Met Opera's "Nixon in China" Simulcast Spoiled by Cinemark

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Tonight's encore simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's "Nixon in China" presentation was stunning on several levels. The writing (by the incredible - and locally-based - John Adams) was fresh and exciting, and gives as always new life to the genre of "opera." The Met's production was grand and visually exciting, full of breathtaking set pieces, and featuring the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the "Rolls Royce of opera orchestras," as one of the on-screen interviewees explained. Finally, the Live in HD simulcast was consistently engaging, featuring interviews with all of the key actors and producers before and between the acts. The interviews were occasionally too short, but they provided a context to the opera that the in-person production could never match.

With only one problem - the Cinemark theater hosting the presentation, the "Pleasant Hill Century 16." Only minutes before the end of the final act, the projector abruptly faded to black, followed after a couple of minutes by the sound. After about 15 minutes of sitting in the darkened theater, as the other patrons started leaving, they announced that the theater's internet connection had failed - it had been acting up since Monday, and they hadn't bothered to fix it - and they lost their transmission downlink. (Later, the ticket booth attendant said that it was really a problem with the projector. Oh, and maybe the internet too...)

It was fine, the clerk said. All we had to do was pop on out to the ticket window, and they'd give us a rain check for another movie. There's only one problem - I don't want to see another movie, or even another opera broadcast. All I wanted to see was this opera. I rarely go to the movies, and the only other opera I've seen was "Dr. Atomic" three years ago, also by John Adams. I asked if they could show me the ending on a computer, or send me a DVD of the opera to watch later, and they demurred. They couldn't even give me my money back, believe it or not, because I'd bought my ticket online!

One of the other patrons, as she left the theater, mentioned how the exact same problem had occurred the last time. How strange, she said, shaking her head, that they wouldn't have fixed it by now... (The manager confirmed, by the way, that the problem was limited to the Pleasant Hill Century 16. They called around to the other Cinemark theaters in the area, and none experienced a problem.)

But it's not just about a disappointing end to my Live in HD experience. The issue is bigger than that. It's about disrespecting opera. This isn't some silly action movie, which I could just come back the next night to see again, or rent the month after. Music is sacred, and opera is even more special, because of its specifically programmatic performance. If Cinemark has committed to showing these Metropolitan Opera performances, then they'd damn well better show them with some deference and respect.

During the 45 minutes that I was waiting in vain for the show to resume, I overheard a clerk in the projection booth on his walkie-talkie: "No, most of them have left. I don't think anybody really minded." That attitude is not worthy of the great Metropolitan Opera, or any cultural simulcast, and I urge the Metropolitan Opera to end its relationship with Cinemark. Believe me, you deserve better.

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