It’s tempting to say the next best thing to attending a Metropolitan Opera performance in New York is watching a Met production in a movie theater, broadcast live in high-definition via satellite.
But is the movie-theater experience actually inferior? There certainly are enthusiasts who consider the Met’s live video broadcasts an evolving and polished medium.
The Met loves video, having launched its “The Met: Live In HD” live-broadcast series on Dec. 30, 2006, with a condensed version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Since then, the “Live in HD” series has grown to include 2,000 screens in 64 countries. The 2013-14 “Live in HD” season includes broadcasts of 10 operas.
In Seattle, “Live In HD” is shown at Pacific Place 11, Oak Tree 6 and Thornton Place. Live broadcasts are seen Saturdays at 9:55 a.m. local time, with repeat screenings the following Wednesday evenings. In Seattle, most of the “Live in HD” transmissions are also simulcast on Classical KING FM, 98.1.
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Helping personalize the experience at the Pacific Place broadcasts is Roger Downey, a longtime arts writer in Seattle, and, for the new season, a “Live In HD” ambassador, chosen by the Met to appear in theaters in their communities and engage audiences.
“These HD broadcasts don’t just distribute opera more broadly, they’re turning opera into another kind of art form,” says Downey.
“It’s having an enormous impact on opera right across the board. The Met was a pioneer in the broadcast area, certainly with live performances. It was a big deal back in the old days of the Texaco radio broadcasts, because singers were exposed to a matinee audience of millions of people around the world.”
This season of “Live in HD” began in October with broadcasts of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and Shostakovich’s “The Nose.” Next up is Puccini’s “Tosca,” starring Patricia Racette in the title role, Roberto Alagna and George Gagdnidze.
Downey says, “The art of shooting a live opera performance on the go is now so subtle and so good that you’re looking at the singers’ faces most of the time. By and large, it’s like a movie.”
Which means, of course, today’s opera singers have to adapt to being screen stars.
“Video is creating a whole new kind of opera singer,” says Downey.
“The close-up-and-personal quality is forcing performers to realize they can’t get away with a sloppy appearance and wooden acting. The brilliant directors the Met finds to plan and shoot means what we see is preselected to reinforce what we hear.
“It means the staging of a blood-and-thunder old barnburner like ‘Tosca’ has got to live up to the vivid story and passionate music.”
At Pacific Place, Downey introduces the operas, writes and distributes essays and when possible brings in other specialists. Eventually more ambassadors will be found to provide similar services for all “Live” theaters in Seattle and throughout Washington.
“The Met is producing live art in the present day,” Downey says, “and there’s nothing stale or old-fashioned about it. People realize that’s the case, and that’s why they’re coming to these broadcasts.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org