Vocalist - Baritone
Acclaim
Macbeth: Live from New York to a cinema near you
Since becoming General Manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera in August 2006, Peter Gelb has busily promoted a slate of new ideas aimed at revitalising the marketing and presentation of opera. One of his most successful initiatives to date is an extension of the house's long tradition of live Saturday matinee radio broadcasts (which can still be heard on Radio 3) into transmission via satellite into cinemas, using high-definition picture and sound.

The Barbican is one of several participating British institutions, and the first of a series of six shows this winter drew a sizeable crowd of 400. The opera was Verdi's Macbeth, directed by Adrian Noble in a lively staging which updated the scenario to the 1950s. Levine conducted his orchestra magnificently, with Zeljko Lucic giving a forthright reading of the title role and Maria Guleghina barnstorming her way through Lady Macbeth.

Before the performance started, the camera showed the orchestra tuning up and the audience taking its seats, as well as Gelb accosting the conductor James Levine on his way to the podium. In the intervals, there was footage of scene changes and backstage hum, as well as interviews with the singers and production staff. This was all entertaining but somewhat banal, and I felt that more solid information about the opera could usefully have been provided.

The quality of the picture and sound was excellent, although the art of opera does not take kindly to close-up - one was often made uncomfortably aware of hammy or inert acting, the singers' facial contortions as they negotiated high notes and some rather crude make-up. But there was a definite sense of involvement in the live event, to the extent that the cinema audience felt compelled to join in the Met's applause.

Forthcoming transmissions include Manon Lescaut with Karita Mattila, Tristan und Isolde with Ben Heppner, La bohème with Angela Gheorghiu, a new production of Peter Grimes and La Fille du Regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez.

Tickets for the showings are £25 - three times the price of a movie, but a quarter of the price of a decent seat at the Met. Good value, I think, and my guess is that such big-screen broadcasts will establish themselves as a regular feature of our opera scene. They should not, however, be used as an excuse for the BBC to stop free-to-view television coverage of live performances.
Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph (London)
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