From time to time, theater 12 at the Regal Hollywood 24 in Chamblee screens something that draws a crowd whose age skews older than those lining up for the blockbusters that dominate the other screens.
The action in theater 12 may still concern heroes, battling gods, mistaken identities, greed, revenge, and love gone wrong, but any similarity to what’s playing next door pretty much ends there.
This is the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series, and for the past seven years it’s brought satellite broadcasts of opera productions from the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center to movie theaters around the world, including several in the Atlanta area. The live, high-definition broadcasts take place Saturday afternoons during the Met season, attracting a steady and growing crowd of opera buffs and curious newbies to watch “La Traviata” and “Götterdämmerung,” even as nearby screens nearby show the latest “Iron Man” or “Fast & Furious” installment.
The Met’s popular Live in HD series began almost as an experiment in 2006, the innovation of Peter Gelb, who was its new general manager. Using just a few screens at first, the idea succeeded beyond anyone’s imagining. The series is now broadcast to more than 1,900 theaters in 64 countries, and more than 12 million tickets have been sold. Audiences are showing up in Jamaica, Hungary, Japan, Argentina, Poland and elsewhere to watch the world’s best singers and musicians in lavish productions that few regional companies can match for sheer spectacle and artistry.
Wednesday nights this summer, viewers can even enjoy a series of Encore Presentations, rebroadcasts of some of the most popular Met productions.
That series begins with Bizet’s “Carmen,” originally broadcast in 2010, on June 19. The encores continue with Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” June 26; Rossini’s “Armida” with superstar soprano Renée Fleming, July 10; and “La Traviata,” July 17. All encore performances begin at 7 p.m. and take place at theaters around Atlanta including the Regal Hollywood 24, Perimeter Pointe in Dunwoody, North Point 8 in Alpharetta, McDonough Stadium 16, and Georgian Stadium 14 in Newnan. The regular season of live afternoon broadcasts begins Saturday, Oct. 5, with Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and continues through May 2014.
Opera fans say the movie theater broadcasts are hard to beat. For a fraction of the price of a good seat at the Met (not to mention the cost of traveling to New York), viewers can get up close to the action with high-definition video and high-quality sound. The series even provides some things a live performance never could: interviews with singers and other artists backstage during intermission and glimpses behind the scenes at how the elaborate productions at the Met come together.
Plus, you couldn’t really dive into a heaping platter of nachos as a soprano starts in on “Vissi d’arte,” in a live show. Sweatpants and a ripped Elvis T-shirt would probably get frowned at if you wore them to an opening-night gala, but at the cineplex no one will bat an eye. In other words, there’s a casual homeyness to the broadcasts that simply feels more comfortable and less intimidating to some viewers. It’s a low-risk way for newcomers to give the art form a try.
The successful series has inspired a host of imitators as arts organizations around the world clamor to get on board with the outreach and fund-raising bonanza. There are now broadcasts of ballet performances from the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg; Shakespeare from the Globe Theatre in London; plays from Britain’s National Theatre, and even broadcasts from art exhibitions like the 150th anniversary exhibition of the work of Edvard Munch in Oslo.
What effect the successful broadcasts will have on regional opera companies like the Atlanta Opera remains to be seen. Some argue there’s simply no way for local companies to compete with the Met (at movie theater prices, no less) so regional companies could take a hit. Others argue the series will create new audiences for opera who will start to approach their local companies with more knowledge and curiosity about seeing live productions.
Most observers agree there simply is no substitute for being at a live performance.
“There is an energy in the theater that feeds both audience and performers, something that simply can’t be replicated in a theater broadcast,” says Emmalee Hackshaw, director of community engagement at the Atlanta Opera.
“The audience has an impact on the performance, and that’s part of what makes attending live opera a unique experience.”
$12.50. Various Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
Regal Hollywood 24 in Chamblee, Perimeter Pointe in Dunwoody, North Point 8 in Alpharetta, McDonough Stadium 16, and Georgian Stadium 14 in Newnan.