The Empire Strikes Back

We all know the refrain. Classical music is losing its audience. With shorter attention spans, the ascent of the iPod, a penchant for music (and spoken word masquerading as music) in the background, and the submergence of audio by home theater, fewer and fewer people in the United States are being exposed to art music of the past and present.

The Metropolitan Opera is not giving up without a fight. Beginning on December 30, the Met will broadcast the first of six star-studded productions, live and in high definition, in movie theaters in the US, Europe, and Canada equipped with high-definition systems and satellite dishes. Asian theaters are expected to join their ranks in the coming months.

To a theater near you? At press time, ten HD-enabled AMC movie theaters have committed to broadcasting all six live performances in the United States. More theaters are coming aboard on a weekly basis. Furthermore, following 30-day windows, the matinee performances will be released for HD broadcast on PBS in the US and other networks abroad. In addition, over 100 live audio performances will be broadcast either over the Internet or on digital radio.

Under terms of new union agreements, the Met will also make available on demand its entire archive of 1500 radio broadcasts recorded over the past 75 years. The first 500 will be available online this season. The Met also has gained the right to distribute present and historic radio and televised performances in all electronic formats. You can even anticipate operatic ring tones. (Imagine Salome screaming for your head on a platter as your phone goes off in the movie theater.)

The Met will begin streaming performances on its new website starting in December with support from RealNetworks®. Real will also make the Met's extensive library of radio archive broadcasts available through its Rhapsody® online music service. Two attempts to learn from Met publicists if anything will be available for download in lossless format, let alone if anyone was even considering the prospect, turned up zilch.

This season's pioneer movie showings (followed by HD broadcast) include the new English-language adaptation of Julie Taymor's Magic Flute, conducted by James Levine, on December 30; I Puritani starring Anna Netrebko on January 6; the world premiere of Tan Dun's The First Emperor with Plácido Domingo on January 13; Eugene Onegin with Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev, on February 24; the new production of The Barber of Seville with Juan Diego Flórez and the equally fabulous Diana Damrau on March 24 (with no less than Joyce DiDonato alternating in performance); and a new production of Il Trittico on April 28.