Opera live and on film bringing new fans to a grand old art
You just never know where you’ll find the arts these days. If you have friends and family who are new to opera, but would love the spectacle, the drama, the passion, and the laughter, the emergence of the opera broadcast may be a good way to coax them to try it. No longer a fad, this surprisingly successful trend is growing, both around the world and across genre lines. With one-off showings of rock concerts, theater, symphony performances, ballet, even public radio shows such as This American Life filling unexpected venues all over the country (TAL is notorious for selling out almost as fast as they’re announced), companies like Fathom Events are expanding as fast as they can, and theaters of many types are benefitting. New York’s fabled Metropolitan Opera, like its sister companies around the world, has struggled financially in recent years, but credits their breakthrough Live in HD series, the largest of the current classical music programs, as a major factor in their current success: in the words of general manager Peter Gelb, “”If we can’t bring people to the opera, let’s bring opera to the people.” He seems to be on to something.
Other classical organizations are following suit, including those here in California, with screenings in recent years which include LA Opera‘s Il Postino and LA Phil‘s Symphony of a Thousand, both enormously popular. Although neither org has yet spun those individual events into an ongoing endeavor, there’s still hope. The Phil’s megamaven, Deborah Borda, announced earlier this month that the hoped-for live cinema series has not yet found the sponsorship it needed to continue, but that they aren’t giving up entirely: we may still see the occasional behemoth event available in snack-friendly environs in the future. San Francisco Opera has started live broadcasts of some of their performances, including SoCal venues in Hollywood, La Mirada, Torrance, Long Beach, Santa Clarita and Palm Springs, with more locations slated for the future. Laemmle Theatres, our local host in the Opera in Cinema series, is a little different: rather than a series from just one company, the series features a wide variety of productions from all over the world, including some of the most renowned companies in the field. This means that some of the live broadcasts might be on a Tuesday morning (as singers in Italy really hate singing in the middle of the night, just to please us West Coasters), but if the show is great and your schedule allows, does the odd time make it less operatic? We think not.
Why it works: Because the biggest obstacle to nurturing new opera fans is environmental. Most people love big music: they accept it readily when offered as part of an epic film score. Supertitles have done much to break down the language barriers and help listeners follow the story. Operatic acting is getting better, and there’s no doubt that the opera world is offering more frank sex appeal in almost every production. There’s plenty to love. According to many surveys over as many years, what scares new folks away is the fear that they’ll feel out of place. They don’t want to be dressed inappropriately. They don’t want to feel dumb. They don’t want to be so far away that they can’t see what’s going on. So until they get the hang of it, and maybe even after that, opera in a movie theater is just the thing for a lot of reluctant operagoers. They’ll know what to wear, where to park, how to buy tickets, and where to sit. They’ll be able to see everything, right down to the scenery changes and backstage goings-on during intermission. And yes, there’s popcorn. (For some, that’s the clincher.)
Let’s make one thing very clear: no one is suggesting that you abandon live performances. But for productions you can’t otherwise see, or for luring an unsuspecting future opera buff into a seat that’s more familiar, these screenings present an invaluable opportunity. Please do support your local companies. Check the calendar for plenty of options, every week.
When it comes to opera, the land where every thought is a revelation and every feeling is earth-shattering, less is not more. As Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times reminded us recently, even “Horrible things are supposed to be horrible, to jar and linger.” The performing arts, more than mere entertainment, have the power to shake loose the shackles of our daily reality. As artists, that’s our job: to make our audiences think and feel things that are unfamiliar, to broaden their horizons as we proxy the greatest joys and darkest hours. That’s well worth sharing with those who will get it, and there are plenty of uninitiated souls looking for their next challenge.
So, couldn’t you use a little extra opera in your life? Don’t you know someone else who could, too? Try Don Giovanni this weekend, or get on Laemmle’s mailing list. Or, if you can’t make the live broadcast this Saturday, come see the encore screening of Verdi’s Otello, starring the ravishing Renee Fleming, on November 14. We’ll be at our favorite, comfy, close-to-commerce and easy-parking cinema in Alhambra.
… Bring a friend!
Originally published in Next 7 — Vocal events through 11/1/12