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Try opera at the movies

Live from the Met to the Edwards Valencia cinema, you can enjoy your opera with hot dogs and popcorn

Posted: January 7, 2010 4:28 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2010 6:00 a.m.

A scene from the opera "Hamlet," which can be viewed at the Edwards Stadium 12 cinema on March 27, via a special, live, HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera in New York's Lincoln Center.

 
It's 9:30 on a quiet Saturday morning on Town Center Drive. After you easily find a parking space, you walk toward the Edwards Valencia Stadium 12 cinema, along with others who've come to experience opera in its newest form. Now in its fourth "digital-satellite" season, the Metropolitan Opera transmits live performances from New York's Lincoln Center, in High Definition, surround-sound and English super-titles, simulcasting to more than 1,000 movie theatres and auditoriums in more than 40 countries worldwide.

As you walk in with the others, you hear the orchestra tuning up. When you look at the screen, you realize that you're not only in the Edwards Cinema, but you're also inside Lincoln Center, watching everything that's taking place before the performance, most of which doesn't get to be seen by a typical audience. It's as if you're invisible, as if you're being moved around everywhere: You look down at the clarinetist's music; you watch the cellist as she practices a difficult musical passage; you peek over the shoulders of two audience members, as they leisurely turn the pages of their programs; you watch as the seats fill up; and you wonder just how many mini-cams are allowing you to float around like this.

From backstage, more mini-cams transport you. Your host (always one of opera's great singers), welcomes you. The story of the opera is briefly described, as is the cast of the day's performance. You're escorted to the control panel behind the curtain, where a stage manager speaks softly into a microphone, "Maestro, to the pit! - Maestro to the pit!" You walk to the pit with the conductor, who takes his place and bows to the applauding audience.

The overture begins, and before you know it, you're mesmerized by the breathtaking sets, the exceptional voices and the intense drama being played out. Now, the hero is going to struggle to battle the most tragic (or comic) crisis of his/her life. Up close, on the stage now, you watch facial expressions and gestures, while listening to the story being sung by glorious voices. That's what makes Live at the Met in H.D. such a treat to your eyes, ears, mind and heart.

During intermission, the mini-cams again scan the opera house and orchestra. But once you return to being a member of the cinema audience, you can stretch your legs, visit the restroom, get your popcorn, soda and/or hot dog, and even ask others what they think of the performance. You get back in time for more interviews and continuing set changes. You watch as the extravagant sets are positioned by a crew of at least 50 stage hands. It's also time for interviews between the host and the singers, costume designers, vocal coaches, set designers or "extras" (the supernumeraries who fill in the extravagant crowd scenes). One such "extra," Charles Anthony, a charming elderly gentleman, declared proudly during his interview that he's appeared in more than 2,900 Met performances since 1954. And he hasn't missed one season!

The idea of transmitting opera in this new way came from the Met's General Manager, Peter Gelb, late in 2006. "The audience will see their favorite opera singers bigger than they'd see them even from a front row seat. It's the next best thing to being there," said Gelb.

Founded in 1880, the Met performs in New York City, presenting some 240 performances each year, and is the nation's largest classical music organization.

Tickets are available at participating theater box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com. More information about the opera schedule can be found at www.metopera.org. Some of the future performances include "Der Rosenkavalier" (January 9), "Carmen" (Jan. 16) and "Hamlet" (March 27). Enjoy, and keep coming back.
Leah Schweitzer teaches creative writing workshops and lives in Valencia.

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