Three years ago the Metropolitan Opera developed a new format, they would broadcast selected Saturday opera matinees in high definition to designated movie theaters. These theaters had to have stadium seating and digital projection capabilities. Because of the capability of cable broadcasting networks these theaters could be located anywhere on the globe as long as they met the Metropolitan Opera’s requirements.
We heard about these broadcasts and being opera lovers decided that in addition to our annual $100. a ticket visit to the Met at Lincoln Center in New York we would try the new HD opera format. During the 2006-2007 Met season we started to go to the HD broadcasts at the Edgewater Cineplex which certainly met the Opera’s standards.
In December of 2007 we saw our first broadcast, it was Guonod’s Romeo and Juliet and we were flawed by the close-ups of the beautiful couple in their elevated bed on their wedding night. The following year we went to see Verdi’s Macbeth, followed by Puccini’s La Boheme which we drove up to New Rochelle to see because Edgewater was sold out. This was followed by Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, Strauss’ Salome, Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust and Massenet’s Thais. In spring 2009 we saw Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Puccini’s Madamma Butterfly, Bellini’s La Sonambula and Rossini’s La Cenentarola. Our annual Met visit was to see Puccini’s La Rondine which turned out to be a disaster because Ruth fell coming out of the elevator on the balcony level. We ended up in the Met infirmary which is also used for performers who require medical assistance. As it turned out, we were not enthralled with the opera.
In the fall of 2009 we saw Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s Aida, Puccini’s Turandot, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. 2010 brought Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Bizet’s Carmen, Thomas’ Hamlet and Rossini’s Armida. So far the 2010-2011 season has brought us Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Mussorsky’s Boris Gudunov, and the delightful Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Donizetti’s overture to this opera is very familiar to me and always brings tears to my eyes. That’s quite an impressive array of operas which we could never have afforded to see at the Met.
But the real performance that I want to write about is the one that takes place at every Saturday matinee HD broadcast inside the Edgewater Cineplex theater with stadium seating and digital projection capability. The admission for these performances is $22. for seniors, plus your lunch unless you want to purchase the hot dogs or pizza at excessive movie theater prices. Also you have to arrive at least an hour before the start of the performance in order to get a decent seat.
Because these broadcasts have become so popular and so much in demand, so far the Edgewater Cineplex has only one theater that shows the broadcast, the performances really start towards the end of September when tickets become available online. This year I purchased tickets for the first two operas at 12:01 am on the day they became available. The tickets for the rest of the year were purchased at the theater shortly thereafter. At this point most 2010-2011 performances are sold out. There is an Encore performance usually at 6:30 pm on a Wednesday a few weeks later. These performances are really just as good as the live broadcasts except that the intermission features are eliminated to avoid the presentation running too late in the evening. Seats for the Encore performance are usually available. In fact Ruth and I went to see Toy Story 3 one recent Wednesday night. I didn’t care for the film and walked into an Encore performance of Carmen across the corridor without difficulty, which I watched until Ruth’s movie was finished.
You enter the theater from one of the two theater corridors which always remind me of the ones at the airport leading to your departure gate. Once inside the door you can go to the left or the right of the stadium seats. There is a walkway parallel to the screen with steps leading up and other steps leading down. This walkway holds the seats reserved for people who are handicapped, who cannot walk up or down the steps. To reach the “decent” seats you walk up, preferably the first 10 rows at the center of the theater. There are seats all the way up to an area below the projection booth, some people like to sit up there in the clouds. The seats you reach walking down are too close to the digital screen and are filled last by latecomers.
Opera lovers come early, claim the decent seats and reserve seats for friends. One sees the same opera fans for every performance with a large number of them speaking Russian. Every once in a while it’s wonderful to see young opera lovers among the many white-haired fans. Some HD theaters have stopped allowing seats to be saved because there are a lot of late comers who are annoyed and create scenes at all the empty seats being “reserved”. Last Saturday I got up to go to the bathroom before the start of Don Pasquale and Ruth had to fight off a very indignant lady who stated that Ruth could not save my seat. After Ruth explained where her husband was, the lady walked off in a huff muttering at the injustice. But the opera audiences are mostly respectful, cellphone rings are at a minimum and a well performed aria brings applause from the theater audience in addition to the reaction at the Met.
The lights are on in the theater even though the screen might show a test broadcast from the Met Opera house. Eventually the Met HD Opera commercials and or previews come on and then the live broadcast begins with the camera showing ticket holders seated in the opera house caught by the ever present cameras followed by the traditional views of the Met’s chandeliers rising up to the ceiling while the screen counts down the time to the start of the program. Usually one of the Met’s opera stars comes on as host and introduces the opera while walking across the backstage. The backstage camera work is only seen by HD broadcast viewers, the opera house attendees only see the remote TV cameras moving under and around the edge of the stage. I always enjoy watching the elaborate intermission scene changes as huge sets slide in and out from the sides and sets descend from the Met’s multi-story backstage area.
The opera’s “host” also interviews the lead performers for the HD broadcast audience. Intermissions mean a run to the bathrooms, getting on line to buy a snack or a cup of coffee or even popcorn while the theater screen counts down the time to the restart of the broadcast.
The performance starts with the stage director’s call “Maestro to the pit”, the conductor takes his place in front of the large orchestra, bows to the house applause and raise his baton (if he uses one). Our theater opera performance has nearly ended, the Met’s is about to begin. The Met’s house lights and our theater lights dim and the performance begins with the overture.
(c) Peter Adler Fort Lee, NJ, USA
(c) Peter Adler Fort Lee, NJ, USA