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Metropolitan Opera and EMI Classics to Release Five High-Definition Broadcasts on DVD

By Matthew Westphal
19 Jul 2007

Following a six-year hiatus, the Metropolitan Opera is set to resume issuing commercial video recordings of some of its productions. The company announced yesterday that it has concluded a deal with EMI Classics to release on DVD five of the coming season's eight high-definition simulcasts into movie theaters.

The Met/EMI deal includes the following operas, all recorded live at Saturday matinee performances:

  • Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (January 1), starring Christine Schäfer and Alice Coote (with tenor Philip Langridge as the Witch) in a new English-language production by Richard Jones conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.
  • Verdi's Macbeth (January 12) starring Lado Ataneli in a new production by Adrian Noble, with company music director James Levine on the podium.
  • Puccini's Manon Lescaut (February 16), starring Karita Mattila and Marcello Giordani and conducted by Levine.
  • Britten's Peter Grimes (March 15), starring Anthony Dean Griffey and Patricia Racette in a new production directed by John Doyle and conducted by Donald Runnicles.
  • Puccini's La Bohème (April 5), with Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas starring in the Franco Zeffirelli production, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.

The DVD releases will include some of the intermission features produced for the live transmissions.

The Met's inaugural 2006-07 season of six simulcasts was a major success with critics and audiences. About 325,000 people attended the relays at movie theaters in North America, Europe, and Japan, plus thousands more in subsequent television broadcasts on PBS. In one particular case, the broadcasts had a major positive impact on a movie exhibitor chain's financial results.

The Met released well over 40 opera recordings, mostly on Universal Classics, between 1997 and 2001, according to the AP, but none since. "Historically, opera recordings have been less successful for record companies than solo recordings," Met general manager Peter Gelb, who was previously president of Sony Classical, told the agency. "The idea is to capitalize like with a movie release. What the Met has been able to accomplish with the transmissions into movie theaters is to create an appetite among the public, we believe, for greater sale of ancillary products like DVDs."

The Met and EMI are discussing the possible release of other recordings, on DVD and in audio-only format, potentially including some of the 2006-07 simulcasts as well as material from the house's archives. The Met says it is in similar discussions with other companies; according to the AP, the company has been negotiating for months with Universal Classics over the possible DVD release of last season's simulcasts featuring exclusive Universal artists, such as the Puritani starring Anna Netrebko, the Eugene Onegin featuring Renée Fleming and the Barber of Seville starring Juan Diego Flórez.

While EMI will release these five operas in DVD format, the Met will retain the digital distribution rights to the recordings. The opera house is currently negotiating a pay-per-view deal for its high-definition broadcasts, according to the Associated Press, and has future plans to make the recordings available at its website and to pursue television broadcasts on overseas networks as well as PBS.

"It's our intention," Gelb told the AP, "that all these be commercially exploited in every possible format that exists."




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