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Changing how audiences see and hear opera

🕐 3 min read

Are the Met’s HD broadcasts really cannibalizing the opera audience? What effect are they having on other opera companies around the country? A group of leading opera administrators offer their thoughts.

– Anthony Freud, general director, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Undoubtedly the Met HD transmissions have changed the landscape. So have an enormous range of other issues, socially, culturally, economically, technologically. … I don’t think it has a transformational impact, given that I think we live in times in which audiences’ aesthetic expectations are anyway changing.

I don’t feel pressured by the Met HD transmissions to do something different.

– Francesca Zambello, artistic director, Washington National Opera

I have such ambivalence over HD. In no way does it do what people thought would happen in terms of building new audiences.

HD has drastically eaten into our business. Many people do not really understand the experience of “live.”

– David Devan, general director, Opera Philadelphia

I think it’s raised the game in terms of people’s aesthetic and performance expectations. If you can go to a movie theater and hear a great singer with a great orchestra with a gazillion-dollar set, that raises the bar for everybody.

It did help me raise money to improve the quality of what we put on in the Academy (of Music). This isn’t about my ego; this is about the necessity of doing work that people will come to. That means there’s a higher standard of care that we must meet.

– Kevin Smith, former general director (retired), Minnesota Opera

I think it has had an impact on attendance. It’s certainly a different experience, everyone acknowledges that, but it is opera.

Attendance has gone down in all the arts, entertainment. It ebbs and flows. It’s easy to look at the Met and say they are starting to have a negative impact. The jury is out, as far as I’m concerned.

– Marc Scorca, president and CEO, Opera America

The Met HD has required our opera companies to define themselves more carefully. There has been added pressure now to say what kind of opera do we do, what are our production values, what’s our repertory, what is it about our performance that will compel people to come to our dates frequently at night at full price, because there are so many alternatives including the Met Opera’s fantastic HD transmissions. Just doing inexpensive grand opera in a somewhat imitative style is no longer (enough).

The Met is challenged by the quality of its own transmissions to make people come to the opera house. … How does any opera company make its live experience sufficiently compelling to pull people in to the opera house?

– Speight Jenkins, former general director (retired), Seattle Opera

Has it at least in my experience increased love of opera? I would say no, not here. Did we lose anything from it? No.

It’s odd that it’s not making new audiences, but it’s not. I don’t know why.

Grand opera is not anywhere near as popular as it used to be, partly because of super titles and partly because of life. People want to see acting. “Aida” was number one. “Aida” now is probably still in the 10 most popular, but it’s down the list. Grand opera was not set up for real acting.

– Christopher McBeth, artistic director, Utah Opera

In Salt Lake City, the effect has been rather neutral. If anything, it’s given some of my subscribers an opportunity to see things that might be a little risky for us to schedule because they’re unknown.

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