An Online Night at the Opera

Attending an operatic performance can be quite an arduous task. Procuring tickets is often difficult (anyone who has attempted to purchase tickets to a particularly popular production will agree), not to mention costly. Opera fans may be forced to weigh productions–“which can I afford to see?”. This wager can leave lesser-known gems or concept productions in the proverbial dust.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle in attending an opera, however, is distance. In the United States, most are hundreds of miles away from the nearest regional opera company, let alone within reasonable distance from a “top tier” house like Lyric Opera of Chicago or the Metropolitan Opera, which prevents not only the opera fanatic but also the opera newcomer from experiencing the art form live.

Serious opera-goers often take interest in international productions, taking the concepts of cost and time to travel to new heights. How does one get from Little Rock, Arkansas to Munich to see the highly publicized Olivier Py production of Verdi’s Il trovatore? Is it possible to get to the Aix-en-Provence festival?

There are options for those who can’t afford the expense or the time to experience an opera live. Subscription services like provide both archived performances and livestreams of musical productions, while other services like Opera in Video are a great way to sit down and watch an opera without purchasing a DVD.

But what if you could watch a live opera in your pajamas completely and totally free of the burdens of finance and time? What if I told you it was completely legal? The same technological era that brought us the Met’s Live in HD series has also brought us an unprecedented number of free opportunities to experience opera online–you just have to know where to look. These opportunities will delight both newcomers and opera buffs, and many of them are coming up within the next few weeks. Here are just a few:

1. Glyndebourne

The famed opera house and opera festival in East Sussex has given audiences a plethora of chances to experience its innovative, exciting productions both as livestreams and as archived performances. On July 25th, 2013, Glyndebourne will stream its new production of Rameau’s first opera Hippolyte et Aricie, the first Rameau opera to make an appearance at the Festival. This is not the first production to be streamed from the Festival, however–and, in case you missed then, you can still catch Le nozze di Figaro (Grandage; available until 8/31/13), Falstaff (recorded live in 2009; R. Jones; available until 8/31/13), and  Ariadne auf Naxos (Thoma). You’ll also be able to watch their productions of Billy Budd (recorded in 2010; streamed on 8/23/13) and the livestream of Don Pasquale (Clément; streamed on 8/6/13).

2. Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera)

You can trace the history of the opera company back almost 360 years, but that hasn’t stopped the BSO from keeping up with the 21st century. For the 2012-2013 season, the Bayerische Staatsoper introduced, offering its audiences the opportunity to livestream its season free of charge. Most recently, they streamed the aforementioned controversial Py production of Verdi’s Il trovatore, starring Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann. On July 26th, 2013, the BSO will stream Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Opera fans have even more to look forward to in the 2013/2014 season, which will bring broadcasts of Die Frau ohne Schatten and La forza del destino.

3. Festival d’Aix-en-Provence


The annual international music festival has brought exciting and fresh interpretations to some of the most beloved operas in the canon. This year has been no exception, and their commitment to sharing these productions with the international community is obvious. On July 6th, 2013, the festival livestreamed the new Robert Carsen production of Rigoletto. Thankfully, the production is still available for viewing on arteliveweb. I was hoping their recent production of Elektra would be up, as well, but for this American, it says I do not have viewing rights. Let’s hope that changes quite soon!

4. La Monnaie


Since the beginning of 2011/2012, Belgium’s La Monnaie has been streaming selected productions from its season for a limited time. In the past, it’s streamed such works like Lulu, Lucrezia Borgia, and Pélleas et Mélisande. Currently, the Michael Haneke production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte is available for viewing.



Sonostream’s mission is to bring a variety of classical musical performances to international audiences via the Internet. They seem to be well on their way to achieving their goal, with successful streams of Handel’s Orlando, La straniera (a rarely performed Bellini gem), and Offenbach’s Barbe-Bleu. Just a few weeks ago, Sonostream broadcast a concert production of Lucia di Lammermoor featuring operatic superstars Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja–a performance still available on demand on their website.

What do you think? Is the Internet a good medium to spread opera to the masses? What are its advantages and disadvantages? Have you watched an opera online recently? What was your experience?