A Minute With: Met Opera chief Peter Gelb on live opera broadcasts

Mon Dec 30, 2013 3:52am EST
 
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By Michael Roddy

(Reuters) - When the Metropolitan Opera began its live-to-cinema opera transmissions on December 30, 2006, its then-new general manager Peter Gelb says many people predicted the expensive experiment would fail.

"I think there were a lot of people who expected us to fall on our face with this program," Gelb told Reuters.

Seven years later, and with an anticipated 3 million viewers seeing about a dozen Met opera broadcasts this year in cinemas in 64 countries, Gelb says he has proved the doubters wrong.

The Met's broadcasts have created a new market for live cinema broadcasts of dance, opera, plays and orchestral performances by a raft of arts institutions, from the Royal Opera to the Bolshoi to the Berlin Philharmonic which is airing its New Year's Eve concert this year featuring Chinese piano soloist Lang Lang.

Gelb thinks a large part of the broadcasts' allure is the fact they are live, that anything can happen and, at least in opera, it underscores the "gladiatorial" aspect of these highly trained singers giving their all on stage, now to audiences far beyond the boundaries of the opera house.

Here is what else he had to say about how the live broadcasts have helped the Met's finances, are a plus when trying to engage the top singers and may even be helping to bring down the average age of the opera audience:

Q: There are a lot of costs associated with these broadcasts, which cost about $1 million each, so how does it work out financially?

A: The business plan I had for it is that it would make a modest profit so from a financial point of view it has exceeded those expectations significantly. But, at the same time, we were very fortunate that it did because if it hadn't we would be in trouble right now, and in fact we're always in trouble financially because the cost structure of opera is ridiculously challenging and so the fact that we have quadrupled our paying audience with all the attendees around the world who are seeing the Met in movie theatres has been a huge help   Continued...

 
Peter Gelb, the new general manager of Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera, poses in the lobby of the opera house in New York February 13, 2006. REUTERS/Keith Bedford