How feasible is opera in movie theaters?

posted by TheaterBuff1 on January 1, 2007 at 8:00 am

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.

Theaters in this post

Comments (7)

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on January 1, 2007 at 4:10 pm

sounds like a good idea that will work in select markets………

moviebuff82 on January 1, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Will it work at the Rockaway theater? It might.

TheaterBuff1 on January 2, 2007 at 10:36 pm

As seems to be becoming a standard pattern for the Philadelphia Inquirer lately, the article it presented about opera coming to the big screen was very misleading in that theaters — at least in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area — are not presenting opera in high definition. The AMC Neshaminy 24, for instance, I was just informed is using a low resolution digital slide projector for exhibiting the operatic telecasts instead. A month ago the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that an all new theater in Philadelphia — the Pearl on north Broad Street — had digital projection, and that turned out to be untrue as well. I wonder if this breakdown of truth in journalism is happening with other major newspapers throughout the U.S. or is it just unique to Philly? In any event it was nice thinking for a moment that an art form as ancient as opera was enabling the future to come through here in the Philadelphia area. Meantime I apologize for passing on this report without my having fully verified its accuracy first. It won’t happen again.

stevenj on January 3, 2007 at 12:21 pm

The review of The Magic Flute that was in yesterday mornings SF Chronicle was mostly positive. It was shown in suburban Dublin at the Hacienda Crossing 20 as a HD simulcast. It was sold out. The reaction from movigoers was enthusiastic. The article said it was shown in 100 theatres in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan with 48 of the 60 US theatres sold out.

TheaterBuff1 on January 4, 2007 at 9:51 pm

Aside from a great way to advance digital cinema throughout the U.S. (and maybe 700 years or so from now even to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as well) I have mixed feelings about telecasting operatic fare in movie theaters. Live stage presentations are greatly limited compared to movies, so given that, why greatly undermine the range of all that digital cinema can present? Of course seeing live opera performances via this medium enables audiences to see what they wouldn’t normally — namely close-ups — so it isn’t as if how digital cinema can expand on opera as it’s normally seen is completely lost. But I’d like to see something really really creative happening here, and so far I’m not seeing that. Some of the first movies ever made were straight on filmings of live stage performances without even so much as editing. But then some folks with real guts and a willingness to break the rules entered the scene and a whole new art form was born. The limited stage environment was displaced with actual locations, plus being able to edit expanded what could be expressed as well. It must have been fantastic back when it was all newly happening. The magic of a whole new medium being opened up in a big way. And I don’t think it would hurt any to see that sort of thing happen again. In any event, if the popularity of seeing operatic fare telecast in HD on the big screen continues to grow, at the very least it’s helping to increase the number of theaters set up for digital cinema. And, if we’re lucky, somebody’s who’s stepped out of line will get ahold of it in a way that’s unstoppable.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 7, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Oh,its possible,but do you want to sell tickets for one night when the Opera folks show up for the movie.What about the rest of the week.1 out of 10 moviegoers like Opera and that might be too many!

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment