How feasible is opera in movie theaters?
PHILADELPHIA, PA — As was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer for Wednesday, December 27, 2006, productions by the Metropolitan Opera House will be simulcast on various screens in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area and elsewhere which will be in high-definition.
The AMC Neshaminy 24 — a multiplex in Bensalem, Pennsylvania (to Philadephia’s immediate north in Bucks County) — will be one of the area theaters participating. And it’s quite unusual, as more often than not this region of Lower Bucks County, where a nearby race track recently introduced slots gambling, is associated with suburban sprawl than anything so refined as opera.
So given that, it’s hard to say just how well this experiment will go over ahead of time. Major opera productions have often been broadcast on PBS. But never before on a sizeable movie theater screens this way.
The simulcast series will also include Bellini’s I Puritani starring Anna Netrebko on Jan. 6, the new Tan Dun opera The First Emperor on Jan. 13, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin on Feb. 24, The Barber of Seville on March 24, and Puccini’s Il Trittico on April 28 — all to be Saturday matinee performances. Meantime, over the holidays The Magic Flute is being carried by 46 theaters around the country, the AMC Neshaminy 24 being the closest to Philadelphia. There’s also the Regal Warrington Crossing 22 in Warrington, Bucks County.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article, the number of theaters will increase to 87 for I Puritani, and will include Philadelphia’s Riverview Plaza on Columbus Boulevard, the Brandywine Town Center 16 in Wilmington, and the United Artists King of Prussia Stadium 16 just to the southwest of Philadelphia.
The report went on to say that tickets will be $18 – steep for movies, a big discount for operas. And how well it will go over hinges heavily on how well today’s movie theater audiences — particularly in urban sprawl areas — can take to and fully grasp opera itself.
Meantime, because of the live nature of simulcasts, when operas being staged in New York City are simulcast to theaters in differing time zones, it can result in opera afficianados being expected to come see operatic events at their nearby theaters at hours not customarily meant for such. Such will not be a problem in the Philadelphia area, however, where tickets to the Magic Flute simulcast were sold out a week before Christmas.
As for the auditorium at the Neshaminy 24 where the opera simulcasts will be exhibited, it’s rather small at 200 seats. It is hoped this will be made up for, however, by the elegance of the multiplex theater’s interior decor, which includes a concession stand designed in 1930s European art deco. Add to this that many opera fans feel the 3,900-seat Met is too large for much of the fare it presents.
Surround sound will be provided and audiences will get to see the opera presentations via many varying camera angles thanks to the advances of HD.
Close-ups will be used, allowing a new dimension to opera to be introduced: And image enhancements will be added in as well.
Because satellite technology is to be incorporated, and digital projection is still somewhat experimental, consultants from the original equipment manufacturers of this new technology will be on hand to insure the simulcasts run smoothly.
The Philadelpha Inquirer report went on to suggest that 3-D opera simulcasts might follow in the next three to five years.
All told the experimental endeavor is surprisingly regarded as very low risk, given the low overhead of multiplexes and their merely having to free up one auditorium for such special presentations.
Meantime, right now theories abound as to how much opera will be transformed by this new means of operatic presentation. Digital audio recordings impacted the careers of many opera singers, so it’s presumed that this will as well. But how at this point remains a mystery. Some effects presented on live stage might be fully lost on screen..
The Magic Flute, for instance, when presented on stage, relies heavily on the audience making use of its imagination in many instances. Will that no longer be the case when it gets shown on screen?
And of course the financial feasibility of this experiment remains in question long term. Will it remain strong once the initial novelty of it wears off?
For more information, go to the Metropolitan Opera Simulcast Site.