When I was growing up, the Metropolitan Opera went on tour each spring going west from NYC to various major metropolitan cities in the Midwest. Each spring my mother and I would go to Cleveland and see a couple of the productions. When I moved to the Twin Cities in '84 I was delighted to see that Minneapolis was the most western destination of the Met's spring tour and so I could still see the Met live. I enjoyed seeing productions at the Northrup Auditorium for several years. However by the end of the '80s the tour became too costly and unprofitable for the Met so it abandoned the long-standing tradition of touring. Those of us non New Yorkers who couldn't pilgrim to The Big Apple were left with the live broadcasts on public t.v. and public radio--until last year.
I was thrilled when I received word that the Met was going to simulcast onto theatre screens in the U.S. The first broadcast was going to be Mozart's The Magic Flute on Dec. 30, 2006. I went to see this opera on a first date with my husband. It has a good story line for children. And my mother would be visiting when they were screening it! But alas, I realized that the Met had done something wonderful for opera when I logged on to try to purchase tickets---SOLD OUT. I still have yet to get to the Eagan theatre that is participating to see a live Met performance, but I can now rest assured that there will be many more opportunities for me to do so in the future!
Met Opera to Expand Simulcasts in Theaters
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Published: May 17, 2007
The Metropolitan Opera says its simulcasting of operas into theaters, which has sent ripples through the opera world, was so successful over the last five months that it will expand the program next season.
Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said he expects the number of people who attend live Met performances in movie houses next season to match the cumulative audience for all 225 performances in the Met auditorium: about 800,000 people. Mr. Gelb also said he expects the series to make a profit, a word not often heard in the opera world.
He ascribed other benefits to the simulcasts this season. They increased attendance, although there is no hard evidence for this; brought excitement to the performers and other company members; and served as a powerful marketing tool, he said in an interview this week.
“This is considered by any standards to be a great success,” Mr. Gelb said of the simulcast series. “There was considerable skepticism about whether this would work.”
This season the Met simulcast six operas live to movie theaters across the United States, Canada and a handful of other countries and added repeats (“Encores,” in its marketing language). For the first live show, “The Magic Flute” on Dec. 30, about 21,000 people watched in front of 98 screens. For the last, “Il Trittico” on April 28, 48,000 people watched in front of 248 screens.
In all, the Met sold 324,000 tickets worldwide at $18 each in the United States and more overseas, taking 50 percent of the proceeds and earning at least $3 million, as well as additional income from the sale of rights. Each simulcast cost $850,000 to $1 million to make. The Met had to use about $1 million in endowment money to make up the costs, but Mr. Gelb said that next year expanded showings and the sales of rights and DVDs should mean that the program will at least pay for itself, with a surplus likely.
By contrast “Spider-Man 3” played in 4,252 theaters last weekend, has taken in total receipts of at least $247 million domestically, and with the average ticket price of $6.55, that makes 37.7 million tickets sold.
Next year the Met hopes to double the number of theaters for each broadcast; increase the number of simulcast productions to eight; expand its foreign coverage, now including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Britain and Japan, possibly to France, Italy, Belgium, Austria and Spain; and offer pay-per-view showings for a month after the live event.
The simulcasts certainly have the attention of other opera companies. Last month in Miami they were all the buzz at the annual conference of Opera America, a service organization for companies, said Marc A. Scorca, its president.
“There was a lot of wonderment about whether the transmissions will be the 21st-century equivalent to the radio broadcasts that began in the 1930s,” Mr. Scorca said. Opera managers also talked about whether theater transmissions will galvanize enthusiasm for opera and complement the performances of resident companies, he said.
While there was no evidence that the Met broadcasts have hurt ticket or subscription sales at local companies, Mr. Scorca added, some opera managers wondered whether they eventually would.
A half-dozen opera officials interviewed said they saw no potential negative effect on how productions might be cast or conceived when directors — and singers — knew they would be shown on a big screen.
“I do not now cast for the movies, nor do I ever intend to,” said Speight Jenkins, the general director of the Seattle Opera. Mr. Jenkins praised the simulcasts, which appeared in towns outside Seattle, as a way of exposing more people to the art form, but like other officials he stressed that the best opera experience was a live one.
Already one company has followed the Met’s lead. The Washington National Opera said last week that it would simulcast two productions next year, but to college campuses, with tickets free.
Local opera companies have used the Met broadcasts to try to drum up interest in their own performances. They have left brochures on cars in movie-house parking lots, set up information tables in theater lobbies and sent representatives to address the audiences, Mr. Scorca said. In a sign that the cultures of moviegoing and opera attending don’t mix, several theater operators barred such efforts, he added.
Foreign opera houses have also expressed interest in making their own transmissions.
The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London is negotiating with several theater chains and its unions to provide simulcasts, said the company’s chief executive, Tony Hall.
“All of this is about reaching a larger audience and proving that opera has lots of things to say to people today,” he said.
Nicolas Joël, the director-designate of the Opéra de Paris, called opera simulcasting “a very exciting development,” adding, “It’s certainly a way of bringing new audiences to our theater.”
Mr. Joël said he planned to talk to the house’s unions to make such transmissions possible. “I told my friend Peter Gelb I wouldn’t let the Met be the only broadcast in France.”