Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
Return to sender: The classical music offerings on Netflix are pretty paltry.
Return to sender: The classical music offerings on Netflix are pretty paltry. Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
With today's uproar over Netflix's latest moves (ahem, "Quikster"?), we thought it was high time to survey what options classical music fans have for getting visually rich, sonically superb goodies into their living rooms and onto their laptops. So we've fired up the old computer and done some quick surveying of the instant-gratification landscape.
As of this morning, the streaming version of Netflix boasted all of one classically related title. Yes, that's right, one lonely option: a 29-minute concert video of guitarist Angel Romero. Once you've exhausted that half-hour, you'll be ready to move on to something a bit meatier — but be prepared to drop some serious dollars to get the top-flight offerings available on your timetable.
Netflix DVD, a.k.a. the soon-to-be "Quikster." As much as the Netflix business was built on the idea of the long tail — that is, having fairly fast access to films you're just not going to find at your local Blockbuster — the folks behind the famous red envelopes are not so good with the music selections. For example, the "classical instrumental music" selections are both dotty and perplexingly uneven, ranging from several volumes of "Conductorcise" videos ("this unique exercise program combines the techniques of orchestra conducting with a variety of music to provide a workout for both body and soul") to a documentary on Iannis Xenakis.
Medici.tv. There's a terrific range on this Europe-centric site, from live performances made at the Concertgebouw to Glyndebourne — and the artists are the best of the best. On the other hand, I've been using Medici since it launched, and I still find its recently redone interface a tad confusing. As soon as you get to the website, for example, you're immediately dropped into the midst of a performance, which is slightly disconcerting (pun not intended). When I logged on this morning, for example, I was thrust right into the middle of a Quatuor Ebene concert recorded at the Verbier Festival in July at "5 AM" (huh?).
Medici offers subscriptions ranging from about $11 to nearly $18 a month or $99 a year. The subscription gets you streaming access to more than 3,000 concerts and 650 films at all times, plus 80 live events a year (and, with the steeper version, you can watch on your iPad, iPhone or Android).
If you're a cheapskate and stick with the free version, you can watch the live events and access them as archival items for somewhere between 30 and 90 days, depending on the individual event. But most of the live performances are happening on European time, so be prepared for some odd hours.
The Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall. If you've got money to burn, a deep passion for one orchestra and a fair amount of free daytime, then perhaps the Berlin Phil's online "hall" is right for you. Once you purchase "tickets" ranging in price from a 48-hour pass for approximately $13 to a 12-month version that's about $200, you can enjoy unfettered access to their entire concert archive, as well as live concerts, all in superb sound and video quality. However, if you want to watch anything live, you have to keep the time difference in mind, as with most of the Medici.tv offerings.
Hulu. There's less than a smattering for classical lovers in Hulu's "movies" option: I found a documentary on percussionist Evelyn Glennie and Philip Glass' "Koyaanisqatsi," and that's it. Pass.
How else are you watching classical music and opera at home? Tell us in the comments section.