La Scena Musicale

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream comes to your local screen

On Saturday August 15, summer audiences will have a chance to enjoy a special presentation of George Balanchine's enchanting ballet A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Empire Theatre locations and other select theatres throughout Canada. Distributed worldwide by Montreal distributor DigiScreen, the highly acclaimed production appears on select Canadian screens as part of an ongoing cinema series from the world's great stages presented by The Royal Opera House's Opus Arte.

Choreographed by the great George Balanchine, Shakespeare's comedy of magic and love's delusions is a guaranteed audience pleaser, set to the beautiful music of Felix Mendelssohn. The Pacific Northwest Ballet displays all the vitality, brilliance and versatility of its wonderful dancers in this award-winning production of Balanchine's first original full-length ballet. The characters from Shakespeare's much-loved comedy are as enchanting as ever: the haughty, unattainable Titania (Patricia Baker), mysterious Oberon (Paul Gibson), chaotic mischief-maker Puck (Seth Belliston), charming buffoon Bottom (Timothy Lynch). Balanchine brings the essence of the 'Dream' to life and creates his own pure dance magic as he and Shakespeare intertwine to bring the story to a whimsical climax. A highlight is a breathtaking pas de deux danced so beautifully by two dancers of whom most audiences may never have heard, Louise Nadeau and Olivier Wevers.

Based in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States and known for its fascination with George Balanchine. A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM is a milestone for the company winning the highest award from IMZ Dance Screen.

"Lavish! Full of colour and brilliant images! Such productions surely guarantee the survival of classical ballet well into the next millennium." - Morning Star

"Enchanting!" - Guardian

The performance will be presented across Canada on August 15 at Empire Theatres and select locations. For details screenings, please go to and locate the participating theatre in your area.

Montreal distributor DigiScreen in association with Royal Opera House's Opus Arte, releases 10-16 HD productions throughout the year. The award-winning A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM was captured in High Definition and Surround Sound on the stage of London's storied (and newly restored) Sadler Wells in April 1999.

Tickets will be available at $19.95 + tax per adult, $16.95 + tax per senior and $9.95 + tax per child. For cinema locations and to purchase advance tickets throughout Canada visit For Landmark Cinemas in Alberta and BC, go to For independent theatres in Vancouver, Waterloo and Montreal please visit,

About Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in

the United States, was founded in 1972. In July 2005, Peter Boal became Artistic Director, succeeding Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, Co-Artistic Directors since 1977. The Company of fifty-one dancers presents more than 100 performances each year of full-length and mixed repertory ballets at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall and on tour. The Company has toured to Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and throughout the United States, with celebrated appearances at Jacob's Pillow and in New York City and Washington DC.

About Opus Arte

Opus Arte, owned by the Royal Opera House, has been recording in High Definition for the past decade and has amassed a substantial catalogue of outstanding productions from around the world. Opus Arte led the way by being the first company to release a Classical HD-DVD, and also the first to release a Classical Blu-ray disc into the world market. Working closely with top organizations such as the BBC and TVE, Opus Arte has enabled a large number of people to share the magic of seeing an opera or ballet live. Partnerships with the world’s top opera houses has enabled Opus Arte to capture some of the most magnificent productions ever experienced on DVD for people to enjoy over again.

About DigiScreen Corporation

DigiScreen is a digital network for the distribution and presentation of independent film and alternative content. The company’s low-cost high quality HD technology allows exhibitors to access content with a very low overhead. DigiScreen launched the network in 2007 with an exclusive collaboration with Opus Arte and the Royal Opera House of London. Thanks to this collaboration, the company is able to showcase the world’s most prestigious contemporary performing arts companies in an ongoing series of spectacular operas and ballets. These productions are captured live, in High Definition, from locations such as Convent Garden (London), Palais Garnier (Paris), Teatro Real (Madrid), Licieu (Barcelona), War Memorial (San Francisco) and other great stages of the world. These HD productions are presented exclusively by DigiScreen and its partners to audiences in more than 300 cinemas across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, Japan and Australia. Presentations in South Africa and other territories will be staring shortly.

For details of time and location, go to

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Royal Opera House in HD: Frederick Ashton's Sylvia

Given the wildly successful Metropolitan Opera at the Movies venture instituted by the visionary Peter Gelb in December 2006, other opera companies are jumping on the bandwagon. La Scala and San Francisco Opera have started their own series at selected movie houses in Europe and the U.S., and Opera Australia is rumoured to get in on the action soon. Sadly none of these shows are available in Canada.

