A Phantom of the Opera

If our recent, sodden Labor Day celebrations weren't enough to convince us that summer is unequivocally over, a look at a current calendar of events should do the trick. As of last weekend, Charleston's five biggest theatre companies have kicked off their 2006-07 seasons; the Charleston Symphony's 46 players are ironing their dress blacks for a Sept. 30 debut; and Charleston Ballet Theatre's start is just around the corner. The College of Charleston's new term has begun, and with it its School of the Arts' heavy performance schedule. Nothing says "summer's over" like the start of the fall arts season, running on afterburner through autumn and spring until it runs bang into the middle of May and the Spoleto Festival.

About the only season that won't be starting for some time yet is opera. In fact – who are we kidding? – opera's performance season in Charleston each year is exactly 17 days long. With the occasional exception of a one-off touring production presented by the Charleston Concert Association (offering up the Bulgarian State Opera's Marriage of Figaro in January) Charleston's annual brush with opera is limited almost exclusively to festival time.

What, then, to make of the Metropolitan Opera's announcement last week that, starting in December, it will begin broadcasting live opera productions into movie theatres – as many as 300 of 'em – where even philistines like you and us can kick our feet up and snack our way through full-on operatic productions for $18, about twice the cost of a standard movie ticket.

Apparently the broadcasts will not be recordings but simulcasts, offered in full surround-sound – as well as being broadcast live on PBS television, which is a cosponsor of the initiative. The point, Met officials say, is to counter pop culture's increasing hegemony over entertainment and drag opera back into the marketplace of populist cultural options.

Will it work? It's anyone's guess. We'll have to wait to learn whether we'll have a chance to see Julie Taymor's (Broadway's The Lion King) version of The Magic Flute at The Terrace or Palmetto Grande when it premieres Dec. 30. But it's gotta be better than another cinematic encounter with Tim Allen in a white beard and a fat suit. –Patrick Sharbaugh


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