Met Opera at the Movies Draws Huge Audience
When I first heard about the concept of showing Met Opera performances live in HD, at movie theatres around the world, I wondered whether or not anyone would be into watching opera while crunching through a bag of popcorn.
But then I read a great piece in The New Yorker about Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, who has made it his mission to reinvigorate the "theatrical values" of the Met's productions, in order expand the opera house's admittedly aging and staid fanbase - and I realized that Gelb was onto something.
This innovative and important new model for the dissemination of live performance events has catalyzed new interest in opera and attracted thousands of new Met fans in the process.
Gelb, who assumed the post of general manager in August, 2006, has sought to define his stewardship of the Met with two words: theatricality and openness. In his view, the Met, while still an institution of great glory, had in recent years become culturally irrelevant. His goal is to maintain its superlative musical values—he has told James Levine, the Met’s musical director, that he would like him to remain in his post for the rest of his life—while reinvigorating its theatrical values, thereby building a broader audience.
Gelb has made extensive efforts at operatic outreach: inviting the public to “open house” dress rehearsals, complete with box lunches; broadcasting opening night onto the plaza at Lincoln Center and into Times Square; beaming several performances by satellite into movie theatres throughout the country, as well as to theatres in Canada, Europe, and Japan. He has established a rushtickets program, with two hundred heavily discounted seats available at every weekday performance. In an attempt to forge links with the world of contemporary art, Gelb has opened a small gallery in a corner of the opera house’s lobby, in which opera-related works, by artists including Chuck Close and Guillermo Kuitca, have been displayed. Gelb’s innovations are not exactly transforming the core audience of the Met: this season, a quarter of the rush tickets have been set aside for senior citizens, since last year’s marketing research indicated that many of those standing in line were retirees who used to pay full price at the Met but could no longer afford it. Nevertheless, his efforts are paying off at the box office, where revenue is up by seven per cent, after six years of decline.
100,000 people saw "Romeo and Juliet" on Dec. 15, but only 3,800 of
them were in the opera house.
This season, Met ticket sales have topped 90 percent so far, and
have proved to be popular among schoolchildren in New York and
"We're creating, basically, satellite opera houses," Gelb told The Associated Press. "But the Met offers something you don't get at a performance — cameras that show action behind the scenes and interviews in dressing rooms, the equivalent of going into the locker room of a sports team."
On a recent weekend, ticket sales for the Met broadcasts reached $1.65 million, pushing Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" to No. 11 in North American movie box-office receipts, according to Variety. [...]
After more than a year of boffo reviews for the high-definition satellite simulcasts, other companies are getting in on the act, including the San Francisco Opera, Milan's La Scala and London's Royal Opera.
Last Saturday, as Verdi's "Macbeth" was beamed to theaters around the globe, Gelb sat in a satellite truck behind the opera house at Lincoln Center, editing on the fly as 13 cameras captured the drama on stage...Hundreds of venues around the world were sold out for "Macbeth," even three theaters in New York, where tickets for the actual performance were still available, although at higher prices. Movie tickets cost $22, compared to $27 to $295 for the Saturday afternoon performances at the Met. [...]
Opera lovers — and wannabe lovers — can find out where the broadcasts are playing by going to the Met Web site and clicking on the link for the HD series. The next of this season's eight shows, on Feb. 16, is Puccini's "Manon Lescaut."