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Live In HD "Cannibalizes" The Audience


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#1 abatt

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 01:01 PM

http://www.nytimes.c...t.html?ref=arts

This an article from today's NY Times, in which Gelb of the Met points out the pros and cons of the Live In HD opera broadcasts. He attributes a decline in "live" attendance in the house, in part, to these broadcasts. I thought this might be an interesting topic for discussion.

Personally, since I live in New York City I go to very few of the HD movie broadcasts. There is nothing that compares to hearing the opera live at the Met. However, since all of these HD operas are ultimately broadcast on PBS, I have seen them on TV. I have to agree with the author that a lot of these new productions, which seem awful in the Big House live, make a much better impression on the small screen of my TV. (The new Ring, as an example.)

#2 dirac

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 02:00 PM

Thank you for putting this up for discussion, abatt. I thought this was interesting:

It makes sense that a majority of those attending HD broadcasts are already hooked on opera. They know how to enjoy the special qualities of the video broadcasts because they know what the real thing is. And, as Mr. Gelb said in the phone interview, the Met can rightly take pride that broadcasts have “extended the operagoing life of older customers,” those people who have become too frail to make as many trips to Lincoln Center as they used to.

Surveys have shown that the decline in the Met’s audience has come from “outlying areas of New York,” Mr. Gelb said, with people who used to visit the Met now simply finding it easier to stop by the local movie house on Saturday.


This would suggest that as an effort to reach new audiences, the HD broadcasts may be having a limited effect - preaching to the choir, as it were. Those living in Manhattan who can afford it will certainly attend live performances, but it's easy to see why others who have to travel farther might opt for the cineplex.

Thoughts?

#3 abatt

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 02:08 PM

You couldn't beg, borrow or steal a ticket to see Jonas Kaufmann live at the Met in Parsifal. It was a sell out for every show. In that case, the HD certainly didn't cannibalize the live attendance at the Big House. However, there are very few opera stars who can sell out the Big House. (Netrebko is also a huge draw who mostly sells every seat in the house.) If they are experiencing difficulty in selling seats at the Big House, it's because some of the singers are not terribly interesting, and the prices are out of control for mediocre performers.

#4 Birdsall

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 04:03 PM

The other issue I have always wondered about is whether these HD transmissions harm regional opera companies. I agree with abatt that the best way to see opera is "live" in person. There is nothing like the human voice carrying above an orchestra into your ear in the same room. By the way, I think the new Met Ring looks terrible on the movie screen, not just in person.

But anyway, my thought is that if you can go see Kaufmann as Werther and Fleming as Rusalka, etc. at the movies you might not care to see Joe Smith as Werther at your local company or Mary Jo Smith as Rusalka. The star system is still alive and well in the opera world. When a regional company gets even one well known star, I suspect it actually helps ticket sales. But often they can't afford stars, so they are relying a lot on Also Rans, Has Beens, and Never Will Bes.....

I guess my point is that if people can see international level singers at the top of their game in HD for a cheaper price than seeing "nobodies" in person, I suspect some people will just go to the HDs.

The only thing you totally miss out on is the size of the voice and the unique acoustics of a live experience (orchestral sound also), but if given the option: 1) no opera or 2) lousy regional opera (some of it can be rather good but that's not my point) or 3) international level opera at the movies......a lot of opera fans will choose the latter if on a limited income.

I noticed when the HDs first started the host would almost always announce paying a visit to your local company. But then the big economic crash came and they stopped saying that. They started saying, "Come to a live performance at the Met," but now that things are picking back up, they have started saying we should visit our local companies again! LOL I find it sort of humorous.

#5 Jayne

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 04:45 PM

I think opera buffs love the art - whether live or broadcast to the cinema, TV, etc. I think we've heard for about 125 years now that technology is destroying the audiences for live performances. But is that really the case? Most of my friends who go to the opera HD performances attend the local opera as well....