But not to worry – the venerable Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) is bringing its products to Canadian movie theatres. In a joint venture among Royal Opera, Opus Arte, and Digiscreen, the best of opera and ballet from ROH are making their way to the Empire Theatre chain across Canada. It begins this coming Sunday (March 30), with a showing of the late Sir Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia, starring the recently retired Royal Ballet prima ballerina Darcey Bussell. It will be followed by the terrific production of Carmen (April 19) starring the fabulous Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role, and new tenor sensation Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose. Other productions in the initial offering include three more ballets – Romeo et Juliette (May 24), Tales of Beatrix Potter (June 7) and The Sleeping Beauty (July 21). It appears that ROH is bringing its most popular and accessible shows, with the best singers and dancers, to its line-up. I have seen the Carmen and it really is a great performance - Antonacci and Kaufmann burned up the stage! It is not to be missed.

Yesterday I attended the press screening of Sylvia at the Empress Walk Theatre in North York. Like the Met shows, this ROH performance is in HD, although unlike the Met, everything in this line-up is pre-recorded. In fact this performance of Sylvia is several years old. Choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton first conceived this work for the Royal Ballet in 1951 as a one-act ballet for Margot Fonteyn. It was last performed in 1965. Shortly before his death, Ashton expressed the wish to revive this ballet. Royal Ballet's Christopher Newton recreated the ballet based on photographs and sketches in honour of Ashton. Now the role of Sylvia was taken by Royal Ballet's most famous ballerina, Darcey Bussell.

Set to a score by Leo Delibes, Sylvia is your typical Romantic ballet. Shepherd Aminta is in love with Sylvia, who accidentally kills him with an arrow meant for the God Eros, who in turn shoots an arrow into Sylvia. The upshot of this is her falling in love with the dying Shepherd. Meanwhile, the lecherous Orion kidnapped Sylvia for his harem, but she escapes. Eros brings Aminta back to life and the two lovers are re-united. The 1951 version by Ashton was only one act, but later he expanded it to three short acts. The screening yesterday was short and sweet, lasting only two hours, even with a 20 minute intermission. For the opera fans among us, this intermission is for wimps since we are used to sitting through long operas, like the marathon six hours of Tristan und Isolde the previous week, but never mind....

Taped some years ago, Bussell was at the height of her powers here as Sylvia. Her dancing has clarity, precision, and a luminosity that is of the highest order. Partnering her is the Aminta of Roberto Bolle, a fine dancer though somewhat below the level of Bussell. Thiago Soares is a macho Orion, while Martin Harvey is a rather precious Eros. Graham Bond's conducting is good if a bit anonymous, perhaps to be expected in this genre of ballet. The sets and costumes are expectedly sumptuous. Unlike the live Met telecasts which are by satellite and thus subjected to the vagaries of weather and other factors, these ROH shows are pre-packaged in hard discs sent to individual theatres. As a result, the picture and sound are flawless.

If there is one criticism, it is the dim quality of the picture. I am told that this is due to the limitation of the projection equipment. Still, I wish someone can explain to me - if a regular movie can be so bright that it is blinding, why are these telecasts , whether it is the Met or the Royal Opera, so dim? I was told by a theatre manager last year that the technology will catch up and everything will be different in a couple of years. For me, it can't happen soon enough. For now, we should be grateful that we can see these performances without having to travel acrosss the Atlantic. Yes, the lack of "real time" and intermission features mean it is less exciting than the Met telecasts. In fact, the performances offered by ROH are all available on DVD, but there is something to be said about seeing it in a huge screen that most of us cannot duplicate at home! So for now, I will be happily attending these shows.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Royal Opera House Performances on HD Screenings at Empire Theatres Across Canada

For Release on March 10th, 2008

Royal Opera House in HD Spring Performance Series will launch March 30th at
Empire Theatres Across Canada.

Royal Opera House (ROH) owned Opus Arte announced today that they have signed an exclusive agreement with Montreal based DigiScreen Corporation and The Pillar Group, Ltd. for distribution of ballets and operas from ROH and other international Opera Houses and Dance Companies represented by Opus Arte in cinemas worldwide.

DigiScreen Corporation is pleased to announce that the Royal Opera House in HD Spring Performance Series will be launched on March 30th, 2008 in cinemas across Canada and the U.S. This impressive series will consist of four of The Royal Ballet’s most beloved and admired works and The Royal Opera’s passionately popular CARMEN– all digitally captured for the first time. The performances were all recorded live at London’s historic Royal Opera House in Covent Garden on cinema grade High Definition in front of full houses and accompanied by the highly acclaimed Royal Opera House Orchestra.

