Ninth Hong Kong cinema to screen opera broadcasts from New York Met as audience reaches ‘critical mass’

City’s appetite for Western opera has evolved enormously, says head of the foundation behind screenings from Met, and the audience is younger than in many other places

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 5:59pm

The Asia Society’s Miller Theatre is to become the ninth Hong Kong venue to screen The Met: Live in HD broadcasts as local appetite for opera continues to grow, says its organiser.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera started beaming its high-definition telecasts to selected cinemas in 2006. They are now viewed either live or, as is necessary in Hong Kong, delayed, at more than 2,000 venues in 70 countries.

Laurence Scofield, chairman of the non-profit organisation Foundation for the Arts and Music in Asia (Fama), which is responsible for the Hong Kong screenings, says Western opera now has a growing following in the city.

“Hong Kong is at a point of critical mass,” he says.“For all the fine arts you need a certain educational standard and level of socio-economic development. Hong Kong is at that point. It has evolved enormously, I’d say, in the last generation. People are pretty sophisticated and looking for new cultural experiences.”

The Miller Theatre is the latest to be added to a cluster of screening venues that include The Grand at Elements, AMC Pacific Place, and Bethanie in Pok Fu Lam. Appropriately the theatre in Admiralty will be showing three works set in Asia – Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles and Puccini’s Turandot and Madama Butterfly.

Scofield believes that Hong Kong’s audience for opera has now become sophisticated enough to be receptive to more challenging and less familiar works.

“Two years ago the Arts Festival brought in Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. Talk about tangential – it’s way-out minimalism,” says Scofield. “But how could you do Einstein on the Beach unless the audience was developing? They are. The audience here is getting a lot more sophisticated, adventurous, aware.”

Fama was established in 2009 to promote Western vocal classical music, and opera in particular, around the region. Its initiatives have included a movable auditorium called the “Pop Up Opera” and programmes of talks and lectures in schools and universities.

“We built a luxury cinema inside a tent, which has travelled all around Hong Kong showing music programmes in low-income districts. That has been very gratifying, because it has given some of the people who’ve gone into that tent their first experience of Western classical music,” says Scofield.

Partly, perhaps, because of Fama’s initiatives in universities and schools and campaigns on social media, Scofield says that, in Hong Kong, opera is appealing to a younger demographic than is typical internationally.

Among the music education initiatives Fama supports is an Opera Club at the Hong Kong Island School, and The Met: Live in HD Student Programme, which shows productions on the campuses of the University of Hong Kong, Baptist University, City University and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

“It has been very popular on the university campuses. People are looking for new cultural experiences and they don’t have preconceived ideas. In the UK, the US or Europe people have fixed ideas about opera. In Asia it’s very different. There’s more openness. A lot of people enjoy it and the audience is growing,” says Scofield.

Although Scofield concedes that watching a high-quality video production cannot replace the experience of attending a genuinely great live performance, he believes it can engage the interest of an audience more fully than a less than great one.

For reasons of costs and logistics, he argues, live opera in Hong Kong often falls short of the highest standards, but in The Met: Live in HD screenings, the all-important synthesis of music and drama which is the essence of opera is reliably achieved.

The programme, for which tickets cost a maximum of HK$210 per screening as opposed to the several hundred US dollars good seats cost in New York, makes getting an education in the art form affordable.

Although The Met: Live in HD tends to present fairly well known operas – this season’s productions include Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Verdi’s Nabucco and La Traviata, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Dvorak’s Rusalka – there is also a modern work.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s 2000 opera L’Amour De Loin will feature Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips and Tamara Mumford in the principal roles. It will be screened on Sunday, March 26 at 4pm at AMC Pacific Place and on Sunday, May 21 at 5.30pm at Bethanie.

“Peter Gell, the general manager, when he came to the Met 11 years ago decided that he was going to bring in some contemporary opera,” says Scofield. “It’s taken him 11 years, but it has now arrived and it’s a very beautiful work.”

For more information on The Met: Live in HD, go to http://www.themetinhongkong.info/