For those who only attend the HD cinemas, it is because of the Great Recession, not the lack of passion to see live opera. They are thankful for the HD broadcasts and the local classical radio station that does a broadcast of the Seattle opera performances. They just wish they made more money so they could resume buying opera season tickets.

Has a decent Ring ever *not* sold out? Because the 2013 Ring in Seattle is selling really well:

http://seattleopera....ility_chart.pdf
(check out all the lavender colored "SOLD OUT" seating sections

Like the Nutcracker at Christmastime, or Book of Mormon on Broadway or on tour, some operas just sell better than others. And people are willing to pay high prices. Plus it is the 200 year anniversary for Wagner, so there is more media interest this year.

Finally, this is fun eye candy look at Georg Solti recording with the Vienna Phil:


I think he's trying to kill himself.

#6 California

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 05:10 PM

Maybe the Opera (and Ballet) HD cinema need to look at other models. I'm not a sports fan (except for figure skating and gymnastics) but don't some local teams ban local TV broadcasts of games that are not sold out? The Opera/Ballet might adopt the same rule for broadcasts within, say, 100 miles. I suppose one problem would be the movie theater owners who wouldn't commit to something like this. (Not great for fans, but better than abandoning that mode of delivery altogether.)

Another model: the traditional release of books was hardcover first and cheaper paperback much later, sometimes a year or so later. (The book publishing model is in chaos right now, of course, because of e-books, but that was the old model. If you just couldn't wait, you'd pay premium price for the hardcover -- or get onto a waiting list at your local library.)

Opera/Ballet HD might show things on delay -- perhaps months later, so if you were eager to see something special, you'd get to New York, but otherwise wait a while to see it in the movie theater or on PBS.

I'd hate to lose this new delivery mode and wish ballet would do more of it. So many people can't afford to ever get to New York (or Moscow or London or St. Petersburg) to see these in person and some compromise that balances accessibility with the continuing need of companies to sell tickets to live performances should be possible.

#7 vipa

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 05:29 PM

I am a relatively new opera fan. A friend took me to the Met Opera a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it (not the love I feel for ballet, but really enjoyment). I have not been to a live opera since. The tickets are pretty pricey and I spend a lot of money on ballet tickets. I suppose I could afford to buy seats in the upper regions of the Met, but instead I can go to the HD movie and really see the action. I love being close. If there was no HD movie, I'd probably go to a live opera now and then but I wouldn't be building the familiarity with singers and rep that I now am developing. I've become a Stephanie Blythe fan - and went to see her at Carnegie Hall and in Carousel at the New York Phil. I guess this is my long winded way to say that things are complex.

#8 kfw

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 06:48 PM

The other issue I have always wondered about is whether these HD transmissions harm regional opera companies.


I wonder too. For one reason or another I'm only seeing one HD this season, but I've seen as many as a half a dozen, and I plan to catch a few when they're rebroadcast this summer.But the regional company here, which introduced me to live opera 20 years ago, and which now performs in the same theater that shows the broadcasts, last year charged almost twice what HD tickets cost. Between seeing their Boheme and taking the opportunity to see . . . well, anything from the Met's HD season, none of which my local company will probably ever do, despite the fact that this is a moneyed, educated town . . . the choice is easy.

#9 Birdsall

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:34 PM

The other issue I have always wondered about is whether these HD transmissions harm regional opera companies.


I wonder too. For one reason or another I'm only seeing one HD this season, but I've seen as many as a half a dozen, and I plan to catch a few when they're rebroadcast this summer.But the regional company here, which introduced me to live opera 20 years ago, and which now performs in the same theater that shows the broadcasts, last year charged almost twice what HD tickets cost. Between seeing their Boheme and taking the opportunity to see . . . well, anything from the Met's HD season, none of which my local company will probably ever do, despite the fact that this is a moneyed, educated town . . . the choice is easy.


Yes, it is rare for a regional company to do things like Thais, the Ring, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Armida, etc. (all HD transmissions from the Met). So for many it is the only way to see these things. Regional companies have to have a heavy dose of La Bohemes and Rigolettos to survive.

