LONDON London's Royal Opera House launched its cinema season on Thursday, part of a drive to attract people to a notoriously exclusive art form made less accessible by the country's economic woes.
Royal Opera House Cinema will screen 10 operas and ballets to 700 cinemas worldwide during the 2011/12 season, starting with three performances by Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu.
She kicks off the big-screen season with a performance of Gounod's "Faust" which will be beamed live into cinemas from the opera house's main stage on September 28.
Gheorghiu then appears in "Adriana Lecouvreur" in October and "Tosca" in November, both of them recorded.
"This (cinema season) is now a part of our core purpose, which is to get to as many people as we can," said Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House.
"We want to make sure that as many people as we can find can try world class opera and ballet at a price they can afford," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Also it's a way of tempting people who might think they are not sure that they want to invest in going to London (to see the opera or ballet) so decide to try it first in a cinema near them."
The Royal Opera House, home to one of the world's leading opera and ballet companies, says around 600,000 people come through its doors to see performances each year.
The film initiative, which includes screenings held outdoors and in cinemas around the world, draws in around 200,000 more.
The Royal Opera is sensitive to criticism that opera in particular is an elitist pursuit only for the rich and a handful of passionate fans.
Ticket prices for a popular work range from 150-205 pounds ($230-$314) a seat in the stalls section, although they can be as cheap nine pounds in the amphitheatre.
Britain's straitened finances and heightened concerns over job security and wages have only made opera, and to a lesser extent ballet, harder to afford for many.
"We are keeping 50 percent of our seats at 55 pounds or below and a large proportion at 20 pounds," Hall said.
"I absolutely understand that people are very sensitive to prices in these times. We are in difficult circumstances, but nonetheless we are trying to keep those prices down."
In addition to the cinema season, Hall said the Royal Opera, also known as Covent Garden, was aiming to attract 25,000 newcomers to the main auditorium in the current season with the help of subsidised tickets.
Covent Garden would also launch a programme to draw in senior citizens who tend to be overlooked in the search for the next generation of opera and ballet fans.
The full list of cinema performances this season is as follows:
* September 28 2011 "Faust" (Royal Opera live)
* October 2011 "Adriana Lecouvreur" (Royal Opera recorded)
* November 2011 "Tosca" (Royal Opera recorded)
* December 15 2011 "The Sleeping Beauty" (Royal Ballet live)
* January 2012 "Cendrillon" (Royal Opera recorded)
* February 2012 "Il Trittico" (Royal Opera recorded)
* March 2012 "Madame Butterfly" in 3D (Royal Opera recorded)
* March 22 2012 "Romeo and Juliet" (Royal Ballet live)
* April 17 2012 "Rigoletto" (Royal Opera live)
* May 16 2012 "La fille mal gardée" (Royal Ballet live)
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)