In Depth

The Metropolitan Opera Association: ‘The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD’

Among this year’s Peabody Award winners is a broadcast series not seen on television: “The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD” is a series of vividly designed, smartly annotated productions beamed live to movie theaters using state-of-the-art digital technology.

“The Met has a long history of being a pioneer in the media,” said Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb. “Its Saturday matinee radio broadcasts have been going on for 80 years. I thought a modern update of that would be to take advantage of satellite and digital technology to take these performances that have been live on the radio and send them out live into movie theaters.”

Mr. Gelb’s inspiration came from two sources. “Beverly Sills, the great soprano and chairman of the Met when I was appointed to my position, showed me photographs of communities in libraries and gymnasiums and centers in the ’50s and ’60s who would gather around radios listening collectively to the radio broadcasts,” he said.

He also recalled how, when he was at Columbia Records, a David Bowie album was launched via transmission to movie theaters. “I decided that would be one way to connect the opera to the public,” Mr. Gelb explained, adding that the series is now seen in 36 countries, 32 of which take it live.

What makes the live HD broadcasts unique is the approach. “We don’t pretend that these are movies. What we had in mind was to present these operas like an excellent live sports performance,” Mr. Gelb said. “We have the mobility of several cameras in the house, fixed camera positions. We have a miniature fixed camera that glides back and forth across the top of the stage.”

The productions also take in what is happening off-stage. “We have behind-the-scenes cameras that capture everything from set changes to live interviews with the stars as they come off the stage,” he said.

Winning the Peabody is an affirmation to Mr. Gelb that his efforts have made a difference. “It’s obviously the most distinguished award in the media, and I think the fact that it’s being given to new ventures such as ours shows that the people presenting the award are keeping abreast of what is happening in the world of media outside what have been the standard channels of distribution.”