Met Opera in our backyard


Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 10:50 p.m.

New Yorkers were the first to see that something was up at the Metropolitan Opera.

Facts

The Met at the movies

Screenings for the Met at the Movies series in Gainesville start at 1:30 p.m. (except for "The Magic Flute") at Butler Plaza, 3101 SW 35th Blvd. Tickets are $18, $15 for children.

  • Saturday: "I Puritani" starring Anna Netrebko
  • Jan. 13: "The First Emperor," world premiere of Tan Dun's opera, with Placido Domingo
  • Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. (replay): "The Magic Flute," new 100-minute English-language version, directed by Julie Taymor.
  • Feb. 24: "Eugene Onegin," with Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev
  • March 24: "The Barber of Seville," new production with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez
  • April 28: "Il Trittico," new production of Puccini's triptych, directed by Jack O'Brien

In addition to the 3,700 elegant guests at the Met's opening night performance of "Madama Butterfly," thousands more watched Puccini's masterpiece on giant outdoor screens at Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza.

That was Sept. 25, and it was a hint of the fresh winds blowing through the musty halls of the world's most distinguished opera company. But behind the scenes, the mastermind of the Met's transformation, former Sony Classical head Peter Gelb, was just getting started.

On Jan. 6, Gainesville movie patrons will see the latest of Gelb's innovations — a high-definition broadcast of "I Puritani" starring Anna Netrebko beaming live from the Met stage directly into movie theaters here and around the globe.

"We're creating the operatic model equivalent of a movie rollout," said Gelb, whose resume in classical music includes running the Met's TV and video productions during the 1980s.

The Met hopes that "The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD" will revolutionize the way we see and hear opera.

"It's a convergence of technology coming of age and a more practical approach from the unions," Gelb said. The "convergence" includes a joint venture with National CineMedia, a company that develops alternative content for 11,000 movie theaters belonging to AMC Entertainment, Cinemark USA and Regal Entertainment Group.

More than 100 theaters in the United States are equipped for the broadcasts, said a spokesperson for National CineMedia

Of those, only 56 had theaters available for the series' first production, Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which began the series on Dec. 30.

The number of presenting theatres in the series increases incrementally, from 56 locations for "The Magic Flute," to 87 locations including Gainesville for "I Puritani," and 111 locations for the rest of the series, according to National CineMedia.

The Gainesville Cinema Stadium 14, which is showing "I Puritani" on Saturday, will show a repeat of "The Magic Flute" on January 23 at 7:30 p.m. And local audiences may find it worth waiting for: It was directed by "The Lion King" designer Julie Taymor in a 100-minute "family-friendly" version in English.

Considering the series as a whole, expensive "electronic guarantees" in musicians' contracts have long stymied the classical music industry's ability to disseminate its product.

But this fall the three unions representing the Met's orchestra, stagehands and singers and dancers agreed to contracts replacing up-front payments with revenue-sharing deals on broadcasts and HD broadcasts, satellite radio transmissions, DVDs and CDs and a host of other media.

The agreements, if they work, will revolutionize the way we see and hear opera. And the HD broadcasts, Gelb thinks, will launch them toward his goal of demystifying opera and making it an art form for today.

"This is all a big experiment, but one that is essential," Gelb said. "The whole approach to running a grand opera house cannot be curatorial. It's about treating great operas as if they've been written yesterday, not 300 years ago."

Even the Met has struggled recently, and everyone in the industry wants to reverse the trend.

"All 1,500 people who work at the Met on any given day are concerned about kicking out the cobwebs of opera," Gelb said.

The HD broadcasts are just one item from Gelb's ambitious list.

Sirius Satellite Radio already carries live Met performances four nights a week on its pay service, and the Met's own Web site presents a streamed live performance once a week courtesy of RealNetworks.

Moreover, this season 500 opera performances from the Met's 75 years of archives will be available through an on-demand audio service, with 1,000 more to be added in future seasons.

That's all in addition to the Saturday-afternoon Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network broadcasts.

More is planned, too, including digital downloads, video on demand and digital radio .

It's safe to say that the Met is being studied by other companies at the moment," Gelb said. "Because of these new union agreements, we're doing things that no other opera company has ever done."

Despite the press attention paid to Gelb's electronic ventures, the Met's new head said all of the high-tech glitz is a means to an end. All the marketing and publicity is secondary to the artistic product.

"What I dream about is perfect productions," he said. "You should break down the barriers but not dumb down the artistic integrity, because that would be a pyrrhic victory.…I'm running an opera house that is committed to producing the best opera in the world."

Gelb has doubled the number of commissioned operas and the number of new productions this season, and he will revive (or present for the first time at the Met) essential American works from recent years such as John Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles" and Philip Glass' "Satyagraha."

Initial returns are promising: Daring new productions by Tony Award-winning stage directors Anthony Minghella ("Madama Butterfly") and Bartlett Sher ("The Barber of Seville") were smash hits that sold out way in advance.

"These directors had very little opera experience," Gelb said, "but perhaps for that reason they couldn't accept the fact that opera can't be theatrical."

Gelb disagrees that HD broadcasts will discourage people from traveling to New York.

Televising sporting events, for example, has proved to be a box-office boom.

"The more explosive the response we receive from the broadcasts, the more interesting it is for people to experience opera in the best possible way — in the theater."

In addition to 10 cameras proving fascinating close-ups, the Met broadcasts will include interview features and behind-the-scenes glimpses.

"The audience will see their favorite opera singers bigger than they'd see them even from a front-row seat. It's the next best thing to being there."

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