Metropolitan Opera offers new works for live global broadcasts
New York's Metropolitan Opera aims to reach a wider audience as it steps up live broadcasts to cinemas round the world during an upcoming season that features six new productions.
Announcing its 2015-16 season last week, the Met promised popular classics and performances by some of opera's most prominent singers including Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Kristine Opolais and Joyce DiDonato.
Next year will mark one decade since the Met launched live broadcasts into cinemas, an idea that initially struck some purists as offbeat but which the opera house says now pulls in a global audience of 250,000 per performance.
Met general manager Peter Gelb, who has championed the initiative known as The Met: Live in HD, says the broadcasts have helped attract a younger audience by showing the immediacy of opera.
"Of all the performing arts, opera comes the closest to a kind of gladiatorial contest," he says.
Along with rejuvenating the ageing crowds at the Met, Gelb says the broadcasts have increased the Met's profile and persuaded talent to perform in New York rather than at the Met's primary rivals in Europe.
Outside the US, the top audiences for The Met: Live in HD are in Germany and Austria, where opera is ingrained in cultural life. The programme is also available in Hong Kong, thanks to Foundation for the Arts and Music in Asia fama.org.hk a non-profit outfit that "promotes awareness of classical vocal music in the region and [fosters] an appreciation of the art of Western opera". Screenings are held throughout the year at Bethanie (part of the campus of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts) and selected cinemas.
The Met says it will expand transmissions in the 2015-16 season to more than 2,000 theatres in 70 countries, up from just 98 cinemas for the first broadcast in 2006.
Gelb identifies China and Russia as countries for expansion. The mainland has seen a surge in interest in Western classical music, although mostly instrumental rather than opera, while Russia has a longstanding opera tradition whose stars have been increasingly visible around the world.
"In spite of all the political problems in the world today between Russia and the West, in terms of opera, it's closer than it ever was," Gelb says.
The cultural ties have not been without controversy, with a protester recently disrupting a curtain call for Tchaikovsky's Iolanta to protest the support of stars, including Netrebko, for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Gelb says the broadcasts brought in US$17-19 million per season for the Met, which has long struggled to stabilise its finances and relies on donations for more than half its budget. "For an organisation that has a US$300 million annual budget, that's not going to solve our problems, but it's certainly better than not having it," he says.
For the first time in nearly a century, the Met will stage Georges Bizet's early opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), a tale of a priestess wooed by friends-turned-rivals in ancient Sri Lanka.
Other season highlights include a new production by South African artist William Kentridge of Alban Berg's Lulu, a once controversial opera of a young woman's sexual spell. German soprano Marlis Petersen, known for portraying Lulu, will perform the role in New York.
Swedish dramatic soprano Stemme, who mostly sings in Europe, will come to New York for one of opera's best-loved but highly challenging title roles in select Met performances of Puccini's Turandot. She will also star in the title role of Elektra.
The season will open on October 17 with a new production of Verdi's Otello. Gelb describes Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who will star in the production, as one of the few singers with the vocal power to play the title role in a large opera house.
Unlike many previous years, the 2015-16 season will feature no contemporary operas. Gelb describes the absence as an accident of the calendar and says that modern productions are in the works.