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Opera in cinema

At this point, it's sometimes hard to know how exactly to write about the story of opera broadcasting in cinemas. It's a topic on which I've weighed in with some regularity, yet each time I write it, more people contact me with questions about it: how do I find out what's playing where? Are these broadcasts on TV? When will the next one be shown? It's notable that the Metropolitan Opera and Emerging Pictures, the two main purveyors of what is unfortunately termed operatic "digital content," have websites designed to make finding their showings easier, and yet the news is clearly not getting out there as well as it could be (perhaps because a lot of the target audience doesn't naturally turn to the Web to look for activities). As well as the broadcasts are doing, this is still on some level a failure of marketing: I think they could be doing even better.
(read more after the jump)

Does everyone know, for instance, that this coming week in the DC area you can see the Carmen from La Scala's opening night in December re-broadcast in Baltimore on Sunday; the rebroadcast of the Met's Simon Boccanegra on Wednesday in a number of theaters in the DC area; and the Mariinsky dance the ballet Don Quixote in a Herndon, VA re-broadcast on Thursday? (On Friday the 28th, furthermore, at the Washington Conservatory, you can see a broadcast of Charles Dutoit conducting Janine Jansen in the Brahms Violin Concerto, part of the season-long broadcast series from the Philadelphia Orchestra that I've also written about before.)

For opera, the Met's HD broadcasts are certainly the biggest draw. But Emerging Pictures, the outfit that's showing broadcasts of European productions, appears to be holding its own, and stepping up its live broadcasts (April will see back-to-back live broadcasts of "Abduction of the Seraglio" from Barcelona and "Simon Boccanegra" from La Scala).

And a presenter in DC has finally gotten on the bandwagon. Starting on March 10, operas from this season's Emerging Pictures offerings will air at the Atlas Theater every Wednesday night for ten weeks. The Atlas screenings won't include the live broadcasts, just taped productions starting with a 2007 Angela Gheorghiu La Traviata from La Scala and continuing with the La Scala "Carmen" on the 17th and "Romeo and Juliette," from the 2008 Salzburg Festival, on the 24th.

Posting this to my blog is preaching to the choir to some degree; even as I write it I think of lots of people I know in Washington who I know would be interested but aren't blog readers. Even an article in the paper is a drop in the bucket in terms of the scale on which the Met broadcasts, for instance, are operating. But the difficulty of getting the information out, regardless -- judging solely by the confusion I hear about from readers on a regular basis -- speaks to a basic problem of classical music marketing: how do we get the word out to people who might be interested, who aren't already going to our events? It's a question that this field hasn't thought about enough (with a few notable exceptions).

By Anne Midgette  |  February 19, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , opera  
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Good comments, although I think, in terms of the Met, the public bears some responsibility in this, particularly those who read your Blog or write emails (presumably they're somewhat computer literate). I think the Met has done aa good a job as possible in this era of tight budgets in publicizing its Opera in HD series through its Web site and anyone who has even the most rudimentary knowledge of using a search engine (e.g., Google) should be able to find the information easily. Emerging Pictures is another story. Not only are they not listed on Google when you type in "Opera in theatres" but the company's Web site is not at all helpful, even if you find it.

Posted by: BobTatFORE | February 19, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure many people would like to attend the Met's HD telecasts in theatres, but do not live close enough to a theatre showing them to make it convenient. For example, I live in Charles Town, West Virginia; to my knowledge, there are few, if any, theatres anywhere in the state which are airing these telecasts. My understanding was that many, if not most, of the Met's HD telecasts in theatres would later be broadcast on Public Television's Great Performances. Yet, I have searched the web in vain to determine if this is true, and there appears to be no schedule anywhere for future telecasts over PBS. I would appreciate input from anyone in the know about this.

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | February 19, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Met Guild member and even I don't know when the screenings are, or, until recently, where the nearest one was. But I'm not a very good case study, as I have no interest in cinema opera and wasn't about to schlep up to Bethesda anyway.

What I would dearly love however is an email alert from PBS or the Met when there is a TV broadcast.

Posted by: ianw2 | February 19, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the spotlight on this important subject.

74umgrad1, I am neither an insider nor an expert on this subject, but I share your frustration in trying to search out upcoming Great Performances at the Met performances, on PBS.

Some back-story: Live from the MET began in 1977, but was replaced by delayed broadcasts in 1988, and hence a name change to The Metropolitan Opera Presents. On December 30, 2006, The Met: Live in HD was launched with Julie Taymor’s The Magic Flute, and the name of subsequent non-theater broadcasts on PBS was again changed to Great Performances at the Met.

There have been 24 The Met: Live in HD in over the past three years. See:

The number of Great Performances at the Met broadcasts on PBS is some sub-set of that 24. I wonder if anyone at PBS even knows – much less the often clue-less WETA executives.

