Opera Rocks His World
By TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | September 23, 2008*** This story was published Sept. 21, 2008, in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
If one could peek inside Bill Campbell's home one would see thousands of CDs and records. Chances are nary a rock album rolls within Campbell's collection. Instead, opera rocks Campbell's world.
So imagine his glee at the upcoming series of live transmissions of performances from the world famous Metropolitan Opera at Cinemark Tinseltown in Bristol, Va. The first of 11 operas will screen at the movie theater starting on Sept. 22 and run through May 20. Featuring world renowned soprano Renee Fleming, opening night will feature scenes from Verdi's "La Traviata," Massenet's "Manon" and Richard Strauss's "Capriccio."
About to begin its third season of such simulcasts, most Saturday performances will be live transmissions and all from the Metropolitan in New York while Wednesday showings will be taped. Those who join Campbell in attending will be among folks from all over the world, said Julie Borchard-Young, director of worldwide HD distribution for the Metropolitan Opera.
"This season we are transmitting the 11 operas to about 850 movie theaters all over the world," Borchard-Young said by phone Thursday from her office in New York. "We project our global audience at 1.2 million." Season one drew about 325,000 people, she said. "In the second season, we nearly tripled our audience," Borchard-Young said. "We have high expectations. We're happy to be in Bristol."
Campbell, who sang baritone in the Virginia Opera from 1981 to 1993, sure is happy to welcome the opera to Bristol. A lifelong devotee, the Bristol native listened to opera broadcasts via local television and radio as a youth.
Campbell grew up in the early days of rock and roll amid a region renowned for country and bluegrass music. Neither captured him; opera enthralled him. "It's the drama and the music," Campbell said. "There are certain operas that bring on the tears."
Bristol does not have an opera company, far from unusual given the size of the Twin City. However, there was a time when folks could attend an occasional opera hereabouts, Campbell said. "My first opera I ever saw was on stage at Tennessee High School featuring the Boston Grand Opera Company," he said. "I was in eighth grade. When I saw 'Carmen' I was lost to all other kinds of music. I was captivated."
Apparently Campbell isn't alone. According to Tinseltown assistant manager Erin McClure, attendance for last season's Met broadcasts at the theater was steady. "They've actually done very well," McClure said. "A lot of people love opera and they don't have a chance to go up to New York."
However, Borchard-Young said that the Met's undertaking of live transmissions of their operas in part stems from a hope that they will attract new traffic to their live performances in New York. Aging of opera audiences demands an influx of younger attendees, she said. "This is a way to bring opera back into the mainstream," Borchard-Young said. "We want to make the Met accessible, make it contemporary, and then it has the opportunity to survive many lifetimes."
Costs to attend an opera at the Met in New York can price many people out of attending an opera. Safe to say that folks are not as likely to try something new such as an opera when costs prove prohibitive. "People who sit in the first row at the Met pay at least $295. You will pay $15 to $20 (at Tinseltown)," Campbell said. "Plus, here you can see close-ups of the actors faces."
Thanks to those cameras, folks will see better than most of the people actually attending the performances at the Met. "If you're sitting in the nosebleed seats of the opera at the Met, you will see faces but not the facial expressions," Campbell said. "With a camera there, you are right there."
SINKING OPERA STEREOTYPES
Yet, what of those folks who have never attended a performance of the opera? Some folks may question its viability as entertainment for the populace at large. There are those who may view the opera as entertainment for the elite.
"Just think of people in Italy who are not of the elite ? the peddler in the street, the baker ? the opera is instilled in them from birth," Campbell said. "They couldn't imagine life without opera. We put up too many barriers in this country."
Language oftentimes exists as a barrier. Few operas are performed in English, while most are in Italian and some in French. Safe to assume that most Americans speak neither Italian nor French. "That need not be a deterrent anymore," Campbell said. "If you go to the movie theater to see an opera, there is a translation in English at the bottom of the screen. Without the translation, I would be lost, too."
Fine. Culture and language aside, many people may assume that one absolutely must dress to the nines to attend an opera. Tuxes or ties at the least for men and evening gowns for women. Upturned noses, optional.
"Those times are gone," Campbell said. "The last time I was sitting at the Met there was a lady sitting in sweatpants and wearing a cap on backwards. I hate wearing a tie. You can wear blue jeans and a t-shirt to the opera. Dress comfortably."
And for those who still, stubbornly shun the opera? "They are missing something that could enrich their lives," Campbell said. "It can bring enjoyment to their lives."
Who knows, said Borchard-Young, those wide open to the possibility may just fall in love. "When you have been exposed to something new and then fall in love with it, there's a chance that you will become a fan for life," Borchard-Young said. "The storylines and drama are timeless. If more people get exposed to that, then this will have succeeded."
YOU HAVE HEARD OPERA
OK, excepting cavemen. Otherwise, most folks have been exposed to opera. Consider Jim Nabors, who starred as dimwitted though endearing Gomer Pyle, first in the supporting cast of 1960s iconic television show "The Andy Griffith Show" and then in the lead role on "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." Nabors sings. Search your memories and recall Nabors as Pyle singing in occasional operatic manners if not opera in particular.
Then look to Warner Bros. cartoons and that lovable rabbit Bugs Bunny. Opera turns up in such shorts as 1949's "Rabbit of Seville" and 1957's "What's Opera, Doc?"
