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[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
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[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
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Mahaiwe's Met Opera Opening Night Gala gets national press



NEW YORK (AP) Like generations of opera buffs before him, Richard Houdek plans to don black tie for the Metropolitan Opera's opening night. Even though he'll be 120 miles away.

Monday will mark the first time the Met's glittering opening-night gala will be beamed to distant fans by high-definition broadcast, and enthusiasts from New Jersey to New Mexico are digging out dinner jackets and evening gowns for the occasion.

Even if it's not exactly being there, "it's a special evening," Houdek said. The inn proprietor, his wife and friends are readying formal wear to watch excerpts from operas including "La Traviata" at a theater in Great Barrington, Mass.

It is also special evening for the Met, celebrating its 125th anniversary with audiences on the upswing after years of waning. General Manager Peter Gelb attributes the growth in part to the high-definition simulcasts the opera company began two years ago.

The broadcasts have brought a larger-than-life view of such classics as "La Boheme" and "The Barber of Seville" complete with close-ups and backstage action to hundreds of theaters around the world. Some 1.3 million viewers have seen the 14 simulcasts so far, the Met said.

The opening-night extravaganza will do the previous broadcasts one better, adding a half-hour of red-carpet glamour before the curtain goes up. The opera's opening is traditionally a star-studded fashion showcase; last year's audience included Barbara Walters, Jane Fonda and actress Mary-Louise Parker.

Opera lovers in about 500 theaters around the country will also get glimpses of another set of spectators those watching on a giant outdoor screen in Times Square. Opening-night performances have been televised there since 2006 but weren't transmitted elsewhere before.

Gelb says the Met previously focused on matinees to accommodate viewers in Europe. While Monday evening's broadcast won't be seen there, it will be shown in Mexico City and Buenos Aires, he said.

The event is inspiring mini-galas from New Rochelle, N.Y., to Santa Fe, N.M., where as many as 150 people are expected at a black-tie-optional reception before a showing at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, general manager Bob Martin said.

Other fans are just dressing up on their own, including a woman who wrote to Gelb to say that she and three friends were dusting off velvet dresses to watch the broadcast in Parsippany, N.J.

To Gelb, the far-off fans in formal clothes speak to the broadcasts' effectiveness at making opera come alive to remote audiences. Simulcast audiences often applaud at high points, just as though they were at Lincoln Center.

"Because they're linked live to the Met, they really feel sort of connected," he said.

The broadcasts are part of a push to attract a younger, broader audience to a centuries-old art form with upper-crust connotations. It has worked: The Met's opera-house audience has grown by 12 percentage points in the last two years, and the average age is decreasing, Gelb said.

Each simulcast costs the Met $1 million to $1.5 million on top of regular production expenses, he said. The opera company gets half the ticket-sale proceeds, which have totaled $22.8 million so far.

Unlike many simulcast spectators, Houdek lives within a three-hour drive of Manhattan in Lenox, Mass. But for $23, he's happy to take in opening night at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, where he has seen several other Met broadcasts.

"A live performance is still the best, but the camera work is so skillful that you do see what you need to see," he said.

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