Lana Perlman wanted two things for Christmas: tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, and someone to go with.
It might sound like a tall order, but it wasn't. On Saturday afternoon, Perlman's daughter, Lexington attorney Pamela Perlman, will take her mom to see the Met's production of Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West at the Cinemark Fayette Mall. There, among theaters showing Little Fockers and Tron: Legacy, will be a high-definition, big screen, live broadcast of the Met's matinee from New York's Lincoln Center.
"It is so amazing because it is like you are there," Lana Perlman says. "And then they have Renée Fleming doing interviews with the stars, and you see backstage, and it's just wonderful."
Perlman is one of hundreds of thousands of opera fans across the nation who have made the Met's Live HD series, now in its fifth season, a huge success for Fathom, the entertainment division of National CineMedia.
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For evidence of how successful the idea of fine arts in movie theaters has been, just look at Sunday's schedule for the Cinemark Fayette Mall and other theaters showing the Met on Saturday, including Regal Hamburg Pavilion and Frankfort's Grand Theatre. At 5 p.m., they'll show a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, live from Disney Hall in L.A. Dudamel was recently in Central Kentucky conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts.
Other performing-arts offerings that have taken their acts to the big screen include the Bolshoi Ballet and the hit Broadway musical Les Miserables, which was shown across the country in an anniversary production.
They all followed a trail blazed by rock concerts and those First Look features that are screened before regular movie features.
"In 2002, the company embarked on an effort to create the largest digitally interconnected movie theater network in North America," said Dan Diamond, vice president of NCM Fathom. The main reasons for that were to transmit programs like First Look, business-related national training sessions and alternative entertainment features.
With the network started, Fathom began presenting concerts by the Rolling Stones and Black Eyed Peas.
"It has grown as the network has grown to include a much more diverse lineup, where we provide something for everyone in each local community," Diamond says.
Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb was one of the prime movers in getting the performing arts in on the act. Diamond says Gelb witnessed the success of Fathom concerts by Bruce Springsteen when Gelb was at Sony Music, and he approached the company about presenting the Met.
The Met has been on television for years and has an extensive catalog of DVDs. But according to a July article in Opera News magazine, the Met undertook an effort to beef up camera work for the Fathom broadcasts with moving cameras, overhead shots and other techniques that mostly have their roots in sports broadcasts.
"Opera is an event," Gary Halvorson, a camera director for the HD broadcasts, said in Opera News. "It's important to keep that feeling."
And Perlman gets that feeling when she goes to the theater to see the Met, as opposed to sitting home and watching on TV.
"You look around and you see the faces of all these people who love this as much as you do," she says.
The Met broadcasts have grown from six in the initial 2006-07 season to 11 this year, and they attracted more than 2 million viewers last season. With that success, Diamond says, more arts groups are exploring the possibilities of using movie theaters to expand their reach.
That would give Perlman and her fellow opera fans even more to love.