There's more. Elvis Presley's "It's Now Or Never" borrows its melody from "O Sole Mio." "The opening sequence of "Apocalypse Now" is (from an opera) by Wagner," Campbell said.
Also, people may remember the memorial service in the wake of 9/11. Opera touched that, too. "On the day after 9/11 at the memorial service," Campbell said, "Renee Fleming sang 'Amazing Grace' at Ground Zero."
Fleming stars in the opening night round of opera broadcast to Tinseltown in Bristol from the Met.
Then there's Bristol native Tennessee Ernie Ford. He made his name singing country music, yet also established an immense following singing sacred songs such as "The Old Rugged Cross." Ford attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He was taught techniques that gave a sense of opera to his commanding voice. "He learned to sing correctly," Campbell said.
While simulcasts of operas from the Met reach into nearly 1,000 movie theaters all over the world, there's only one within decent driving distance of Bristol ? and it's in Bristol.
"Bristol is lucky that we have the opera here," Campbell said. "This is the only theater between Danville and Knoxville to have the opera from the Met."
Anyone can come. All ages, any background, dress as you like and speak nary a word of a foreign language. It's easy, said Borchard-Young.
"It's probably true that most people have not bought an opera ticket before," Borchard-Young said, "but most people have bought a ticket to a movie."
Just like that. Walk up and buy a ticket for the opera at Tinseltown just as you would a ticket to the latest Batman or James Bond flick. Here's the kick. As with Batman and Bond, the opera offers drama on steroids ? over the top and all but bounding from the screen.
"If you like drama, opera is going to present drama bigger than life," Campbell said. "If you like music with a melody, opera will fulfill that for you as well. If you love to laugh, you will be laughing."
IF YOU GO
What: Opera at Tinseltown
When: Sept. 22, 2008 — May 20, 2009
Where: Cinemark Tinseltown, 3004 Linden Dr., Bristol, Va.
Admission: Saturdays — $22 adults, $20 seniors ages 65 and up, $15 children ages 11 and under; Wednesdays — $20 adults, $18 seniors ages 65 and up, $14 children ages 11 and under
Info: (276) 669-2091
The third season of "The Met: Live in HD," the Metropolitan Opera's live transmissions, to be shown on screen at Tinseltown. The Bristol, Va. theater is the only theater between Danville and Knoxville to show opera from the Met.
OPENING NIGHT GALA: Sept. 22, 6 p.m. Gala stars Ren?e Fleming in fully staged performances of scenes from three different operas: Verdi's "La Traviata" (Act II), Massenet's "Manon" (Act III) and the final scene from Richard Strauss's "Capriccio." Tenor Ram?n Vargas and baritones Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft co-star. Met Music Director James Levine, Marco Armiliato, and Patrick Summers conduct. The HD live transmission will be hosted by Susan Graham.
SALOME: Oct. 11, 1 p.m. Soprano Karita Mattila reprises her acclaimed interpretation of the title character of Strauss's "Salome," with baritone Juha Uusitalo as Jochanaan. Mikko Franck conducts.
DOCTOR ATOMIC: Nov. 8, 1 p.m. Penny Woolcock directs the Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Adams' production, starring Gerald Finley as Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and Sasha Cooke as his wife, Kitty, with Eric Owens and Richard Paul Fink. Alan Gilbert conducts.
LA DAMNATION DE FAUST: Nov. 22, 1 p.m. Robert Lepage directs Berlioz's production, starring Marcello Giordani in the title role, with Susan Graham as Marguerite and John Relyea as M?phistoph?l?s. James Levine conducts. This is a new production reconceived in collaboration with Ex Machina for the Met, based on a co-production of the Saito Kinen Festival and Op?ra National de Paris.)
THA?S: Dec. 20, noon. Ren?e Fleming stars in the title role of this new production of Massenet's "Tha?s," with Thomas Hampson as the monk Athana?l in John Cox's production, which originated at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Jes?s L?pez-Cobos conducts.
LA RONDINE: Jan. 10, 1 p.m. Nicolas Jo?l directs Puccini's La Rondine, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna in a production originally mounted by the Th??tre du Capitole, Toulouse, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Marco Armiliato conducts. Co-production with the Th??tre du Capitole, Toulouse, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
ORFEO ED EURIDICE: Jan. 24, 1 p.m. Stephanie Blythe and Danielle de Niese star in Mark Morris's production of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice." James Levine conducts.
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR: Feb. 7, 1 p.m. Opera duo Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villaz?n star in Mary Zimmerman's acclaimed production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." Marco Armiliato conducts.
MADAMA BUTTERFLY: March 7, 1 p.m. Cristina Gallardo-Dom?s sings the title role of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" in Anthony Minghella's stunning production. Marcello Giordani stars as Pinkerton. Patrick Summers conducts.
LA SONNAMBULA: March 21, 1 p.m. Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Fl?rez star in Mary Zimmerman's new production of Bellini's "La Sonnambula," conducted by Evelino Pid?.
LA CENERENTOLA: May 9, 12:30 p.m. El?na Garana stars in Rossini's bel canto Cinderella story. Lawrence Brownlee stars as her Prince Charming, Don Ramiro. Maurizio Benini conducts.
INFO: www.cinemark.com/metropolitan_opera.asp or www.metopera.org/hdlive