Move Opera into New Markets

There is an interesting article in the Scotsman today. It's title: "Popcorn Opera - The Met: Live" by Kenneth Watson. The basic premise of the article is to taut how wonderful it is to be able to see live performances of the Met in Cinemas around the world. The sub-plot is to engage the concept that more and more opera companies are looking at this sort of outreach to gain audience share. San Francisco Opera is taking a similar approach, although the performances are not live, but recorded and edited before showing.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Scotsman article is hidden in the text, the idea that numerous people who would otherwise never go to see an opera are being attracted by the art form and actually enjoying to the point of shouting "‘Brava’ at the screen." The Met's performances are not just opera, but “The experience should be like watching a sporting event,” says Julie Borchard-Young, the Met’s director of worldwide HD distribution.

If taking opera into the cinema's and making the events more 'interactive', what's the next step? Well, I have an idea - and I'm working on it.

At Covent Gardens, a 17th century opera is brought to a 21st century audience, with broad slapstick and panto-like humour. Zoe Strimple of CityAM loved the performance of Francesco Cavelli's La Calisto, call it "an absolute corker." Richard Morrison from the Times loved it as well saying, "Decadent, debauched and divinely depraved, David Alden’s production of Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 masterpiece is everything one had expected, and then some."

While some of the reviews are favourable, even glowing, not everyone agrees. The Telegraph was luke warm at best with comments like, "The result is a dazzling eyeful, but it remains at the level of a floor show: there's little attempt to give coherence to the story, characterisation is drawn broadbrush and no one tugs at the heart-strings..." although they did feel the "cast (was) without weakness, giving a superb display of baroque singing," and "Ivor Bolton conducted with panache, using a rich instrumentation that allowed the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to make its mark." Warwick Thompson of the Metro says pretty much the same thing ending with "yet they can't prevent the whole thing from feeling a bit ho-hum-ish."

Where did it go wrong? Well, perhaps the Royal Opera House is too large a venue for something so intimate as Panto, which is much better served when the actors can practically reach out and touch the audience. Also, singing the opera in English would have made it more accessible. It's sad to feel that a modern audience won't enjoy foreign language material, but panto doesn't do well if we have to spend too much time thinking about the words. The jokes need to hit us firmly in the face, not giving us time to react. If we have to translate, or read a teleprompter, we're behind the moment and the moment is lost.

Still, it's the right idea. Modern audiences are looking for entertainment of a different flavour. It's not that old material doesn't play, obviously some enjoyed the opera even though it's over 300 years old. The presentation was updated, and that is very much what's needed. The Met is performing operas in cinemas and adding commentators and interviews to give a more modern appeal to an existing art form.

What would happen if we had modern operas that had modern plot style or modern music? What would happen if we looked at other media forms (film and television) and incorporated their style of writing into opera? - That's the next step.


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