MO

Like Tim in Iowa City, I live in a college town and the Met HD broadcasts are wonderful. I held season tickets for Houston Grand Opera so opera's not a new experience for me, and I'd prefer live performance if available, but I'm pleased and grateful.

Dec. 12 2011 09:05 PM
ML Hart from San Diego, CA

I'm a huge fan of the HD experience. Most of the time, the camera work gives me what I want (enough of the wide view, lots of closeups)... sometimes, there's clearly something going on out of the camera view that I wish I could see. The audience is a little rowdier (and the smell of theatre popcorn at 10 in the morning, California time, is a bit much...) but there are also folks there who couldn't afford to go to NYC or to the local company.
That being said... it's an *enhanced* experience, not a substitute for being in the auditorium, hearing the vibrations of sound hit your ears in the same environment they're produced. When it all works, being live is an unforgettable experience.

Dec. 12 2011 04:00 PM
Alexandra from Milano, Italy

HD is the best thing that has ever happened to opera! I am an avid opera-goer, but HD screenings really beat the live experience from all respects.

Dec. 12 2011 01:02 PM
Michael Meltzer

If HD opera and ballet broadcasts do "siphon off" a few local ticket buyers at the outset, that should be temporary, because the showings in local movie theaters in the boonies can only raise the national opera & ballet IQ, and if intelligent promotion accompanies the showings, can result in increased tourist demand for tickets to live performances in the major cities.
Right now, no tourist would leave NYC without having seen at least one Broadway show, travel agents everywhere are tuned into that loop. That huge potential live audience base is fertile for development.
Nationwide HD broadcast may be the needed tool.

Dec. 12 2011 01:15 AM
David from Flushing

Video presentations of ballet are more problematic than opera as there is more going on. At what point does one show the full stage or focus in on a soloist? Of course, one can give a "seat view" of the stage, but people tend to expect close ups today.

There was a time when there were a number of free broadcasts on PBS, but these have declined over the years. Obviously, it costs money to put on opera and eventually one must expect to pay.

Dec. 11 2011 06:29 PM
Alex Servente from Buenos Aires, Argentina

I have been an opera goer since my early youth, and always enjoyed live performances and recording of live performances, but Live HD from the Met is a totally new fascinating experience. It just changes the perspective of watching and listening to live performances. I do not think that it could be matched even at the opera house, since from first row orchestra you can´t get all the different stage angles like the cameras that tape the performance. Also the heavily miked sound helps a lot the performers, so you never have a singer being overpowered by the orchestra. . All in all... a great but different alternative to experience opera. But don't be disappointed when you go to the opera house and all you see is a small stage fare away with singers you may barely hear!.

Dec. 11 2011 04:22 PM
Tim Taffe from Iowa City Iowa

The New York Met HD in Iowa City is nothing short of fabulous! Even though I grew up in Metro NYC, I had never been an opera fan, but the financial and physical availability right here in Iowa City has taken my opera interest from low to very high. And yes, it has encouraged me to visit local University of Iowa and regional opera productions as well..and yes, a trip to Mecca at Lincoln Center last year.
Particularly in these fascinating financial times, the fantasy of "Going to the Met" on a Saturday afternoon, or a Wednesday evening is amazing.
Now, if only Diva Fleming would answer my fan mail!..Thank You T2

Dec. 11 2011 11:30 AM
Alonso Alegria

In Lima (Peru) the Met in HD has grown, in three years, from one screen per opera (one showing) to three screens per opera (four showings). And I have grown from a happy tolerance of opera as a genre to the attitude of a future fan. HD is the best thing that has ever happened to opera since Mozart.

Dec. 11 2011 10:22 AM
Tim Brown from Washington, DC

I'm loving the Met Opera HD broadcasts, have been going to them since 2009. I've taken friends who had never seen or heard opera before; they are now fans and ahve been to live performances at the Washington National Opera as a direct result of seeing the HD broadcasts. So, Bravo HD broadcasts!

Dec. 11 2011 06:36 AM

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