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Bringing opera to New York and the world at the Met

NEW YORK--In a cramped backstage area at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch adjusts her 19th century dress.

Around her are other singers, a costume assistant, two cameramen and a dozen stagehands ready to move a tree and a park bench to change the sets for the second act of Jules Massenet's “Werther.”

Koch smiles, breathes deeply and climbs a wooden staircase. A few seconds later, she is on stage with German tenor Jonas Kaufmann before a standing-room-only crowd in the 3,800-seat Met.

It's a special Saturday afternoon at New York's storied opera house — the focal point of Lincoln Center.

In the United States and around the world, hundreds of thousands of fans are watching her on movie screens retransmitting the performance of the opera — adapted from a novel by Goethe — in real time and in high definition.

“We will have at least between 200,000 and 250,000 people watching this live today,” the Met's general manager Peter Gelb told AFP.

“In fact, 67 percent of our audience in movie theaters is outside of America. We are a truly global arts company. I don't think any other company can say that about themselves. We are an example of innovation.”

The Met first offered HD retransmissions of its performances during the 2006 to 2007 season, with about 250 theaters participating in eight countries.

More than 14 million tickets have since been sold, and the performance of “Werther” — a tale of doomed love — was shown live in 2,000 theaters in 66 countries. Gelb calls it a “huge global success.”

Twelve HD cameras bring 12 performances to global audiences each season.

They are subtitled in eight languages: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and Swedish. In Asia, performances are shown with a delay, given the time difference.

'Artistic army'

The Met, one of the world's legendary opera houses, each season stages 30 different works, including a handful of premieres. The productions are lavish — and costly.

The company infuses classic works with innovative settings, and often features the world's top singers, drawing tourists and New Yorkers alike to Lincoln Center.

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