The series, which broadcasts live performances from the Metropolitan Opera to movie theaters around the world, was designed to expand opera audiences. But some have wondered whether it has done the opposite: By offering a relatively affordable way to experience a quality opera production up-close, has Live in HD eroded audiences inside the opera house? What's more, the audience for these presentations tends to be older — not necessarily the new viewers the Met was seeking to attract.
The Washington Post's Anne Midgette weighed in on the transmissions and surveyed several opera administrators about Live in HD. Ms. Midgette see issues with the program, even beyond the potential effect it has on ticket sales, such as whether it has placed too high a priority on cinematic detail or whether the technological adjustments afforded by the productions have numbed the artistic risks of producing opera.
I spoke with Christopher Hahn, general director of Pittsburgh Opera, about whether he felt the HD series had eroded the local opera audience. His answer, emphatically, was "absolutely not," and he feels the program could in fact enrich Pittsburghers' operagoing experience and knowledge.
"In our specific position in Pittsburgh, I absolutely believe it has no impact on the audience," he said.
Mr. Hahn has not actually attended a Live in HD broadcast himself because he generally catches several of the productions in New York and (rightfully) prefers seeing operas in the flesh. But he views the transmissions as an opportunity for Pittsburghers, on the one hand, to experience repertoire and productions they typically can't get at the Benedum Center and, on the other hand, to be exposed to Met performers they actually might see in Pittsburgh (e.g., Lisette Oropesa, who appeared with Pittsburgh Opera most recently in the company's 2015 production of "Daughter of the Regiment").
"It's very important for our audience to know what a wonderful 'Lulu' looks and sounds like," he said, referring to the Alban Berg opera that was broadcast on the series in 2015.
In his view, Live in HD runs the risk of cannibalizing ticket sales for smaller opera companies that may not have the resources to put on high-quality productions. On the other end of the spectrum, it also could hurt the Met's own in-house audience. But a "major regional opera company" like Pittsburgh Opera, he believes, is safe from those factors.
He acknowledged the cinema presentations have some advantages for older patrons. Those who might have trouble making it to the Benedum at night will find the ease of navigating a cinema on a Saturday afternoon attractive. But while Pittsburgh Opera has lost patrons who can't manage those late-night trips into Downtown Pittsburgh anymore, Mr. Hahn does not know of anyone who gave up tickets specifically because of the Met's transmissions.
Personally, I think a lot of folks are scapegoating the HD series. Sure, it hasn't built the new audiences the Met had hoped for, but as others in those articles mentioned, there plenty of wide-ranging cultural forces that have affected ticket sales at opera companies. As I've previously stated, I appreciate the opportunity to see operas (such as William Kentridge's visually arresting "Lulu") that aren't likely to appear in Pittsburgh anytime soon.