Royal Opera House returns to cinema (why?)

Royal Opera House returns to cinema (why?)


norman lebrecht

August 03, 2021

Covent Garden today announced the resumption of its international cinema programme after sixteen months of closure.

Its global cinema distributor, Trafalgar Releasing, reaches 2,000 cinemas worldwide. The opening show in September will be The Nutcracker. ‘It will form an integral part of our plan to secure our future,’ says the ROH.

But, while audiences are returning to live performance, cinemas are the last place most people want to go until the pandemic is over. Thi seems more gensture than commercial substance.

The ROH should focus on playing as many live venues as possible and streaming as much as it can into homes. Cinema won’t be back for a while.


  • V.Lind says:

    The James Bond people are banking on you being wrong!

  • Bean says:

    ” Cinemas are the last place most people want to go”… who are most people? Many of us are fed up of watching everything from a small screen in our pyjamas and dearly miss the ‘going out’ experience, theatre or cinema.

    Opera/ballet in cinemas > opera/ballet in your living room. Yes, nothing beats the live experience but not all of us have massive TVs at home; cinema broadcasts give you amazing sound quality, close-ups of the performers that you’d otherwise miss were you perched in the balcony, shots of the orchestra, interval interviews – essentially a very accessible gateway to these artforms for those who’ve never encountered them live, who might be intimidated by the theatregoing experience or simply don’t have the money to travel to a big city to see the real thing. I welcome this news.

    • Zelda Macnamara says:

      Totally agree! I was at Birmingham Symphony Hall last week for “RhineGold” and surrounded by people. And not anxious about going to the cinema again.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Very London centric comment . For those of us who live in the sticks the large screen at the cinema is ideal.

    • Kenny says:

      And I’ve been to four new films in six days in New York. Not everyone is paranoid or unvaccinated.

      • Saxon says:

        The high vaccination rates means the crisis is pretty much over. This does not mean the virus is eliminated, ot that there won’t be people dying, but that the numbers will be small and easily manageable.

        Time to stop cowering at home under the table and time to start returning to normal.

  • Una says:

    This is good news for people like me who rarely could afford Covent Garden whilst living in London, and now can see it in my Ilkley Cinema eight minutes walk away in West Yorkshire for £20! If sold out, Bradford or Leeds in half an hour. Our Cinema is well and truly open.

    • Una says:

      Not only that, being a 55-seater and an ability to buy delicious food and wine, there was always the vital human contact to experience too. Don’t use it, we loose it.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    This is a strange editorial attitude. Not everybody lives in London or is very wealthy. I welcome the cinema showings

  • M McAlpine says:

    i would have thought it a welcome return to normal. I have had many good evenings viewing opera and ballet at the cinema. I couldn’t afford to go to London to see a performance so we welcome the broadcast as next best thing.

  • Allen says:

    “The ROH should focus on playing as many live venues as possible”

    How? Relatively few UK venues can take their productions. That is what Glyndebourne Touring and others are for, and perhaps what ENO should be doing (if allowed to do so).

  • David Rohde says:

    There’s even a broader issue here that inclines me more to Norman’s point of view than the other commenters. I admit up front that it has little to do with Covent Garden and I’m strictly coming from an American perspective. Still, it’s worth knowing about for everyone in classical music, for reasons I’ll mention.

    In the United States, “the movies” in the sense of standard cinema fare are basically collapsing. This might have been happening even if there weren’t a pandemic. But in any case, the fall over just the last three or four years has been stunning.

    Granted there are some exceptions in the largest cities. But in most places, if you go to a movie theater, or more typically a multi-screen “cineplex,” almost everything on offer is part of what the studios consider an ultra-safe “franchise.” Everything is a sequel or a prequel to something else that already sold to a certain level. Almost all of these, in turn, are based on “proven” stories and characters especially from (I’m not kidding) comic books and “superheroes.” Your comedian Ricky Gervais slammed all of this at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards in Hollywood, right before the pandemic, as “fantasy-adventure nonsense.” There are also horror films, “action” films (in other words, violence), and Disney-style animated features.

    Standard comedies and dramas based on either original scripts or adaptations of novels or plays still exist, of course – just not at the cinema. They’re all exclusively on streaming, some in a netherworld between standalone “movies,” Netflix-style “limited series,” or what are in effect really TV shows. And even the producers of superhero releases don’t seem to have long-term faith in the movie theaters. The film megastar Scarlett Johansson just sued Disney after starring in a film called “Black Widow” from the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” after Disney appeared to break its promise to let it ride exclusively in movie theaters for a while. Instead it almost simultaneously made it available on streaming too, which apparently cuts heavily into the actress’ share.

    In the fall of 2019, the iconic American film director Martin Scorsese complained about all this, first in your Empire magazine and then in the New York Times. Scorsese said the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” isn’t “real cinema” and many in Hollywood criticized him, but he’s right.

    The effect of all this on the live performing arts is now being debated. There are two opposite ways you can go. If people stop going to the movie theaters to see real stories, will they stop going out of their homes to see and hear anything at all and cocoon permanently for all of their culture? Or will they replace their movie-going with music, drama, dance, and art in live facilities? I’m an optimist by nature, so I believe the latter is possible if people in fields like classical music and opera get hip to what’s going on. Yes, that includes encouraging people to see opera live, not at the movie house!

    I wrote an essay about this on my Medium channel titled “The live performing arts could replace the movies if they knew how” and, if you can take some of my American cultural references throughout the piece, you can read it here: