When the Metropolitan Opera began airing live HD broadcasts of its operas in the 2006-07 season, it was widely predicted that the market for live HD opera broadcasts would be heating up. That prediction, however, has taken a while to come true. Union contracts played a role: the San Francisco Opera wanted to play, but thanks to its contract was only able to air taped HD recordings, which it’s now scaled back from national release to selected theaters on the West Coast. London’s Royal Opera House bought a production company, Opus Arte. The European opera houses started to explore their options. But while there’s been a lot of activity, you could say it took until this month for things really to take off.
Consider this weekend. On Saturday, January 8, audiences can see the live broadcast of “La Fanciulla del West” from the Metropolitan Opera (the Met website has information, the NCM/Fathom website, theater listings and tickets). On Sunday the 9th, the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- whose general manager, Deborah Borda, told me a couple of years ago that “if you had the New York or Los Angeles Philharmonic doing symphonic concerts in movie theaters across the country, it would not sell” -- is starting its own live HD movie-theater broadcast series: their wunderkind music director, Gustavo Dudamel, is conducting the orchestra in a program of Beethoven, Bernstein, and John Adams, the first of three scheduled broadcasts between now and June, also through NCM Fathom, meaning it will air in the same theaters as the Met broadcasts, including DC’s AMC Mazza Gallery and several theaters in Northern Virginia.
It doesn’t end there. On January 20, Daniel Harding will conduct “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” at La Scala, a performance with Salvatore Licitra and Jose Cura that will be broadcast live through Emerging Pictures’ “Opera in Cinema” series. The bad news is that there don’t seem to be any theaters near Washington showing it live; the good news is that the new West End Cinema on M Street is starting a weekly 8-part series of these opera broadcasts on Monday nights (the first is “La traviata” from the Royal Opera House with Renée Fleming and Joseph Calleja, on January 31st), and it will air this “Cav/Pag” on February 21st. (The Phoenix theater in Herndon, VA, is also showing Opera in Cinema broadcasts; the Charles Theater in Baltimore is not showing the series this fall due to unspecified internal reorganization issues, but hopes to resume it in the future.)
If the Met wants to hold its lead, it may have to step up its game. It has at least one potential obstacle ahead: the renegotiation of its contract with the unions. These HD broadcasts were only possible because Peter Gelb struck a convenient deal with the union last time round, but if they’ve become as much of a money-maker as the Met avers, you better believe the union is going to want a piece of that action in its new contacts.
The Met may also have overextended with the encore performances -- that is, the rebroadcasts of its HD shows (“Fanciulla” will re-air on January 26). According to one unhappy member of the audience for the Don Carlo encore broadcast at Ballston Common this past Wednesday night, individual theaters are responsible for DVR-ing the show for rebroadcast, and the quality of what was shown here was extremely poor, from both a visual and an audio standpoint. The manager of the Ballston theater declined to comment; I’m waiting for the Met to get back to me with their response, which I'll post here when it comes in. I’m curious, though, to hear about other readers’ experience with the Met encore performances; have you noticed a decline in quality, or was this an isolated event? Thanks in advance to all you citizen journalists.
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