And in this corner….
The war looming in New York for the heart and soul of the Opera going masses, is going to kick into high gear soon. Peter Gelb’s blazing start has put everyone else on the defensive. Enter Mortier, who is clever certainly, most likely doesn’t care a lick about opera but knows how to create PRESS and controversy.
The battle continues, and for a little levity, I post this fabulous little Pixar gem of a short film to show the great fight for the “little girl with the coin” that ultimately is the life blood of the arts now and in the hopeful future. The moral for me is there is no replacing the real talent, no matter how many bells and whistles you use. My bet is with Gelb, but it will get interesting, with opera hopefully benefitting.
Then this was published in the Economist.com site…..fascinating. Love that opera is at the center of this……
Music for the masses
Jul 3rd 2008
From The Economist print edition
New York’s Metropolitan Opera has pioneered a new model
“WHEN I took over, the Met was on a declining slope toward extermination,” says Peter Gelb, who took charge as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in August 2006. Attendance figures were falling and patronage was dwindling, even as running costs and competition for the cultural dollar were on the rise. But perhaps the biggest problem of all was the product itself: opera has an eminently elitist image. And the 125-year-old Met was the stuffiest of the musical temples for the rich.
Mr Gelb, a former president of Sony’s classical-recording division, decided on radical action. With a beefed-up marketing team he launched an outreach programme to attract a bigger and younger audience. (The average age of Met goers is about 65.) He opened dress rehearsals to the public, broadcast opening nights to the plaza at Lincoln Centre and in Times Square, and sold heavily discounted seats for weekday performances. He also increased the number of new productions in the season from three or four to six or seven, and recruited directors, such as Anthony Minghella, who are known to a wide public. But his most revolutionary and most controversial move was the decision to offer cinemas across the world high-definition telecasts of the Met’s live performances.
These “simulcasts” made a big splash. During the 2007-08 season over 600 cinemas in America, Australia, Europe and Japan showed the Met’s live broadcasts. More than 920,000 people in 23 countries watched eight operas, roughly a threefold increase over the previous season, and about 70,000 more than the total audience of the Met proper during that season. For the next season 11 operas will be televised at an even greater number of cinemas.
The Met’s simulcasts are expensive, costing about $1.1m each. They need a production team of about 60; some 15 cameras film the action on stage, backstage and in front of the stage. In its most recent season the Met, which gets 50% of the box-office revenue from simulcast tickets (sold at an average price of $22), more or less broke even with the scheme. This season it expects to make a profit.
But the simulcasts’ main point is to broaden the audience. According to a recent survey by Shugoll Research, a pollster, more than 92% of the people who saw one of the Met’s performances in a cinema said they were likely to go to a performance at the Met or another opera house. As almost one in five of those surveyed said that they had not gone to the opera in the past two years, and around 5% said they had never been to the opera at all, the Met can justifiably claim that simulcasts are rejuvenating and expanding the audience for opera.
Other opera companies are copying, or planning to copy, the Met’s cinematic venture. San Francisco Opera broadcast the first of six (pre-recorded) opera productions in March, proudly proclaiming that it is the first to use “Hollywood feature film-quality digital-cinema format”. Tony Hall, boss of the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London, is jumping on the bandwagon, with last year’s acquisition of Opus Arte, a maker of DVDs. This year Opus Arte is planning to bring the ROH’s opera and ballet performances to cinema screens across Europe (both pre-recorded and live) in partnership with Arts Alliance Media, a digital-technology company. These cinemacasts will be far cheaper than the Met’s labour-intensive recordings, but their filming is far less elaborate and exciting, and the shows are rather like opera on television—albeit with a much bigger screen.
Sir Clive Gillinson, head of Carnegie Hall, New York’s main concert hall, thinks cinemacasts are a brilliant tool to promote opera with all its theatricality, though he warns that it will soon be a very competitive market as a dozen or so of the leading opera houses are likely to be doing it. The big question now, he says, is how big is the market—and how much revenue is there in the long run?
Opera purists are not at all happy about Mr Gelb’s foray into cinemas. They argue that opera was made to be seen live in opera houses and they worry that cinemacasts will hasten the demise of an ailing art form. The majority of opera houses across the world are under huge financial pressure, as governments are increasingly unwilling to subsidise them.
Gérard Mortier, the head of the Opéra National de Paris, who spoke on filmed opera at the recent annual meeting of Opera America, a trade organisation, is the most vocal of the cinemacast opponents. He argues that his opera is reaching a far wider audience at much lower cost using good old television. The Met’s simulcasts did not work in French cities without an opera house, so they do not increase opera’s fan base. And young people shun cinemacasts because they are keen on live music, if they go to the opera at all. Next year Mr Mortier will take over as head of the New York City Opera, next door to the mighty Met. Expect a clash between the musical marketing wizard and the super-snob who likes to say that “art is anything but entertainment, and unrelated to box-office receipts.”