DigiScreen Corporation has been a pioneer in the acquisition and distributing of high quality digital content for theatrical presentations in cinemas and believes that seeing ballet and opera performances projected on large-formant cinema screens to capture up-close all the extravagant costumes, stunning sets and dazzling performances is a marvelous occasion for patrons of these arts and a terrific opportunity to introduce new audiences to ballet and opera.

This spectacular performance series will be screened as special events at over 20 Empire Theatres and independent cinemas across Canada - including all major cities.

Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House and Executive Chairman of Opus Arte, comments:
“I am excited by this pioneering new direction for the Royal Opera House at the start of the 21st-century. Being in the vanguard of the burgeoning digital platform will allow us to bring brilliant ballets and operas from the world renowned Royal Ballet and Royal Opera to cinema screens all over the globe. The work of the Royal Opera House needs to be seen by the widest global audience and these worldwide cinema screenings will raise our international profile considerably. Combined with the ever expanding number of productions being filmed by Opus Arte at the ROH, and at other great opera and dance companies, then we really have an unbeatable line-up of cinema entertainment. Having experienced the performances first hand, I cannot emphasize enough what an exhilarating experience these screenings live or recorded are, the High Def digital technology coupled with Surround Sound is remarkable.”

Hans Petri, Managing Director of Opus Arte adds:
“In order to recreate the excellence of the stage performances in a cinematic environment, we have been highly selective about our choice of partners. The Pillar Group, Ltd. is one of the market leaders in providing top quality alternative content to cinema chains. In turn they are partnered with digital exhibition innovator DigiScreen which guarantees the highest quality digital sound and vision. We have already begun digital screenings of operas, we a delighted to be able to offer now a greater variety of product as we move forward, particularly exciting is the new opportunity for ballet audiences. We are confident we can provide audiences with the very best digital film experience. There is so much more to look forward to.”

Mark Hooper, CEO of DigiScreen Corporation says: “This is our first foray into presenting opera and ballet; early signs are that there is a huge appetite for this kind of digital film experience. Our introduction to Opus Arte through the Royal Opera House has been an exciting development and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.”

Dean Leland, Vice-President Marketing & Media for Empire Theatres said:
“Empire Theatres has been at the forefront of upgrading our in-theatre technology in order to be able to present Alternative Content, including performing arts events, to audiences across Canada. Opera and ballet fans have already demonstrated that they love to experience these presentations at our locations and we know this spring season is going to be well received.”

The inaugural screening will take place across Canada on Sunday, March 30th, 2008 and is the first cinematic performance for London’s Royal Ballet. On March 30th Canadians will be enchanted by their stunning, lavish production of one of the brightest jewels in the Royal Ballet’s crown, SYLVIA.
England’s most famous and adored ballerina, Darcey Bussell stars in the title role and London’s Royal Ballet founder Sir Frederick Ashton has choreographed an extravagant production to composer Leo Delibes’ legendary, dazzling score - making SYLVIA a perfect choice to launch the Royal Opera House in HD Spring Performance Series.

Following on Saturday, April 19th 2008 is The Royal Opera’s 2006 production of CARMEN directed by Francesca Zambello. At the heart of the story of one woman’s tangled relationship with two men is Carmen herself, played by the fabulous singer-actor Anna Caterina Antonacci. The great Italian soprano is matched by two devilishly handsome men as her love interest; steamingly sexy German tenor, Jonas Kaufmann and the smoldering Italian baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

On Saturday, May 24th 2008 is The Royal Ballet’s ROMEO & JULIET. Kenneth MacMillan’s great interpretation of Shakespeare’s enduring tragedy is one of the most popular works in The Royal Ballet repertory. ROMEO & JULIET partners extraordinary prima ballerina Tamara Rojo with Cuban ballet phenomenon Carlos Acosta. .Next in the spring series on Saturday, June 7th 2008 is The Royal Ballet’s THE TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER, bringing the characters from the famous stories alive. The production’s ingenious use of scale when designing the sets and their spectacular costumes and masks quickly draws audiences in to the wondrous world of Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddleduck.

Lastly, on Saturday, June 21st 2008 The Royal Ballet’s THE SLEEPING BEAUTY combines, in a single work, all the charms and virtuosity that ballet has to offer led by two of The Royal Ballet’s finest dancers; the beautiful Alina Cojocaru stars as Princess Aurora and the dark and handsome Federico Bonelli stars as Prince Florimund. Tchaikovsky’s glorious score for this beautiful ballet is played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in London.

