Sprague Hall to host Met Opera virtually

Starting next month, Yalies will no longer need to go to New York to see the Metropolitan Opera.

The School of Music will broadcast the Met Opera’s Live in HD series — a series of high-definition operas transmitted live to movie theaters across the world — at Sprague Hall beginning Oct. 9. The project, which required the installation of high-tech equipment, was made possible through a donation by Frederick Iseman ’74, CEO of Capital Partners, a member of the Met Opera board and a self-proclaimed opera lover. The amount of the gift was not disclosed.

New equipment was installed in the Morse Recital Hall to accomodate the live screenings from the Metropolitan Opera.
New equipment was installed in the Morse Recital Hall to accomodate the live screenings from the Metropolitan Opera.

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said the gift comes at a time when there is a growing interest in opera among students.

“We anticipate that this is going to be a very popular series event,” Blocker said. “I expect either full houses or close to full houses.”

The tickets for shows will be free for students, but they will have to reserve seats at the Sprague Hall box office in advance.

Blocker added that while opera broadcasts are becoming popular in the music world, Yale is currently one of only a handful of colleges across the nation that currently broadcast the Met Opera live.

In the past few years, students showed interest in trips organized by the School of Drama and residential colleges to similar broadcasts at nearby movie theaters — another project supported largely by Iseman, Blocker said.

Iseman, who said in a press release that he was first seduced by opera as an undergraduate at Yale, conceived of this project two years ago. When he shared his idea, University President Richard Levin, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach, School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 and Blocker were all very enthusiastic, Iseman explained.

“Fred Iseman is very dedicated to the theater. He’s an opera and arts buff,” Reichenbach said.

Yale Opera Director Doris Cross said the initiative will make it both more convenient and less costly to see an opera. She added that while opera was once an art only the wealthiest could afford to enjoy, today many opera houses have made it more widely accessible.

The project required the installation of a satellite dish on the roof of Sprague Hall to receive signals, in addition to high-definition video equipment and a 5.1 stereo surround sound system, all connected to a receiver and projector in the control booth, said School of Music spokesman Vincent Oneppo. He added that the school had to improve the sound system in Sprague to accommodate 5.1 surround sound.

The school installed all new speakers and added supportive structures to the stage to hold up the new screen. The screen is positioned in a location where it can be seen from every seat in the house, Oneppo said.

Though the screen for the broadcasts will be in the middle of the stage, it can also be placed farther back if the school wants a multimedia concert with an orchestra in front.

School of Music professor Janna Baty said while it is difficult for a broadcast to supplant the experience of attending a live opera, 50 percent of the time she would still choose seeing the performance via simulcast over sitting in the rafters so far away that “the players look like ants on the stage.”

She added that sitting close is valuable for learning about the technique of opera.

“I can only imagine how stressful being simulcast must be for the average opera singer, knowing that half the world is staring at your epiglottis,” she quipped.

Oneppo said the technology will also create opportunities for other projects in the school.

“Through the Iseman gift, we can use this technology not only for the Met broadcasts, but also for other productions that we can only imagine right now,” he said.

For example, Oneppo said composers might write a piece of music with a visual component projected behind it as the piece is played. He added that the school has done multimedia projects before, but the new system will facilitate the process, improve the presentation and encourage more multimedia endeavors.

Oneppo also said the technology will open up opportunities for distance learning. For example, if a chamber orchestra on stage wants to communicate with the composer of a piece it is playing, the system will allow for direct communication.

The first Met Opera show to be broadcast is Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” which opened Monday in Times Square, under pouring rain. The Met’s 2010-’11 season features nine alumni of the School of Music.

Danny Serna and Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

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