On a typical Saturday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera in New York offers performances starring today’s greatest singers. Now, thanks to the Met’s “Live in HD” series, Ann Arbor audiences can enjoy New York’s newest operatic productions without leaving their own city. Created in 2006, “The Met: Live in HD” broadcasts performances via satellite to movie theaters around the globe.

“The Metropolitan Opera: Armida”

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Quality 16 and Rave
Tickets from $17.50

The series is the brainchild of the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, who wanted to reach a wider audience by giving opera a more modern and accessible look. The Met’s website makes Gelb’s mission clear: “Live in HD is for everyone.”

Indeed, it seems the days of frumpy singers and bland productions are over. The “Live in HD” broadcasts feature attractive stars in captivating new stagings by today’s leading directors. The broadcasts are also technologically captivating, thanks to pristine Dolby Digital sound quality and advanced cinematography — they make use of cinematic cuts and close-ups that give audiences a front-row view of productions. In addition, “Live in HD” viewers have a chance to see backstage footage and interviews during the shows’ intermissions.

“Live in HD” has already made an impression in Ann Arbor, where both Quality 16 and Rave Motion Pictures (formerly Showcase Cinemas) present regularly sold-out performances of the Met simulcasts.

However, the series has been slow in pulling in the younger crowd for which it was intended. Brooks Carmean, assistant manager at Quality 16, said that the broadcasts’ audiences are made up of mostly senior citizens.

Although the season of live simulcasts may be over, Ann Arbor audiences both young and old will still have the opportunity to see encore performances of operas from this year, as well as past seasons. This Wednesday, Quality 16 will show a repeat of Rossini’s “Armida,” which first aired on May 1.

“Armida” is based on the late 16th-century epic poem “Jerusalem Delivered,” written by Italian poet Torquato Tasso. The opera tells of a seductive enchantress who uses her powers to ensnare crusading knights in Jerusalem. Earlier this spring, the University Opera Theatre staged Baroque composer Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Armide,” based on the same story.

Wednesday’s broadcast of “Armida” stars soprano Renée Fleming in the title role. At 51, Fleming is at the height of her opera career, and she has introduced an unprecedented number of new fans to the world of opera. Fleming also hopes to reach an even wider audience this June with the release of her new solo album Dark Hope, in which she covers rock songs by groups including Death Cab for Cutie and Jefferson Airplane. Ann Arbor will get the chance to see Fleming in a recital at Hill Auditorium scheduled for Jan. 16, 2011.

In addition to “Armida,” Quality 16 and Rave Motion Pictures will be presenting the HD Summer Encore Series on Wednesdays throughout the summer. The lineup includes Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” starring Anna Netrebko (June 23) and Puccini’s “La Bohème” starring Angela Gheorghiu (July 14).

Both multiplexes plan to continue the Live in HD series for the Met’s 2010-2011 series. This is especially exciting considering next year’s season at the Met, which includes the first two installments of the highly anticipated new production of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” directed by Robert Lepage.

Kelly Mervyn, general manager of Rave Motion Pictures, expressed his enthusiasm for the series in a phone interview.

“Nothing is better than being there,” Mervyn said. “But this is the next best thing.”

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