Tickets will be available at $19.95 + tax per adult, $16.95 + tax per senior and $9.95 + tax per child. For cinema locations and to purchase advance tickets visit or For information on The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera

DigiScreen Corporation, a next-generation distributor of high quality digital content, was founded in 2001. Based in Montreal, DigiScreen Corp. delivers alternative content directly to digital projectors from a server containing multiple compressed high-definition presentations. DigiScreen servers are currently installed across Canada and are in the process of being deployed in the USA, United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The company provides clients with full-service HD distribution. Its extensive activities include content acquisition, HD encoding, viral marketing support and digital delivery systems for theatrical presentations in cinemas.
Empire Theatres Limited is a 100% owned subsidiary of Empire Company Limited with its corporate headquarters in Stellarton, NS and regional offices in Halifax, NS, Toronto, ON and Calgary, AB. Empire Theatres owns and operates 51 theatres from Newfoundland to British Columbia.Empire Theatres is Canada's second largest and fastest growing film exhibition company providing an exciting out-of-home entertainment experience including traditional film exhibition as well as other content using its digital and satellite capabilities.With approximately 3,000 employees, Empire Theatres provides excellent employment opportunities for the youth of Canada in an exciting and energetic industry.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Luisa Fernanda with Placido Domingo at the Movies

Opera fans are enjoying an embarrassment of riches these days. Since last season, the Metropolitan Opera in New York has been bringing its best productions live to selected movie theatres in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and on a delayed basis to Australia and Japan. The huge media attention and sold out houses at every showing amply demonstrated that there is an audience out there hungry for the opportunity to see live opera for a fraction of the cost of actually travelling to New York and paying big bucks for tickets. Despite being thousands of miles away from the Met, opera fans treat the events as "real occasions". And the older demographics of an opera audience is unusual - you won't find a quieter, more attentive or appreciative bunch. Unlike a typical teenage movie audience, opera folks have the money to buy more upscale foods, they aren't rambunctious, don't make a mess, don't chat incessantly or make noise, except to applaud the artists on the screen. For the opera companies and the movie theatres, it's a win-win situation.

With the enormous success experienced by the Met, other opera companies are jumping on the bandwagon. The venerable La Scala showed its opening night Tristan und Isolde at selected movie houses in Europe and the US; Opera Australia and San Francisco Opera are also experimenting with non-satellite digital transmissions on a delayed basis. But so far none of these are coming to Canada - with one exception. Teatro Real of Madrid, an "A" house in Europe, has been showing its products through a partnership of Opus Arte and Digiscreen in the Empire Theatre chain and four independent repertory theatres in Canada with little fanfare. I knew nothing about it until my publisher called to see if I could write a review. A quick e-mail secured two media passes to yesterday's performance of Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela starring megastar Placido Domingo. It was showing at the Empress Walk 10 of the Empire Theatres chain in North York. It is a short stroll north from the Sheppard Grande, where the Met has been showing its operas. Compared to the Sheppard Centre, Empress Walk is newer, better maintained, nicely designed with plenty of concession choices for those who want to grab a bite or a drink. The cinemas are immaculately maintained, and the staff offering friendly and efficient service. There was even a washroom attendant at the door - I give the theatre chain an "A" for effort!

Fearing it would be another sold out event, I decided to show up an hour early to secure a good seat. I needn't have worried. Shockingly, the single cinema showing the opera was practically deserted, even with Placido Domingo on the playbill. The Met experiment has demonstrated that there IS an audience for opera at the movies. True - fans are always attracted to a live event, and the Teatro Real productions are "canned". And zarzuela isn't a particularly big draw in Canada since we don't have a large Hispanic population. Still, if the product is good, the fans will come out. It is clear that Empire Theatres have a great deal of work to do in the publicity department. There was no mention of this in the local newspapers that I could find. I did an informal survey of my many opera friends. Except for the three friends that actually showed up yesterday, none of my other friends were aware of this event. But then, neither was I two days ago!

