Opera On the Edge or the Cliff?


Will opera sing like it’s 2012 or 1812?

As posted recently in KadmusArts’ daily Culture News, the leader of the English National Opera is on edge about streaming live events. In fact, he might be leading his art form off a cliff.

John Berry, artistic director of the ENO, appears to be allergic to live broadcasts and streaming. As he told The Stage, “It is of no interest to me….It is not a priority. It doesn’t create new audiences either.”

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. If Berry wants to fortify the preciousness and exclusivity of the ENO that is his right, even if it’s a bit awkward for a government funded, public organization to be so cavalier in adopting such a high handed (and high priced) approach to national culture.

More significantly, Berry is an example of an arts leader who ignores the present reality and future opportunity. Across the ocean, in the land of new start-ups and social networks, the Metropolitan Opera provides a counter-example.

The Met’s live broadcasts to movie theaters (that’s what we call cinemas, Mr. Berry) create around $10 to $12 million a year from new ticket sales. The Met’s broadcasts now reach 1,700 theaters in 54 countries.

This past season, the seventeen performances of the Met’s “Don Giovanni” sold out for each performance at the 4,000 seat opera house. That’s 68,000 total in attendance. The HD broadcast of the performance reached 216,000, with approximately 50,000 more in delayed showings in southeast Asia. There will also be more paying audiences for “encore” showings.

Of course, Mr. Berry is right in arguing that seeing opera in HD in a movie theatre is not the same experience as seeing it live. You don’t get a sense of the proportions: the voices, the orchestra, the visuals, the movement. However, what you do get is a taste, an introduction, a seductive flirtation to the immense power and beauty of operatic art. What better way to introduce, excite, and turn on new audiences?

Berry is worried that the ease and access of seeing opera in local cinemas will take away from paying customers at the ENO. And, Berry notes that creating good streamed events takes care and focus. However, the live broadcasts have not decreased the Met’s audiences. Clearly, anything that can help broaden and deepen the reach of classical art forms should be in the public‘s and art’s interest.

In fact, other British classical organizations are also taking a different route, including Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House. As Tony Hall, chief of ROH told The Telegraph, live broadcasting is “an enormous opportunity to open the work up to new people” and “positions arts in this country on a global stage”.

Oh, you see: It’s about being relevant.

As Michael Tilson Thomas recently told the Wall Street Journal, “We cannot rely on audiences simply appearing… We need to have a role in creating new audiences.”

Creating new audiences: How radical!

Stay classy, opera.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Opera On the Edge or the Cliff?”

  1. KadmusArts Playlists » Blog Archive » Opera Lives Through HD
    May 28th, 2012 11:00

    [...] — younger audiences are being wooed and successfully seduced. So let’s ignore the usual chorus of reactionary naysayers, and look at some excerpts from recent productions that illustrate the power of the [...]

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