I have traveled less frequently over the past three years, and I believe that I would have been aware of a PBS broadcast of the March 2008 Met production of Britten’s Peter Grimes.

I recall that last spring, WETA started bunching several PBS Great Performances at the Met broadcasts in the May to June period. I believe that WETA may do the same this year.

Like you, I have checked in vain the WETA website. Perhaps unlike you, I have also checked the KQED website to see if that more progressive PBS station was following a different pattern than WETA. I could not find any leads to upcoming broadcasts.

HOWEVER, I was informed by a loved one that there have recently been Great Performances at the Met broadcasts on KQED at recent odd hours, such as 4:30 AM or Sunday mornings; and that more such one-offs are expected (or so she thought).

Perhaps like you, I have often been suddenly surprised when WETA (or KQED) pops a not-previously announced PBS Great Performances at the Met broadcast; and I also don’t necessarily look forward to five such broadcasts five weeks in a row in May or June. But perhaps the The Met: Live in HD and the subscription MET Player systems require that PBS members and donors take seats in the rear of the bus when it comes to opera broadcasts.

What do others think?

Posted by: snaketime1 | February 19, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

PS. From 1977 to 1992, the PBS 'The Metropolitan Opera Presents' program was frequently simulcast locally on WETA-TV and WETA-FM, enabling audiences to hear the opera in stereo.

Most American operas, however, were seen on PBS 'Great Performances' programs taped in other leading American cities such as San Francisco, Houston (Floyd's Willie Stark), Dallas (Argento's The Aspern Papers), as well as Washington, D.C.(Menotti’s Goya, in 1986).

Posted by: snaketime1 | February 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

74umgrad1: There's a theater in South Charlestown, WV (is that near Charles Town?) that shows the Emerging Pictures broadcasts:

The Met HD broadcasts air in Barboursville, WV ( -- no idea if that's near you either.

But you do illustrate my basic premise: you're interested in going, but haven't found the information.

There have been a couple of TV broadcasts of the HD offerings - this year's Tosca, for example, aired in December. I'm not sure a regular schedule is forthcoming (it depends on PBS as well as the Met), but I'll look into it.

BobTatFORE: is the website you want for Emerging Pictures.

Posted by: MidgetteA | February 19, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Not mentioned was Arte, who broadcast Wether ( This is recorded live and broadcast (free) on streaming video available until March 26. The transmission quality was good enough to view on my HD TV. The production was very well sung with Jonas Kauffman and Sophie Koch in the title roles, but the production, with the standard right backstage to left front stage sloping plane, and two sets, probably designed by a couple of Zambello's classmates. This is a pity, because the Opera Bastille has like 8 stories of space behind the stage, with all the bells and whistles of a technologically advanced venue. (The also serve dinner during the intermission, catered by Fauquiers.) As Gilda Radner used to say, "Never mind." The singing was great and the opera is not so bad either. On the whole, worth watching on your TV. Arte also has a lot of other offerings worth exploring.

Posted by: gauthier310 | February 19, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your response, Anne. Actually, the first WV theatre you reference is in South Charleston, not South Charlestown. Charles Town (two words), where I live, is about 250 miles from Charleston (one word, the state capital) and South Charleston. The other WV theatre you reference is in Barboursville, which is also about 250 miles away. The closest such theatre to me is probably in Gettysburg, PA, which is about 90 minutes from me.

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | February 20, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Finding the PBS schedules for the Met's HD presentations isn't going to be easy, I'm afraid.

Here's the way it works, as far as I can remember:

The Met doesn't release the HD broadcast recordings to PBS for some set period of time after the theater screenings. (This is to protect the market for repeat screenings at movie houses and for pay-per-view.)

After that prescribed time has passed, the HD recordings are cleared for PBS use. However, each member station can schedule broadcasts of the operas at its own discretion. (Last year, when I wanted to recommend a couple of the HD operas to my mother, I found that the dates and times I could watch them on WNET had no relation whatsoever to when my mother could watch them on South Carolina ETV.)

I gather, from my searches of various PBS member stations' web sites, that most of those stations don't finalize their broadcast schedules much more than a month in advance.

So there's probably not much we can do beyond searching our local stations' websites every month or so.

Posted by: matthewwestphal | February 21, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

74umgrad1: Clearly I don't know a thing about West Virginia geography, but a Zip code search of the Met's web site indicates that you may be closer to Germantown, MD, about an hour away?

This exchange just proves my larger point that the Met isn't doing a great job of getting the word out there.

Posted by: MidgetteA | February 21, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

This discussion has abundantly demonstrated the difficulties of finding out when the HD broadcasts are shown on TV. There is, however, a tab on the Met's home page that attempts to indicate what will be shown when.
Some stations are showing Turandot on Feb. 28.

And since gauthier310 brings up webcasts: not everyone may know that the Met Player (also on the Met website) has several archived HD broadcasts available for viewing.

Posted by: MidgetteA | February 21, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

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