New York opera in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Cinematheque brings live performances from the Met to the capital.

Othello 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Metropolitan Opera)
Othello 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Metropolitan Opera)
It may seem like a fanciful notion, but at least from one perspective, the worlds of opera and top-level sports are not that far apart. So believes Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera of New York (a.k.a. the Met), especially in the wake of HD broadcasting technology.
The Met: Live in HD series kicked off seven years ago and has been putting high-quality viewing amenities to the best use possible as it offers audiences all over the globe the next best thing to the experience of being at a live opera performance.
The statistics bear this out: The new season of the series, which kicks off with Donizetti’s ever-popular work L’Elisir d’Amore on October 13, will reach some 1,900 theaters in 60 countries around the world, with Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Madagascar and Qatar joining the HD distribution network for the first time.
To accommodate audience demand this season, dozens more cinemas have been added in Germany, Mexico, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The global venue list now includes 760 theaters in the US alone, with the event also proving highly successful in Canada (141 theaters), France (130), the UK (128) and Sweden (121).
Last year, Israel joined the HD musical bandwagon, with the Jerusalem Cinematheque holding screenings of all the operas. The same venue will show all 11 operas in the new series, which runs through April 27, 2013.
By all accounts, last year’s run went well, and Gelb is looking forward to similar success this time around. “The series continues to be an amazing success, for the Met and for opera houses around the world,” he says, adding that there have been some added benefits.
“The series also helps raise the profile of opera in a way that has had a positive impact on the art and the art form,” he says. “Opera houses are always challenged in their ability to function in these new economic times. This has injected some new life into the programs.”
He adds that he and his colleagues are not just looking to entice music lovers who would not otherwise make the effort or shell out the cash, to go to performances in the world’s opera houses, but also to draw more members of the public into the opera-loving community.
“The goal is not to replace what goes on in the opera houses,” he notes, citing sports as a source of marketing inspiration: “Media coverage of sporting events has not harmed attendance in sports stadiums.”
Gelb and his team have certainly pulled out all the stops to keep the opera word spreading far and wide. In addition to the Donizetti opener, the new The Met: Live in HD covers a wide range of materials, from tried-and-trusted box-office favorites to infrequently aired works.
There are also some stellar performers lined up, with Russian-born soprano Anna Netrebko, American tenor Matthew Polenzani and Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien on board for Bartlett Sher’s new take on L’Elisir d’Amore. The series continues a fortnight later (October 27) with Verdi’s Otello, conducted by Semyon Bychkov and starring South African tenor Johan Botha and American soprano Renée Fleming. Following that will be the Met premiere of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest (November 10), conducted by the composer and directed by Robert Lepage, with British baritone Simon Keenlyside leading the vocal cast.
Other standouts include Verdi’s Aida (December 15) and Rigoletto (February 16), and Zandonai’s rarely heard Francesca da Rimini (March 16), with Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and Italian tenor Marcello Giordani.
The series closes on April 27 with a new production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare directed by Scottish opera and theater director Sir David McVicar and featuring American countertenor David Daniels as Caesar, and French soprano Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra.
ALESIA WESTON, who was recently appointed executive director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, is naturally optimistic about the second Israeli installment of The Met: Live in HD.
“We are delighted to continue offering live transmissions from the Met this year, too,” she says. “Even though the Cinematheque focuses on cinema, we see this as an opportunity to utilize this medium as a bridge with other art forms – to merge the experience of sitting in a cinema with a trip to New York, and the lavish opera productions and the great performers there. These transmissions offer a unique and intimate opportunity to share the experience with an audience thousands of miles away from here. They also offer far greater access to the artists, the musicians and nuances that are liable to dissipate in a large theater.”
That is a significant benefit that, of course, is not lost on Gelb. “We are trying to present opera as live reportage, like live documentation of these great events,” he observes. “There will be cameras up close to the action, and the audience will be able to see what goes on behind the scenes. There will be interviews. It’s kind of a live reality show – in fact, much more real than reality shows, because, of course, reality shows are edited.”
He says the raw material is perfectly suited to the transmission medium. “ such an incredible art form, which is complex and involves so many artistic parts – chorus, ballet, huge scenery, high technology – we are opening it all up and making it easily available,” he says. “I believe that the demystification of the process adds interest.”
Like everything else in the Live in HD series, the aforementioned interviews will also be of the highest quality.
Gelb has lined up a slew of celebrated opera singers, including Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Eric Owens, Sondra Radvanovsky and Deborah Voigt, to serve as hosts for the Live in HD presentations this season. They will conduct live interviews with the casts, crews and production teams, and will introduce the popular behind-thescenes interviews and features.
Gelb believes the charm of opera lies in presenting the magic of the art form along with the reality of what goes into the creative process.“We are saying this is the art, and we’re not pretending it’s something else,” he says. “At the same time, once the action begins, it’s possible to get lost in it all.”For more information about The Met: Live in HD series: (02) 565-4356 and