It seems that increasingly the cinema is not just a venue to enjoy films in any more. Live sporting events, concerts, ballet, opera and theatre are just some of the alternative programming that has started to be streamed onto cinema screens, and with some degree of success too. Ahead of their new season (presented by The Royal Opera House), which promises “a breatht4King spectacle of opera, ballet and theatre” we were invited by Vue cinemas to sample this unique experience for ourselves by watching some opera in a plush screen at their Westfield London site.
Now, being a film nut, this humble reviewer had to admit to not knowing a jot about opera before arriving. We were to be watching a recorded version of Puccini’s Tosca, which had been streamed live into cinemas from The Royal Opera House in July last year. The production starred Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel (I name I’d actually heard of!) and before it began I was, in truth, both intrigued and dreading it in equal measure. Luckily, there was the promise of champagne and canapés before the screening too, which really helped reinforce the point that this wasn’t any old trip to the cinema.
You’ll be happy to hear, I’m sure, that the champagne went down a treat, and I was reliably informed that the canapés were quite nice too. After that drop of Dutch courage we were ushered into the luxuriant cinema screen (comfy leather seats, acres of leg-room, tables for drinks between the seats) where the screening was introduced by ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson, who is set to perform in one of the other upcoming events. We were given bottles of water and popcorn (something I imagine isn’t consumed in quite the same volume at The Royal Opera House itself) but then that was it for the preamble. 138 minutes of opera began.
The first notable thing about the experience was the presence of subtitles. Subtitles, glorious subtitles! We could actually understand what was going on. They were certainly a blessing for a newbie, and you get the sense that newbies like me are exactly who these screenings are aimed at. If you’re passionate about the opera or the ballet you’ll probably buy tickets to see it live, while if you’re intrigued about the whole experience but not yet convinced that it’s your sort of thing then this is probably the perfect way in. I wouldn’t say I was sold on opera as a concept come the end, but I certainly didn’t regret attending and widening my horizons a touch.
While I won’t necessarily be rushing back to see more opera at the cinema, I was definitely sold on the concept of live and recorded events streamed at the cinema. I think I’d like to experience some live sport on the big screen, but if you’re intrigued by opera, ballet or theatre then Vue’s upcoming season is something to consider. Coming up is a recorded stream of Les Troyens, a live broadcast of The Nutcracker, and a delayed live broadcast of La Boheme, all projected in a crisp digital 4K.