Thomas Adès’s widely acclaimed work The Tempest will be given its Austrian premiere during the Vienna State Opera’s 2014/15 season, during which what the VSO claims is the most sophisticated online live streaming project in the industry will be fully operational.
Robert Lepage’s production of Adès’s work for the Metropolitan Opera will be conducted by the composer as one of five new productions from the VSO, including Covent Garden opera director Kasper Holten making his house debut with a staging of Mozart’s Idomeneo.
Before that, on 7 May, the VSO debuts what it believes will be the future of domestic viewing of the arts, with a high definition (HD) live stream of Verdi’s Nabucco starring Plácido Domingo.
It marks the launch of the VSO’s Live at Home project, a partnership with electronics group Samsung offering a single live broadcast for €14 (£11), eight broadcasts for €88 (£72) or 12 months of opera and ballet for €320 (£263). Initially all relays will be in HD and offered on a 24-hour rolling basis of ‘live time shift’ so the broadcast can be watched at a convenient hour anywhere in the world.
The project will also offer an app enabling subscribers to view content on a second screen ‒ a tablet PC or smartphone, for example.
VSO director Dominique Meyer said users could view surtitles on the second screen or a rolling video of the opera score ‒ the house archives have scores annotated by Verdi, Wagner, Richard Strauss and others which will be used.
Operas will be relayed on two channels, one a fixed-camera view of the full stage, the other the director’s choice from the eight camera positions. Mr Meyer said once UHD relays began, boasting four times the definition of HD, he did not see the need for the second stream. ‘Once you have pictures of that quality, you do not need a film director any more.’
From November, subscribers would be able to use hand gestures to zoom in or out of the video on screen.
Though the project is being fully funded by sponsors, Mr Meyer admitted the venture was a financial gamble but one he sees as essential. Since 1999, the Austrian state’s contribution to the VSO’s €100m budget has been frozen at €54m. In the four seasons of Mr Meyer’s tenure he has squeezed another €5m from box office revenue but that, he insisted, is the limit. ‘We have to create new revenue and this is the only possibility.’
He had considered following the Met’s example of cinema relays: ‘There is not always access to a cinema if you live in a small village, but there is internet access.’
The outlook already seemed good, he said, with cable TV companies which a year ago had rejected his pleas to broadcast opera and ballet now asking whether they could distribute the HD streams.
He was eager to share the venture with other potential streamers such as Covent Garden or the Met. ‘I do not believe we need competition between cultural organisations.’
‘Wiener Staatsoper Livestreaming is payable, not free of charge,’ said a statement, ‘because art has value, also on the internet [and] new revenue streams have to be assured for the opera and its artists, facing the decline of the physical music industry and the chances that lie in the growing digital markets.’