London's Barbican Cinema has announced that it will broadcast six of the Metropolitan Opera's productions live from New York.
Starting on 12 January, audiences in the middle of London will be able to experience a range of productions starring world-class singers including Ben Heppner, Juan Diego Flórez, Karita Matilla, Marcello Giordani and Angela Gheorghiu, many of them in roles we might not normally get to see them perform at Covent Garden.
The broadcasts are as follows:
To start the season, James Levine conducts Adrian Noble's new production of Verdi's Macbeth (12 January 2008). Maria Guleghina and Lado Ataneli play the doomed couple; John Relyea sings Banquo.
The one not to miss is Manon Lescaut, which features an outstanding cast of Karita Mattila, Marcello Giordani and Dwayne Croft (16 February); Levine conducts.
On 15 March, John Doyle's new production of Peter Grimes is conducted by Donald Runnicles and stars British baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore as Balstrode. Anthony Dean Griffey is Grimes, while Patricia Racette plays Ellen Orford.
A week later, on 22 March Levine conducts Tristan und Isolde with Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt, shortly before the latter's return to Covent Garden in Ariadne auf Naxos. Levine's Wagner performances tend to divide the critics, but Heppner's Tristan should make it well worth the journey.
On 5 April, Angela Gheorghiu teams up with conductor Nicola Luisotti (who made such an impact in recent Covent Garden appearances in Butterfly and Trovatore) for La bohème. With tenor Ramón Vargas also in the cast, Franco Zeffirelli's production promises to be spectacular on the big screen.
Then on 26 April, Laurent Pelly's Covent Garden production of Donizetti's La fille du regiment reaches the Met, reuniting Juan Diego Flórez, Natalie Dessay and Felicity Palmer in the roles that earned them a huge critical success in January 2007. Alessandro Corbelli will also return to the role of Sulpice, as discussed in a recent interview on MusicalCriticism.com here.
Opera at the cinema seems to be the big news of the 2007-08. The Royal Opera House has just announced the end of successful negotiations with the Musicians' Union to record fourteen productions, of which twelve will be screened in cinemas. The San Francisco Opera and Glyndebourne also plan to bring their work to the people via the big screen, while English National Opera's controversial production of Carmen was recently broadcast on the BBC website to enormous popularity.
Only time will tell if some of these schemes will actually draw in the audiences that the opera companies hope for - many tickets remain for the Barbican broadcasts, though the first year of the Met's scheme reached 325,000 people worldwide and the recent Roméo et Juliette relay was watched by 97,000 people. But it's good to see, at least, that these companies realise that to disseminate their work in the twenty-first century requires them to embrace twenty-first-century technology.