Just when we think we've begun to get a handle on some of the day-to-day quandaries that arise when trying to determine what constitutes polite public behavior, along comes Metropolitan Opera Live in HD—casually known as Met at the Movies—a series of broadcasts that further blur the lines between old-world etiquette and new-world nonchalance. Since 2006, the Met has paired with network giant National Cinemedia's Fathom division and movie chains across the country to bring opera, that bastion of tradition and refinement, into a sticky-floored, popcorn-soda-and-gummi-worms theater near you.
"It's a welcoming [and] known environment," says Michelle Portillo, NCM's public relations manager. "You're going to the movies."
Initially inspired by the success of a similarly broadcast David Bowie concert, the Emmy-winning Met productions have reached a wide audience in more than 30 countries and enjoyed great critical—although still undetermined financial—success. Transmitted live during the Met's regular Saturday matinee, the 10-camera setup and high production values lend the broadcasts a polished and arresting aura.
"They're just phenomenally well done," says Mark Junkert, executive director of Opera Idaho. "It's great for opera, and it's great for us."
Early studies have indicated that the series isn't creating much of a new audience for opera, but Junkert hopes that its continued success will settle new gowned and tuxedoed tushes into Opera Idaho seats. The broadcasts also present an opportunity for Treasure Valley residents to meet with on-hand local opera professionals and enter a drawing for Opera Idaho tickets.
"I think, over time, it's building opera audiences out there in a general way," he says. "There's a barrier in the [filmed] medium so that live theater, live music, live whatever makes a difference ... There's the ambience of being with all these other people for that live moment."
While much of the audience for the broadcasts is already avid opera devotees, the convenience and accessibility of the theater experience has brought the art form some new appreciation.
"[I] didn't attend that first year as I didn't think I liked opera," says Lissa Forrey, a regular spectator and former member of the Treasure Valley Concert Band. "The quality of the production in every way impressed me—and I became an opera fan."
Unlike the posh yet sometimes intimidating environment of a local opera event, Met at the Movies encourages a come-as-you-are experience, with dressing up or down a private decision. Also undefined and something of a group decision is the proper response to the on-screen performance.
"Personally, I feel like clapping after a beautiful aria," says Forrey. "But the artist can't hear my clapping so it's a bit odd."
Another special bonus of the broadcasts are the 30-minute behind-the-scenes peeks that occur during the operas' double intermissions. Audience members see breathless divas mid-costume change, watch the choreography of massive set changes and discover the intricate details of these giant productions.
"They're very engaging," says Junkert. "[It] shows people that opera's really an expensive art form. There's a lot more going on here than you'd think."
On Saturday, the curious and the acquainted can catch the high-definition live broadcast of Madama Butterfly, Puccini's tragic tale of Oriental/Occidental discord and unrequited love. Whether your chosen gown is of the gossamer or cotton variety, the Met at the Movies experience defines opera for the everyman.
Saturday, March 7, 11 a.m. adults $22, seniors $20, children $15. Edwards 22, 7709 Overland Road, 800-555-8355. As an added bonus, Opera Idaho presents Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, their final production of the season. See opera on the big screen, then experience it up close. Saturday, March 7, 8 p.m. and Sunday March 8, 3 p.m., $10-$80. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-387-1273. For more information, visit operaidaho.org or call 208-345-3531.