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With the extraordinary success of the 2007/08 season of The Metropolitan Opera productions captured live in HD for participating Australian cinemas, audiences have cried out for more. The groundbreaking series (in cinemas around the world) expands in its third season to 10 operas in 2008/09, up from eight. And it’s supported by Toll Brothers – a US building company. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Is it opera or is it cinema? Well, it’s both; the New York Met is regarded as a mecca of opera, attracting the world’s best and producing the most compelling work. At a very high price. And while it’s not the same as being there in person, the HD transmissions of their opera productions (screened here about a week later) offers opera lovers around the world a rare opportunity to participate in a Met season at a fraction of the cost. And without having to be in New York. But an even bigger surprise (than near-live opera from New York in your local cinema), is that a building company is one of the key financial supporters of the project, alongside PBS plus a “generous grant” from the Neubauer Family Foundation. This kind of private patronage deserves acclaim.

Natalie Miller of Sharmill Films (who have the rights and run the Nova in Melbourne) says last year’s debut season was a hit. “I couldn’t get a seat for The Barber of Seville in my own cinema … is that a hit? I think so. There were full houses everywhere.” It was Miller’s business partner Barry Peake who first pursued The Met for the rights, and The Met were delighted, but wanted Sharmill to sign up cinemas in other states – which they did.

This year, 21 cinemas around the country will screen the new season transmissions – up from 8 last year, with several regional cinemas participating.

The 2008/09 season was launched last week (August 27, 2008) at Sydney’s Cremorne Orpheum with a replay of the Met’s 2007/08 world premiere production of Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, starring Placido Domingo and directed by Zhang Yimou - director of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, for which Tan Dun wrote the Oscar winning score. Bruce Beresford, sometime opera director, took time out from post production on Mao’s Last Dancer, to introduce the film.

"many musical highlights"

The production features spectacular staging and many musical highlights, including a large production number featuring 16 Chinese drums which the players beat with potato-sized stones, and also used the stones rubbed together for a unqiue sound addition.

The HD transmission format offers the opportunity to not only watch the performance, but to go backstage and to see rehearsal footage during intermission.

The season begins on Saturday October 25, with Salome by Richard Strauss, and continues until May 23, 2009 (ending with La Cenerentola by Rossini); each of the 10 operas is transmitted once each on Saturday, Sunday and Thursday, and a new opera begins the following month.

The season includes four brand new productions: La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, directed Robert Lepage (December 6, 7 & 11); Massenet’s Thaïs (January 10, 11 & 15); Puccini’s La Rondine (January 31, February 1 & 5); and Bellini’s La Sonnambula (April 4, 5 & 9). Other productions include Madama Butterfly, Lucia de Lammermoor and John Adam’s contemporary work, Doctor Atomic (November 22, 23 & 27).


“It’s very exciting to see the digital age working like this for cinema operators and audiences,” says Miller.

Published September 4, 2008

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Le Damnation de Faust

Dr Atomic


Australian transmission schedule

Final transmission of The First Emperor:
September 6 & 7, 2008 (check cinemas in schedule for start times)
The legendary tenor Plácido Domingo is Emperor Qin, who founded an empire that would survive for 2,000 years. Tan Dun's music is a fascinating mix of East and West and the monumental production is by revered Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers and the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics) with costumes by Emi Wada (Kurosawa's Ran).

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