The Metropolitan Opera in Mexico

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 4.39.47 PMBy Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We love Huatulco and all the local cultural events – film nights, ballet in the park, concerts, and art shows.   But we do miss the opportunity to see world class opera here. So, several times each year we travel from Huatulco to Mexico City or Oaxaca City to join about one million other people around the world watching the live high-definition performance of the Metropolitan Opera streaming from Lincoln Center in New York City.

As students (quite some time ago), we enthusiastically lined up in New York in the cold predawn hours for standing-room tickets in the back of the opera house. And when the Met came to Boston, we spent a sizable fraction of our food budget for seats so high up in the theater that we had a bird’s eye view of the stage.

Now, we marvel at the view the live streaming affords. The technology that underlies Met streaming is essentially the same digital technology that advanced TV from early black-and-white fuzzy images to the crisp, clear, and colorful images we enjoy at home today. The same technology transformed movie theaters from showing jumpy films with voices that were sometimes out of sync with lip movement to today’s wide-screen sharp projections with sound that surrounds the audience. The Met technical staff use up to ten cameras and corresponding audio equipment to send images and the magnificent instrumental and vocal music to satellites and from there to theaters around the world.

We, the audience of the Met streaming HD performances, are visually practically on stage. We can see every expression on the cast’s faces. Except perhaps in the very center of the orchestra section of the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, no seat can be better. And the ticket prices, even given the technologically advanced equipment needed at the Met and at receiving theaters, are lower than we paid for students – under 20 dollars.

Unfortunately, according to a recent article in the New Yorker magazine, the Met is experiencing extreme financial difficulties. Fiscal matters have become so dire that the musicians have agreed to a cut in pay. However, even at the low price charged for the Met streaming tickets, the program has brought in an increasing stream of revenue ever since the first live HD opera was streamed in December 2006. In the past fiscal year, the Met live streaming program garnered $32.1 million USD.

The venues for Met streaming in Mexico can be stupendous. In Mexico City, although a relatively large number of Cinépolis movie theaters provide access to Met live performances, we prefer to be part of the audience at the National Auditorium. The Auditorium seats 10,000 people; however, since the high definition screen loses visual accuracy on the sides, tickets are limited to about 7,000 of the most central seats. Part of the thrill is joining thousands of other opera lovers for the performance and hearing the praise or criticism of opera aficionados during the intermission.

One definite advantage of the Met at the National Auditorium is the lecture that takes place before each opera in the smaller theater, the Lunario. Professor Sergio Vela, who has long practical and academic experience in opera, provides an introduction to the production that adds a deep dimension of richness to each performance. But before you join us for Met at the Auditorio Nacional, be aware that the lecture and streaming subtitles are in Spanish, and during the winter months the venue can be bitterly cold.

Another venue where we enjoy Met streaming is the Macedonio Alcala Theater in the historic center of Oaxaca City. Much smaller than the National Auditorium and a hundred times more ornate and elegant, the theater provides a venue for opera that is reminiscent of small opera houses in Europe. We were surprised that most of the audience appear to be English speakers who, based on their lack of reaction to very amusing repartee, are not sufficiently schooled in Spanish to understand the subtitles.

Twelve cities in Mexico are providing Met streaming in historic theaters or cultural centers. In addition, Cinépolis, a network of over 125 movie theaters, has contracted with the Met to stream opera in cities throughout the country.

Unfortunately, Huatulco is not one of those cities. When we opera lovers approached the former owners of the Huatulco movie theater, they were not interested in investing in the HD equipment needed to participate in the program. Hopefully, given the success of Met Opera live streaming around the world and in Mexico, the current owners will decide that the costs will be rapidly offset set by the full house that can be expected for each Met performance and additional income from purchases at the refreshment stand during intermissions.

If you want to plan travel that includes a live streaming Met performance, you can find the schedule of operas here: Information about venues in Mexico can also be found by clicking on “International theaters” in the top or side menu. Unless you plan to be in the city that has a live streaming performance for at least a few days beforehand, you will find it easiest to reserve tickets at a Cinépolis theater.