Do the Met's Live in HD broadcasts hurt Pittsburgh Opera?

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

The Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series is 10 years old, offering a natural point to take stock of the legacy of this controversial project. 

LL 2016 01 LAMOUR DE LOIN 02 231-XL photo by kristian schullerThe Met will offer a Live in HD transmission of Kaija Saariaho’s opera "L’Amour de Loin" in December. (Photo: Kristian Schuller) 

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. 

What do you think about Live in HD? Good for opera, bad for opera, or somewhere in between? Feel free to comment below or send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to share your thoughts.  

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Benjy Grinberg calls Wiz Khalifa suit 'fabricated' and 'deeply disappointing'

Written by Scott Mervis on .

Benjy-Grinberg-and-Wiz-KhalifaBenjy Grinberg and Wiz Khalifa in 2005. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)


Benjy Grinberg, the former manager of Wiz Khalifa, has issued a statement to the Post-Gazette calling the rapper's lawsuit against him "fabricated" and "deeply disappointing."


In June, Khalifa filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Grinberg and the Pittsburgh-based Rostrum Records, challenging the “360” deal the rapper signed in 2005. Along with terminating the deal, the suit seeks more than $1 million in damages, as well as attorney fees and further punitive damages.

Khalifa, who signed with Rostrum as a teenager, contends that Grinberg, as manager and record exec, placed Rostrum’s financial interest over his own in sharing his songwriting, touring and merchandising income for a decade.

In his statement, Grinberg, a fellow Allderdice High School grad, said, "Thirteen years ago, we started Rostrum Records as a label that would support and nurture the artists we believe in. We are very grateful that Rostrum has been able to achieve that goal and provide a strong, family atmosphere where meaningful relationships with the artists is our top priority. To give everything you have to an artist and then to be on the receiving end of a fabricated lawsuit is deeply disappointing. What was alleged is, in fact, the complete opposite of our actions and the antitheses of what Rostrum Records and I stand for. Rostrum looks forward to quickly addressing these baseless claims so we can continue to focus our energies on our artists' success."


Rostrum was also home to fellow Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller, who released two albums and multiple mixtapes on Rostrum between 2011 and 2013. The label's current roster includes Mod Sun, Donora and The Bird and the Bee.

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The 1975 will play Stage AE on Halloween

Written by Scott Mervis on .

The1975Stage AE will be haunted by The 1975 on Oct. 31, which falls on a Monday night.


The British alt-rock band is touring on second album “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It,” which topped the charts when it was released in February. The release was accompanied by an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" that lit up social media over the flamboyant, rock-star behavior of frontman Matt Healy.


Q magazine said of the album, “The UK’s most exciting young band mix hooks and atmosphere on their big statement. They could have played it safe but it’s an album that marks The 1975 out as a truly special band.”

Tickets are $40 ($45 day of show) and go on sale July 29 at Pre-sale runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. July 28 with the password "north."




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James Street Gastropub launches indiegogo campaign to save the venue

Written by Scott Mervis on .


As you may have seen on social media, or maybe experienced in real life, the bands had to be shut down at the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy ballroom last Saturday night during the Deutschtown Music Festival due to noise complaints.

It has been an ongoing problem for the eclectic North Side venue, which is now launching an indiegogo campaign to raise funds to soundproof the third floor ballroom.

Kevin Saftner says in his "#SaveJamesStreet" plea that they have been warned that if the complaints continue, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will force the club to close.


He writes, “With your help you will not only help us keep our 30 employees and their families fed, but you will help Pittsburgh musicians, artists & many others too. James Street is honored to host the Legendary Roger Humphries weekly Jam Session.  It would be terrible to have this tradition end because of the issues we are facing.  We are also honored to work with young up and coming musicians such as the Bleil Brothers, Anton DeFade, George Heid III & countless others.  Again, nothing would be worse than having these aspiring artists lose yet another venue to perform at.  James Street is not merely a music venue though.  We host Drag Brunch, Burlesque shows, Private events, Swing Dances, Church Groups & so much more.  There would be nothing worse than closing our doors to all of these amazing people.

In order to #SaveJamesStreet we need to raise approximately $30,000.  This money will go to sound proof the Ballroom as well as to install air conditioning and new electrical work.  We are asking you who to help us with just a small percent of the total cost.”

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Pittsburgh rapper Eddie Barnz opens up about his ups and downs, beef with Wiz Khalifa in "Dollar and a Dream"

Written by Scott Mervis on .

barnz 2

Eddie Barnz has gone where no Pittsburgh rapper has gone before and self-published his autobiography, at 31.

