The Metropolitan Opera in New York, much better known as the MET, has just caused a stir that is still in its early days: live opera transmission from New York in top quality.
Even the time difference is covered, as what is a matinee over there becomes an evening performance here. A total of eight German cinemas participated in the live transmission of the last performance. In Stuttgart, Weimar, Dresden and Nuremberg, cinemas are equipped with Christie CP2000 DLP cinema projectors.
With a total of 21 cinemas, the Nuremberg IMAX in the Cinecitta-Multiplex is operated by Wolfram Weber, a committed film fan, who originally started with the small “Meisengeige” movie theatre in Nuremberg and is continuing today to open up new establishments, of which the next are planned for Würzburg und Frankfurt. Eleven of the Nuremberg Cinecitta cinemas are already equipped with Christie digital projectors, the IMAX being the largest.
It was here that Weber screened Puccini's “Il Trittico” on April 28, 2007: a “wild mixture” devised by Puccini that consists of three operettas which can also be performed individually: “Il Tabarro”, “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi”, which is the best known of the three.
Technically, this is all no problem for an expert cinema technician – at least since the last Football World Cup, in the course of which several games were transmitted live in cinemas using the same process. The digital signal is decoded using a Rubex decoder and then split: the video signal goes to the Christie CP2000, a 2K DLP cinema projector with a 6 KW bulb that projects the brilliant image onto the 30-metre wide screen. Cinema proprietor Weber claims with justified pride: “Here we are talking about the largest cinema screen in at the moment in Germany, with over 600 square metres.”
The audio signal goes from the decoder to the Sonix IMAX device, which is also visible to visitors in the foyer through a glass screen. The entire right-hand side of the room is occupied by the end unit amplifiers, which can punch out no less than 24,000 Watts. But what is delivered here is not a deafening racket, as may well be suspected, but is more a case of the cinema transmuting itself into an opera house, sounding completely live.
The imagery leaves nothing to be desired: the precision and astounding sharpness of 2K projection means that German cinemagoers can see more than visitors to the MET with their opera glasses can. A further aspect is understanding the libretto. Unlike at the opera house, it is beamed in as a subtitle – translated into German – so that those who care to read along can enjoy their evening that much more!
So what happens in a Nuremberg cinema is in fact a night at the opera rather than any virtual farce, as the audience is effectively participating live. And just how grand it is requires no flowery description, being best indicated by the roaring applause of the cinema audience at the end. All that is missing is two-way transmission, so that the artistes taking their curtain call can also hear the thunder of applause from the cinema audience.
Even cinema specialist Weber is amazed and admits: “We have found an entirely new audience. Visitors are happy to pay some 19 Euros and even send us thank-you letters by the dozen. These are people who usually pay several hundred Euros for opera tickets and have the impression here that they have attended a live performance.”
It was exactly this thought that prompted film distributor Concorde Filmverleih to attract a completely new type of audience to the cinema, where they operatively implement the live transmissions for Clasart Classic, who owns the rights. Friedl Kunow, coordinator of MET transmissions at Concorde, explains: “We are doing our best to provide alternative content to cinemas, since this generally increases their appeal and makes them interesting to other target groups. Cinema for kids alone is no longer worthwhile today.”
When all is said and done, what counts is the equivalent of ratings: the degree of capacity utilization. And with both MET performances so far, the “Barber of Seville” and “Il Trittico”, the cinemas had much more than a reasonable attendance. Some operators left the front row empty out of consideration for a discerning public, but despite that, capacity utilization amounted to 90%.
But the largest advantage of digital technology is that: “Cinema operators are no longer one step behind in terms of technical developments. The day will come when some types of material will just no longer exist in their present form,” according to Kunow.
Kunow sees great times ahead for fans of live music: “Apart from opera, why shouldn't we also beam live concerts to the cinema, where concert stadia are so often sold out?”