Opera – in a theater near you

Watching an opera at The Met is an incredible experience. But not everyone lives in New York. This past year was the second season where people could watch the operas, live, in theaters.

The Met’s transmissions of eight live performances to movie theaters reached 908,000 people, more than the total number who attended performances at the house this season (about 850,000). The transmissions do not yet earn a profit, but they do pay for themselves, Mr. Gelb said, through ticket sales and rebroadcasts on public television.

The 2007-08 season showed in theaters in the US and in many countries around the world.

This is a wonderful way for The Met to increase participation. Opera can be viewed as stuffy, old-school and inaccessible. Showing it in movie theaters at a reasonable ticket price ($22 in the US), allows people to check it out without too much of a commitment. It also allows opera lovers around the world to access the performances.

The next step is to stream the performances online. The movie theater screenings in the US (including three theaters in NYC and one in Long Island) did not reduce the attendance at The Met at all –

Against that background and the national economic downturn, the Met has some encouraging box-office figures. The company sold 88 percent of the house this season, an 11.3 percent increase from two years ago. Out of a total of 219 performances, 127 (58 percent) sold out, up from 10 percent in 2005-6, Joseph Volpe’s final season as general manager, and 40 percent last season, Mr. Gelb’s first.

Those who are able to attend a live performance at Lincoln Center (time, location, money), will certainly continue to do that. There is no way a movie theater or a computer screen can replace that experience. The Met could charge a fee for viewing the performances online if streaming for free is too hard to swallow. That initiative could bring The Met a whole new group of followers who are much more likely to buy tickets if they are in New York during the season.

I certainly hope that Mr. Gelb is willing to be that bold.

Quotes from this NY Times article