How The Met Revived Opera (and Movie Theatres)

As you’re probably aware, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has been showing live broadcasts of their performances in cinemas around the world. The newish GM of The Met, Peter Gelb, launched this audacious program in 2006, and it’s been wildly successful. According to Wikipedia, by the end of the 2007 season, nearly a million people attended the screenings, generating $13.3 million from North America and $5 million from overseas. Apparently they plan to expand by another 30% for the 2008-2009 season.

I’m not a fan of opera, but the screenings are reportedly a joy to watch. From Peter Conrad in The Observer:

I remained sceptical until I saw the relay of The Barber of Seville in March. Bartlett Sher’s production of Rossini’s opera is a whirligig of sliding walls and speeding carts; characters scramble up ladders or vault on to sofas, juggle oranges and sashay through impromptu flamenco routines.

Watching it in the cinema was like having not just the best seat at the Met but all the best seats simultaneously. Thirteen cameras alternated between the stage, the orchestra pit, the wings and even the fly tower, so my eyes felt as if they were attached to irrepressible pogo sticks.

A while back, I watched an interview with Gelb in which he discusses The Met’s declining audience, and the new life his idea has brought to the company (and, I suspect, the genre as a whole).

Even in Victoria

I was reminded of The Met’s innovation yesterday when we visited our local multiplex. We saw “Burn After Reading”, which is a good, not great, Coen brothers film (and it features one of Brad Pitt’s worst performances).

On the way in, I noticed this sign advertising The Met’s simulcast season. The season runs through next May, and all but two shows are sold out:

The Met's Season, Sold Out in HD

Ironically, one of the two shows that’s not sold out is the one I’d be likeliest to see: Dr. Atomic. I heard an interview with composer John Adams, and it sounded kind of fascinating.

In any case, The Met’s idea seems like a win for everybody: the opera company, the movie theatres (another medium in decline) and opera fans who can’t afford to go to New York.


  1. I have not seen any of the Met performances at Cineplex, but I have seen some of them on TV. Even if you’re not an opera fan, I’d strongly encourage anyone to watch these productions, which are very slick, beautiful spectacles with the very best performers. The subtitles don’t detract from your enjoyment of the music.

  2. I went to a Met performance at Cineplex. One of the things that is interesting is that they are show you a behind the scenes look at the opera, including vignettes about the costumes, stagecraft etc. That made it even more interesting.

  3. I caught the gala event – thanks for the tip. I greatly enjoy live events and while this was only somewhat live – it is worth the time.

    I can’t help but wishing that they’d take it a step further and try to build some online community around it. Part of the joy of theatre, etc. is the other people that share with you. Our theatre (in Calgary) was only partially filled – and being able to share with more people, even online, would be an interesting idea. There is a Facebook group, but that doesn’t seem to be terribly active:

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