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High-Definition Opera Hits Movie Theaters
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High-Definition Opera Hits Movie Theaters



The Metropolitan Opera has gone digital. Yesterday, the Met beamed a live performance from New York to movie theaters in Boise, Idaho; Merriam, Kansas; and dozens of other places around the world. It was the first in a series of six performances this season, as Frank Morris, of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS: Opera fans here in Kansas showed up early yesterday - before the staff, in fact - at a nondescript, 20-screen multiplex in a big-box strip mall near Kansas City. There were a few little kids, but most of the patrons were middle-aged. And not all of them got in the door.

Unidentified Man: I was absolutely surprised and shocked that this many people would have prereserved tickets for the opera.

MORRIS: Opera-goers who did get in encountered none of the Met's red carpet, Austrian crystal chandeliers and original artwork, but instead faced purple-and-gray tile floors and red-and-green striped walls and snack bars selling popcorn.

Back in Theater One, though, the Metropolitan Opera fills the screen.

(Soundbite of opera music)

MORRIS: The curtain opens, and a serpent is chasing a prince in samurai gear around the stage. This shortened version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" is directed by Julie Taymor, famous for bringing "The Lion King" to Broadway. It's in English with English subtitles, not a selection for opera snobs. Julie Borchard-Young, the Met's acting marketing director, says that's the point.

Ms. JULIE BORCHARD-YOUNG (Metropolitan Opera): The whole goal is to bring the artform out to the widest possible audience.

MORRIS: Since 9/11, performers at the Met have faced a growing number of empty seats in the house. What's worse, a couple of surveys have put the average age of subscribers at 65 and rising. Borchard-Young says yesterday's broadcast gave some 15,000 movie theater viewers a live taste of what they're missing.

Ms. BORCHARD-YOUNG: Well, opera is spectacle. Opera is unpredictable. Opera is exciting. Opera is magical.

MORRIS: Kansas City Star media critic Aaron Barnhart agrees. He's a longtime opera lover who caught his first performance at the Met earlier this month.

Mr. AARON BARNHART (Media Critic, Kansas City Star): You'll actually get a better seat in the movie theater than I did sitting in the front row of the balcony at the Metropolitan Opera House.

(Soundbite of opera music)

MORRIS: When the Queen of Night shows up, you can see each separate dapple of light on her huge, flowing white wings or sails or whatever they are. Naturally, the sound is great, too, and this for something like a tenth the price of a good seat in New York. Simulcasting, of course, is nothing new. As far back as the 1960s, boxing fans flocked to movie theaters to save themselves trips to Vegas to catch big fights.

But the pictures weren't exactly high definition. This kind of super-high-quality live satellite feed to movie houses has only been possible for a couple of years, and critic Aaron Barnhart says the Met is ahead of the curve.

Mr. BARNHART: Pornography is not the only art form that is on the leading edge of technology. The Metropolitan Opera has consistently shown that they also want to use it for very different reasons, which is to educate and enlighten people and create new generations of opera lovers.

(Soundbite of opera music)

(Soundbite of applause)

MORRIS: All of the 250 people in this Kansas theater stayed not only through the credits but through two rounds of ovations for each major character, many clapping right along with the audience in New York. The experience left Amy DeGraf(ph) ready to make the trip to Lincoln Center.

Ms. AMY DeGRAF: Like I'd seen maybe one opera before in, like, Iowa, and it was nothing like this. It was really incredible.

MORRIS: While she was amazed by the costumes and the images on-screen, DeGraf says she's also fascinated by what she didn't see, what fell outside the camera's view. Sparking that kind of curiosity may be just what the Met intended. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(Soundbite of opera music)

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