The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music analysis: Madison loves opera so much, it will get a second screen and a second replay for the Met’s hi-def opera broadcasts

January 14, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

How much does Madison love opera?

A lot, it seems.

In fact, a lot more than you might guess for a city of 300,000 in a county of 550,000.

Consider that the two most recent productions – Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” (with Renee Fleming and Susan Graham, below) with our Middleton neighbor Edo de Waart conducting) on last Saturday, Jan. 9, and Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” (with Roberto Alagna) on this Saturday, Jan. 16 – in the Metropolitan Opera’s high-def productions this season: Both were so popular, they sold out.

At “Rosenkavalier,” I spoke to three people. Two had arrived at 10:30 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. to get good seats that weren’t too close to the screen for the screening that started at noon. Add such waiting time in to the five hours of the opera broadcast, including two 20-minute intermissions, and that’s a long day sitting. Of course, it’s also a good dollar-per-hour value for the $22 admission price. But still: The events draw real fans, even fanatics.

So people who didn’t get to attend the screenings were justifiably disappointed.

And apparently they were numerous. A spokesman for the Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation that runs Point said at the first screening that people traveled from as far away as Illinois only to be turned away because there was no available seating.

How frustrating that must be! (So be advised: Call first to be sure you can get tickets.)

Here is a link to the Met’s hi-def schedule for the rest of this season, which includes Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” with Placido Domingo; “Ambroise Thomas’ “Hamlet” with Natalie Dessay and Rossini’s “Armida” with Renee Fleming):

And here’s a link to the Marcus Corporation’s homepage for Point and Eastgate with titles and seating availability:

But the Marcus spokesman also had lots of good news to announce:

*Marcus will start a second Madison screening of the Met’s hi-def series on the east side (Eastgate Cinemas). He couldn’t say when it would start either this season and at the being of next season.

Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising.

For one, the series has done so well for the Met in just three seasons, that it is now beamed to more than 900 cinemas around the world.

And here’s another reason maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. The barrier of the isthmus means we often have to do things in two’s. Madison, after all, also has two Borders, and had two Barnes and Nobles and, I predict, will have two Whole Foods and maybe two Trader Joe’s once the economy revives and picks up steam.

Plus about a decade ago, Wisconsin Public Radio tried to get rid of the Saturday afternoon live broadcasts form the Met and encountered with such stiff opposition that it backed down.

Plus, the Madison Opera’s productions have been selling well, including two sold-out performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” this fall. Madison Opera staff tell The Ear that two of this month’s four performances in the Overture Center’s Playhouse of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 reworking of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” are close to sold out (Friday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 31, at 2:30 p.m.) and the two other performances are doing well (Thursday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 30, at 8 p.m.)

The two performances (April 9 and 11) of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” are a bit slower in ticket sales than expected, I was told, but then the public often waits until the last minute these days and a serious marketing campaign hasn’t begun yet.)

And there’s more.

The Marcus rep also said they got permission to start having reruns of the Sunday screening not only on Wednesday evenings and nights, when it can run late very late, but also an additional ones on Thursday afternoons.

And, he added, requests to the management had resulted in better lighting for the opera screenings. Apparently, the Marcus management realizes it has a good franchise and wanted to satisfy customers, but the bad economy slowed up some decisions.

Still, The Ear says these are smart moves by Marcus, which also solicited audience advice and feedback via postcard surveys at the Met screenings.

I say: Take the time and let Marcus them know what you think.

Opera fans should applaud Marcus’ moves.

Even give them a standing ovation.

What do you think of the opera scene in Madison?

Of the Met’s hi-def broadcasts?

Of the moves and improvements in customer service by Marcus?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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