High Quality Meets High Quality

I went to see The A-Team last week. It was a violent, confusing and moronic mess, and I hated it.

End of review.

And now for something completely different: Landmark Cinemas, the owners of our two movie houses in Whitehorse, is showing the Opus Arte film series every two weeks on Saturday mornings at 10:00, and it’s well worth a look.

Opus Arte is a British firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of London’s famed Royal Opera House. It has produced and directed a wide range of opera and ballet presentations since the company’s start in 1999, and makes them available in digital high-definition, stereo and surround sound to cinemas in over 60 countries.

The series is a new feature for Whitehorse audiences, but has been meeting with some success in Landmark’s southern locations. Admittedly tailored for a niche audience, and priced at roughly double the cost of an ordinary movie, it’s still captivating to watch some of the world’s foremost ballet and opera productions on a large screen.

Opus Arte’s first film in the series, the Royal Ballet’s Covent Garden presentation of the ballet, Sylvia, was shown at the end of May, and was followed two weeks later by the Royal Opera’s production of Bizet’s ever-popular Carmen.

This week’s performance, set for Saturday, June 26, is the Royal Ballet’sGiselle. Presented almost 170 years to the day of its June 28 debut in 1841 at the Paris Opera Ballet, Giselle is one of the oldest ballets of the classical Romantic era, and one of the most difficult to perform.

Long a mainstay of the National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire, it catapulted the company’s current artistic director Karen Kain to international fame when she danced the title role in her early 20s in 1972.

Giselle tells the story of a young and innocent peasant girl who falls in love with a young man of humble means visiting her village. He’s actually Albrecht, a prince in disguise, and is betrothed to another woman. When Giselle learns of his betrayal, she sinks into insanity and kills herself.

Often called the Hamlet of ballet for its tragic story-line, Giselle‘s appeal has survived through the years because of its eternal themes of love, betrayal and forgiveness.

In the upcoming weeks, as this special summer series continues through to Aug. 21, Whitehorse audiences will be treated to four more ballet and operatic performances from distinguished ensembles, ranging from the Teatro Real Madrid’s Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci opera and the Bolshi Ballet’s Spartacus, to the Verdi opera Othello, performed by Barcelona, Spain’s Teatro Gran Liceu company, and winding up with the Cuban National Ballet’s presentation of Don Quixote.

If the series catches on with local audiences, there’s a chance that we might be able to access live performances from the Metropolitan Opera when they resume in the fall.

They’re made possible through the technology of DigiScreen, a Montréal-based company that offers live satellite feeds downloaded into local cinemas and digitally projected in high-definition.

In addition to ballet and opera, the format offers sports presentations, as well as Shakespeare productions, rock concerts, along with independent and foreign films that won’t get picked up for mainstream distribution.

Once a far-off prospect, digital cinema seems to be coming into its own as a viable theatrical presentation format. As the technology becomes less expensive and digital distribution conglomerates become more widespread, the advantages become more and more apparent.

The costs of striking hundreds of prints for mainstream features, shipping them from cinema to cinema, dealing with scratched prints and temperamental 35-mm projectors all become a thing of the past, and programming for niche markets becomes a reality.

It’s not too much of an imagination-stretch to see the day when most cinemas in North America go completely digital.

Let’s just hope the revolution in cinematic technology brings with it a similar transformation of what audiences get to see.

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