The Met: Live in HD

Grand opera beamed live from New York to Belfast - the new Metropolitan Opera season begins. Philip Hammond gives his opinion, and talks with Niall Doyle, chief executive of Opera Ireland, about streaming opera to the masses

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York is one of the most famous houses in the world. It has the experience, the expertise and the money to mount productions which can be simply stunning - and to broadcast those productions across the globe.

In this, its 2010-11 season, The Met will transmit 12 live performances of grand operas as diverse as Wagner’s Die Walküre and John Adams' Nixon In China direct to Belfast's Odyssey Cinema from October 9.

The Met'And,' says Niall Doyle, chief executive of Opera Ireland, who have been instrumental in bringing The Met's broadcast series to Belfast, 'it's an affordable way to go to opera. It's £20 to see The Met in Belfast, and that's a lot cheaper than getting on an airplane and buying a very expensive ticket to see opera [in New York].'

By beaming opera into the Odyssey, of all places, it's clear that Opera Ireland are pushing to attract a broader audience to the artform. The novelty of these events might generate some interest - the cost of the tickets might entice people back for more. And in a market such as Northern Ireland, where funding cuts in the arts are now inevitable, it is perhaps the future of opera in the city.

It was the great French-born composer and conductor Pierre Boulez who famously proffered a possible answer to the place of opera in a modern society. He is quoted in 1972 as having said that 'the most expensive solution would be to blow up the opera houses'.

Few people need reminding that opera is the most extravagant of artforms – philosophically, culturally and economically. Some ill-informed critics consider that you either love it or hate it: and you could be excused for thinking that, for the majority of commentators, the latter is the case.

Some famous quotes to that effect: 'There was a time when I heard eleven operas in a fortnight – which left me bankrupt and half idiotic for a month,' JB Priestley (playwright and broadcaster). 'Sleep is an excellent way of listening to an opera,' James Stephens (poet and writer). 'I sometimes wonder which would be nicer – an opera without an interval, or an interval without an opera,' Ernest Newman (critic and musicologist) ...and so on and so on. There is no shortage of such badinage.

Maybe the really fascinating fact to consider is how opera has surived and flourished even in the present competitive age. Opera, however, is not an artform which has been an unqualifiable success on the island of Ireland.

The MetYes, there have been and continue to be niches of interest which fleetingly allow the 'operanoraks' – sometimes more euphemistically referred to as 'aficionados' – to justify the public funding of opera. But, in general, we Irish approach opera with caution, constantly reviewing the opera environment as the artform trips from one crisis to the next.

So is there a solution – other than that postulated by Boulez? Certainly the streaming of live performances from New York is one option - it's less expensive to stage for venues in Ireland, for one thing, and allows audiences to see the best that the form has to offer.

In the podcast above, Niall Doyle, chief cxecutive of Opera Ireland, discusses the possibilities for grand opera on a grand scale in Ireland, in the virtual world of the cinema. All musical extracts in this podcast are taken from live performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.

In order of appearance, the extracts come from Verdi’s 'Don Carlo', Wagner’s 'Das Rheingold', Puccini’s 'La Fanciulla del West' and Adams’ 'Nixon in China'. During the coming The Met:Live in HD season, you will be able to see each of these operas – and eight more – live in the Odyssey Cinemas in Belfast.

See or for further details.