#10 Birdsall

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:37 PM

Opera/Ballet HD might show things on delay -- perhaps months later, so if you were eager to see something special, you'd get to New York, but otherwise wait a while to see it in the movie theater or on PBS.




The problem with that is that the allure for me is to see it as it is happening live. I even read an article that the Met's HDs (because they are live) are much more popular than the pre-videotaped European operas on Emerging Pictures (pre-taped b/c of the time difference).

For me (and possibly others) seeing a pre-taped opera is like watching a dvd except I do not have the remote to pause it. But seeing it live as it is actually happening creates an excitement.

#11 Birdsall

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:41 PM

I am a relatively new opera fan. A friend took me to the Met Opera a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it (not the love I feel for ballet, but really enjoyment). I have not been to a live opera since. The tickets are pretty pricey and I spend a lot of money on ballet tickets. I suppose I could afford to buy seats in the upper regions of the Met, but instead I can go to the HD movie and really see the action. I love being close. If there was no HD movie, I'd probably go to a live opera now and then but I wouldn't be building the familiarity with singers and rep that I now am developing. I've become a Stephanie Blythe fan - and went to see her at Carnegie Hall and in Carousel at the New York Phil. I guess this is my long winded way to say that things are complex.


A good way around this is to sit far away in operas. You actually hear how large or small the various singers' voices are, and it can astound you. And take binoculars to get close ups of the singers' faces from time to time.

When I have attended special things like a Ring or an opera with a particular singer I adore I go ahead and pay the big bucks, but if it is mainly an opera I am interested in seeing but have no favorite singers in the cast then I buy a cheap ticket and take binoculars, and it actually is okay, b/c opera is about the singing to me, and you hear sometimes way better in the faraway seats.

Ballet is different. It is much more important to see and have a good seat.

#12 volcanohunter

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:54 PM

Maybe the Opera (and Ballet) HD cinema need to look at other models. I'm not a sports fan (except for figure skating and gymnastics) but don't some local teams ban local TV broadcasts of games that are not sold out? The Opera/Ballet might adopt the same rule for broadcasts within, say, 100 miles. I suppose one problem would be the movie theater owners who wouldn't commit to something like this. (Not great for fans, but better than abandoning that mode of delivery altogether.)


Saturday afternoon performances at the Met always sell out anyway, so it's not the broadcast performance itself that is going to be cannibalized by an HD transmission.

On March 28 the Royal Ballet is planning a live broadcast of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the run is completely sold out. I would guess that if some performances are not selling out, it has more to do with repertoire than with accessibility to a multiplex version.
http://www.roh.org.u...topher-wheeldon

As for subsequent PBS retransmission of the Met's broadcasts, I'm sorry to say it does not apply to all markets. As producer of Great Performances at the Met, I imagine that WNET airs all the operas, but last season, the two PBS stations I get (one East Coast, one West Coast) skipped four of the productions, and after showing this season's initial broadcast, they're skipping the next four.

I share Birdall's concern that the greater victim may be regional opera and ballet. For example, I've fallen out of love with my local ballet company because they're doing awful repertoire, so I've greatly reduced my attendance and have come to rely on movie-house access to the Bolshoi and Royal Ballet as a substitute, though I've also followed through on my threat to use my air miles to see live ballet elsewhere.

#13 Jack Reed

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 08:36 PM

Okay, here comes some dissent: I went to the MetHD Aida "encore" presentation recently, and enjoyed it musically, but I thought the camera-work was often - well, what did I just say? - idiotic. A camera in the flies, looking down? But I picked this over playing my fave recording of the music in order to have a look at the Ratmansky ballet. Turned out there were two, but they were hard to see, because of the unsympathetic camera-work, although it was different from the treatment the rest of the production got. But good very good voices, except for the Aida, who was better than that, ravishing! And decent conducting and good playing.

So I'm unlikely to go back. I'd rather just listen, and on records, I think you may find performances that beat most opera houses, even the Met.

