- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The close-ups were so tight you could see a tear slowly trickling down the tenor’s face _ and that the soprano’s fingernail polish didn’t match the color on her toes, though she did nail the high C.

It was a live performance of The Metropolitan Opera, broadcast to hundreds of theaters worldwide in a program so popular that America’s pre-eminent opera house is expanding it to 1,500 venues in 46 countries.

That’s 300 more than last year, including an additional 100 theaters in the U.S., to bring the domestic total to 620.

Egypt, Portugal and Spain are among countries that will now get the high-definition satellite simulcasts that draw more than 2 million spectators a year, some munching on popcorn after nabbing tickets at $18 to $25 a pop.

Seeing the show in person costs $30 to $330.

The Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning “The Met: Live in HD” has had “a significant impact on the Met,” general manager Peter Gelb told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It’s a financial shot in the arm, a new source of revenue which we sorely need as we fight the challenges of the recession.”

A dozen live transmissions are slated for the fifth season of the HD telecasts, starting Oct. 9 with a much-awaited new production, Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” directed by Robert Lepage.

Billing itself the “world’s largest provider of alternative cinema content,” the Met creates the shows in-house, with Gelb as executive producer.

A former part-time Met usher, he taps his background as a Sony recording executive, which he says trained him in “a combination of live performance and capturing it on video.”

Last season, more than 2.4 million “Live in HD” tickets were sold online or at local theaters for nine transmissions plus recorded repeats, tripling the Met’s in-person audience of about 800,000.

Subtitles appear in English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.

Interest is so keen that Gelb’s mother-in-law, who lives in France, once saw an audience fighting over who would get the front seats, he said. And in Munich this year, a performance of Rossini’s “Armida” awoke such passions that afterward, Gelb said, there was a “near-riot” at the box office for tickets to future shows.

On Saturday afternoons during telecasts, Gelb can be found squeezed into a trailer behind Lincoln Center with the crew. They edit on the fly as 13 cameras capture the onstage action, some rolling on a track just inches above the footlights.

The Met pioneered the telecasts with 56 venues in four countries to bring, as Gelb puts it, “this wonderful art form to as many people as possible,” and the series is now turning a profit.

Last season, $48 million worth of tickets were sold, with the company netting about $8 million in revenue after production costs and profit-sharing with company unions.

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