Starting December 30, half a dozen of the Met's Saturday matinee performances will be transmitted live via satellite to selected movie theaters in North America and Europe; audiences at those theaters will get to enjoy the performances in high-definition video and audio for $18 a ticket. (Popcorn and candy not included.)
The first three of the simulcast operas arrive on three successive Saturdays:
- a special (and somewhat abridged) English-language version of Mozart's The Magic Flute, in Julie Taymor's wildly popular staging, starring Matthew Polenzani, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Cornelia G‹tz and Nathan Gunn (December 30);
- Bellini's I Puritani, starring Anna Netrebko and Eric Cutler (January 6); and
- the world premiere production of Tan Dun's The First Emperor, with Plšcido Domingo in the title role, Elizabeth Futral, Michelle DeYoung, Susanne Mentzer, Paul Groves and Hao Jiang Tian co-starring, and the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Fying Daggers and the Turandot filmed in the Forbidden City) directing (January 13).
Later in the season, the Met brings to movie screens:
- Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, with Ren_e Fleming, Ram‹n Vargas and Dmitri Hvorostovsky starring, Valery Gergiev conducting and Robert Carsen directing (February 24);
- Acclaimed theater director Bartlett Sher's new staging of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, starring Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Fl‹rez and Peter Mattei (March 24); and
- a new production of "Il trittico" — Puccini's set of three one-acts, the melodramas Il tabarro and Suor Angelica and the comedy Gianni Schicchi — with Maria Guleghina, Barbara Frittoli, Heidi Grant Murphy, Stephanie Blythe, Salvatore Licitra and Juan Pons (April 28).
Partnering with the Met in this new effort are three companies: Odeon/UCI (for Europe), Cineplex Entertainment (for Canada) and National CineMedia (for the US). The last, a joint venture of AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment Group, controls more than 13,000 screens in 150 U.S. markets, according to The Washington Post.
Theaters will show the operas live, though each theater will have the option of presenting a re-run, according to The Washington Post. This is no doubt a good thing: because of those pesky time zones, as The Los Angeles Times points out, on the West Coast the Met's Saturday matinees begin at the audience-unfriendly hour of 10:30 am.
National CineMedia told The York Times that the company and the Met will jointly select the markets in which the opera broadcasts will be shown; they anticipate sending live simulcasts to 25 major markets, with another 25 receiving recorded versions.
After a 30-day window for showings in movie theaters, PBS will make the six operas available for broadcast on its member stations.
Is there an audience for opera on movie screens? Gelb thinks so, and he's counting on the fans of the Met's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts to be there for this new experiment. "In the early days of the Met broadcasts, back in the 1930s, whole communities used to gather around the radio to listen," he told The Washington Post. "This is the 21st-century modernization of that experience."
Gelb and the company are making a point of thanking the Met's unions for making this new arrangement possible. Following extensive negotiations over the summer, the unions agreed to forgo the upfront payments for their members they have traditionally required for recordings and radio and television broadcasts, agreeing instead to share in revenues from these simulcasts (as well as Internet downloads, streaming audio and other distribution methods). A number of US and overseas orchestras have established similar arrangements in the past several years.
"It's only possible because the unions have put their faith in our ability to deliver what we promised them — a means to build the audience and secure the health of the Met — and, indeed, the health of opera as an art form," Gelb told The Washington Post. "Our audience is aging fast, and this technology will help us galvanize a new generation."