Sweet Fifteen

When grand opera returns to the silver screen with Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov on October 9, it will mark the 15th season of the Met’s award-winning Live in HD series, which brings extraordinary performances from the Met stage to cinemas in more than 70 countries. Learn more about the wide reach, backstage drama, and dizzying logistics of opera’s most innovative initiative with these 15 facts about Live in HD. By Christopher Browner

  1. Since the inaugural Live in HD transmission of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on December 30, 2006, the Met has presented 137 simulcasts of 105 operas—a total of 492 hours and four minutes of live programming.

  2. The January 16, 2010, presentation of Bizet’s Carmen, starring mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča and tenor Roberto Alagna and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, remains the most popular performance in HD history. Including the live airing and subsequent encore screenings, more than half a million tickets have been sold for this transmission alone.
    CARMEN Garanca and Alagna_0061.jpg

  3. London has the most cinemas showing The Met: Live in HD of any city on the planet, with a total of 27 theaters.

  4. No principal artist has headlined more HD performances than powerhouse soprano Anna Netrebko, who has starred in 15 transmissions. This season, she takes center stage in her 16th broadcast when she sings the title role of Puccini’s Turandot on May 7.

  5. The farthest-flung cinema screening Live in HD performances is located in Gore, New Zealand, 9,341 miles from the opera house. The closest is just 450 feet away from the footlights, at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.

  6. The Met: Live in HD reaches every continent except Antarctica, with Tunisia being the most recent nation added to the broadcast network.

  7. Mexico City’s Auditorio Nacional is the largest theater presenting HD transmissions, with capacity for 10,000 audience members—nearly three times that of the Metropolitan Opera House itself.
    Opera MET 2013 temporada 24.jpg

  8. The Met brings in anywhere from 35 to 50 additional staff members for each HD performance. This includes a director and associate director, camera operators, an intermission director, production assistants, stage managers, broadcast technicians, a subtitle cuer, a special guest host, and more.

  9. Soprano Renée Fleming has hosted 30 simulcasts, more than anyone else. While most guest hosts are opera stars, other notable masters of ceremonies have included broadcaster Katie Couric, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actress Zhang Ziyi, and Broadway legends Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara, and Audra McDonald.

  10. For each HD simulcast, a state-of-the-art mobile production studio is stationed behind the opera house on Amsterdam Avenue, equipped with dozens of monitors and an array of computers and control boards. The three-room, 60-foot trailer can accommodate up to 25 people, and on transmission day, it’s packed full by the director and his team—as well as members of the Met’s media staff and General Manager Peter Gelb—to oversee the performance and coordinate the camera operators, engineers, and backstage production assistants.

  11. When not at the Met, the Live in HD broadcast team can be found throughout the entertainment industry. The series’s intermission director and associate director spend their weeks at The Wendy Williams Show, and other members of the crew have worked a litany of high-profile projects, including Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Dr. Oz Show, Rockefeller Center’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting, HBO World Championship Boxing, the Super Bowl, and the Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys.

  12. It takes a network of eight satellites placed at different locations in Earth’s orbit to simultaneously reach all 2,200 cinemas around the globe—all with a transmission delay less than one second.

  13. One of the unsung heroes of the HD team is the score consultant, a musician who works closely with the director to mark up the score during the scripting process to create a master copy with a measure-by-measure plan for capturing the performance. He also assists the director in staying in sync with the score during the live show. Sitting at his left hand, the consultant holds a pencil to the score and reads through the music so that whenever the director looks down, he is pointed to the current place.

  14. It typically takes eight to ten cameras to capture each performance, including two on cranes extending from Parterre boxes, a remote-controlled rig at the foot of the stage, and a Steadicam for backstage interviews. Larger productions, such as Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, can require up to 14 cameras. More than 10 miles of cable are run throughout the opera house to connect all of the these—as well as the microphones and other recording and editing equipment—to the satellite transmission system.

  15. The 15-year history of the series is filled with the unexpected turns of events that come along with live theater and live broadcasting, but the April 2011 transmission of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory presented a particular dramatic behind-the-scenes moment: Just 35 minutes before the curtain went up, star tenor Juan Diego Flórez welcomed his first child, Leandro. Flórez had only enough time to briefly hold his son, kiss his wife, Julia, and dash to the opera house as the cameras began to roll.
    COMTE ORY Florez as title role (nun disguise)_2987.jpg

Christopher Browner
is the Met’s Associate Editor.