I have to admit my knowledge of zarzuelas is limited, except to say that it is Spanish and folksy, highly romantic, full of pretty tunes and colourful costumes. The story of Luisa Fernanda is your typical love triangle, with tuneul, rather uncomplicated harmonies and orchestration. The piece is also short - even with a 20 minute intermission, the show was over in about two hours. According to a friend who was recently in Madrid, "local" zarzuelas don't always have the best singers, but with the great Domingo in this show, you can't do better than this! Afterall, he sang as a kid in a zarzuela company in Mexico ran by his parents! As Vidal Fernando, Domingo sang with his trademark burnished tone. Despite looking a tad mature, he could still conjure up the image of an aging romantic hero, in the vein of a Don Quixote. Opposite him was the excellent Luisa of Nancy Fabiola Herrera. This Canarian-born, American-trained mezzo is currently at the Met singing Carmen. Rounding out the cast is Spanish tenor Jose Bros. A high tenor in the tradition of a Juan Diego Florez, Bros looked a bit young to be the Colonel Javier Moreno, but his clarion tenor was a pleasure. If the musical values were high, the production itself was strictly budget-wise. The battle scene was reduced to a few silhouettes projected onto the backdrop, and until the last act, the only props onstage were two dozen white chairs, and a tiny wooden model of the city of Madrid sitting on the side! A saving grace was the conducting of the highly experienced Jesus Lopez-Cobos. The picture quality in this HD moviecast is better than the Met's satellite transmission - no glitches and the sound is better. I spoke to almost everyone at the cinema, and they all enjoyed it. So it is a shame that so few people turned out. With more publicity, I am sure opera fans will show up. I think it is important for opera lovers to show up to these events, to show our support. When the next show is announced, I'll be sure to mention it in this blog. Stay tuned!

> More articles on HD Opera

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

High Definition Opera and Ballet Heat Up in December

Worldwide, the innovation of the last season was the Met Opera at the Movies Series. Such was its success that other art forms and other competition are poised to enter the marketplace.

This Saturday (December 15th), the Metropolitan Opera begins their second season of the Metropolitan Opera: Live in High Definition with Gounod's Romeo and Juliet with a star-studded cast: Russian diva Anna Netrebko as Juliet opposite the Romeo of Roberto Alagna who replaces the ailing Rolando Villazón; Placido Domingo conducts. The Met will increase to 8 LIVE High Definition videocasts from 6 shows last year, with an equal number of encore presentations, usually three weeks later. In Canada, 100 theatres of the Cineplex chain and Empire Theatres (maritimes) will be showing the series. In the US, these HD presentations will also be available on pay-per-view according to an article by Associated Press's Ronald Blum.

Ballet is also getting into the act. The season's hot ticket is Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and the National Ballet of Canada will show their sold-out December 22nd matinee performance at Cineplex theatres in Live HD. Read the press release from Cineplex.

Not to be out done, Britain's Opus Arte, a leader in opera and ballet on DVD, in collaboration with Montreal's DigiScreen (a Daniel Langlois company) will be showing recorded and edited High Definition versions of operas and the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker in selected movie theatres across Canada, the US and Europe; in Canada, Empire Theatres picks up the Nutcraker plus four independent cinemas in Montreal, Toronto, Waterloo and Vancouver.

Montreal's Cinema du Parc gets the ball rolling on December 15 and 16 with Verdi's La Traviata recorded in 2006 at the Theatro Madrid. The coincidence of scheduling head-to-head against the Met did not escape reporters. This series is likely to get off to a slow start as there was little marketing or PR. Without coordination of the offerings, the series lack the feeling of an event; each city has different programming except for the December 22 Nutcracker which competes directly with Cineplex again. According to DigiScreen's news release and website, the lesser known Spanish zazurella Luiza Fernanda will screen on January 19, 2008, but not at the Cinema du Parc in Montreal which will show La Bohème on January 12-13.

The Opus Arte / DigiScreen HD picture is even better than what I remember of last year's MET HD and the surround sound is superb.
According to Cinema du Parc's Marc Lamothe, the theatre installed special proprietary HD equipment and the tape is similar to HD Beta. I had the pleasure of viewing a preview screening of Traviata and the experience is well worth the $20 admission. As Violetta, Norah Amsellem gave a masterful and touching performance; she looked quite the part too. Jose Bros was convincing as Alfredo and Renato Bruson shrugged off a rough start to sing a strong performance. Pier Luigi Pizzi's 1950s sets is beautiful. Although he has announced programming only through January, Lamothe plans more shows in February and March and possibly beyond in the Saturday and Sunday afternoon slot.

Here are our picks through January:

December 15: Romeo and Juliet (MET). Montrealers: If it's sold out, head to La Traviata (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
December 16: La Traviata (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
December 22: Nutcracker - Toss up between National Ballet and San Francisco
Dec. 23, 29, 30, Jan. 5, 6: Encore San Francisco Nutcracker (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 1: Hansel und Gretel (MET)
January 5: Encore
Romeo and Juliet (MET)
January 12: Verdi, MacBeth (MET). Montrealers: If it's sold out, head to La Boheme (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 13: La Boheme (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 19: Luiza Fernanda (Toronto, Waterloo, Vancouver)
January 26: Hansel und Gretel (MET)

Adult Price: $19.95


> Metropolitan Opera
> Cineplex
> DigiScreen
> Cinema du Parc

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