Afternoons at the opera

Film Center now offers live opera from the Met.

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"Cosi Fan Tutti" is one of the selections from the Metropolitan Opera. — Courtesy M.V. Film Center

For those who find Island living limiting because of the lack of access to cultural events, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is now offering a solution. Thanks to the addition of satellite technology and the procurement of the proper licensing, the Film Center is now screening live opera from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, as well as live performances from London’s National Theater, and ballet from the Bolshoi.

Previously the Film Center was able to screen prerecorded, captured-live operas and theater. The selections came from famed opera houses in Europe, but the Met only offered live streaming. For the past three years, Film Center director Richard Paradise has been petitioning for the rights to simulcast the Met operas. This spring his request was finally granted, and last month the Film Center screened the first two of the “Met Opera Live in HD” series for the 2017–18 season. “Norma” and “Die Zauberflöte” kicked off the Met Opera season, and the response from Vineyard audiences was very encouraging.

“The rebroadcasts generally brought in 30 to 50 opera fans,” says Mr. Paradise. “The first two “Met Live” screenings brought in 118 and 128 people respectively — a huge increase. I think that’s mainly because it’s the Met, and because it’s live. People feel more excited about the fact that they’re watching something that’s happening now. They’re watching exactly what the audience in New York is watching simultaneously.”

Upcoming Met operas include favorites such as “La Bohème” and “Così Fan Tutte,” and Met premieres of lesser-known classic operas, as well as a couple of contemporary compositions. On Saturday, Nov. 18, the Film Center will stream “The Exterminating Angel,” a 2016 opera based on the Luis Buñuel film of the same name, sung in English. The opera was commissioned by the Met, although it premiered in Salzburg last year. This will be the Met’s first production of the new opera. The opera’s librettist, Tom Cairns, will direct, and the composer, Thomas Adès, will conduct his own work. “The Exterminating Angel” was hailed by the New York Times as “inventive and audacious … a major event.”

Next up, on Dec. 27 the Film Center will stream the Met’s holiday special production of a new English-language version of “Hansel and Gretel” by 19th century German composer Engelbert Humperdinck. That will be followed by a new production of “Tosca” by David McVicar on Jan. 27. The series will continue throughout February, March, and April, and will include 10 productions from the Met Opera’s current season. Other selections include “Cendrillon” by Jules Massenet, Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” “Semiramide” by 19th-century composer Gioachino Rossini, and “L’ELisir d’Amore” by Donizetti, along with “La Bohème” and “Così Fan Tutte” mentioned above. All foreign-language operas will include subtitles.

Not only will Vineyard audiences be afforded a real-time experience, Mr. Paradise notes, some patrons have found that the simulcasts have advantages over attending a live performance. “The Met does such a great job of capturing the live performance using multiple cameras,” he says. “You get different angles, including close-ups and overhead shots — things that you might not normally see if you were sitting in the audience. During the intermission, they provide things like live interviews with performers and pretaped interviews with the director or conductor. You get firsthand knowledge and backstage insights.”

The “Met Live” series was launched 12 years ago, serving select theaters throughout the world. Today the series streams content to more than 2,000 movie theaters in 71 countries.

It wasn’t for lack of trying that the “Met Live” Vineyard debut was so long in coming. “The Metropolitan Opera has always been the gold standard,” says Mr. Paradise, “the one people have been asking about. Unfortunately, I was never able to get approval. It never had anything to do with our technical ability. Our digital projection system is quite adequate. They just weren’t willing to expand to more theaters in New England. It was only in March or April that I was able to get their agreement to broadcast.”

The Film Center had to invest about $8,500 for the necessary satellite and transmission equipment to stream the operas. Funding came from donations by Clara Kennedy, Carol Craven, and two anonymous donors.

The addition of the new equipment has opened a number of doors to future events. “One of the side benefits of buying the equipment is that we can now do National Theater [from London’s West End] and Bolshoi Ballet [from Moscow] simulcasts,” says Mr. Paradise.

“National Theater Live” offerings will include “Follies” on Thursday, Nov. 16, “Young Marx” in December, “Amadeus” in January, and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in February. “Bolshoi Ballet Live” series selections will include “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 17, and “Romeo and Juliet” in January.

Mr. Paradise anticipates simulcasts of concerts and other events in the future. He takes his cue from audience feedback. It was thanks in part to requests by Film Society members and patrons that Mr. Paradise was persistent in his efforts to obtain permission from the Met. “We’re very community-oriented when it comes to programing,” he says.

Tickets for the “Met Live” screenings are $24 general admission, $21 for members, and $12 for children ages 14 or younger. Patrons can also purchase a mini-series pass with tickets for any five performances for $110 general admission, $100 for Film Society members.

For future simulcasts and other special events, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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