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The Arts

Bringing the Met to the Latchis

Devoted opera fans help make live HD broadcasts possible in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—Before audiences see opera at the Latchis Theater, Jim Anderson thinks it a good idea that they be taught how to sing it. 

In one of his talks before a showing of an The Met: Opera Live in High Definition, he told everyone to open his or her mouth wide, “like making a big yawn, and produce some nice round sounds,” which many did, laughing as they sang and getting a taste of what it might be like to perform like Pavarotti or Callas.

So far, Anderson has given a talk before the first five operas shown at the Latchis and plans to continue throughout the rest of the season. Before moving to Brattleboro, he spent 25 years in Europe pursuing an operatic career, which he claims is much easier abroad then here. 

“There are over 70 opera houses in Germany alone,” he says, “with over 300 performances a year.” 

He knows, and has even performed, in most of the works being shown at the Latchis this season. A funny and gregarious speaker, Anderson tells the story of the opera and, as he also has worked with many of the performers in these productions, anecdotes about the singers and directors themselves.

He also helps those in his audience new to opera how to understand the music, which for many of them is often strange and difficult.

Jim Anderson’s pre-opera talks is just one of the reasons that The Met: Live in HD has been such a great success in Brattleboro. According to Gail Nunziata, director of the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, there is such a strong core group of loyal followers that  “every Saturday performance has been virtually sold out.” (Seats are more available for the encore presentation the following Sunday at 11 am.) 

At any given showing, the audience’s passion is very obvious. People clap and shout bravo after an especially good aria or duet. During the intermission, they mingle and converse about the live performance as if they actually were at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

The next Metropolitan Opera HD transmission is Iphigenie en Tauride, by Gluck on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 1 p.m., and Sunday Feb. 27, at 11 a.m.  

More famous for his operatic retelling of legend of Orpheus, Gluck in Iphigenie returns to classical mythology for this nuanced and elegant interpretation of a primal Greek myth. 

Susan Graham stars in the title role, with Placido Domingo co-starring as her brother Oreste, and Paul Groves as Pylade, Oreste’s loyal friend.  The performance, sung in French with English subtitles, is conducted by Patrick Summers. 

Future operas this season at the Latchis include Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and Wagner’s Die Walkure.

Transmitting opera live via satellite to theaters across the globe was the idea of Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb. 

It is, according to Heidi Waleson of The Wall Street Journal, “now entering its fifth season . . .[and] contrary to the expectations of many, has been a runaway success. In 2006, [the Met] began transmitting live, high-definition opera performances into movie theaters, beginning with six shows in 248 theaters in eight countries. [This] season features 12 operas in 1,500 theaters in 46 countries. Last season, 2.4 million tickets were sold to nine different shows. The Met’s share of the gross was $24 million, and after subtracting production costs and revenue-sharing payments to its unions, the company realized over $8 million in net revenue.”

For Brattleboro, however, The Met: Live in HD is a new adventure. 

Nunziata says “we wanted the Met HD opera in Brattleboro for a long time, but it took a number of years before the Metropolitan Opera people seemed able to focus on such a small town.” 

Yet once they did, they were wonderful to work with.

“It was a real collaboration with the Met and the Latchis,” said Nunziata.

Many opera lovers may have hoped the operas would be shown in the big historic theater at the Latchis, especially since these live transmissions are already selling out the small theater. But Nunziata explains that the choice of a smaller theater was mainly an economic one. 

Installing HD is expensive, she says. The cost would have been $100,000 for the main theater, compared to the $30,000 for the smaller Theater 3. Even raising the $30,000 that was needed took an active effort by the Brattleboro Arts Initiative.

“We had a $7,500 challenge grant from a very generous anonymous donor, which has been met,” says Nunziata. “And, generally, we’re delighted that the pieces have fit together so smoothly.”

Those pieces include HD projection, a satellite dish, and an upgrade to the sound system in Theatre 3, the 130 seat auditorium on the lobby level next to Latchis’s main theatre; also the efforts of “at least 100” dedicated opera fans, who donated the remainder.  

Nunziata has no regrets about the compromise of the small theater. “We just wanted to get [HD] in the door. We’re taking this process one step at a time.”

Brattleboro opera fans seem delighted with the results. Audience members Marjorie and Steven Sayer, who had to travel down to Hadley, Mass., in previous years to see HD transmissions, are pleased with the convenience of having opera right here in Brattleboro. They are also happy to be able to support the Latchis. 

Everyone seems to love the price.  As one audience member said, “to see these operas in New York, a couple would have to pay over $500 dollars with travel, tickets, hotels and restaurants. Here, it’s less than $50.”

The Metropolitan is not the only opera company transmitting via HD. Other theaters, such as La Scala in Milan and the Paris Opera, now show performances via satellite. Last month, Covent Garden in London transmitted Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in high definition and in 3-D. 

Nor is HD limited to opera. Sports events, classical and pop concerts, ballet, and even public performances of Glenn Beck’s Common Sense Tour and Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion all are now being transmitted in HD. 

The Sayers regularly travel up to Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center to enjoy a season of the English National Theater in HD. Although, for now, the Latchis has no immediate plans for any of these things, Nunziata cryptically hints, “Who knows what the HD future holds for the Latchis?”

The Met: Live in HD series is made possible at the Latchis by a generous grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and Brattleboro Savings and Loan. It is co-sponsored by Vermont Public Radio and the Brattleboro Music Center.

Tickets can be purchased on-line from BrattleboroTix at www.brattleborotix.com, or by calling the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523. Tickets will also be sold at the door on the day of the performance, if available. Ticket prices are $24 for Saturday, $22 for Sunday, $268 for the 12-opera season.

Jim Anderson’s pre-opera talk begins an hour before the Saturday performance in Theater 4 and costs $10. The season schedule is posted at www.brattleboroarts.org, www.bmcvt.org, and in the Latchis Theatre lobby.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #89 (Wednesday, February 23, 2011).

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