I cannot believe an opera newbie would be impressed by a Met cinema broadcast

I cannot believe an opera newbie would be impressed by a Met cinema broadcast


norman lebrecht

November 06, 2018

This is a long overdue sentiment, and it is expressed by Jenna Simeonov of Schmopera.

Here’s what she says:

 I have a hard time believing that an opera newbie would be thoroughly impressed by a Met cinema broadcast. There’s enough clumsiness in the product – particularly in dated offerings like Fanciulla – that it just doesn’t stand up to the quality of other media one could see on the big screen (including musicals). Without knowing how powerful opera can be – something that’s only obvious when you experience it live, and microphone-free – a cinema broadcast isn’t quite enough to convince you. (Although for some, Jonas Kaufmann just might do the trick.)…

Read on here.

photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera


  • Richard Masters says:

    I took 20 college freshmen to the showing of “Fanciulla,” and they loved it. Not a single one of them had ever been to an opera before. Before going to the show, we discussed the music in class, talked about Puccini’s worklist, we discussed voice types and how they generally correspond with the roles in “Fanciulla,” listened to chunks of it and tried to dissect how he put the opera together. I watched them throughout the performance – they really enjoyed it. Being able to see the facial expressions of the singers, hear every single one of them clearly over the orchestra, and have the Met Orchestra that sumptuous score blasting over the enormous speaker system, all of that contributed to a very positive experience. Simeonov’s blasting of the opera as “dated” betrays a jaded attitude that is probably part of what turns people off to an older art form like opera. “Oh, you can’t see it in the THEATRES, you simply must see it in person. Don’t go see that trashy racist Puccini claptrap, see ‘Marnie’ instead.” No offense to Nico Muhly, but he is no Puccini. The man knew how to write an opera that grabs the attention, and I saw the evidence of that with twenty 18 year olds. I doubt they’re all now hardcore opera fans for life, and I agree that in many cases, attending opera in-person is the best option, but for those of us who live far away from a large city center with an excellent opera house, the Met in HD is the best and often ONLY option.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Does it matter that they aren’t “hardcore opera fans for life”? I agree, so long as they had a good time and enjoyed it, I don’t think it matters at all. Maybe, one day, they would like to see another opera.

      And moreover, this is a nice way for someone who knows very little about opera, and isn’t sure whether they will like it, to experience some live opera. Going to the opera house in person for the first time is both very expensive and very intimidating.

  • Peggy Sweeney says:

    Although we have an outstanding opera company in the city where I live (Sarasota), many people opt for the cinema because of the cost differential — not mentioned in the article.

  • Patrick says:

    Agreed! A mix of live opera and opera in the cinema is an excellent plan. Support live opera, support the Met broadcasts! Our local cinema was full for Fanciulla — the local opera company should have been there passing out brochures and discount ticket vouchers.

  • R. Brite says:

    The only thing that would dissuade me from taking a young newbie to the Met broadcast is the ancient audience, at least at my regular venue in Paris. My companions and I, in our mid- to late 60s, manage to lower its average age considerably, while not doing a thing for its ethnic diversity. I would hate for some youngster to get the impression that it’s only for old white people.

    • The View from America says:

      … or in the case of the Teatro-Colon, old brown people.

    • Robin Worth says:

      You will sometimes find young people at the Met in the stalls : possibly in unsold seats, possibly unused (there are no returns there) who don’t seem rich enough to have paid. They also hand out free house seats in the camera areas when there is a transmission. So good for the Met.

  • John kelly says:

    …………….this is just more of the tedious (and rather thinly disguised) SD attempted trashing of the Met and Mr. Gelb. While I am no fan of the latter, I would like to point out that the Met isn’t the only opera company offering their “product” in cinemas………..how great to read Mr Masters post above – it would be good if more of that kind of stuff was going on.

  • Bruce says:

    “I have a hard time believing that an opera newbie would be thoroughly impressed by a Met cinema broadcast. ”

    Translation: I have a hard time believing that anyone else’s perspective/ experience could be different from mine.

  • Caravaggio says:

    The Metropolitan, if its current GM had any smarts about him, would suspend for good HD cinema broadcasts in the tri-State area, from where the bulk of in house attendees reside. If he were smart, he’d initiate this move (and other obvious important ones) instead of spending useless time and energy posing for social media selfies with his beloved Anna. Apparently the GM has refused to notice the ugly thickness, wobble and ingolata sounds emerging from darling’s throat.

  • Timothy Goode says:

    Why long overdue? The Met Broadcasts (and Covent Garden etc) are gold dust for those who do not have access to live opera. Watching it live, with an audience, will of course not be the same as being present in the opera house, but it is the next best thing. Your hypocrisy knows no bounds – didn’t you encourage us all to watch a stream of Britten’s War Requiem just a day or so ago? Surely we should have all searched out a live performance rather than watching a streamed performance. Please stop being a musical snob.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Many potential opera-goers have no opera to go to, or can’t afford to go. It is snobbish to blame people for that.

  • MacroV says:

    Not exactly a man-bites-dog story. I’ve loved the MET HD shows I’ve seen (Rosenkavalier, Rusalka, L’Amour de Loin, Tristan, the recent Ades one). I’d have gone to see them in person if I were in New York but that wasn’t an option. Live and “Live in HD” are different; not a huge revelation.

