Live from the Met
An Irishwoman’s Diary: Opera on your doorstep
‘The fourth of this season’s 10 operas, Verdi’s Falstaff, conducted by James Levine and directed by Robert Carsen, will be broadcast live on Saturday.’ Above, Ambrogio Maestri in the title role in Verdi’s Falstaff
Aspiring young opera singers from all over the world dream of performing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. That is not to suggest that they don’t hold similar ambitions to sing in Berlin, Vienna or on the stage of the legendary La Scala in Milan, but the Met productions reach an increasingly huge audience. And while singers are eager to sing at the Met, opera lovers also dream of being in the audience and experiencing a national institution. Those who could not attend first got a taste of it with the introduction of the network radio broadcasts that began bringing the sounds of the Met into homes all over America in 1931 and have continued.
Saturday matinees performances at the Met have been introducing not only opera but classical music to generations. For Murray Perahia, the great American pianist, the many Saturday afternoons he spent at the Met with his father inspired in him a love of music that would begin with piano lessons given by a teacher so strict that he was only allowed to play the same piece, over and over, until it was perfect. Even so, the young Perahia did not mind as opera had already captured his imagination. It was not just the singing; it was the music.
The Italian communities in New York never lost sight of the fact that Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini were their special contribution to the world and many Italians have no inhibitions when it comes to an impromptu aria. Yet for too long, opera, a form written for the people, had become the preserve of the wealthy; ticket prices were prohibitive and corporate bookings reduced a night at the opera to an expensive social outing to be endured by spouses with little or no interest in the events on stage.
In common with Shakespeare’s theatre, opera was intended as mass entertainment and those Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon matinee broadcasts remain the longest-running continuous classical music programme in history. Listeners to RTÉ Lyric FM have also been able to tune in to the Met on a Saturday evening. In 2006 Peter Gleb, the then new general manager of the Met realised it was time for opera to capitalise on the technological revolution. On December 30th that year, the Met widened the range of its broadcasts by broadcasting live in high definition to 100 cinemas and theatres in the US as well as to seven similar venues in Britain and a further two in Japan. The production was a scaled down version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, performed in English. It was the beginning; the idea was to return opera to its origins as a local community experience, if with a fledging international dimension.