Sunday, September 24, 2006

The products

I just praised Joseph Volpe for his handling of Met labor issues, so let me begin by saying this: the most significant and groundbreaking event of Peter Gelb's tenure may be the labor agreement he finalized at the beginning of this month.
[T]he Met's orchestra, chorus, ballet and stagehands [...] voted in favor of a new media agreement after extensive negotiations this summer.
In the past, unions have demanded substantial upfront payments to all parties involved in performances -- making recordings, broadcasts and telecasts prohibitively expensive. Gelb calls the new revenue-sharing arrangement a "shift to a more fluid concept of media, in keeping with the infinite possibilities offered by modern technology."
This opens up a huge field for the company and fans alike. No matter how Gelb's specific media and tech initiatives pan out, the labor agreement that enables them is a milestone.

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On the heels of this agreement came news of the first concrete initiatives. First, opera-as-movie:
Beginning Dec. 30, the Met will transmit six of its performances live -- with state-of-the-art sound and high-definition imagery -- to movie theaters equipped with special projection systems and satellite dishes throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. After 30 days, the new productions will be presented on PBS stations throughout the country.
Second, something Adam Baer suggested almost three years ago -- live streaming of Met performances (with archival access to follow):
The Met will present live streaming of opera performances on its website with support from RealNetworks®, the leading creator of digital media services. In the coming months, Real will also make the Met's extensive library of radio archive broadcasts available through its award-winning Rhapsody® online music service. Streaming of Met operas is anticipated to begin with the start of the 2006-07 season.
And finally, for the radio-oriented, an entire SIRIUS satellite music channel:
The full-time channel will feature an average of four live broadcasts each week throughout the Met's 2006-07 performance season, with Saturday matinee performances enhanced with live interviews and dynamic intermission programs. The channel will also feature hundreds of re-mastered historic broadcasts culled from the Met's illustrious 75-year history. Additional vocal content will complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
Note, however, that this will largely largely squash the potential of live webcasts:
Met spokeswoman Sommer Hixson said the company had not yet determined how much overlap there would be between the radio channel and the Internet streaming, which will include at most a weekly performance. The streaming is designed to promote the subscription service.

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At first opera was one product, then two (Caruso and the gramophone), then three (radio); now it's -- well, look above. (Actually, the announcements just scratch the surface of what's possible under the new agreement. There's no mention of the inevitable DVD series, for example, that will follow from having six telecasts per season.) Still, it's still only two things at bottom: (1) a laborious and irreproducible live activity founded on human presence, and (2) the technologically mediated and therefore infinitely reproducible and disseminable echoes of that activity.

The latter provides more opportunities for happy consumption to many, many more people, and its expansion is generally praiseworthy. But I think it's essential that Gelb and his "new" media customers remember that the live form of opera is the sine qua non, the golden goose without which there would be few fans, fewer singers, and no basis for the niche demand these secondary products exist to satisfy and encourage.

There's little initial risk of forgetting, as the most excited are hard-core fans who've been dreaming of (and/or illicitly sampling) the Met sound archives' riches for years. When people begin, as they might, discovering the Met through these outlets, though... Will they be well-reminded that, as "real" and large and impressive as a live cinematic rendition might be (or as regular and "live" sounding and voluminous as daily radio may be), it omits huge chunks of the live experience?

That's a thought for the future. For the moment, there's much to enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. That these broadcasts will be transmitted through cameras is probably enough to differentiate the movie house version from the live event. In the movie house, you see only what the camera shows you. At the event, you choose what to look at, in an unlimited field of vision. Given that, if someone "comes to opera" from watching it in the theatre, will they have unrealistic expectations? And will the actual event meet these expectations, or be the source of disappointment. I wonder.

    Will these movie theatre transmissions resemble the PBS telecasts, or will the cinematography be different? Some of the cinematography on the PBS telecasts left quite a bit to be desired (e.g., too much focus on singers tongues--I don't think that will go over too well in a movie theatre), although it did improve at times.

    -- ch. rainier


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.