The Playgoer: Met at the Movies

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Met at the Movies

This just posted to

The Metropolitan Opera announced today that it would begin broadcasting live performances into movie theaters across the United States, Canada and Britain, rubbing shoulders with professional wrestling and rock concerts.

The broadcasts are part of a strategy by the Met’s new general manager, Peter Gelb, to widen the house’s appeal by branching out into new media. The house also said today that it was opening up its vast archive of historic radio broadcast performances for streaming and downloading.

“I think what I’m doing is exactly what the Met engaged me to do, which is build bridges to a broader public,” Mr. Gelb said. “The thrust of our plan is to make the Met more available. This is not about dumbing down the Met, it’s just making it accessible.”

Wow. My first take is, this is potentially big. And a welcome, bold move by a huge elite arts institution. I'm all for preserving the magic of live performance, sure. But this could result in interesting exposure of the artform to those who would never afford, or care. Plus, you can dress casually and eat popcorn.

Imagine if the Public booked some screens to "closed-circuit" Mother Courage...

It seems like a seemingly impossible deal was reached with the unions on this.

From Crain's New York Business:

Met in deals to show operas on a global stage
by Miriam Kreinin Souccar

The Metropolitan Opera has signed agreements with its unions and a number of media partners that will allow its productions to be seen live around the world.

The Met has partnered with National CineMedia in the United States, Cineplex Entertainment in Canada, and Odeon/UCI in Europe.

Beginning Dec. 30, the Met will transmit six Saturday matinees live in high definition into several hundred movie theaters throughout North America and Europe.

The operas include the new English-language adaptation of Julie Taymor's “Magic Flute” and the world premiere of Tan Dun's “The First Emperor."

The flurry of distribution deals were made possible because of new agreements signed between the Met and its orchestra, Local 802; its chorus and ballet, AGMA; and its stagehands, Local One. With the new union contracts, workers will exchange substantial upfront payments for a new revenue-sharing model, which gives the Met more flexibility to try new types of distribution.

"The unions have kindly granted us control over the creation and distribution of our electronic content," says Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager. "This is a unique opportunity to raise our profile and grow our audience. Opera will now enter the digital era."

Following 30-day windows, the productions will air on PBS in the U.S. and a variety of television systems in other countries.

The Met will also present live performances on its Web site and make its archive of 1,500 radio broadcasts available as part of an audio on-demand service.

©2006 Crain Communications Inc.

At least this will be an affordable way to finally see Taymor's "Magic Flute" (other than on my computer, or my small tv, I guess). I await further word on whether they'll broadcast the real one or the 90-minute family-friendly version the Met is packaging for the holidays.


June said...

I guess this isn't an issue at the Met, but if this catches on, I wonder if venues will have an agreement like the National Football League's and not televise (or in this case simulcast) the game (show) if the performance isn't sold out. Opera tickets are expensive--I might be tempted to have a not-quite-as-exciting/memorable/goosebumps-inducing experience if the price differential were more than a hundred bucks!

I'm surprised there aren't union issues (or, if there were, that they've resolved them).

Art said...

Hi Playgoer,

This kind of touches on something that I and other bloggers have brought up over the years.

We know that Broadway archives all the filmed performances of the productions over the years. Well.. how about releasing some of them as well.

How many people would pay to 5.99 or 10.99 to see Charles Dutton's performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Mamet's GlenGarry Glen Ross, or what about Speed the Plow?

Or Robert Morse's stage charisma in the original How to Succeed in Business. Then compare it to Matthew Broderick in the revival. Joel Gray's EmCee in Cabaret?

I know there are probably all sorts of union things involved, but this is just thinking big.

Reel Fanatic said...

For about a year now we've been getting concerts at a movie theater near me, but they've always been pop music until now .. This is indeed a welcome, bold move, and I can only wish them well

Anonymous said...

playgoer, with regards to your last point, it will be the 90 minute pared down english language version. take it as you will - unfortunate for opera fans, but most likely a positive in that it will help to cultivate audiences that would be put off by 3 hours of mozart?