    What would a first-timer think? You’d have to take one to find out, and they probably wouldn’t all think the same.

  • Stuart says:

    This is a long overdue sentiment – meaning that you agree with it. It comes across as a bit elitist. The opera audience is literally dying, and the Met broadcasts allow the art form to be seen by many people who either are nowhere near an opera company, or who do not possess the financial resources to buy a ticket to a live performance. My last visit to the Met cost me $400 for two tickets while my last broadcast (Norma) was $48 for the two of us.

  • Vienna calling says:

    I had lower slips tickets with limited view for Rheingold, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the ROH, and enjoyed the music. For the same price I had a seat in my local cinema, and although it obviously wasn’t the same as at the ROH, the sound was excellent. And I was drawn into the close up drama way better than from my cheap opera seats. If I had the choice I’d rewatch the entire Ring on the cinema screen.

  • The Met broadcasts I’ve been to here in Dallas were disappointing for the poor image quality.

    I realize almost all movies are now digital video images but for some reason the Met opera broadcast is a dim and weak one with grayish color.

    The camerawork is somewhat less static than opera on television we used to see in the 70s but the performers are not.

    They have their arias to sing and there is only so much “acting” they can shoehorn into that and still sing.

    They can sideways glance, they can put their hands on their hips, they can raise an arm in triumph at the end, but that’s about it.

    It doesn’t work on the big screen.

  • M McAlpine says:

    As a visit to the Met would cost me around $200 plus the air fare, seeing it at the cinema is a real bonus. Last time I saw an opera live it was a provincial company at a local theatre and frankly nowhere near the singing standard at the Met. And it cost me three times as much. Of course, as the Met tell us, there is nothing like actually being there, but for those of us who can’t, hail live broadcasts!

  • Daniel Layne says:

    It is my opinion that the Met’s Live in HD showings are presented as an alternative to attending the opera live at the opera house. Not a preferable option, certainly, but certainly an option for those who cannot attend the opera in person.
    I live in NY City, and attend the Met rather frequently. I have, for various reasons, seen several HD showings.
    For the La Fanciulla del West showing, I was visiting friends in Washington, DC that weekend. I had decided not to go to the Met to see it, mainly because I felt the leading lady was simply not up to the task of singing the role of Minnie. (She wasn’t, as it turned out). At the last minute, we decided to go see the HD showing of Fanciulla at a local movie theater.
    The HD showings have their benefits, as opposed to going to the Met. There are no long lines at the restrooms during the intermissions. The seats (reclining,no less) are extremely comfortable. You can eat and drink during the show if you want. There are no noisy ushers lumbering up and down the aisles.
    I also find the audiences at the HD showings far more well behaved than at the Met.
    The main drawback for me is the sound at the HD showings. It is very electronic, and far too “enhanced”.
    It simply can’t compare to hearing it live.


    • jim, boston says:

      The horrible sound in even “state of the art” movie theaters is probably the primary reason I’ve mostly stopped going to the movies, opera or otherwise. Fortunately if you can wait, and you keep an eye on the listings, most of the HD Live broadcasts eventually get broadcast on PBS. On my 50″ inch plasma and with my 5.1 audio set-up it’s a far better way to experience the opera than a movie theater.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    The cinema is perfect for the opera “newbie”. $150 ticket is not.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Yes, I have to agree. If you don’t have much idea of what an opera is, or whether you will enjoy it, then the price of going to give it a try is rather a lot of money. And attending the opera house rather than the local cinema is rather intimidating for many people.

  • Sharon says:

    I agree with most of the comments here. The camera work I think is terrific most of the time and gets me much closer to the experience that I would if I were in the nosebleed dress or family circle seats at the Met. With regard to the complaint that the music in the cinema sounds too electronic an untrained newbie ear like myself cannot tell the difference. Because I have a front row view in cinema version I am focusing on the singing, acting and set, not the orchestra anyway.

    As for myself, I try to pretend it is a “real” experience. I dress more nicely than a would to an average movie and have lunch at a restaurant with a tablecloth before the show. Popcorn during the performance? For me that would be sacrilege!

  • Fred says:

    dated offerings? This fanciulla production is the BEST ever of the opera I have ever seen

  • Michael says:

    Imagine someone writing “I have a hard time believing that an opera newbie would be thoroughly impressed by a Met television broadcast.”

    Oh, really?

    How many opera fans, let alone opera professionals, weren’t first turned on to opera from having watched it on YouTube or broadcast TV?

    Or are you saying that while this might be true of other broadcasts, the ones from the Met are uniquely unimpressive?

    What foolishness! And I am writing as someone who doesn’t have the $20 to pay for seeing Met broadcasts on the big screen of a movie theater and can only watch them on YouTube.

  • jim, boston says:

    Most of these broadcasts eventually get shown on PBS, but you really have to watch the listings. The local station in Boston usually shows them on weekend afternoons. They get no promotion and there’s no telling what weekends they’ll appear. It’s entirely up to the viewer to watch out for them.

  • R James Tobin says:

    I have been attending Met Live for years and find the intimate screening vastly preferable to the distant views I have experienced on multiple occasions in the Metropolitan Opera house. The sound in the Marcus Cinema I attend is also nearly always very acceptable.