But to the point of the thread: How do they figure out what effect these things have on theater attendance? My bedrock concern is how to share the fun I have with some ballet with others who might be similarly susceptible, but performing-arts marketing just bewilders me.

Yeah, I watch ballet in Emerging Pictures more often than the Joffrey, our local troupe if you don't count Ballet Chicago, which I very much do, in spite of it's being mainly a school, because EP lets me enjoy the Royal dancing Fille Mal Garde in what looks like authentic style, while Joffrey's Cinderella, for example, while still charming and a good time, fell short. (And Fille was better shot than the Met's Ratmansky dances.)

(As to Solti's antics in that clip, I never saw anything quite like that in Orchestra Hall! But he did actually injure himself a couple of times - elsewhere - by driving the point of his baton into his forehead or the palm of his left hand - IIRC, his hand was still bandaged when he received his knighthood, arousing the Queen's solicitude, we read. One can infuse that musicwith a different, more funereal tension.) (Note that the dynamics in the clip I've linked to are compressed compared to the original.)

#14 Birdsall

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 04:31 AM

I think we will always be upset by cameramen! Some of their choices bewilder us, because they may not actually be as familiar with the operas (or ballets) as we are.

One of the worst camera work or maybe editing on a video that I ever saw was in the otherwise wonderful Tristan und Isolde video with Waltraud Meier and Ian Storey from La Scala. She is singing about meeting Tristan and the camera focuses on a light. She does plan to extinguish it as a sign to Tristan to meet her (so the light plays a pivotal role), but give me a break! We want to see Meier's face as she sings, not minutes focusing on her cape or a light! Then, as Tristan is dying the video director (I assume) has the picture go black multiple times as if we are dying and our eyes closing multiple times. The same video director did the La Scala Aida with Alagna and she does the same thing and focuses on spears and other inanimate objects while singers are singing. You look at objects over and over. Meanwhile, the singer's face is missed. So I guess this is more a video director's choice in the editing process.....

But I think the Lopatkina Swan Lake video cuts off her legs at the beginning of her fouettes if I remember correctly.

There are always going to be infuriating camera moments in video or even movie transmissions. Even if we were doing the filming we might infuriate someone, because we each might consider a particular moment more important than another.

In the Met's previous traditional Ring (video) during Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde, you get an overhead shot also.....an angle no audience member would ever have. I have to admit that I do not like that sort of thing either. I do like to basically see the opera the way I might see it in the theatre, although I do think close ups at choice moments is important too. I think a close up of Wotan saying goodbye to his daughter is appropriate. A shot overhead is unnecessary. Overhead shots in ballet sometimes make some sense b/c seeing the patterns can be interesting, even if it is not what we usually see in the actual theatre.

In cameramen's defense, however, I have been to a performance and focused on one performer and then missed something in the action on the other side of the stage and been mad at myself. So these things happen even to us. So it makes sense it happens to the cameramen too. But overall, I understand someone being frustrated with the cameras at the movie versions or videos.

#15 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 07:01 AM

I think the basic idea with putting dancing on screen is to show the space and let them dance in it, and other theater similarly.

[size=4]

[/size]
...
[size=4]I do like to basically see the opera the way I might see it in the theatre, although I do think close ups at choice moments is important too. I think a close up of Wotan saying goodbye to his daughter is appropriate. A shot overhead is unnecessary. Overhead shots in ballet sometimes make some sense b/c seeing the patterns can be interesting, even if it is not what we usually see in the actual theatre.[/size]

In cameramen's defense, however, I have been to a performance and focused on one performer and then missed something in the action on the other side of the stage and been mad at myself.
[size=4]...[/size]


So there can be an opportunity for the people behind the cameras - the director, basically - to help us to see more than we might if distracted, to keep us on target - but subjective darkness descending, examination of spear points? No, when many cameras are available, some principles of cinema need be kept in mind - the sequence of the shots edited together can make or break your experience of the whole event - but, yes, if it "works" in the theater, it'll work the same way on screen if you let it, don't cut it up, don't make sausage meat out of it.


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