On 14 January, an opera performed in Stockholms Konserthus was broadcast via live satellite to cinemas throughout Sweden. The event was marked by an exceptional request from the concert hall CEO, Stefan Forsberg, who asked celebrated singer Malena Ernman to invite the public to sing. The result was the spontaneous creation of the largest opera chorus in the history of the country. All of the seats in the Stockholms Konserthus had been sold out for weeks, but most of the audience watched the performance from a network of 30 cinemas across the country, which projected live high-definition footage with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

In Sweden, the trend for the live broadcast of cultural events to networks of remote venues was launched last winter, when nine concerts at the New York Metropolitan Opera were relayed to 83 cinemas. The scheme was a runaway success, to the point where audiences for performances at the Metropolitan were larger in Sweden than they were inside the prestigious Manhattan opera house. For example, on 16 January 2009, a performance of Carmen at the New York Met, which has a maximum capacity of 3,800, attracted an audience of 7,000 in Sweden — and Swedish music lovers have already purchased 53,000 tickets for this year's Metropolitan programme.

20 euros a seat

Stockholm's Royal Opera, which is also taking advantage of the trend for satellite broadcasts to remote cinemas, relayed performances of Falstaff and Cinderella from the People's House venue last spring. The experience proved to be so successful, that it is now planning to retransmit four further performances to cinemas this year. “The Royal Opera House can seat around 1,000 people, but we had three times that number at venues around the country. Our mission is to encourage popular appreciation of opera, so we are planning to continue the transmissions,” explains the Royal Opera's technical director Kurt Blomquist. Audiences in small provincial towns across Sweden will now be able to experience the thrill of live performances from capital cities around the world for the relatively affordable price of 20 euros a ticket.

Singers in close-up

Rickard Gramfors of the Stockholm People's House, which organizes the retransmissions of cultural events to cinemas, believes the trend has the potential to democratize access to culture: It is a question of making sure that everyone has access. We are now retransmitting a wide variety of shows from a range of locations. These include rock music events, like the Robbie Williams concert to be held in England this summer, as well as operas in New York.”

The project has prompted a mixed reaction among purists, who often comment on the difference between the sound of "real" voices and digital recordings. Some of them, like Anna-Lena Bengmark, have enthusiastically welcomed the retransmissions: “I am an opera nut, so I always keep an eye on the programmes for performances in Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen and Malmö, and I've been to the New York Metropolitan many times. In my opinion, retransmitting performances in the cinema is a fantastic idea. The sound is really good, you can see the singers in close-up, and the interviews during the interval are often very interesting. It's great innovation for opera fans.”