I’m a huge fan of the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon Live in HD broadcasts. The Met is a superb company with the best artists doing great operas – both classic and increasingly more contemporary – with camera work bringing you closer to the artists than at any live performance, and with fascinating intermission interviews, all for about $30 a ticket.
The Live in HD performances are the higher-tech successor to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts and have the same immediacy of being there for the performance. The Live in HD broadcasts accentuate this by showing the audience taking their seats, which leads me to wonder whether tickets to the performance at the Met include a release consenting to the possibility that the operagoer might be seen around the world for a few “candid camera” seconds.
Because the broadcasts almost always run for at least 3 hours, it’s important to put yourself in the headspace of enjoying an unhurried Saturday afternoon. My question, then, is where is the best place in Toronto to go to enjoy that afternoon outing?
What it’s Got
I have an unequivocal answer, which is something of a hidden secret. It is the Cineplex VIP Cinema at The Shops at Don Mills, located at York Mills and Don Mills. First, the screening room is small, about 100 seats, and the Met broadcasts are not very crowded, a matter I will return to later. Because it’s a VIP, you get large fully reclining seats – not that I succumb to the temptation to recline, especially for Wagner – and food service.
It’s the closest location to my home, a 10-minute drive, with free parking, or a 40-minute walk. About half of the walk is on the railway trail I’ve discussed in a previous post, another plus. For other opera fans it is a reasonably central location, not on a subway line, but at least served by both the Lawrence East (54) and Don Mills (25) buses.
Food and ambience are also part of the package. In addition to the menu at the Cineplex VIP there are several excellent restaurants at the Shops at Don Mills for lunch beforehand or coffee during intermissions, including Anejo (Mexican), Mado (Turkish), the eating counter at the McEwan Fine Foods, and the Danish Pastry House. The Shops at Don Mills is laid out around an internal courtyard, which has warming fires you can sit around during the colder months.
Use it or Lose it?
I think there is an optimal size for a cinema audience – large enough that you feel you are sharing in a collective experience, but sufficiently less than a full house that seats are available right up until the start of the performance. Before the pandemic, the opera audience at The Shops at Don Mills was optimal by this definition, and sometimes even close to sold out. Unfortunately, since the pandemic it has been much smaller. This is a problem because it has dwindled so much that I am concerned Cineplex could cancel the Live in HD broadcasts there. So that’s why I’m letting you in on my hidden secret.
A decision to cancel them would be based on Cineplex’s calculations about profitability. I’m not an expert on the economics of cinema, but I can think of two polar cases. The favourable one is that the marginal cost of showing the Live in HD broadcast there is close to zero, perhaps because Cineplex pays the Metropolitan Opera a fixed fee for the season of broadcasts, rather than a fee based on the number of screens where it is showing them. In that case, even a small crowd would contribute a positive cash flow to Cineplex.
The unfavourable polar case is if Cineplex compensates the Met per screen and it is also weighing the profitability of the Live in HD broadcasts at the Shops at Don Mills, or any other cinema, against other Saturday matinee movies.
I would like to see a larger crowd for the Met Live in HD broadcasts at the Shops at Don Mills both because of my concern about cancellation and, even if that fortunately isn’t a relevant consideration to Cineplex, because I would like to share the experience with a larger audience. The next six broadcasts include three warhorses (Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Romeo and Juliet) and two other Verdi (Nabucco, La Forza del Destino) and one other Puccini (La Rondine). The key test of the popularity of Live in HD at The Shops at Don Mills will be the size of the audience for the warhorses.
The Met’s fund-raising slogan is “support what you love.” In this case, I’m supporting what I love by getting the word out about it.