The Opera OnScreen Experience

There are a number of posts, articles, commentary and other such online discussions about viewing opera in the cinema via the live broadcasts. Some of the articles are publicity driven posts promoting Metropolitan Opera's “Live in HD.” Others are commentary from viewers who have experienced the “live” opera through the medium of the big screen. The feelings are mixed, with the only real common thread suggesting that opera on the big screen is better than none at all. Yet, all this discussion begs the question: "What is it that we want from an opera performance?"

Tessa DeCarlo of the The Brooklyn Rail wrote:

"Much of the thrill of opera, to those of us who find it thrilling, lies in its lavish scale and the awesome demands it makes on performers. Waiting to see if the tenor can hit the high notes in his big aria is a bit like the sick excitement of watching a car race. And whether you’re peering down from the nosebleed section or ensconced in a $375 seat in the parterre, it’s great fun to watch the curtain open on a stageful(sic) of costumed choristers, elaborate scenery, the corps de ballet, and perhaps an elephant or two. Neither of these aspects of opera appreciation quite survive the translation to a screen thousands of miles away."

However, the experience of The Met: "Live in HD" is very different from what you see from a static seat in the opera house. The onscreen performances capture the onstage action from striking angles and heightens attention to the narrative elements of both performance and production. Behind-the-scenes features, live interviews with cast and crew, insightful short documentaries, and bird's-eye views of the productions offer an unprecedented look at what goes into the staging of an opera. So, while this is still opera, it is viewing opera in a very different way.

While the performances are now seen on over 400 screens worldwide, there is still some question as to the financial success. But success isn't always measured in profit. Sometimes it's just getting an audience. According to Mark Junkert, executive director of Opera Idaho, "I think, over time, it's building opera audiences out there in a general way, There's a barrier in the [filmed] medium so that live theater, live music, live whatever makes a difference ... There's the ambience(sic) of being with all these other people for that live moment."

Lissa Forrey, a patron of the screenings in Boise said, "The quality of the production in every way impressed me—and I became an opera fan." But she still struggled with the live verses screen aspect. ""Personally, I feel like clapping after a beautiful aria," says Forrey. "But the artist can't hear my clapping so it's a bit odd."

The concept is "a way to build a wider audience for opera, and for the Met to reconnect with opera lovers all over the world," said Mr. Gelb, who started the HD series after a successful opera simulcast on screens in Lincoln Center and Times Square in September 2006. "There is no substitute for the experience of live opera, but we hope that our Live in HD series will increase the visibility and enjoyment of opera worldwide."

In a survey at two events in Davenport Iowa last season, nearly one in five respondents had not attended a live opera in the past two years. Of those, more than a quarter had never been to a live opera at all. So the project seems to be working. Great art doesn't come quickly and neither does an audience it seems. Still, the productions are a step forward, even if they are different than actually being there. It will never replace sitting at the Met, but it can still be well worth the experience.

There are only three operas left for this season:

  • Madama Butterfly - Puccini, March 7 @ 1:00 PM Eastern
  • La Sonnambula (New Production) – Bellini, March 21 @ 1:00 PM Eastern
  • La Cenerentola – Rossini, May 9 @ 12:30 Eastern

To find your own theater where you can experience it, visit The MetOperaFamily website. The Met also has expanded its online offerings, with its Met Player allowing viewers to see 17 complete HD operas and 41 other operas dating back to 1977. They can be found at


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