Opera is probably the least fortunate of the performing arts when it comes to reputation. It is haunted by stereotypes and misinformation, some of which are exploded beautifully in this recent blog post by Independent journalist Jessica Duchen. I have to admit that it’s a form of performance that I’ve only recently discovered myself – although in the past I’d caught the odd light opera for a review, I’d never made the jump to the full-blown form in spite of always having meant to.
What held me back? Money. That, and fear of not enjoying myself. Although deals and cheaper seats do exist for the opera, they can seem harder to find than those for theatre. There’s also the nagging question of ‘What if I don’t like it?’. The majority of us have seen theatre in one form or another from an early age, at school or with family for example. We have a rough knowledge of how it works and what to expect, and, even when we don’t like a particular piece, it is working within a set of familiar boundaries. Going to the opera for the first time may seem like more of a risk – potentially, it involves paying out to see something which you have no experience of and may completely hate.
Now, however, there’s a cheap(er) way of introducing yourself to this art form and you won’t have to travel far at all to do it. The Met: Live in HD is a scheme by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, one of the world’s most renowned opera houses, to introduce new audiences to the art. Performances of a diverse selection of shows from The Met’s season are beamed to cinemas all over the world, the nearest being Southampton’s very own Harbour Lights at Ocean Village. As well as access to free downloadable cast sheets and synopses, subtitles are provided on-screen and cinema audiences are treated to interviews, trailers and features both in the run-up to the start of the show and in the show’s intermission.
There are two options for watching the shows. The concession price for the live broadcast is £25 which, whilst cheaper than going to see an opera on stage, possibly doesn’t sit well with a student budget. More affordable, however, are the Encore showings on Monday afternoons which provide an exact replica of the live Saturday night experience. £15 here will get you all of the perks of the original performance including the full intermission of 30 to 40 minutes – plenty of time for a breather!
The Met describe their Live in HD programme as ‘a perfect, low-risk way to introduce a reluctant opera-goer to the art form’ stating that ‘opera, when it’s presented at the highest level both musically and theatrically, appeals to a very broad audience’. I went, I saw, I recommend.