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Opera, At a Theater Near You

During the past year, one of the upbeat stories in the classical-music business has been the proliferation of opera in movie theaters.

The Metropolitan Opera, under its new general manager, Peter Gelb, jump-started this trend last season with its high-definition simulcasts, which have proved so successful that now other opera houses—including Royal Opera, Covent Garden; La Scala; San Francisco Opera—are jumping on the bandwagon.

Hearts in operaworld are aflutter. The rest of the world has finally caught on to the wonder and beauty of opera, by the simple virtue of its increased accessibility—and the $22 ticket price, far lower than a seat in most opera theaters. The reality, as reported in a Sunday 3/23 front-page article in The New York Times is a bit different. Cinema chains, looking for ways to stay profitable, have discovered that opera is a reliable modest source of income because opera-lovers will still pay money to go to the opera, even when theaters’ main source of revenue from moviegoers is dipping. If I had to guess, I’d say most of the people going to the cinema to hear opera not newcomers to our art form: they are the same people you see at the Metropolitan Opera or Lyric Opera of Chicago or San Francisco Opera.

Still, the whole phenomenon brings a smile to my face. It reminds me of the moment when record companies, whose profits were plunging as digital downloads and file sharing began to really hurt the CD business, discovered that classical-music fans—traditionally barely a hiccup in terms of profits—were a dependable consumer segment who would actually buy their product. We may not be that important in terms of numbers, but the trend toward niche consumption means that new places are emerging for us to see and hear the music we love.

So it is with great anticipation that I look forward not only to the remaining Metropolitan Opera HD simulcasts, but also to the remaining three of four operas being telecast from San Francisco Opera this season: Samson et Dalila (March 29-April 1), Don Giovanni (April 12-15), and Madama Butterfly (April 19-22). I’m still trying to find a theater in the U.S. that will be showing Covent Garden’s Carmen in April with Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, an exciting singing actress who I’ve only heard live in Paris. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, whose stage presence has been described as “steamy,” is the Don José; if you want to hear how well he sings, listen to his astonishingly good new Romantic Arias CD from Deutsche Grammophon. On April 19, a pre-recorded high-definition telecast of that Royal Opera Carmen is being beamed to theaters in Canada, through its Empire Theatre chain. If some American movie theaters don’t pick up this Carmen, look for true opera obsessives to be heading north of the border next month.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.

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