Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many are avoiding public gatherings and ensconcing themselves in their homes—measures crucial to slowing the spread of disease. In cities like New York, mandated closures have now shuttered some of the largest tourist attractions around, deterring vulnerable individuals from entering their doors.
But social distance doesn’t have to mean cultural distancing. Barred from admitting visitors in person, museums and other institutions around the globe have come up with creative ways of keeping their patrons engaged. Last Friday—a day after canceling all performances through March 31—New York’s Metropolitan Opera announced that it would be taking some of its offerings virtual, kicking things off this week with daily free streamings of its Live in HD series.
These archived performances, which have been played in select venues (primarily movie theaters) via satellite transmissions since 2006, “was developed as a way to reach existing audiences and to introduce new audiences to opera through new technology,” according to the Met Opera’s website. Now, the institution is serving them up to all fans craving content from the comfort of their own homes.
“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” says Met General Manager Peter Gelb in a statement.
The series began Monday, March 16, with a 2010 performance of Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Starring Elīna Garanča in the titular role, the tragic opera chronicles the downfall of soldier Don José (Roberto Alagna) after he encounters a fiery, enigmatic gypsy named Carmen.
Next up was the Met’s 2008 version of Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by Nicola Luisotti and starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas as Mimi and Rodolfo, two young bohemians living in Paris’ Latin Quarter in the 1840s. (The popular Broadway musical Rent is a loose adaptation of Puccini’s opera.)
Third in the lineup was a 2015 performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which follows the chaotic chain of events sparked by the execution of a gypsy. Conducted by Marco Armiliato, the opera stars Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
Thursday, March 19, featured the week’s most recent addition: a 2018 version of La Traviata, another composition by Verdi, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez and Quinn Kelsey, the performance follows the tormented relationship of Parisian lovers Alfredo and Violetta, the latter of whom is dying of tuberculosis.
Streaming will continue through the weekend, starting with Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment on Friday. Conducted by Marco Armiliato, the opera centers on the misadventures of Marie (Natalie Dessay), a young woman raised by a battalion of soldiers after being abandoned as a baby. Saturday’s showing, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor from 2009 (conducted by Marco Armiliato), will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin from 2007 (conducted by Valery Gergiev) on Sunday.
According to the Met Opera’s announcement, online streaming will continue throughout the duration of its closure, though only the first week of showing has been posted online so far, reports Sarah Bryan Miller for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On Thursday, the Met announced the cancellation of all performances through the end of its 2019-2020 season, which was set to conclude May 9. The announcement arrived close on the heels of an NPR report stating that the opera house had laid off all of its union employees—including orchestral players, chorus singers and stagehands—“for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”
Each streaming session will begin at 7:30 p.m. EST and remain available on the homepage of metopera.org for 20 hours. Sadly, on-screen performances don’t hold a candle to the breathtaking in-person showings at the Met Opera itself—but at least in your living room, black tie is very optional.