“Dollar & A Dream” is a compelling 300-page account of his life so far, offering a cinematic glimpse into the frustrations and small victories that come with trying to break out of the hood as rapper in Pittsburgh.

He grew up on Somers Drive in the “tight-knit” Hill District with a strict, hard-working mom and laid-back dad who saw that he got some of the nice things in life, like the new Nintendo on Christmas. It was rare among his friends.

Barnz, brimming with self-awareness and honest about both his arrogance and insecurities, admits to being a bit of a bully, saying he was just trying to be “funny and fun.” At 9, he was rapping songs by Run-DMC, Rakim and others, pretending they were his own. At Brashear High School, he became immersed in the East Coast rap of Nas and Jay-Z, and he got by on charm: “I rarely went to class, but for some reason the teachers loved me, so they gave me passing grades.”

His gangsta life began at 18 when he and friends moved into their own house, hustling weed, packing guns and shooting dice. “But we were not bad dudes,” he writes. They had a room he called The Desert that served as a spot for outrageous sexual escapades (Barnz loads his book with porn), but was also equipped with a mini-studio where he made beats for the 20-some rappers on Chauncey Street. He released his first music, “Empire,” at 19.

When the Feds cracked down on the Hill District drug game, putting many of his friends in jail, it opened the door to a new, more violent class of dealers. “Death was all around me,” he writes of losing many of his friends. He moved to Wilkinsburg, got a job at CMU, and had a brief bout of domestication with a single mom, who didn’t care much for his rap ambitions and nearly got in the way of his recording a track with Philly rapper Ab Liva.

The juicy part begins when that single, “Welcome to Pistolvania,” ends up being a title -- coincidentally? -- also being used by a young rapper he calls Lil Tazz (Wiz Khalifa). It creates a beef between the rappers, with Tazz getting the bulk of media support. Barnz manages the stem that tide with a diss track called “I Be on the Block,” which he promoted on Myspace. His first single, “Meltdown Love” would get play on WAMO (thanks to some heavy-handed arm-twisting on his part), opening more doors for him and getting him nominated for Best New Artist at what turned out to be a hostile and tense 2008 Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards.

He didn’t win, and the hard luck extended to a gig at Club Deja Vu, where he was sucker-punched and beaten in the middle of performing his song. At that point, Barnz was unemployed and practically homeless, finally moving back with his mom. All the while, he was getting the sense that he was being “priced,” or sized up for a mugging. It finally happened one winter night around 11 p.m. when he was going to borrow a movie from a friend for a date he had with his girlfriend. He was pistol-whipped, relieved of his keys and cellphone (containing all his music contacts) and when he fell on the ice, a bullet went through his oversized cap. “I had been feeling as if God was making me pay for something.” God also spared him by a few inches there.

When he formed what appeared to be a promising label of rap artists called Hood Democrat, it withered when the artists either turned on each other or left to concentrate on day jobs.

“Throughout my life, I had many people try to hold me back from being great,” he writes. “It was the story of my life, either someone was trying to hold me back or turned on me.”

Although he gets lots (and lots and lots) of action, he has a hard-knock life with women, as relationships falter (sometimes his fault, sometimes not), including one that takes place in an East Hills project where bullets fly near their door on summer nights.

Barnz credits his father for teaching him persistence and that pays off when countless record offers and collaborations with producers and rappers fall through.

What he learns in the modern rap game is that “DJ's only played what was hot, which was why there were so many ‘clones’ in music. Future and Young Thug sounded like Lil Wayne and Lil Wayne sound like T-Pain. Everyone was using auto-tune or rapping as if they were from down South or Chicago. This was not the rap I grew up with. I was stressed every day thinking about how I had to be like everyone else, so I had to come up with a kid dance song or rap like I was Young Thug or Migos.”

After all the misery, “Dollar & A Dream” ends on an upbeat note with his song “Uh Uh On” receiving hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube (even though it’s taken down a few times) and Barnz working out a distribution deal with  RBC Records/Entertainment One Music for the single “Get Rich.” He ends up in Hip Hop Weekly and the freshman issue of XXL Magazine.

“Some nights I wanted to kill myself, but I remained strong and fought through it all. The underdog was finally on top… I guess God had a plan for me all along.”

If he can get “on top” a little further, someone just might want the movie rights.

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