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Explore the pros and cons of experiencing an opera performance at the movies.

Seeing an opera in a movie theater is a relatively new concept. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Seeing an opera in a movie theater is a relatively new concept.

Opera-lovers can now enjoy live performances simulcast in high definition at local movie theaters. Started by the famed Metropolitan Opera, other opera companies have joined in this method of introducing operatic productions to the masses, which is now increasing the fan base of the 400-year-old art form.

Bringing Opera to the Movies

Initially, live performances were shown as matinees, and movie theaters had the option to show rebroadcasts of performances. Universities, arts centers and independent movie theaters have joined the revolution since its inception. However, the effort to bring opera to more people is hardly new -- audiences have been listening to opera on the radio since the 1930s, and PBS has aired opera performances on television.

According to the New York Times, ticket sales for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts in movie theaters had already surpassed 1 million viewers for the 2008 to 2009 season, with three performances still to be shown. This exceeds the number of people expected to attend the live performances at the opera house itself.

Bringing opera to local movie theaters is not without its critics. Some claim that the subtleties of the music are somewhat lost in electronic transmission, and some concern exists that vocal training will change in the coming years to accommodate technology. Others worry that attendance at opera houses will go down, as it's easier and less expensive to go to the local movie theater.

However, the program has added a modest bump to the bottom line of many opera companies, and some have actually seen an increase in attendance at opera houses after the implementation of simulcast performances at movie theaters. It is speculated that the new venue is cultivating a new crowd of opera-lovers, rather than diminishing the fan base that already exists at opera houses worldwide.

The Opera-at-the-Movies Experience

While the standard dress code at a live opera performance is fairly formal, with tuxedos and ball gowns not uncommon, the dress at a local movie theater is decidedly more casual. Experiencing operatic performances at the movie theater is no different than seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Popcorn, sodas and other common movie theater snacks are enjoyed during opera performances at movie theaters. These are typically forbidden inside an opera hall. Ticket prices vary by venue, but are typically under $20.

For those new to the opera experience, seeing an opera at a movie theater can remove the fear of making a social blunder among opera buffs. Gone are concerns about applauding at the wrong time. As with any other performance, it's recommended that cell phones be turned off and talking be kept to a minimum.

Sound quality is exceptional with the theater's use of surround sound. Operas are shown in high definition, and the use of varying camera angles and close ups of performers makes for an experience unlike that of a stage performance. The emotion conveyed through facial expressions is also more visible on a 30-foot screen, as compared to what can be viewed from less than optimal seats at an opera house. Fans have compared it to having the best seats in the house at a stage performance, enabling viewers to see every nuance, down to tears being shed.

Running times for performances vary, but intermissions are followed as if attending a performance at an opera house. Viewers can purchase refills on popcorn and drinks or take a quick trip to the restroom.

Participating Opera Houses Worldwide

Showing opera performances at local movie theaters brings the opera experience to music lovers who might never be able to travel to opera houses across the world. For long-time fans, it's a chance to continue enjoying the opera in a venue that's often easier to travel to and doesn't present the often-challenging parking and walking issues.

In its first season of simulcasting, the Metropolitan Opera simulcast Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," and the world premiere of Tan Dun's "The First Emperor" starring Placido Domingo and others.

Opera houses across the world have followed in broadcasting performances on the heels of the Metropolitan Opera's success with the new format. Milan's La Scala simulcast from its own stage, as well as others during the 2008 season. Productions such as Verdi's "La Traviata" and Puccini's "La Rondine" were shown in theaters throughout the world.

The Glyndebourne Opera Festival in England has shown operatic performances, although not live, at venues throughout Europe, and has included operas such as Handel's "Giulio Cesare" and Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte."

Upcoming schedules can be found at sites such as Emerging Pictures and at the Metropolitan Opera.

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