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Opera buffs beaming over La Scala premiere

More than 40,000 worldwide see live event

When La Scala guest conductor Daniel Barenboim recently raised his baton to start the opening-night perf of Wagner’s “The Valkyrie,” he commanded an aud extending well beyond the famed Milan venue to some 350 movie screens around the world.

About one-third of those screens were spread across the Italian peninsula, where the visually dazzling production staged by innovative Belgian director Guy Cassiers, was absorbed live in HD by some 40,000 opera buffs in what is being touted as a local digital distribution milestone.

“The bar is being raised today” boasted Roberto Bassano, managing director of Microcinema, which beams digital content in partnership with the European Space Agency to an Italo circuit with more than 150 screens.

“There has never before been such a widespread distribution of an opera event in Italy,” he added.

Microcinema started beamingopera into Italo cinemas four years ago.

Of course the popcorn opera phenom is nothing new Stateside, where the Los Angeles Philarmonic recently announced it would start beaming live orchestra performances to 450 theaters in North America. New York’s Metropolitan Opera has been providing simulcasts since 2006, with participating theaters now in dozens of countries.

But even in the U.S., where the highly anticipated “The Valkyrie” played in more than 150 cinemas spread across most states, this La Scala opening had folks pretty excited.

“I’ve always wanted to see an opening night performance at La Scala, and now it seems my wish has been granted,” enthused Andrew Alexander, an opera buff in Snellville, Ga., on the blog at Opera in Cinema, a unit of New York-based digital content company Emerging Pictures, which is the event’s U.S. distributor.

“We’ve grown our network each year,” says Opera in Cinema’s Christiana Little. “When we first started broadcasting the La Scala opening in the U.S. a few years ago, the number of venues was less than 50.”

The La Scala “The Valkyrie” also bowed in hardtops across Europe, including the U.K., Spain, and Russia, as well as Canada and Latin America, prompting Carlo Nardello, topper of the event’s world sales company, RAI Trade, to point to the event as proof of how much cultural consumption habits have changed all over the world.

Of course the premiere also made international headlines due to the riots preceding it, caused by severe government arts cuts.

Before raising his baton, Barenboim joined the protests, saying he was “deeply worried for the future of culture in this country and in Europe.”

So, while opera broadcasts aren’t yet considered a major revenue source for La Scala, which draws 40% of its E100 million ($131 million) annual budget from government funding, they certainly come at a crucial juncture.

“In these tough times a little extra cash doesn’t hurt,” Bassano says.

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