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Arts Desk

After A Decade In Theaters, Met Opera Simulcasts Still Going Strong

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Ron Berard/Metropolitan Opera
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The Metropolitan Opera "Live in HD" broadcasts have been simulcast in movie theaters nationwide for the last 10 years.

The Metropolitan Opera changed the face of theatergoing nearly a decade ago with  high-definition simulcasts in movie theaters using a technology associated more with rock concerts and boxing matches than opera. What has the competition done to companies such as Opera Philadelphia? The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns talks to both sides.

David Patrick Stearns: The Metropolitan Opera would seem to be starting on a rather familiar note with this year Verdi's Il Trovatore. Except that star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is coming back from a brain tumor. A bit of risk?

Peter Gelb: This is not a low-risk art form.

DPS: So says Met General Manager Peter Gelb, who welcomes Hvorostovsky back without hesitation.

PG: He has delivered some of the greatest performances in recent years on the stage of the Met. We owe him a lot. The fact is he has too much pride to sing on the stage of the met if he can't deliver a first-rate performance.

DPS: Over the years, simulcasts have gone fearlessly long with Wagner, have explored cutting-edge stage technology that hasn't always worked out, and consolidated the careers of many great singers, the latest being last week's debut by Sonya Yoncheva.

Yet, out in the hinterlands, some opera companies complained that they've been outclassed. Gelb refuses to be blamed.

PG: The local companies that are imaginative and who are doing interesting programming are the ones that aren't at all threatened by what we're doing.

DPS: Opera Philadelphia's David Devan immediately knew he had to raise more money for better productions - and offer the up-close-and-personal simulcast effect with opera in smaller theaters.

David Devan: We decided not to compete digitally because that's their space. We're doing similar things with different ways, a close visceral experience we're absolutely delivering, largely through our Perelman and Opera in the City initiatives.

PG: He sounds like he knows what he's doing.

DPS: But Gelb knows he can't count on many people being so complimentary toward him. Few people this side of Barack Obama have generated such heated controversy.

PG: When I was growing up, my father was managing editor of The New York Times and he used to take great pride in being attacked by every side. It means you must be doing something right or something that's wrong for everyone. [Laugh]