Monday, August 30, 2010

The Met: Live in HD expands - but, how is it effecting local opera?

The Met: Live in HD, the Metropolitan Opera’s Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series of live performance transmissions into movie theaters around the world, will expand in its fifth season to 1500 theaters (an increase of 300 theaters), while adding Egypt, Portugal, and Spain to its network of now 46 participating countries. Its new season will also feature 12 live transmissions, the most so far in a single season, beginning on October 9th with the Met’s new production of Das Rheingold, directed by Robert Lepage and conducted by James Levine.

During the previous 2009-10 season, a record-breaking number of more than 2.4 million Live in HD tickets were sold worldwide for nine transmissions, effectively tripling the Met’s paying audience (approximately 800,000 people attend performances in the opera house in a Met season). By adding three transmissions this season, as well as the 300 additional theaters to its global network, the Met expects to break all of its previous attendance records. One hundred of the additional theaters are being added in the U.S, making the total number of U.S. theaters 620 this season. In the U.S. and Canada where the transmissions are shown in multiplexes, it is not unusual for an additional 100-200 screens to be added depending on advance sales. The countries with the biggest increase of theaters include Canada, adding 35 theaters; Germany, with an increase of more than 60 theaters; and the United Kingdom adding 30 theaters.

“Our live transmissions have made grand opera more accessible and popular,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager and the Executive Producer of the live transmissions. “They have helped to make it possible for opera to continue to flourish in a difficult economic time.”

The Met’s nine transmissions sold $48 million dollars of tickets at the box office last season, with the Met receiving 50% of the gross box office revenues.

Since its launch in the 2006-07 season, The Met: Live in HD has continually expanded, with dozens of countries and new venues joining the HD network each season. The inaugural live HD transmission, of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, took place in December 2006 and was seen in 56 theaters in four countries. The remarkable expansion from 4 to 46 countries in only four years has been driven by public demand. The Met: Live in HD uses on-screen subtitles for all transmissions, in seven languages including English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.

The transmissions use up to six different satellites and the operas can be seen live in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Europe, where the starting time of the operas is usually 1pm ET in New York. In Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, where the time difference is too great, the HD productions are shown on a delayed basis.

Here's the thing ... to be perfectly honest, I'm conflicted. Does the fact that the HD transmissions bring opera to millions of viewers, who may not normally see a production from the Met, outweigh the cost on local regional opera companies that perhaps lose tickets sales to the Met?

Granted, these HD-go'ers are seeing opera - not only that, but they're seeing opera from the Met! All the while, the Met is pocketing truck-loads of cash that they can invest into further productions. This is greatness.

But, as amazing as the HD Transmissions are, there are many people out there who think: why would I spend $50+ on a ticket to see a live performance from my local opera company when I can spend much less, sit in a comfortable movie theater with my nachos, bucket of popcorn, Red Vines, gigant-enormous Coke and see the perfection from the Met?

And ... there go the tickets sales for the Northern Poughkeepsie Opera Extravaganza's spring production - down the drain.

Anyone have any thoughts - answers?

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